Conscious Sexual Self

Connection Requires Consciousness

Rock That Muumuu!

Recently I was at a friend’s house for brunch and there, on the TV, was a Love Boat marathon. This was very compelling. (Hey, don’t judge) Not only because of the nostalgia factor and memories of elementary school sleep overs, but because of the striking contrast to what we see on TV today.

There were elderly people with fully developed romantic story lines! Not played for laughs! And not played by actors who looked like they could still do 5 hours of step aerobics (My mind is in the 80s, stay with me here). On episode after episode, there were senior citizens enjoying love, flirtation, and sexy storylines with multiple suitors vying for their affection.

Now sure, The Love Boat format was largely about the guest stars who were famous years ago. But seeing it again made me realize how much our media has changed and the images of people we see have changed. Remember TV used to be primarily targeted towards adults, including adults in their elder years. This has changed as our marketing focus has slide younger and younger. And of course we are meant to look younger and younger as well. It’s all about anti-aging these days.

It is one thing to see more older actors being celebrated as sexy now. Jane Fonda and Helen Mirren – super inspiring and SEXY as hell. And that is good to see. But it is also intimidating and has attached to it the additional message that we have to look like a 40 year old to be an attractive 70 year old. It is something else entirely to see someone who actually looks like my grandma, strutting her stuff in a fluffy turquoise muumuu with attached cape that gently flows over her noticeably large belly and hips, having someone be hit with love at first sight of her. That sends a different message about who is worthy of a love story, doesn’t it?

Now I am not claiming that The Love Boat did great things for my developing mind or sense of what love had in store. But I do think that seeing storylines involving people my grandparents age hooking up for some vacation love and for some spontaneous weddings was probably good for me, setting a foundation I was unaware of that romance stays with us throughout our entire life.

What I think is important to remember is the insidious way our image of the world gets edited by who is not represented. We should always take time to ask ourselves - who is missing from this crafted-for-my-entertainment world? For all the vastness of available media at this point in time, the people we see are in some ways more edited than ever. We need to see people of all colors, ages, sizes, gender representations, orientations, physical capacities, … and we need to see just plain old average looking people, living their lives and loving one another. We need to see ourselves represented. All aboard!


What is Passion?

Sex therapists are often asked to comment on how to increase passion or how to keep passion going. But today, I am thinking about - What is passion exactly? What makes someone passionate about something? What is this state like for us?

The dictionary says simply that passion is a strong feeling of enthusiasm.  I think most of us would say that feels like an understated definition of a deeply motivating intensity of feeling.

Passion can feel like a deep well, where other interests are shallow. Passion feeds itself instead of quickly burning out. Passion is felt in the body, whether it is for a person or sex or a calling or an artistic endeavor, it is felt. Some people describe a quickening of pulse or breath, or a fluttering in the belly, or a rush of energy or heat in the core.

Something you are passionate about awakens you in some way. I read a quote suggesting that passion comes from things that bring us closer to our true selves and I think this is true. We are passionate in the now, we want to be there, we want to experience. We are called to show up. Passion stirs something in us that must feel real, that must invite a part of our self that is authentic and wants to come out to play. Passion invites us into our life.

Passion often feels new and edgy. There has to be something to learn there, something to remain curious about. Passion pulls us to dig deeper, go further, to create and keep creating. If we feel we have it all figured out, no surprises, I doubt passion will remain. Passion provokes us and stimulates risk.

Passion can scare us. In fact, the second dictionary statement on passion reads, “a strong feeling that causes you to act in a dangerous way.” And when talking to a friend about this, his first response was to question the difference between passion and obsession. Interesting. Passion grabs hold of us and feels outside of reason. Passion is not entirely a choice. But to me, passion is kind. It motivates us and channels us but doesn’t own us. Passion is a flow fed by our elation.

Passion says “it is worth it” and reflectively I think we create passion by saying “this is worth it”. We want to give to that which draws our passion. And in giving, we receive more, and this feels good. When we are unwilling to give or invest or risk, we will be without passion. So making space for this driving force in our life means first believing we have the energy to give. Do you?


Circulation, Hormones, and Pleasure

What keeps erections healthy? That’s right, circulation, the right balance of hormones, and pleasure. But we have many common misperceptions about how each of these things might help or hurt erections.

Foundationally erections are about blood flow and blood containment. As the spongy tissues in the penis fill with blood, they swell and create the hardness of an erection. Blood has to be able to get into the penis and to be held in there for the erection to last.

Because of the concept of capturing blood in the penis to hold erection, many men unconsciously tense their pelvic muscles, willing blood into the penis and willing it to stay there. This does not work. The muscles in your body do not send blood flow into the penis. In fact, flexible, relaxed muscles in the pelvis will facilitate more blood flow to the penis. You want the muscles in your hips, thighs, and pelvis to stay relaxed while you are getting erect. Practicing stretches for the hamstrings, buttocks, and psoas muscles can be helpful to keep yourself flexible. (You may find this helps your sexual functioning in many ways!) Try to become aware of your PC muscle, the muscle you can use to stop the flow of urine or to cause your penis to twitch. Learn to feel your PC and relax it, along with surrounding muscles, while getting erect. Your PC muscle should stay relaxed until the final stages of orgasm when it can potentially increase sensation and ejaculation. When you feel you are going over the edge into orgasm, then tighten your PC and see how that feels.

For men who are struggling with inconsistent erections, there are some other simple things you can consider and experiment with to improve circulation. One common factor - Digestion requires circulation to go to your stomach. Eat lightly before you plan to have sex; you can binge on whatever your stomach desires after. Also consider using sexual positions that facilitate circulation such as you standing or kneeling. Missionary position, when your weight is in your arms, can compromise circulation to your pelvis, so you might avoid it. And, if your partner is on top, make sure they are not putting all their weight onto your pelvis.

Ok, what about hormones? For many people this is the first thing they consider if erectile difficulties come into play. Hormone levels vary considerably person to person and throughout our lives. Getting testosterone checked can be helpful but often is not the answer. Focusing on general health, eating well, sleeping enough, lowering stress, exercising, may all have positive effects on hormone health. But we are still learning about how to access and supplement for the right balance of sex hormones for each unique person.

Which brings us to pleasure, an often ignored part of the equation. Yes, your body is wired to be inspired by pleasure which feeds the erection process. In the past you may have gotten an erection with just visual stimulation (pleasurable!), but now you may need the more direct physical pleasure of manual stimulation to get erect. Relax and enjoy this part of the sexual process. Allow yourself to focus on what you are feeling, breathe deeply, and tune in to your own pleasure. When sex becomes stressful, because it has turned into a performance or a race to please your partner or an obligation to get over with before you can fall asleep, the body responds. If you lose track of your own sensation of pleasure, your body assumes you don’t need an erection anymore. Having positive interactions with your partner and enjoying a sexual repertoire that doesn’t always rely on an erection for you to have pleasure together is key because it reduces stress and keeps sexual play fun. You can have and give intense pleasure without an erection. You can orgasm and ejaculate without an erection. Your pleasure is important. Explore new ways to feel it without pressure.

So for my friends with penises out there and those who love them, here’s to you! Relax, enjoy and happy pleasuring.


The Risk of Having What You Want

There are many ways we learn to protect ourselves, many forms of armor and resistance, some that serve us well and some not so well. Overtime we develop patterns of shutting out interactions that we wish to avoid, based on our own unique history and wounds. Some tense up in the face of aggressive authority and some numb out when fearing abandonment. Some go into denial when faced with a painful truth. These forms of resistance make sense; they are clearly designed to protect us, even as they often cause their own pain.

But what has been fascinating to witness as a therapist is that we also protect ourselves from things we really deeply want. I don’t mean the way you want a chocolate bar or a nap. I mean the things you have yearned for and feared you might never have, the things that make you feel on the outside looking in,  the things that years ago you might have decided you didn’t deserve. There are things we so deeply want that we create armor around ourselves to resist letting them in. Why? Because they scare us. A lot.

I believe that most of the things that people feel afraid to want are really very simple things, but at one point in our life they were denied to us when we really needed them. Once denied, it becomes too risky to trust that we may ever be given this gift. And so we stay wanting, unable to recognize that we can have it right now. Here it is.

So you may have been emotionally rejected by a parent when you needed to be comforted and now here is someone ready to comfort you, but you are hidden behind walls, muscles tight to push away touch, wanting it but not allowing it. And she is yearning to feel that her sexual energy is embraced and accepted, after being shamed and shut down before, but cannot bring herself to meet your invitation to bring her groove out. And he is waiting to feel that someone believes in him and trusts him as capable, but scans for distrust and hides his adult self. They are all scared to risk having what they have wanted for so long.

And here it is. Right here, available to you. I have seen therapy sessions when a person’s partner turns to them and with sincerity tells them what they have been wanting to hear. And I have seen the person turn away from it, from this gift freely given. I have to help them to slow down and see that they can accept it. I help them relax their body so they can feel it. Even after years of wanting and not getting, they can risk having it now. It is not too late. They can reach out and take it. This is so vulnerable. It takes unlearning. We have to put down the armor and the cynicism that have protected us for so long, saying, “That is a stupid, unrealistic, pathetic thing to want. Stop believing in it all together. Stop waiting for it, stop hoping.” But that voice was wrong..

Here is someone offering it to you now. I invite you to stop and think about the things you want, those deeper things that haunt you and come out when you are feeling sensitive and unsure. And ask yourself, is it possible that I am with someone right now who is offering that to me? Is there something I am doing to not see it, not take it in, actively reject it? Can I admit what I really want, no matter how simple or vulnerable it may be? Can I let myself open to this wanting again? I invite you to take the risk.


What We Tell Ourselves About The Inevitable

The spiritual teacher, Pema Chodron talks a lot about one of the Noble Truths of Buddhism, that people experience suffering and dissatisfaction with what is. This is a given in life, you will not be perfectly pleased at all times. In fact, there will be times when you are suffering. But she goes on, “only in the West is this articulated as something wrong with me”.

This insidious bit of added cruelty seems based in that seductive myth that if we do everything right, we will always be happy and our lives will be perfect. Perhaps no other culture has been as in thrall to this myth as our modern American culture. We cannot get away from it. Everywhere see ads, TV shows, crafted celebrity personas, Facebook posts, telling us that other people achieve this constant happiness and satisfaction. Most recently with the twist implying that only “losers” find themselves struggling. And so we feel the normal suffering or disappointments of life, but turn them into personal flaws.

When we struggle, we turn to self-recrimination hoping for an answer to avoid future struggles. We craft deeply developed stories about how we are lacking, different from other people, clearly not trying hard enough. Because honestly it feels good to believe you can somehow avoid the inevitable disappointments. But that belief turns on us and feels isolating and damning when we can’t. What is wrong with me? What did I do to deserve this suffering?

And this pattern can go deeper into more painful shaming. In therapy I see the hurt self blame can cause as clients get pulled into the impossible puzzle of figuring out what they did wrong that made them deserve to be neglected, abused, not loved in the way they needed. The truth - that there is no good reason, that they were not the cause - is relieving for a moment. But it is also scary because it reminds us that much of life is out of our control. That there is unfairness and suffering. Sometimes no matter what we do.

Of course our behavior matters. Of course we can do plenty of things to make our lives better, to make ourselves better. We don’t need to give up wanting or trying. But we simply cannot make it all ok all the time. We will experience heartbreak, and loss, and many, many small and less small ways in which our life falls short of what we thought it would be. And this doesn’t make us bad or broken. It makes us human.

And the part that makes me sad is that if only we spent our time loving ourselves through the inevitable rather than berating ourselves through it, the pain would pass much quicker. And we would have more time for enjoying the beauty of life and the gorgeous fascinating individual reflections of human imperfection all around us. Remember, you are okay, just as you are, even when times are hard.


Low Desire...for what exactly?

One of the things that is important to talk about when we talk about desire is WHAT we are desiring. One size does not fit all for sexual pleasure and within ourselves we have diverse and sometimes even conflicting desires that call to be fulfilled. One day we may desire to be touched gently and another day to be pushed to our knees and made to beg. Subtle gradation’s of desire that can seem to shift without our understanding, we feel longing or find our minds wandering to erotic landscapes or surprise ourselves with the impulses that arise as we are engaging with a partner. Desire, past the intensities of puberty anyway, is rarely just for genitals to meet in a prototypical sex act. We desire a sensation, a mood, an interactive dynamic, a way of being seen or received, a way of seeing our self.

But this critical piece of the sexual equation often gets left out of the discussion, at least among clinicians who are tasked with helping people have healthy, satisfactory sexual desire. And this is especially true when we talk about low desire – an ill defined category for a time when one’s sex drive is lower than someone thinks is appropriate or lower than one would like. It is true that many people over the course of their life will recognize within themselves a flagging or even disappearance of their active sexual energy. They may say, “I just don’t desire sex anymore”. But this is often an overstatement or a conclusion based on minimal information.

When I work with clients who are struggling with this state, I invite them to unpack what it is truly that they are not desiring. What is getting in the way of sex being an enjoyable, pleasure that they could look forward to right now? People are often surprised by the question but quickly find they can identify crucial things that they are specifically not desiring.

One person has low desire for sex that feels pressured and uncreative. Another for sex with someone with whom they are angry and resentful and just had another fight this morning. Another person finds they have low desire for sex when they feel like a failure if they don’t get an erection and sex that is surrounded by misunderstandings and hurt. Another has low desire for sex that hurts and another for sex when they are exhausted and another for sex when the kids might walk in and another for sex when they feel trapped in an emotionally draining relationship…You see where this is going.

It is rarely some generic “Sex” that we are talking about really. It is something specific for this person. Or multiple things. But once we know what they do not desire, then we can help them find a way to get excited about what they do desire.

Are you a clinician wanting to learn more about helping clients who present with low desire? Now you can take Melissa Fritchle’s webinar, Working with Sexual Desire Issues with Couples, online anytime, anywhere, for only $35. 1.5 CE hours through AAMFT. Find it here


From Start to Finish

When people think of “having sex” they tend to focus on the hot and heavy, rubbing bodies against one another part of it. But really, there are many aspects of a sexual encounter, most of them overlooked and underappreciated. Sex does not being when we are naked with someone we like. In real life we don’t fast forward to the climax, nor should we. We miss out on a lot if we think this way. We need to rethink the sexual encounter, giving it a new starting point and a new finish that can really encompass the greater possibility and the role we play in it.

Phase One – Creating Space to be sexual. Yes, in real life we have to actually make choice to include sex in our daily life. So this phase includes the necessity of actually carving out time in a schedule. Certainly easier to do in that 6 hour break between classes when you were in college, but don’t be discouraged. I have said it before and I will say it again, scheduling sex can be very hot, if you engage your mind in anticipation and enthusiasm. Because creating space to be sexual is about more than timing. It also means making space in your mind for sexuality and sensuality, thinking about what you desire and listening to the voice of your sensate body as it finds things to pleasure in. It includes day dreaming about a partner or partners, grooming yourself with the intention to seduce, and possibly preparing for a sexy experience by purchasing a toy or even putting clean sheets on the bed. There are lots of ways to create space. What is important is to honor that you have a part to play in this, sex doesn’t just happen.

Phase Two – Becoming an Embodied Self Again. Maybe some of you enlightened folks go around all day long, aware of your body and mindful of each fluctuating sensation. But most of us, have to consciously bring our attention to our body. We have to let the rest of the day go, so that we can be present to pleasure. Finding ways to refocus and stop thinking about the rude thing your boss did or the thing you forgot when you went to the store today and have to remember tomorrow, is key. If you skip this step, you are may feel a nagging disappointment, like you are missing something, because you are – the actual experience of sex. Getting into your body, into a body-mind that is awake to the senses and the intuitive movement that is yours, is an important part of a sexual encounter.

Phase Three – Engaging with Another. Sex with a partner requires that we enter into a dance, both leading and following. We must listen to the cues of another body as well as our own. We may choose to open ourselves up in ways that are vulnerable or risky. This is a distinctly different way of being than the way we spend most of our day. Some people find they need some time to verbally connect and some need to use silence to shift gears from the conversations of shared responsibilities and chores. Engaging with the other person starts with initation of sex, which could have started days before with some smoking texts or a whisper close to ones ear. It is an act of seduction, a drawing the other person in as you allow yourself to be drawn in, a willingness to enter a trance of one another, your attention right here with them, now.

Phase Four – Riding the Waves. Ok, this is the part that most people think of when they think of having sex. This is the part when the mind can go still while the body gets very, very busy. And this is the part of efforting too, of pushing and clutching and reaching new heights of sensation. Here is where we may feel out of control or overwhelmed or exhilarated. We may feel deep emotions or a welcome emptiness, cleared out, simply sensation. This may include orgasm or orgasms or not. But mostly this phase includes being able to feel and respond, not planning ahead but being willing to ride the waves as they come, and allowing yourself to be moved.

Phase Five – Returning. And then things settle down, we return to our minds, our rooms, our awareness of the rest of the world. But for a period of time there is a need to transition. For some this involves a heavy sleepiness, a rest after intensity. For some, a desire to keep the body contact and to allow emotional ripples to play out gently. For some it may be processing what just happened, building connection through sharing with words and questions and possibly insights. For some a withdrawal into self, to reaffirm the boundaries of our being. But we all take some time to return, to close that particular sexual encounter in some way. This phase is just as important as the others and can be just as rich and satisfying.

I invite you to honor all of these phases and to take responsibility for them. Your sexual encounters are vaster than you have been led to believe from the way we talk about “sex”. Redefine your start to finish and you will find there is so much more to explore.


Falling Out of Love

There is a word in Russian for “the melancholy feeling of falling out of love” – razluibit. I have no idea how to say it, but I am touched that it exists. Its existence in another culture and language allows me to notice that in my language there is no such word. We do not have a simple reference point for this particular human state. It is as though by not naming it, we can pretend it doesn’t happen.

What do we know about falling out of love? How does it happen? What is the starting point? How does one know if love is gone for good? Do we ever really stop loving someone we once loved? I would have answered each of these questions differently at different points in my life. But today, even as a couples therapist, I will say, “I don’t know.”

Some days I sit with people who are facing these questions. I see the struggle to reexamine all that came before in the presence of new feelings, or fading feelings, they are faced with now. I have seen love end with a sudden realization about the other person, maybe a moment in which respect was lost or when there was a clarity about what one could truly expect from the other. The fact that so much can change in one moment is humbling to me and reminds me to take care in my relations to others. I have also seen love that has starved over years, a series of closing doors and quiet mouths until one person is an absence to the other. There are times when someone looks for a misplaced love and finds it is no longer there. I have seen love that is newly recognized as something different altogether, as a now resolved need or a pleasant habit or a settling for what could be. I have seen love compared to something new and found lacking.

But I have also seen love that was fading, revived. People who were falling away from a partner reach out a hand and grab hold with a new passion. I have seen people find new love with the old partner. I have seen love develop that maybe had never been there before.

Still in all that, I haven’t found one truth about how or why we fall out of love. Or how or why some people manage to stay firmly, happily in love. I can say that I believe that sometimes love cannot and should not be revived. I believe we must transform and change and therefore we must have love that transforms and changes with us. I believe love requires tending and attention to stay alive. I believe love flourishes when we can stay engaged in new ways to be in love with our partner and new ways to uncover ourselves to them.

What can I can say most confidently about real human possibility of falling out of love? Like so many realities of human life, we can navigate it better if we can name it and therefore share it.


Why Do We Dis the Orgasm?


You may have heard it before from a sex therapist like myself – “Don’t be so orgasm focused.” Easy to say, not so easy to do. And why, you ask, are we so down on the orgasm?

Trust me, we are not anti-orgasm. Orgasms are great! And a big motivating factor in being sexual. And they are good for us, although I won’t go into that research here. I like them; you like them. Good for us.

The problem with focusing on the orgasm is it really limits our sexual expression. Humans are very good at learning patterns. We quickly develop short cuts and automatic responses to simplify reaching our goals. In many areas of life this serves us well. So many of us, by the time we reach thirty or so, have learned very effective ways to reach orgasm, using a specific speed, rhythm, position, etc. If we are in long term relationships, our partner or partners may have learned the steps to our easiest orgasm. In fact, we can run through these patterns again and again, effectively teaching our body to find orgasm this way with this specific type of stimulation. Efficient, sure…

But do you want to be having efficient sex? Maybe sometimes, when you are in labor and trying to quickly have an orgasm to stimulate your uterus or you are giving a sperm sample or something. The option of mutual orgasm quickies is nice. But having sex strictly to get to orgasm efficiently can start to feel a lot like masturbating with a partner. I hear many couples complain of the ever increasing limitations to what they do during sex, because it doesn’t led to quick orgasm, until they are performing the same 10 minute routine each time, orgasming and being done. But they don’t feel passionate, inspired, or connected which is also a pretty great part of sex.

That is the thing we sex therapists are trying to get across.  Finding your way to orgasm is one small part of sex. But there is a lot more to experience. Risk and creativity are key to our ongoing arousal and excitement; we thrive on it. Passionate connection with a partner requires much more than knowing their orgasm routine. Your body has many channels for pleasure, and many new sensations to explore. Did you know that after losing sensation in their genitals people have been found to orgasm from earlobe stimulation? Routes to intense pleasure and release are only as limited as we decide they will be.

So get creative. Focus on pleasures of many kinds, regardless of whether you think you will orgasm in the next 20 minutes or not. Focus on your partner and relaxing into sensual research and reconnaissance. You may actually find that by ignoring the easy path to orgasm, you forge new trails to intense gratification. And hey, you can still always take the short cut. Just don’t make it the only path you seek.


What I Wish We Told Boys About Their First Time

This is not a conversation that should only happen for girls...

It should be about you – This should be treated as a special and vulnerable moment for you. There needs to be attention paid to you, your feelings, nervousness, excitement. It is important that your partner is able to hold that space for you. If it is the first time for both of you, this is space you need to hold together, but neither one of you is more important than the other. I talk to many men who feel shame years later because they ejaculated quickly with their first partner. Of course, you did! This is perfectly ok. Your first time is not for performing to please someone else. It is overwhelming and your body will respond accordingly. Give yourself the chance to be a virgin who is having a first time.

Choose a partner you can trust – Ideally your partner is someone you feel comfortable with, who is honest with you and wants that from you in return, someone who respects you and who feels like an equal. If you feel like a partner expects you to take care of them without any awareness of the needs you may have, be careful. If there is a power differential, be careful. If you feel like you have to play a part that is not really you, be careful. It doesn’t have to be a forever partner or a committed partner but it should be someone who is there for you and who you can trust.

If you have to get drunk to get the courage, WAIT. – First, sex is much better when you are present. Second, being nervous is not a big deal; being so nervous you can’t imagine doing something unless you are only semi-conscious is a sign to stop. I promise you, you will not be cooler about things if you are drunk. It will not make things better.

You are not less of a man if you actually don’t want to right now. – The idea that men must want sex indiscriminately at all times is very damaging. A healthy man will have times when he doesn’t want to, he doesn’t like the other person that much, the environment is stressful, he is enjoying doing other things, the 5 slices of pizza he just ate are not sitting well. Whatever the reason, you have a right to decide if this is the right opportunity for you or not.

There will be other chances – No matter how nerdy or undesirable you feel at the time, it is highly, highly unlikely that this will be the only chance you have to have sex with another person.

The pleasure with a partner is different than the pleasure with your hand – Masturbation feels great because you know exactly what you want and you can immediately provide that. How much friction, how fast or slow, what you are looking at or thinking about, all can be matched to your desire in the moment. Partnered sex has different pleasures than that, pleasures that in some ways are more subtle or diffuse. With a partner, you might focus on their excitement, the slippery warmth of your bodies together, the feel of hip bones pressing into you, the connection you feel with them. The path to your orgasm may be more circuitous but there are more diverse pleasures to enjoy. Let yourself be surprised.

There might be a little pain – If you have an inexperienced female partner, it is helpful for her to take some time to build to intercourse as her vagina is not used to stretching to accommodate a penis. If you or your male partner have foreskin, the more forceful friction of penetrative sex can sometimes cause a bit of tearing at the base of the foreskin. In either case, you should only feel a little brief pain, not a lot. If either of you are feeling significant pain, enough to disrupt all pleasurable feelings,  stop and relax and agree to try again later and take it slower.

And of course – Yes, you can get STDs your first time. Yes, a girl can get pregnant the first time. And if either one of you is unable to directly say “Yes, I want this.”, Stop. Otherwise, enjoy this part of your evolving relationship with your sexuality.