Conscious Sexual Self

Connection Requires Consciousness

My Breasts Are Not Telling You Anything About Me

The first time I was called a slut I was 11 years old. I had never been kissed, never made out with anyone, never even considered having intercourse. I had never held hands with anyone. But I had C cup breasts in sixth grade. So I was a slut.

Having large breasts makes people see you and think “Breasts”. It is as simple as that. I learned early on that my body would always have a sexual connotation for other people. That I would be seen as showing my breasts off, even when wearing a simple T.shirt like the rest of my friends. And by the way, women are just as guilty of this judgement as men, in some ways even more so. I recently had a very intelligent adult friend admit that  as a teenager he had unconsciously told himself, if she didn’t want attention for her breasts then why did she grow them so big? Irrational, yep. Maybe you are scoffing at this. But I invite you to look a bit deeper at your own irrational mind and question who you might have labeled “slutty” in your mind and why.

Of course the reality of breast implants does allow for people to imagine I picked my breasts out of a catalog. But I didn’t. I actually had no say in the matter. And that certainly should be clear with a young girl with large breasts. So we can’t dismiss the judgments based on that fact that some women do choose to have very large breasts for their own reasons, some of whom may imagine it will be fun to have people constantly looking at their breasts.

There are also theories that float out there, usually where there is little understanding of biology, that women with big breasts must be more sexual because their body is full of extra estrogen or something. (Same sorts of theories have been floating around recently regarding big butts.) I am not even going to address this. My breasts did not and do not predispose me to any sort of sexuality. Period.

Then there is the “you could just dress to hide them if you weren’t so slutty” camp. For them, I propose some logic. My breasts are the biggest point on my body, so fabric drapes from them. The only way to really hide them is to craft clothing with internal structures to hold the clothing away from my body, like a hoop skirt but around my chest. Not very practical. I can hide my waist, thereby diminishing the impact of my breasts a bit, by dressing like Mrs. Doubtfire, that is true. Less sexy, but here’s the thing – WHY SHOULD I HAVE TO?!

Maybe we could begin talking about these things in a practical way. Maybe we could finally understand that just because someone’s body or look makes you think about sex, doesn’t necessarily mean they want you to be thinking about sex. Your sexual thoughts and responses are yours. The bodies you label sexual are a cultural construct and about the beholder, not the person in the body.

My body does not tell you all you need to know about me, not even close. It is not sending you a silent message about my availability or interest. But your response to my body does tell you some things about you. Be careful about the leaps your mind can make. That girl over there is not a slut. She is a unique girl who was born into a body with its own attributes and deficits, just like you.

Time to Grieve

This week, like too many others in the past few years, I have been in stunned grief. My heart is broken. Not for me personally, but for us as a whole. I have say here for over an hour trying to write something meaningful, Trying to craft a response, a suggestion, something helpful. But really all I want to do is cry. I want to say, “This is not right”, for so many reasons. I want to wail and protest and I want to blame. I want to sidestep the pain this all too familiar outrage brings up in me.

So here I am. Right here. Right now. And I can see how I am thinking, not consciously a minute ago but consciously now, righteous anger will feel better than this pain. Removed intellectualizing about this will feel better than this pain. Problem-solving and politicizing will feel better than this pain. Compartmentalizing it into another historical mark on the timeline of human violence will feel better than this pain.

But I need to feel this pain. I need to feel this pain to keep myself fully in my humanity. Right here, right now. I need to breathe it in and not sidestep it. Don’t jump ahead; there is action to take later. Now, feel this pain. Look at the pictures of the murdered, young people will lives ahead of them. People that I might have loved had I met them.

Don’t diminish this grief. It is not the grief of the people who knew them. That is a much harsher and personal grief, I know. Think about the thousands of grieving friends and family members who don’t know how to face today without the person they loved. Imagine how it is to know your loved one died afraid. Let yourself feel this pain, let your heart break for them. Don’t turn away.

Right here, right now, watch how you get angry. How your mind goes to Why? and How? and Whose fault is this? and What the fuck is wrong with us?!! Feel that. Don’t shy away. Breathe it in. Feel it. Don’t shy away.

Let the tears come. Let them be helpless, hopeless, frightened, devastated, angry, sad, empty. Take this time. Grieve. Be human.

At this moment, this is what I can do. I can be strong enough to recognize that I need to grieve to stay a part of this human community. I cannot send these feelings underground, where they will hide and I can pretend that we can go on as usual. I owe us all that much. Right here, right now, feel this pain. Don’t shy away. Breathe it in. Feel it. Feel it. Don’t turn away. Stay human.

"Twenty Minutes of Action"

No doubt many of you have heard, and been outraged by, the outcome of the recent rape trial of Brock Turner here in Northern California. This case has highlighted rape culture and the ways in which we as a society disregard the damage done to victims and criminality of the perpetrators.

 In a letter to the judge the father of the perpetrator is quoted as saying that his son shouldn’t face harsh punishment for “twenty minutes of action”. This statement hit me harder than all the rest that has gone wrong in the course of this case. “Twenty minutes of action”???!! This is so offensive I can barely breathe.

The decision to sexually assault a person does not happen in 20 minutes. It must take a lifetime of missed lessons about human kindness and decency. It must take years of ugly ideas about women and their rights to safety and respect. It must take years of warped impressions why we have sex and a blindness to the potential and humanity of shared sexual experiences. It must take a learned sense of entitlement and dismissal of others people’s rights or feelings.

To suggest that anyone of us could get drunk enough that it would suddenly seem like a reasonable idea to assault an unconscious person is reprehensible. This is not a miscommunication about sex! This woman did not regain consciousness for 2 hours after being taken to the hospital. This was not even common consensual sexual interactions! The woman had abrasions to her vagina from having sticks and dirt inserted, not something one could reasonably assume would be okay with someone. This was violence. You do not become the person who would do this in twenty minutes.

Documents state that one of the two men who stopped the assault was crying when he talked to the police about what he witnessed. That is a natural human response to seeing someone violated. Most people in our world would not have the impulse to rape, or sexually violate an unconscious person, even in their worst twenty minutes. Young men do not need to be protected from their worst impulses because most of them grow up without a desire to hurt other people. I believe this. It is important to me to believe this.

We grow up together, with years of being shown how to treat one another. Years of playing, communicating, collaborating and seeing each other as worthy of dignity. Years to develop sexuality that kind and interactive and vastly different from perpetration. And yes, years of learning that there are consequences for hurting one another.

We as a society have to stop making excuses for sexual perpetration and to start taking responsibility for raising people for whom perpetration is simply incompatible with desire. It never comes down to twenty minutes. It comes down to what one person believes is okay to do to another person. And they will have spent their whole life learning that. We are teaching them. Which is why this court’s decision is so devastating.


Gestures of Peace When You Are Angry

Oh you will fight. If you are in a partnership of any kind for any length of time, you will fight. This is normal. You will fight about ridiculous things and important things, things long gone and things that haven’t happened yet. Some of you will fight loud and some of you will fight with closed lips and a few cold words. Some of you will get a rush from it and some of you will hate every minute.

It isn’t how you fight or how often you fight that will necessarily damage your relationship; it is how you stay connected when you do fight. Relationship researcher extraordinaire, John Gottman calls these gestures during conflict repair attempts.

Repair attempts are the ways in which people remember their connection in this midst of a conflict. It can be a little gesture that says, “I know we love each other, even now”. It is a moment of outwardly slowing down the escalation to show I am staying in this with you, I am being careful with you and me, I care about what happens here. Repair attempts are gestures of peace that make all the difference if they are received by your partner.

Here are some things to try :

Say how you feel. Not the surface, “I am pissed off” feeling, but the other ones a bit under the surface. This will require that you slow yourself down for a minute and get vulnerable. Be honest with your partner about what is being stirred in you in this moment. Could be, “I am feeling judged and ashamed.”, “I am feeling scared of losing you.” “I am feeling like a little kid being scolded and I want to rebel.” “I feel defensive”. This grounds the conversation in an emotional reality and makes it easier to be gentle with one another. Take a breath and be brave.

Say that you can see their side of things. Valuing their perspective doesn’t mean they are all right and you are wrong. It means hearing one another and being reasonable. You might repeat back what you have heard them say to make sure you understand. You might say, “I see your point…” or “I dan’t thought of it that way.” Also it is good to acknowledge the things that are working even while addressing a problem between you. Tell them something you appreciate about them or something they are doing that is helpful to the situation. Nothing is black and white here.

Say how you messed up. Sorry to tell you but most likely there is some small way in which you misspoke or responded less than ideally.  And the thing is you probably know it; you just are using that frustration with self to fuel your frustration for the argument. Try defusing that. You don’t have to make it heavy; you can say, “Duh, that was the wrong thing to say, sorry.” Or you can say, “Let me try that again” or simply, “ I don’t like how I responded there.” Its ok, we all play our part.

Say that you need to calm down. Once we hit a certain emotional frequency, it is nearly impossible to think clearly. Let your partner see that you are taking care of yourself as a way to stay present. You can say, “Hang on. I need to slow down and take a breath.” Or “I am feeling overwhelmed and am having trouble taking this in. Can we slow down?” Or maybe you need to stop the conversation right now and come back to it later when you are clearer. Saying this now can save you a lot of wasted arguing.

Say that you trust your bond. This is more subtle than the rest but it can be the strongest kind of repair attempt. It relies more on your relationship style and history. Many people use humor for this. They crack a little joke to lighten the mood a little. Some people might use a private reference point or something like, “Well, I guess we have to have our quarterly fight sometime.” Or some people just reach out a touch their partners hand or shoulder, silently saying “I do love you, you know.” The key is that these are delivered with a smile and from a genuine place of good will and trust.

Say that you love them. Remember it and say it. And if you see a repair attempt coming your way, honor that for what it is – a way to stay connected. Take in the gesture of good will by responding in kind. Take a deep breath, slow your roll, and remember why you love this person enough to bother arguing with them.


May All Beings Have Pleasure

Last night in my yoga class, we were led in Metta or Loving-Kindness prayer practice. For those of you not familiar with this, overly-simplified, it involves repeating short statements of blessings for oneself, then for another, then for all beings. This allows you to mindfully cultivate loving kindness towards yourself and others. The statements themselves can vary a lot from traditional to more personal. For example, “May I be happy. May I be free from suffering. May I be at peace.”

Last night our teacher encouraged us to design our own blessings, for something we wish for ourselves and others. I immediately thought, “May I have pleasure.” Yes, pleasure! Imagine that as a sacred wish for ourselves and others. At once I felt the rightness of this blessing, but I was also aware of the many ways that pleasure has been pushed out of our sacred spaces.

I believe that pleasure is healing and transformative. I know our bodies are masterful systems that are clearly build for pleasures of many kinds. Pleasure can bring awe and compassion and transpersonal awareness and deep peace. It soothes us and inspires us. Pleasure can feel like a gift from god/spirit/universe/goddess/all that is. It is a message to our bodies and souls that we are going to be ok, that life is full and rich, and that we are capable of astounding feeling. Good stuff.

But generation after generation, people were afraid of pleasure. Afraid that it would distract, distort, create selfishness and laziness and gluttony and immorality. Those who were spiritual were supposed to be above such things, removed from the petty satisfactions and pleasures of this life. How sad this has been for us to turn away from this gift, which comes freely with our body and our senses, available to all regardless of social station or luck. And so we lose our chances for pleasure, just as we lose our chances for peace or happiness or release from suffering.

So last might I reclaimed pleasure as a blessing, for myself and for all beings. “May I have pleasure. May all beings have pleasure”. Try it out yourself. How does it feel to bring pleasure into your prayers or intentions? Do you feel guilty asking for this? Does it feel indulgent? Why is this? What if this was a beautiful blessing that we all deserved?

May you be happy. May you be free from suffering. May you find peace. May you have pleasure.


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.