Sexy or Just Painful?

by mel26. March 2015 14:18

 

I had the amazing opportunity to spend 2 weeks in Rome this year which is a city of history, art, passion, and appetite. Among the many, many things Italy does well are shoes.

 

The best thing about shoe shopping in Italy was something that actually stunned me. They sell primarily sensible shoes. I realized that in America when I look for shoes most stores have about 70% high heels to 30% shoes the average 40 year old could comfortably walk in for a few hours (excluding trainers or athletic shoes, which are their own category). In Rome, the proportions were flipped – 70% walkable, low heel shoes, 30% high perilous heels. And the walkable shoes were stylish, meaning that all women, young to old, had cool shoes and the I-am-comfortable-moving-through-the-world attitude that went with the actually comfortable shoes.

 

Now sure, Rome has cobblestone streets so ladies in the high heels are taking serous risks with their ankles. But it really struck me, how far we in America have gone down this road of foot torture and high heel extremes. Searching for a “sexy shoe” will have one wading through hundreds of 4 inch heels or higher and it can seem like shoe designers consider 2 inch heels not worth the effort to make look hip in any way. Celebrities are regularly seen in 8 inch, even 11 inch heels. Well designed? Maybe. Comfortable? Doubtful. The idea that beauty or sexiness is something you have to be willing to hurt for seems to be gaining more of a hold.

 

I know for me that wincing while I walk or breaking into a cold sweat while trying not to think about my feet just standing still, is not sexy. I, too, am drawn in by the angle of a foot and tensed leg in a high heel. Sexy to look at. Well suited to being off your feet, which can be sexy. But limiting. It is also sexy to dance for hours, to hop on bikes and go somewhere secluded, to walk for hours and eat gelato after dark (did I mention the gelato? Oh man.) Sexy is being free to move. Sexy feels good.

 

Let’s say that again because I don’t think we hear it enough. Sexy feels good. Hmmm, I feel like dancing.

 

Making it Easier to Talk About Sex

by mel18. March 2015 12:36

 

I have been doing a lot of radio appearances lately to promote The Conscious Sexual Self Workbook, and a question that keeps coming up is – how can we make it easier to talk about sex? Even radio hosts, who talk for a living, share with me that they start to blush and find it hard to get the words out when it comes to sex. I help people have these conversations every day. Here are some ways to set yourself up to have a better experience.

 

Acknowledge That This May Be Awkward – Much of our embarrassment about sex comes from an adolescent, and unrealistic, feeling that everyone else seems to have this sex thing all together and if you are not playing it completely cool, you are failing. Give yourself and your partner permission to be awkward, to stutter, to not know the answers. Maybe you even have to stop and take a break for a bit. Don’t feel that you have to play a part, be genuine, even genuinely embarrassed, it takes the pressure off.

 

Don’t Try to Have a Challenging Conversation Right After Having Sex – Rolling over and relaxing or critiquing what just happened – um, go with relaxing. Even if the experience wasn’t what you hoped, keep in mind that post- sex people tend to be a bit vulnerable, making it a great time to share loving words, less great for problem-solving.  Make time to have a conversation when you can feel close, awake, and can really focus on listening to each other.

 

Start With the Positive – Figure out what has been working for you, what do you like about sex? Asking for something you feel good about sets a tone of excitement and potential. As you start to share about something that isn’t working as well or that you would like to change, continue thinking about what you do want. What do you want more of? What would you like instead? Often people just say, “I don’t like it when you…” leaving their partner feeling like the lists of things they can do just shrunk. Certainly say if something is a clear No to you. But keep sharing your YESs too, they are equally important.

 

Make Contact – Touching your partner is soothing and studies have found that couples report less stress during conversations when they are holding hands. If it feels okay to do so, reach out and touch their leg or arm. Have the conversation cuddled up or while rubbing each other’s feet. Remind yourselves that you are connected by physical contact. This can also help with connection when eye contact feels too intense.

 

Don’t Expect to Figure it All Out at Once – Often sexual conversations open up questions, new invitations that have to be considered, edges that may take some time to approach. Pressuring yourself or a partner to come up with clear answers right away will only led to one level of growth. Embrace, “I am not sure, I need to think about that for awhile”. Then take the time to get to be curious about yourself. And then keep talking.

 

Fixing Broken Things

by mel11. March 2015 09:06

 

The other day I was trying to fix a broken figurine that had sentimental value for me. Applying glue, taking the two tiny pieces and fitting them back together, some chips still visible unable to be covered. I found myself pressing the two broken pieces together tightly, as though this would somehow get them to adhere more quickly. Now, I know this contradicts the way I understand glue to work – pressure doesn’t speed dry time. Yet, there I was pressing harder. It became clear quickly that all this was doing for me was causing the pieces to come apart was soon as the pressure was released, meaning I had to start over, more glue. After a few irrational tries, I settled into the realization that slow and steady pressure was the way to go. I needed to hold it gently in place just allowing contact between the two parts. I sat patiently in the sun, for a minute or two, just holding and breathing. Afterward I was unsure why I tried to rush the process.

 

But so often when things feel broken our impulse is to fix them quickly, to push into the problem so that it might yield under pressure. But like the glue, many repairs take their own time and need gentle handling. In therapy I see people come in valiantly committed to healing, getting past something, repairing damage of all kinds. Sometimes their commitment to fixing also includes a willingness to hurt themselves, to push past their own limits, to force something to happen. Meanwhile growth has its own pace. Sometimes healing takes gently holding something broken in our hands or hearts, bringing it out into the sun, and breathing slowly while we wait to feel something adhere, something unseen take hold again.

 

Healing does take courage and a willingness to face painful or frightening aspects of life. But it doesn’t require self harm and it doesn’t respond more quickly under pressure. I struggle with being gentle with myself, so I return again and again to lessons about allowing. When I can be mindful of this, there is a spaciousness that surrounds each problem and a sense that effort is not the answer, understanding is. Healing in a relationship requires gentle contact with one another, without force or rushing. Letting the two separate selves touch, close enough that the mysterious thing that holds them to one another can grow strong again, strong enough to hold them together invisibly. It takes time. Meanwhile things are mending, connecting again, becoming less fragile.

 

What do you need to make time to hold gently today?

 

Creating a Body-Positive Home For Your Kids

by mel24. February 2015 16:03

 

Every day we are teaching kids what to think about their bodies and how to treat them. Some might say our society is a hostile environment for bodies with so many encouragements to view our body from the outside, rather than to experience and listen to it from the inside. Here are a few tips for helping kids have a more body-positive time at home.

 

* Teach attention to and identification of body sensations, such as tired, hungry, etc.  Help your children to identify what they are experiencing in their bodies. It is so easy for us to just think, “Man, you are cranky today” or “He is whiny because he is tired”. It can be really helpful for kids to focus on what their body is telling them. Have a conversation with your child – How do you feel when you are getting sleepy? Maybe give them some ideas. For example, “When I get sleepy, things that are normally easy for me can start to seem hard and sometimes my body feels really slow and heavy”. Once your child learns that their body gives them important information, they can also learn that they can take action to take care of it. What helps you when you are feeling sleepy? Have these kinds of little conversations about feeling hungry, needing attention or love, being scared, all kinds of experiences that we can feel in our bodies. Here’s the tough part, parents – In teaching your children to take care of their own bodies sensations and needs, you need to model taking care of your own. So, are you feeling tired? What could you do to help you to recover a little bit?

 

* Encourage exploration of individual strengths, rather than pushing a mold   The family sport may be baseball, but if your child’s hand eye coordination isn’t where it may need to be for them to enjoy and feel successful at baseball, allow them to explore other sports or activities that might help them find a sense of accomplishment. Encourage all your children, but especially those under 10 years old, to experiment with different activities and have fun discovering all the varied ways to be active. Invite family play that includes touch, stretching, silly non-choreographed movement or dancing, or exploration of their senses, all ways for your children to discover their own bodies and what it can do and feel. Think of movement at fun, not work, and you may be amazed at what changes.

 

* Focus on eating for energy and pleasure  Food tastes good and food fuels us to live our lives, but so often we talk about food and the way we eat it as though it says something about our value or ethics as a person. How often have you said, in front of your kids, “Oh I shouldn’t eat that” or “I was so bad for eating that ice cream”. Help your children focus on food choices with as little shaming as possible. And the best way to do this is to model that attitude with yourself and your choices. For example, saying “Cookies sound good, but I know I have a busy afternoon ahead of me so I am going to have something that will give me more energy” or “I would love one of your brownies and I am going to sit here and really enjoy it”. These responses are not shame based and they show food as an ally to support you in feeling good and functioning the way you want to.

 

* Do not allow teasing about bodies in your house  Very often I hear dads say that they used to bond with their kids through playful teasing and then when puberty hit their kids suddenly starting taking it so seriously. Yes, part of teen development is to be very worried about being “normal” and living up to external standards. For several years it becomes very hard for teens to joke about themselves. This does not mean that they have permanently lost their sense of humor, although it may feel like that. However, teasing through this time in their lives or any other can be very painful and can shut down lines of communication between you. I also hear teens, and adults, say that teasing from siblings was an incredibly painful part of growing up and often still stings. So have family ground rules set in place that no one (including parents) gets teased about how their body looks or works. Find other ways to joke and be playful that are non-critical.

 

* Teach children to look at media and fads with a critical eye  Here’s the thing about this one – I say with a critical eye, not with your critical eye. You cannot force your children to see things your way, although many have tried. What you can teach them is to ask questions about what they see, to think about unseen consequences or motivations, to know that they have the right to disagree even with things that are hugely popular. Watch TV or listen to the radio with your children, and invite conversation about what is happening. Ask your children what they think about something at least as often as you share what you think. Have a night when TV watching is a game and you have to yell out every time someone talks about being on a diet or every time you see a woman in underwear (this happens often even during children’s’ programming hours). Have fun, be loud, and then talk about what they think about seeing those things on TV so often. Nominate other things to look for in TV that you want to start a conversation about.

 

* Walk Your Talk Do you want to raise kids who are proud and comfortable in their bodies? How are you doing with that for yourself? Kids hear the way you talk. They notice when you delete every photo of yourself. Heck, they notice when you grimace at the mirror. Take care of yourself. Model being kind and treating your body with respect. Its not too late to create a body-positive place for yourself.

 

Getting Comfortable With Uncomfortable

by mel4. February 2015 15:26

I am dismayed to hear about a trend in higher education in which students are expecting to be given “trigger warnings” if a lecture or piece of literature might be upsetting, or in therapy speak – triggering- to them. This will allow them to opt out of learning from content that emotionality challenges them.  I believe that protection from things that make us uncomfortable limits learning and growth. There is a great big world out there and much of it will make us uncomfortable. And the only way to get more comfortable with all those different or challenging perspectives? Face them, learn about them, try to understand them.

 

One reason this makes me very concerned is that we know from studies (recent ones focusing on attitudes about gay marriage) that exposure to difference is the best thing to reduce discrimination and negative beliefs about a different group. It is easy to hold on irrational beliefs about something you have no first hand knowledge of. Being exposed to that which makes us uncomfortable is a huge component of growth, without it we stagnate quickly. The education system should be a series of uncomfortable events, each designed to open us to new ideas and perspectives. We need to face the realities of the world we live in, much of which we might prefer to blissfully ignore.

 

And that is another reason I don’t support trigger warnings, the world is full of triggers. Getting stronger in the face of them is empowering. Hiding from them is not. I work with clients who struggle with PTSD and part of treatment is to identify triggers, things that send messages to their brain that they are in danger. Once they are identified, we can talk about ways to avoid some of those triggers, sure. And that can be helpful in reducing stress in the short term. But I never guarantee to a client that they will be able to arrange their life such that they can avoid all triggers. That would most likely be a very limited life. Instead we work to build up strength and new responses to triggers, so that they have less power to through someone into fear.

 

I see the affects, big and small, of people believing they cannot handle things that make them uncomfortable. And I know that the healing for that is, almost always, facing those things and finding that they do not have to damage you. I see the arguments for discrimination and reducing our rights being made on the basis of “I shouldn’t have to be witness to their life/behavior/art/ideas/sexual expression/choices/religious beliefs/ and on and on”. I have seen people not say something that was true and important to them for fear of upsetting a partner and the ways that reduces intimacy and connection. I have seen my own biases and blindspots change as I find myself in brand new territory, even as it scares me.

 

So let’s commit as conscious sexual selves to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Let’s let it strengthen us and inspire us. Let’s understand our own ability to honor and accept difference without having to let go of our own self. Let’s get excited about the stuff that makes us go, “what the X#*?” or “ick” because it means there is more out there than we can fully grasp, and that is ok. And let’s never let the world convince us that we are not strong enough to face it. 

 

 

GroundHog's Day in the Bedroom?

by mel28. January 2015 14:23

 

 

Be honest, are you feeling like each sexual experience is a repeat of the last? Do you know exactly where your partner will touch you next and for how long? If you feel like you can sleepwalk your way through sex, you are missing out on a lot. Just because you and your partner are familiar with each other doesn’t mean each experience needs to be the same as the last. But, like Bill Murray’s character in the movie, you may have to let go of some old habits and really get invested in what is happening.

 

What’s it going to take the break the pattern? Are you ready to wake up to a brand new day with new sexual potential? I hate to break it to you, but it is going to take some discomfort. Or as I warn my therapy clients, things are going to get awkward. Why should it be awkward? Isn’t that a bad thing?! you ask. Actually, no it is not a bad thing.

 

Trying new things often feels a bit uncomfortable. The reason we fall into habits is because that routine becomes the easiest thing to do; we don’t even have to think about it. It can be efficient and even effective to half sleepwalk our way through some tasks. But sex is not like that. Like pizza, a mediocre serving of sex can still be pretty good, it true. But if that is what you are having all the time, boredom will set in.

 

What risks will you take to break the pattern? I don’t know. But I am sure they will make you feel more alive. Like Phil in Groundhog’s Day, everything you try will not necessarily bring you closer to what you want. But it will make your day more interesting. And like Phil, you will need to try harder, to show up more genuinely, to get curious about the people you are with, and maybe to plan ahead. Get excited again. Wonder what might happen if you did this. It’s possible. It’s just also vulnerable. But you can do it. Wake up, it’s a new day.

 

 

 

Rita: This day was perfect. You couldn't have planned a day like this.

 

 

 

Phil: Well, you can. It just takes an awful lot of work.

 

 

Creating What We Expect

by mel21. January 2015 16:19

 

I recently heard about a great study. Researcher psychologist Bob Rosenthal took a group of average rats and put signs on their cages saying that some of the rats were very smart and some of the rats were dumb. He then assigned people to work with the rats, getting the rats to run a timed maze. So… some of the people believed that they had special smart rats and some believed that their rats were dumb. The effects were intense – the rats assigned to people who believed them to be smart ran the maze nearly twice as fast as the rats who had been labeled dumb.

 

Rosenthal’s speculation is that the people assigned to the rats touched them differently, more gently if they were proud of their smart little rat, and that affected the rats’ performance. So, if subtleties of our touch can affect rats this drastically – a species with little incentive to care what we think about them -imagine what it might do for our human partners.

 

What messages are you sending to your partner as you touch them in bed? What expectations can be transmitted through your skin? What patterns have you come to expect, so much so that your body unconsciously reacts in anticipation of them?  

 

As a sex therapist I work with people as they make changes to the way they interact sexually, changing patterns and expectations. Often we have to address the subtle, even unconscious, ways we are reacting to one another. While it is freeing to imagine that anything can happen, that we don’t know what to expect, with longer term partners we rarely have that mindset. And so we co-create a dance, feeling each other’s lead through our bodies and responding, feeling and responding, expecting and responding.  People who do partner-dancing know that if the person following begins to anticipate the lead’s move too early, it will throw off the rhythm. Moving together means responding in the moment, not forecasting the moments ahead.

 

So how can you drop expectation and truly see what you and your partner can co-create sexually? Approach touch and sexual play from a blank slate perspective. Imagine that you can ask for anything. Try not to brace for a YES or a NO. Expect fun and connection and pleasure and see what happens.

 

And, we know from our maze-running rat friends, that touch which broadcasts loving support, excitement, pride in your partner (what a smart rat, you are!) may bring out the best in them. Touch mindfully.

 

I will have an ecstatic year

by mel29. December 2014 13:16

 

Some many resolutions, so few that enhance our sexuality. Let’s change that this year, shall we? Here are a few ideas…

 

I resolve:

 

To welcome my own desires, sexual thoughts and fantasies

 

To treat each sexual experience as a something new with unknown potential

 

To get deeply curious about myself

 

To say yes with more enthusiasm

 

To say no with more confidence

 

To have sexual pleasure, because I deserve it and am worthy of it (even on “fat days”)

 

To get more comfortable talking about sex and what I want

 

To try something new without feeling like I have to “get it right” the first time

 

To find a way to channel my sexual energy into _________

 

To schedule time for sexual pleasure because it is a priority for me

 

To speak up when I hear someone say something sexually derogatory, discriminatory or damaging

 

To release old stories or fears that no longer serve me

 

To learn something new about my partner

 

To bring more ____(love, risk, reverence, play, sassiness)___to my sexual play

 

Did any of these inspire you? Create your own that feels right for you. Just don’t forget to include your sexual self in that list of resolutions. Happy, healthy sexuality is a part of a vibrant life. Give it the attention it deserves.

 

Of course a great way to bring new life and energy to your sexuality – Work The Conscious Sexual Self Workbook! Buy it on Amazon and start exploring in 2015. And for Santa Cruz locals, you can join Melissa Fritchle at Pure Pleasure on Jan 7th for the workshop, Your Sexual Resolutions for 2015.

 

What Emotions Are OK in Sex?

by mel17. December 2014 17:45

 

Some of the couples I work with have been having sex that is more of an intellectual exercise than an emotional connection. There is a lot of strategizing, observing, fantasizing, worrying, critiquing, hoping. But there is not a lot of expressing. So sometimes, I invite them to experiment with sexual play that is consciously about showing their partner how they feel in the moment. They focus on using touch and body movements to communicate what they are feeling, not so their partner gets it necessarily, but so that they feel more connected to their own experience. Approaching sex from this new perspective opens up a lot of potential and can allow a broader range of sexual moods and therefore, ways of interacting. Things get less boring and more dynamic.

 

Most of us can easily imagine sex expressing love, lust, joy, curiosity, contentment. Combining sex with the sacred may lead us to imagine sex that expresses reverence or peace. These positive states are often the emotions that couples start with when they begin to explore sex as a vehicle for expressing emotion. But you may have also enjoyed thoughts about sex that stemmed from pride, power, vulnerability, need, fear, even anger. Are those ok for you to express with your partner? Why or why not? And how about more subtle emotional states, like doubt, loneliness, apathy, regret, irritation? Can you imagine touching sexually in a way that expressed and contained sadness?

 

Does imagining some of these emotions being included in sex make you uncomfortable? Thinking and talking about what emotions are welcome in sex for you can be a great practice. It introduces questions about our motivations to have sex, how we want our partners to feel about us when they engage with us sexually, and what emotions are comfortable for us, or not, in general. It also explicitly opens up new room to explore sexually, to be emotional selves, to have moods and variations, to let the energy of feelings blend with the energy of sensations to create something possible new and unique each time you come together.

 

Commiting to Monogamy - What does it Take?

by mel9. December 2014 18:35

 

 

This is an old-y but a goody. Originally published by YourTango.com

 

Committing to Monogamy : What does it take?

 

 

 

I admit to being shocked that TV series The Bachelor, and its sister show, The Bachelorette, are still going with season 19! But it speaks to how focused we are on the dating portion of romance – the getting the partner to choose us and, so the story goes, commit. As a culture we have turned the search for love into a competition, a game, entertainment, something we can critique and, maybe sometimes, even learn from at a distance. But what we need are stories and examples of what happens after you have found each other. We need to watch people who can show us what it takes to be in love for the long term, how they wrap their mind around commitment, and how they are able to grow and thrive within successful monogamy way beyond the ring or the rose. I know some people who are doing that and here are a few foundational pieces they have in place.

 The ability to see monogamy as a choice you make : You can’t do monogamy for your parents, or your friends, or you partner. You have to decide that this is what you want, for you. Identify your own reasons for wanting to be monogamous long-term. Maybe for you it is a religious or spiritual choice, maybe you value loyalty, maybe you see commitment as a path to personal growth, maybe you want to see what can happen if you focus your romantic energy on one person. Whatever your reasons, to be successful at long-term monogamy it is crucial to take responsibility for your choice and to let go of any resentments about other people “making” you do it. Monogamy is not the only choice. If you chose it, do it because you can own it.

A partner who rocks your world : This may seem obvious, but I see people again and again who say that they want to be in a committed relationship now and the person that they are with feels an ok match, so…This is a hard setup for long term monogamy. If you want to feel inspired to stay committed, you need to find a person who inspires you, a person who shares your sense of humor and adventure, a person who turns your body, mind and heart on in a variety of ways, the person who you want to leave the party with again and again. If you start out comparing your partner to others and wishing your partner could be different in this way or that, you may eventually find yourself just wishing for a different partner.

Understanding and familiarity with your own sexual desire : We live in a world of attractive people and no matter how appealing your partner is, you will still notice the other people out there. The romantic saying, “I only have eyes for you” is not realistic. Our culture makes sure you see and encourages you to be seen. Committing to monogamy requires you to be honest with yourself about this and to be prepared to shift the desire stirred up in the world back to your partner. You must learn how to respond to your own desires in ways that feel in integrity to you and this can only be learned by acknowledging that desire and attraction for others will not go away even when you find the one person you want to commit to.

Confidence to be yourself and to ask for what you want : Long-term commitment will be difficult at best if you go into it by trying to shape yourself into the person you think your partner wants. A fun part of early dating can be trying out new things, being introduced to your partner’s new world. But it is one thing to go to MMA fights a few times and another to pretend that you will be happy doing this every weekend for the next 5 years. If you feel that you are subtly dismissing the things you want and slowly letting your life or yourself be reshaped into your partner’s idea of the ideal, be cautious. You want to be sure your partner is committing to you - the self you want to be, not the self you can be if you have to. And you want to be sure you are committing to a life you can happily embrace, not one with creeping resentment.

We may not have a lot of TV shows about it, but long term relationships are hardly boring. They ask a lot of the people involved. So whether you are searching for a partner or have found someone but are wondering how to keep it going into the future, I invite you to think about these traits. You can develop them and they will help to have a strong foundation for the evolving adventure that is love between two people.

 

Melissa Fritchle

Melissa Fritchle is the author of The Conscious Sexual Self Workbook and  a Holistic Psychotherapist, licensed in California as a Marriage and Family Therapist (Lic#48627). She has a private practice specializing in Sex Therapy and Couples Therapy. She travels far and wide,  internationally and on the internet, to spread compassionate, sex positive, diverse, realistic sex education.

Contact Melissa for therapy or to book her for a workshop or presentation

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