Conscious Sexual Self

Connection Requires Consciousness

The People Who Shape You

This time of year we often look around our lives at all the people in it. And we may think about the people who used to be a part of our lives and our now gone. This can be an opportunity to consider the way we have been shaped and the ways we have grown in relation to the people with whom we have shared our lives. Relationships are not always easy. But they do always offer us new information about ourselves and, if we look deeply enough, about the way we want to be in relation to others.

There is a concept from Southern Africa, Ubunto, which can be defined in many ways. But one powerful definition says that a person is a unique person through being with other people. It speaks to the way we are shaped by others in our world; that in fact we are co-creating one another through interaction. This is a dynamic way of seeing who we are, not fixed but in constant change through relationship.

So maybe this year, take some time to look at your relationships through this lens. How has each person shaped who you are and how you move in the world? What did you learn from having each of these people in your circle? What parts of your self does each person bring out? What do you value about each relationship? Think about the fullness of who you are, so many aspects and insights. Our humanity dancing with humanity, so many daily moments of contact and non-contact. Wonder about the ways you avoid being affected by others and why. Wonder about the times you open yourself up to connection and what that asks of you.

And maybe when the people around you are trying your patience (it happens to all of us), you can get curious about who shaped these people and how their humanity is also in response to relationships past and present.  How might your presence have shaped them? Remember that we are all co-creating together, responding, learning, changing. Be thankful.

Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater?

Let’s bring into the light the persistent saying, “Once a cheater, always a cheater”. I think this knee jerk response does not serve us.

First let’s agree that humans are very complex and varied beings. There are lots of reasons that people have affairs. There are lots of ways affairs play out. Whether you want to believe it or not, there are many good people who love their partner and have cheated. For some of these people, the affair was a breaking point or a wake-up call or an hour of bad judgement. These people may feel horrible about what they did and are exquisitely aware of how it could hurt their partner. Doing something outside of one’s own integrity, crossing one’s own moral boundaries and beliefs, is something all humans are capable of and it can cause us great pain. This is not to excuse the risk taken or the potential damage done. But I think it is important to differentiate this from someone who just doesn’t care about the damage done.

There are people out there who will cheat repeatedly. I actually think they are the minority. In fact, the one study I was able to find that tracked serial infidelity found that only .5% of people who admitted to having affairs had engaged in multiple affairs. Surprised? Just another example of the stories we tell about infidelity being different than many of the realities.

So are you worried about a partner with infidelity in their past? Some things you might want to pay close attention to:

Does this person lie about a lot of things to a lot of people? A casual relationship with lying speaks to a pattern and little lies make big lies easier. And bear in mind, if they lie to others, they are likely to lie to you too.

Does this person treat you insensitively in general? Are they mindful of your feelings and courteous about your needs? Patterns of selfishness or inability to consider your feelings are perhaps larger issues, including personality structures that may be resistant to change.

Does this person genuinely want to be monogamous or do they seem motivated by the social expectations and social privileges that come with monogamy or the appearance of monogamy? How can you tell? You can ask directly but you can also note how they talk about relationships and sex, what benefits they get from being in a romantic partnership and how they deal with their own desires and inhibitions.

Does this person engage in bullying or pressuring to get you to have sex with them? Do they pout or withhold affection if you are not available for sex? These patterns may speak to some compulsivity or entitlement that can affect your relationship.

Is this person very impulsive? Do they love someone one day and then hate them the next? Do they use drugs or alcohol in ways that can lead to bad decisions? Do they seem to always be searching for a new rush or new intensity? None of these things necessarily will lead to infidelity but they can make the stability of long term relationships challenging.

Does this person have a solid understanding of what led them to cheat before? Does this understanding include an attitude of fairness for everyone involved or is it blaming? Has something changed for this person?

In truth, there is no test to tell you if a person will cheat (contrary to the many magazine articles out there). But a past experience with being unfaithful is simply not a clear sign that someone will be unfaithful again. We have great capacity to learn and grow and also great potential to find partners who we love more deeply and with more passion than we could have previously imagined. Look to the patterns you see now in your partner. Don’t rely on generalizations; we all deserve more than that.

More of What Makes My Head Explode

I was meeting with a new client who is concerned because she is not feeling much in the way of sexual desire and it is causing problems with her husband. As we are talking and I am getting the bigger picture of her life, she mentions that she brought up her lack of desire with her psychiatrist and the psychiatrist told her to “drink a glass of wine” and that should help. HEAD EXPLODING. Now aside from this being pathetic advice and not related to increasing desire in any way (more on that in a bit), I should mention that the client in this story is 5 years sober. So I can only imagine that this psychiatrist was so thrown by the topic of sexuality that she gave this knee-jerk inappropriate, if not unprofessional, piece of advice.

So for those of you reading, let’s clarify why this was bad advice, for anyone, not just a client in sobriety. Alcohol – in small amounts! - can lower our inhibitions and help us relax. True enough. But sexual desire is not equivalent to low inhibitions. If someone is not feeling sexual, it is just as likely that a glass of wine will only make them uninhibited enough to say, “no way, I just want to watch the game”. Supporting someone who wants sex but feels inhibited or ashamed about it is totally different than helping someone who wants to want sex but just currently doesn’t.

There is so much to explore and consider when you are working with someone with desire issues and so many deep and insightful places that conversation can go. What a waste to stop the exploration with a throw away, impersonal “solution”. Desire is mysterious. It can require us to look deeply and with compassion at the intersections of our needs, identities, life phases, and relationships that all pull and draw us in sometimes conflicting directions.

Bottom line : We can do so much better than this. We should be doing so much better than this. For therapists and other professionals out there, the time is now. You don’t all have to be sex therapists. Hey I want to keep my job. But it is part of your responsibility to be sexually aware enough to provide someone with a clear-headed space to bring up sexual concerns without getting shut down. If you feel lacking in this area, be compassionate with your own place in a sexually uninformed culture and then seek out good training and education. Have good referrals; take sex seriously as the nuanced and valuable thing that it is in our lives.

And if you are someone looking for sexual support or exploration, there are people who are able to be supportive of you as a unique person. They are out there. I promise. Keep looking.


Interested in trainings on sexuality and relationships? Get on the mailing list for Melissa’s upcoming trainings, follow along on the Facebook page or bring Melissa to your area or organization by coordinating a training. Send Melissa an email to connect -

Shadow Impulses

Taboos, depictions of extreme sensations, themes of losing control, hidden urges and desires unleashed, body parts exposed, gasps and screams…


Am I writing about sex? Not exactly. I am writing about the blend of fear and horror with sexuality and why we might like it – or at least fantastical performances of it. One of the famous places that this dynamic was played out for eager crowds was the Grand Guignal Theatre in Paris. Known for its naturalistic horror plays, the theatre ran from 1897 to 1962. Similar to our more current slasher films, the Grand Guignal blended sexual titillation with terror, and like our drive-ins, it had private booths for audience members who might be overcome with excitement.


So why do sex and fear get mixed together for entertainment throughout human history? All the way back to Oedipus we have enjoyed horrific tales of passion and punishment. Let’s be clear, real situations of human cruelty or violence are not entertaining to most of us who have empathy (however much the news media currently packages it as entertainment). But the fantastical and extreme offers something to our psyches that we humans seem to yearn for – a way to face and engage with the Shadow safely.


Sexual impulses and violent impulses have both been seen as outside our rational mind and been repressed by society, left to be explored in the dark without much guidance. And yet they both continue to feature prominently in human history. Both involve the body and witnessing the body in ways that are outside of the normal day to day experience. Sensations and reactions to pain and pleasure can be surprisingly close, both can sweep us away, take us over. Excitement and mild fear can feel very similar in the body too and make us feel deeply alive.


We are drawn to the Shadow, the risky edges of human existence. We have things to learn there and by engaging safely with the extremes of human experience we can bit more aware. Maybe for audience members, at Oedipus or the Grand Guignal, it was simply a matter of breaking one taboo, so we may as well break another. But maybe we all get something more out of visiting our edges. At least we keep doing it…Time to see what horror movie is on tonight.

Seduction Techniques Not Working For You?

This one is inspired by the classic horror film, The Bride of Frankenstein, and that epic scream face Elsa Lancaster made famous. The story is a sad one. Poor Frankenstein monster was lonely and the doctor created a bride for him. But once she was made and brought to life, seeing Frankie stumble and mumble at her apparently didn’t appeal. Cue, Scream. And classic horror movie destruction.


For us human folk, happily not in a horror movie, this dynamic can play out in more subtle ways. Sometimes our seduction skills are lacking or just in hiding. Like Frankie we attempt an awkward hand pat or grunt, “want to do it?”. And like the Bride, we can respond in less than kind ways. Rejection hurts, whether you are the only 2 monsters on the planet or not, and like Frankie rejection can make us feel, “she hates me”. So what can we learn from their sad tale?


It can be important to let our partner know that they may be appealing but the lackluster seduction routine is not. Talk about how you like sex to be initiated. I am not suggesting you expect flowers covering the bed or a striptease each time you have sex, but there may be some things that help to get your mind on sex and some things that hinder it. Be specific. Share with your partner what words turn you on and which ones don’t. What types of touch feel arousing? And, equally important, what types of touch turn you off? Do you need a bit of conversation before you engage sexually or maybe you prefer your partner to not be wearing the sweatshirt with baby spit up on it. Speak up, focus on what you like, while being upfront and non-blaming about what you don’t like so much.


And if you are just not in the mood, that is ok. But don’t’ scream or hiss in your partner’s general direction. Try saying something that lets them know you do want to connect with them sometime soon, just not right now. Really ask yourself, what would help me get in the mood? Could it be as simple as, “I think I need an hour to soak in the tub and relax and then we can connect”. Or maybe you know a night later this week will be better. Think of trying to include an addendum to each No. Try for a “Not now, but maybe…?”


If we can learn from the bride and avoid being unfriendly about it all and learn from Frankie and try just a little harder to be seductive, it will help keep everyone happy and connected.

Being Out...

This week we celebrated National Coming Out Day. This holiday was established in 1988 when the Gay Rights movement was very focused on the need for visibility. You may remember the slogan, “The Personal is Political”. It is true that the more people recognize the gay people in their lives, the more they see gay people as part of their community, the less prejudice we should see. I see positive changes here in my lifetime, for sure. But you may note how many years it really took for us to have openly gay celebrities, politicians, and public figures in the media on a regular basis. A lot of time has passed since 1988 and we are still growing our awareness. We are still developing safe space for sexual minorities to “come out”.

The conversation I would really love to see happen around National Coming Out Day is about how much coming out is actually a daily process. Yes, daily. Not at all a one time finish line one crosses. There are significant coming out moments in one’s life, with family or a potential romantic interest. But in truth, coming out has to be a constant choice involving assessment of whether or not one is in a safe place to show this aspect of one’s self. At each new class or job, will I mention my orientation here? Walking down a street, will I show my love for my partner here? Standing in a checkout line, will I get bad service or a bad attitude of we hold hands? Meeting a new landlord, neighbor, teacher, student… in many cases, a decision to share or not. A choice that can feel like protection, but can also feel like a burden.

In the past the metaphor of being in the closet was more relevant as many people had to live nearly entire lives hiding this piece of who they were, with few moments of getting to step out into the light so to speak. Now for many people the metaphor of armor may be more relevant, something that one must put on at certain times, heavy and constricting but also providing protection. The armor will not stop the pain of impact, but it may curtail severe damage. And it can be exhausting to have to carry it with you, heartbreaking and restricting to have to fit yourself into it yet again.

So in honor of National Coming Out Day this year, let’s acknowledge the ongoing nature of the risk taking that coming out involves and  the subtleties of sharing who we are and the relationships that are important to us. Let’s come together to send energy to our friends and neighbors or ourselves for staying strong while having to continually assess if it is safe to be open. Let’s do our part by not assuming heterosexuality and thereby quietly crowding out other relationships and perspectives. Let’s be sure to honor that coming out is a part of a life, not an event that can be encompassed in a day. And let’s hope that by National Coming Out Day next year, things are even better and there are less and less days when the armor is needed.

Pain or Intense Sensation?

When I am teaching professionals about being open to and aware of the broad spectrum of the kink community, I often feel people’s discomfort or struggle to understand pain play in sex. For those not so inclined, this can seem contrary to what they are hoping for in their sex experiences. But for others, the sweet intensity of being taken to a physical edge is incredibly exciting.

Most of our experiences of pain come without our consent, with lots of unknowns attached. These experiences of pain involve fear as well, fear of what is happening to us, fear of how long the pain will last, fear of the pain getting worse, fear of our lives changing because of this pain, fear of losing control. This type of pain feels like damage is being done to us. And it is out of our control, something that is happening to us and all we can do is try to tolerate it as we wish for it to stop.

Pain without fear is something else entirely. Within a sexual exploration, if done appropriately, everything is done completely within the context of choice. In receiving pain or intense sensation, you first choose a partner you can trust to stop if you ask, to go slow enough for you to take in the sensation and track your responses and edges, and who is there to give you something you want. You know sensation will stop of fade when you need it to and so have a freedom to experience it differently.

Let me put it in a sensual, but non-sexual context. When I studied deep tissue massage, I got to experience people digging in to just about every part of my body. Sometimes this caused pain, more pain than I had yet experienced at that point in my life. Strong fingers reaching in to get underneath your Achilles tendon – this is a special kind of pain, trust me. But I was never afraid, so I was able to feel the intensity, breathe, and open to it. And I knew that if it got too intense I could say, “stop” and it would. This ability to open to the sensation without fear blew my mind. And I learned to love the clear focus this provided me, totally in the moment, and the shift in my mood, energy, and awareness that came with it.

Some of you may have experiences of intense sensation that appeal to you, times when you could note the difference between fearful pain and exciting intensity. You may never choose to bring this into your sexual exploration, or maybe you will. Either way, maybe this understanding will help you be more aware of a range of sensation play, including pain, that can be available to each of us.

Passion Wanted, Apply Within

If you are like a lot of people, you want to know “What is the one thing people most want in a lover?”  So I will answer, based on the many hours I have spent as a sex therapist talking to people about their wishes and desires, and it may surprise you.

The most common thing I hear people wanting from a sex partner, of any gender variation, age, commitment history…, is for their partner to be enthusiastic and to want to be having sex with them. That’s right, enthusiasm, happy willingness, passion. Seems simple enough. We want to feel wanted. We want to share something with someone who is enjoying themselves. I hear many sexual details and accoutrements that people want as well, more anal, less anal, a spanking now and then, to keep the heels on …lots of variations of things that would be nice to try. But the foundational piece for most people is to feel that their partner is into it, into them, and happy to spend time being sexual together.

Sadly, there are lots of ways our individual enthusiasm for sex can wane. Dissatisfactions, arguments, frustrations, new body pains, exhaustion, shame, self doubt, and on and on. And lack of enthusiasm will kill passion in a relationship fast than anything else (unless you are with a bully and that is no good). These externals can decrease enthusiasm, sure. But truly, passion is an internal job.

You can find your passionate person inside at any point in life. It involves listening to yourself, feeling your body sensations, giving yourself time and space to relax and enjoy many aspects of life without rushing on to the next thing. It involves being curious and communicating your curiosity, ideas, fantasies, and discoveries, just to see where they might take you. It involves tending to what is inside of you, which is where you will find lots of important information, not least of which being - what excites you. Oh, and also important…clear out any old stuff telling you that you have to play it cool, that passion is disgraceful, that you should be ashamed to want. Clear it out! Make room to be passionate.

Then show it. This is key. Don t assume your partner knows you like that. Appreciate them by giving them some solid clues. You don’t have to perform porn style, just be genuinely enthusiastic. What might happen, is you turn yourself on even more. Enthusiasm feeds itself. Imagine with each touch and kiss and thrust, saying with your body (or your words, that’s fun too), “Yes”. That’s how your blow your lover’s mind. And your own.

Intimacy Does Not Equal Great Sex


It happened again. I was in a second session with a young couple who have been struggling with uncomfortable and dissatisfying sex together. They were confused by what was happening in their shared sexuality, as many couples are, and frustrated because they didn’t know how to fix it themselves. Then they told me that their last couple’s therapist had advised them that if they built enough intimacy and emotional closeness their sexual issues would “take care of themselves”. AHHHH!!! Let me explain why this makes my head explode.


First, you should know that many (most?) psychotherapists out there have very limited understanding of the amazing vastness of human sexuality. Also psychotherapists and the field of psychology have been victim and perpetrators of sexual discriminations and basic close-mindedness and puritanical values for years. This is horrible and I am striving to do my part to change this for the field. But the point is, it is not an uncommon stance in psychology to say attachment and intimacy = happy sexual compatibility. As a sex therapist who has helped many people navigate their own complicated sexual desire, I know this is simply not true. As a human being who has had my own journey with love and sex and human closeness, I know this is not true. So why are therapists still saying it?


To claim that intimacy automatically leads to sexual compatibility disregards several key aspects of sex – one, it presumes that everyone is generally turned on by anyone they form a close relationship to; an argument that I think can only be made in a blatantly heteronormative mainframe that disregards what we have learned and should understand about sexual orientation and the limits of our desire. We simply cannot force desire where there isn’t one and attempts to shift desire to an “appropriate” partner are often disastrous. Two, this argument conflates all variations of human closeness into romantic sexual partnership, something that may be entertaining on soap operas but is quite limiting in real life. I am close to many people, in many different ways, and I do not have sexual desire for many of them. In fact with many people I develop a closeness that negates any sexual feelings, when someone begins to feel like family or a sibling for example.


Third, saying that intimacy and emotional closeness leads to sexual satisfaction ignores the variations of desire and how important they can be to our happiness. Most therapists who encourage couples to ignore clear sexual incompatibilities expect their clients to eventually adhere to a basic vanilla sex life – great for some, but deeply dissatisfying for others. This model privileges loving, eye-gazing, comfortable sex over other forms of sexual expression and connection. Loving and trusting your partner doesn’t mean that you both are going to be into restraints or submission play. Loving and trusting your partner also doesn’t mean you can easily give those things up. And being able to deep conversations and feel intimate doesn’t necessarily mean you do a great job talking about the subtleties and emotional vulnerabilities of sex and what you want. Not to mention that the therapist in question may have their own squeamishness and resistances to talking about sexual details and would just like to lump it all into one vanilla blur.


The reason psychotherapists who equate intimacy with sex irritate me so much is that I can see how clients get shamed by this. They feel ashamed that their love is not enough to naturally give them satisfying sex. They feel ashamed because they have desires that their partner can’t fulfill and they are being told that is unimportant in the bigger picture of emotional closeness. They feel ashamed because they are made to doubt their own desires yet again. This is not fair. The bad news is not all people who love each other are going to be great sexual matches. There is still plenty to explore in how to be and stay in relationship within that reality, but you need a support person who will go into those intricacies with you. The good news is your desire for something different than someone else is not something you have to ignore. At least not with me.


What Do Humans Look Like?


I recently watched an old movie starring James Caan. Quite a manly man, he was clearly the rough and tough sex symbol for the movie. In it there is a scene in which he has his shirt off. This is a hairy man, chest hair, back hair, all displayed proudly as he cleans his manly wounds in the mirror, the camera inviting us to admire him, to desire him. What struck me as I was watching was that I will never see this in movies or TV now – body hair has become such a taboo, we just don’t see how a natural human body might look.


Whether you like body hair or not, I think it is important that we take a moment to acknowledge the path we are going down in censuring its existence out of our lives. An up and coming male actor now would have to wax his chest and back to even get an audition, much less a part. And a woman with any body hair at all – the horror! And what we see becomes more and more constrained to one version of the human body, an adapted, smooth, youthful image.


Body hair for humans is a sign that one had passed puberty and has the sexual maturity that implies. It protects our skin and genitals from the external environment. And it may collect scents that signal to our unconscious sexual desire and possibly even compatibility of a partner. Pubic hair for women can increase clitoral stimulation during intercourse as the light tugging on it spreads to the network of clitoral nerves under the surface of the skin.


Trends are one thing, they come and go and embrace variety and change from one generation to the next. But completely rewriting, or re-imaging, how humans look by erasing certain natural variations is something different. Already most children probably have no idea that women also grow hair on their legs and underarms; they just have never seen that represented. Before we surrender completely to a world in which hairless bodies are the only bodies we see or even imagine, we might want to remind ourselves that sexiness comes in all kinds of surprising packages. Viva la difference!