Ready to Let It All Hang Out? – Sexual Hygiene on the Playa

by mel19. August 2014 16:39

 

The freedom to express yourself in any way you see fit is an amazing gift that everyone should experience. For those of you heading to Burning Man, you know preparation is key. Thinking ahead can give you the freedom to stop thinking so much and to just enjoy and explore, and still come home healthy and free of regrets.

 

Clothes have definite benefits but how often do we get a chance to be naked? If wearing very little is the way you want to go, be mindful of the more delicate parts of your body. Foreskin and public hair both serve the purpose of providing some protection from external irritants, but many of us are without these protections. Pubic hair functions as a soft screen that catches things like dust before it reaches your vulva. If it is an option, you may want to take the counter-culture stance of letting it grow out for now. If not, just be aware that your vulva is exposed and treat it accordingly. Body paints and glitters are generally not designed to play nice with genitals, so work around.  And of course, if a body part has not seen the light of day in a long time - sunscreen!

 

In Girl Scouts we had “sit-a-pons” which were cushions to sit on that we carried with us. This is not a bad idea, even in decidedly non-Girl Scout-ish environments, so you have a soft place to land. Still everything is going to get dirty. Anytime showers are hard to come by, it is good to get body wipes to clean up easily. A lot of the body wipes sold in stores are not designed for genitals, so find ones that are, like After Glow Toy Tissues (with the added bonus of being safe for cleaning your toys too!) You can use the tissues before sex and after sex to minimize dust or other dirt getting places it shouldn’t. If you are prone to UTIs you can ask your doctor for an emergency travel prescription if you are going somewhere without access to pharmacies. They may not give it to you, but it is worth asking.

 

Looking forward to a little ecstasy-induced trust or other escapes from your reasoning mind? Be honest with yourself up front about what you want to experience and prepare to make it easy to protect yourself. Acknowledge with yourself up front that even awesome, loving, beautiful people can have STDs and, since so many can be carried with no symptoms for years, they may not be aware that they are putting you at risk. Practice safer sex and be prepared by carrying your own condoms or other barrier methods. Communicate your boundaries ahead of time and while you are engaging with a partner. That way you can enjoy yourself without unwanted consequences later.

 

You probably planned for months so that you can have an amazing break from the everyday realities of life and still be comfortable. You deserve a chance to let go of worries and be playful but our bodies’ needs and realities are a constant.  Make your sexual health a part of your plans. Plan ahead then play hard.

 

Remind Me Who I Am

by mel12. August 2014 21:44

There is a poem full of longing by Stanley Kunitz that ends with “Darling, do you remember the man you married? Touch me, remind me who I am.” The poem expresses a moment of exile from the self, those times in our lives when we have changed or are changing in ways uncomfortable and seeded with grief. And then it ends with this hope, the potential of love and touch and sexuality to bring us back to some foundations of who we are and the willingness to let someone else see a side of us that feels elusive.

 

One of my hobbies is photography and lately I have been inspired by nudes. This has invited me to ask myself, what is it that I am trying to capture with nudes that is different than photos of clothed models? I think some of the answer is in what this poem expresses. When we can shed clothes, we shed expectations of identity, those external cues about who we are supposed to be or cannot be anymore or have become. We become more vulnerable, sure. But there is also a freedom. When I am gifted with the opportunity to work with models who will be nude, I feel like I get to work with a Human Being, rather than with a fixed identity or a part of who they are. Clothes cover but they also limit. Being naked, the person is more of a mystery and I am drawn to pay attention to each gesture, each expression, each interaction to let them show their self to me.

 

So one of the potentials that lies in sexuality with a partner, long term or not, is the chance to shed external rules and roles and to show up naked. How might you allow yourself to have sex in a way that reminded you of who you are at the core? Touch can pull us back into the simplest, and yet profound, information source about our self that we have – our body. With someone who has known and loved you, touch can convey a memory or contain a history of you that is still there for you to draw on. And how could you approach sexual engagement with a partner with the intention to remind them of their incredible humanness? How could you honor their nakedness with you by freeing them from being a certain way or a certain person?

 

This poem reminds me of the availability of the present moment, of joining with someone else to be human in the midst of all kinds of noise encouraging us to be something more limited.  As we face loss and transitions and endings of all kinds, sexuality can be a place to return to our self. Sex itself will change too, sometimes feeling unrecognizable. But if we let our self open to touch maybe we can find relief from our private disappointments and insecurities and doubts for a time. How can we let sex remind us to let go of all the things we don’t have to use to define ourselves? What distractions to our Self can we shed as we shed our clothes? What if sex is a place to celebrate our mystery and also our simplicity?

 

Do you seek your self when you are having sex? What if you did?

 

Ready to Get Conscious?

by mel7. August 2014 12:04

 

Do you feel like you know yourself, really know the internal workings of who you are and how you engage with world the way you do? How about when it comes to your sexuality? Do you feel like you are aware of the different parts at play inside of you? Are you ever curious about why you desire what you desire or how your fantasies can feed your sexual life? Do you wonder about your body and its responses? Are you ever confused about conflicting beliefs or urges? Do you have things you might like to see change or transform in your sex life?

 

 

When was the last time you really explored your sexuality? Often we get an influx of information, usually somewhere around junior high, that we rapidly adapt to, feeling like we have to perform sexual know-how so we don’t look foolish or naïve. We start from a place of feeling like we know nothing, so we stop listening to ourselves. From there we bumble along through our early sexual experiences, searching for external cues and crucial information that will make us acceptable sex partners. Some of us might have looked to magazines, porn, seemingly experienced friends, maybe even some sex-ed videos or classes. We keep trying to find the perfect performance tips, learn to touch spot A, then B, then C, while desperately trying to keep things from becoming routine. Society tells us there is an answer out there, if you just listen to the right person.

 

But the sexual answers for you aren’t out there. And the external searching for those answers leaves many of us feeling dissatisfied, more confused, and alienated. The place you really need to be looking for sexual answers is inside yourself. Let’s be clear, the longest running sexual relationship you are going to have is with yourself. Shouldn’t you get to know that sexual partner, the one who is present for every sexual experience you have? Can you imagine what might happen if you opened up the possibilities within yourself, if you became fascinated with the sexual person you are, if you became fully awake to this part of yourself? This will feed your sex life more than any external tips or role models.

 

This is excerpted from The Conscious Sexual Self Workbook, by Melissa Fritchle, Sex Therapist& Educator --to be published in Fall 2014. Almost here...

 

You Can Get Help For Sexual Pain

by mel29. July 2014 14:30

 

Karen started having a deep burning sensation with intercourse a few months into her first long-term relationship. Sex had never been comfortable for her but she had a few times when it felt easy and fun. But over years the burning gradually got worse and her fear of it increased until sex and pain became linked in her mind. Sometimes now her boyfriend Jon is unable to penetrate her because her vagina is so tight it feels like it is cramping. Even oral sex and touch have become intolerably painful, although sometimes Karen tries to push through it. Sometimes Jon is understanding, sometimes he is frustrated, but mostly both Jon and Karen are confused. Why is this happening? Why can’t sex be easy like it is for other people? Karen’s gynecologist says there is nothing wrong with her, but the pain is very real.

 

Sexual pain is rarely talked about but it is not uncommon. The type of pain I described here, called Vestibulodynia, affects some 17% of women in their lives. It can last for many years, even decades, and sadly often goes untreated. Factors such as genetics, hormones, infections, allergies,  inflammation, and tiny tears in the tissue can contribute. And there are several other common diseases that can cause sexual pain, adding to the numbers of people suffering a major loss to their sex lives. And there are conditions that cause sexual pain for men as well, equally unspoken.

 

One incredibly challenging aspect of any chronic pain is the isolation involved. There is no way to measure pain objectively, no one else can truly understand or monitor your pain except for you. This can cause people to question themselves. For sexual pain, every woman I have worked with had been told by a doctor that there was nothing physically wrong, leading to years of self-doubt and distrust that anyone could help. In fact, the people that we generally go to for sexual health questions – our gynecologists – are simply not well informed or trained in sexual functioning issues. Sexual pain is a specialty and practitioners can be hard to find but when you do they can often diagnose and treat disorders that a majority of doctors will miss.

 

And treating sexual pain includes sex therapy. Not because it is all in your head, as it may have been treated in the past, but because ongoing pain, particularly pain that affects such a valued part of your life as sex, is traumatizing. It can lead you to feel alienated from your body, from pleasure, from your partner, from the universe or god or anyone who didn’t help. It may have reinforced past sexual abuse memories or negative beliefs about sex. You may have stopped seeing yourself as a sexual person. There is grief over what you have lost and about the ongoing worry about if the pain will return. Recovery requires new relaxation skills, new attention to sensation and lots of communication with future partners. Reflexive tightening and anxiety about sex can make things worse so it is important to get support as you prepare to reengage with sex.

 

Get the Most Out of Couple's Therapy

by mel23. July 2014 10:36

 

I know what an investment couple’s therapy can be and the vulnerability that goes with it. It helps to know what to expect. Here are some things to bear in mind as you consider therapy as a next step.

 

Know you will have to change – A relationship is a system, self sustaining much of the time. If you want something to change, you had better be ready to change yourself. It can be a comforting fantasy to imagine your partner doing all the changing, after all you have all kinds of good ideas about how they should be different, right? But it really does take two to do whatever it is that you have been doing. So when you get ready to go to couple’s therapy, know that you will be asked to get really interested in your part and what you can and cannot be responsible for.

 

Prepare to be surprised – Therapy opens up rooms in your life and heart and mind that may have been closed. Your partner will say things that surprise you. This is actually a gift, as we come to remember that our partners are slightly mysterious individuals with a lot going on inside of them that we are not automatically privy to. This can be scary, but also invigorating for a relationship. You will also surprise yourself in therapy with revelations about things you may have casually overlooked for years. Intimacy builds, I believe, through these moments of uncovering and risk, sometimes painful, sometimes incredibly comforting, but more genuine than normal talk around the dinner table.

 

Plan to make more time for your relationship – It is hard to stay close and interested in each other when you do not spend any focused time together. One therapy session a week will build some new intimacy but if it doesn’t continue at home we are wasting our time. One of the most important things couples can do to make their gains in therapy matter is to be ready to make changes to their schedules. I mean to literally sit down together with their calendars and carve out time to be a couple in relationship, time for talking, time to have fun, time to have sex, and time to relax together. If you are like most couples now, your time has gotten filled up with all kinds of activities of varying importance. To reinvest in your relationship, you are going to have to give some of those other obligations or habits up.

 

Find a skilled Therapist – If therapy feels like an extra hour a week that you have the same old arguments and leave feeling angry and wounded, then it is time to find a different therapist. Your therapist should be interacting with you, sometimes interrupting you or calling foul, shaking things up, and giving you a new experience or perspective on what has been going on in your relationship. Now, the therapist cannot do that without your help; you have to be willing to do something different. And the best therapist in the world will not be able to make couple’s therapy always fun and heartwarming. But therapy should never feel like more of the same or like a free for all to attack each other. Find a therapist who makes you both feel supported and challenged in balance.

 

 

Have an exit plan (and a backslide plan) – Some of the things I talk about with couple’s in therapy are quick fixes; things that can be repaired with some specific changes and then will flow smoothly. But often issues in couples’ therapy will continue to have some residue of hurt for some time. Rebuilding trust takes time. Changing ingrained patterns will take time and have some moments of backsliding. Before you close your couple’s therapy have a conversation about the realities of relationships, giving each other the benefit of the doubt when things are rocky, and what you will each commit to do if or when things start to feel difficult again. Returning to therapy is not a failure, it is a sign that you have the tools in place to be successful long term.

 

Is your relationship ready for some renewal? Consider a Couple’s Intensive with Melissa Fritchle, LMFT and Sex Therapist. Spend a few days in beautiful Santa Cruz with beach walks at dusk, private therapy sessions during the day, and heart-opening playful “homework” in the evening. You deserve to make your relationship as strong and intimate as it can be!

 

Be There For The Best Sex You Will Have

by mel17. July 2014 16:09

 

In yoga communities you may hear a saying attributed to different teachers depending on who you talk to, a reminder to us performance-oriented types. It is : “We don’t use our body to get into the pose, we use the pose to get into our body”. This is an invitation back from striving or pushing to get our nose to our knee. There is no right way, no finish line to cross in the pose, even if your neighbor over there looks like that yoga calendar person. Instead the goal or intention of this practice is to focus on what we feel in our body as we do this and to learn about who we are in this moment at this point in our life. Learning to use the poses, these external structures, to go internal and get curious about our self.

 

Imagine if we approached sex in this same way. If instead of hitting a minimum of 3 different sex positions, bringing our partner to screaming orgasm, and looking good while we did it, we focused on something more real. What if instead of using our body for sex, we used sex to get into our body? Then “doing it right” would mean you were focused on sensation, aware and conscious of your own responses and emotions, riding each moment as it shifts and changes. You might need to slow down and breathe, like I do in yoga, to not get overwhelmed by intense sensation or comparisons or self doubt, but to surrender into what is happening. You might start to see efforting, worrying, and performing as signs that you are sliding away what is real and gently bring yourself back to how it feels to let your breath gush out, to press against your partner’s skin, to recognize the fluttering heat in your pelvic muscles, to arch your back, to make eye contact, to go faster or nearly stop.

 

Sex is an opportunity for us to be fully aware. It can show us things about our self if we utilize it in this way. While there is a lot of exciting external stuff going on, our internal experience is pretty amazing too. If doing it a certain way brings you out of yourself and into thinking and planning and trying to excel, you may be missing the gift. There is so much happening in one minute of a sexual encounter, so much detail and wonder and complexity, it is easy to miss it. But how great it can be to let all that richness and information in, to really stay curious and aware. Setting this as a sexual intention doesn’t dictate what kind of sex you have. Like yoga poses, there are many ways to get into your body. As you get better at staying aware, you can experiment endlessly. What in your goal when being sexual with a partner? Is it to feel pleasure, to achieve a release, to connect or show love, to express something about who you are? Any of these will be better achieved if you stay attuned with yourself and move from there.

 

I know from experience, if I go to yoga wanting to impress someone or prove something to myself, it is probably going to be bad class for me. I may even go home hurting. But if my goal is to listen to myself and be honest about where my mind, body and heart are able to take me that night, I will have the best class possible. The best sex possible for you is the sex that is happening in real-time in your body, mind, and heart. It is worth shifting your perspective so that you can be there for it.

 

Mommy Will You Marry Me?

by mel9. July 2014 13:04

  I love you SOOOO much.

 

Our first attachments are to our caregivers. This is a unique form of love, with need and safety and deep power differentials, that will impact us our entire life. It is also one of the first relationships were we begin to “practice” with a child’s mind the idea of romance, and its connection to love. Children learn by playing, enacting scenarios and seeing how it feels. This can be empowering even though the play is “not real” as the child imagines that they could handle themselves in that scenario.

 

It is very common for children around age 4 to 6 to develop crushes on adults in their life, more commonly a parent. This can be an icky and awkward phase for the parent who is the focus of their attention since it feels very inappropriate. Children in this stage may profess their love, get jealous of the parent’s partner, ask for extra attention, and even try to kiss the parent the way they saw in cartoons. For the child’s development though it is entirely appropriate to imagine and pretend and to get information from adult’s responses. It makes sense for a child to try these new possibilities out with someone they love, look up to and feel safe with, so they are actually making a good choice in play partner. It is helpful if adults are calm and kind about this phase (remember it will pass soon enough). Gently saying something like, “I love you too, so much. You are my beautiful little boy. But romantic love, when people get married or kiss passionately or XYZ, happens between two people who are close in age. So I will be with an adult, like me. And you will eventually find someone your age to be with. And you and I get to love each other as mommy and son and that is a really special love”.

 

What can happen, in large part because most adults have a healthy internal taboo against sex with children, is that adults overreact to a child’s natural style of learning – experimentation and play practice. Children may get shamed or unintentionally scared by an adult’s negative reaction. It is important to set firm boundaries as the adult about how you do and don’t want to be touched and also about the limits of your relationship (as true with children as with other adults, right?). There is no need to scold or punish a child for having their version of a crush, in fact this could cause them to feel uncomfortable or to doubt those feelings when they arise later in life. There is also no need to encourage the feelings and adults should be careful that they are not using the child’s affection to manipulate the child’s behavior or to create triangles or alliances in the family. Just remember that the child is trying on adult roles, not having adult feelings.

 

This is the same age that many kids will play house, acting out family dynamics, patterns, and habits in ways that can be dismaying or adorable to those being mimicked. Adults are role models, even when we are not aware of it, and children look to us for guidance on how to do this thing called life. They are taught early on, in fairytales and stories, TV shows, and magazine covers in the checkout line, that romantic love is something to be desired. One of the crucial things they seek to learn from us is how to love and be loved. Let’s strive to show them love can be kind, understanding, and unconditional but also with clear boundaries. Not a bad thing to  remind ourselves of too.

 

Sexual Independence

by mel2. July 2014 15:45

 

  Declaring Sexual Independence

 

 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – including sexual liberty and happiness.

To be truly sexually independent we…

 

*Must have available to us accurate information about sexuality, sexual options, and our bodies

 

*Must be free from employers, politicians, or other people in power denying us the right or ability to decide what to do about our own sexual health

 

*Should be able to present ourselves, regardless of gender identity, which genitals we have, sexual orientation, age, or other characteristic, in a way that feels genuine and true to us, without fears of discrimination or harassment

 

* Should be able to talk to professionals who are non-biased and sex-positive and who will support us in making decisions for ourselves

 

*Should be able to explore our unique paths to sexual pleasure and desire

 

*Will value our sexual relationship with our self and feel free to give it time and attention 

 

*Need to advocate for and expect privacy and protection in our sexual lives, with an understanding that our sexual history or images of us should not be shared without our consent

 

*Deserve sexual relationships that are free from coercion, bullying, or shaming

 

*Have the freedom to create relationship structures and agreements that are right for us and our partners

 

*Address openly the inevitable changes in our self, our body, our relationships, and our sexual needs and desires

 

*Approach sexuality with joy and creativity knowing that there are unlimited ways to play and connect

 

*Will respect other people vigilantly and allow them to make choices that are right for them

 

*Must work to understand ourselves so we can communicate clearly with other people and take responsibility for our own choices

 

 

 

 

 

Discarded : Information About Foreskin

by mel24. June 2014 10:30

 Welcome to the world, little one

One of the first sexual interventions a parent makes for a child is the decision to circumcise or not. And, as with many future sexual interventions, the parents may not have the best or most accurate information. We have been seriously misinformed about the foreskin. Many of us grew up thinking it was an unimportant, inconsequential flap of skin. But, generally speaking, our bodies don’t work that way, right? Think about it – how many other body parts do we just figure we can do without?

The foreskin actually has several purposes. First it represents 25-50% of the skin of the penis and is full of nerve endings. The most sensitive nerve endings of the penis are in a ring on the inner foreskin which are stimulated by stretch and movement. The foreskin is a double layer skin system with the inner layer containing glands that produce fluid to keep the penis protected and slippery. The soft internal layer also provides some immune protection with plasma cells, which secrete antibodies, and pathogen-killing enzymes. The foreskin protects the sensitive head of the penis when it is unerect. Without the foreskin the skin of the penis toughens up a bit as it is exposed to more friction through daily life. The foreskin also maintains lubrication and decreases friction during penetrative intercourse by bunching at the opening of the vagina. This could also provide more stimulation of the vulva.

This may be unwelcome information to you, either because you have chosen to circumcise a child or because you yourself were circumcised. But I think it is important to have accurate information about our bodies, including all body parts. There has been confusing information about health risks associated with keeping the foreskin but even in the face of those questions not one world health association actually recommends routine circumcision. In America we are more familiar with the look of a circumcised penis, although that will be changing as our circumcision rates are dropping. The CDC reports that in 2009 68% of US baby boys were not circumcised. Globally the rate of boys left intact is 70 -80%. Religious considerations are a family’s to consider and weigh, but weight them with complete information in mind.

If you are a man who has been circumcised you may feel some grief or anger about this decision that was made for you before you could choose for yourself. You may feel sadness about the unknowns, what might have been with your foreskin intact. It is difficult to compare the experience of a man uncircumcised since birth with a man who was circumcised. The best response is to grieve as you need to and to love your body as it is today. Remember there is much joy and pleasure to be had as you explore what works for you and your body.

 Welcome to the World, little one

 

"Kill Your Darlings"

by mel17. June 2014 12:26

  Are you risking what you need to?

 

I came upon this piece of advice for writers, originally from William Faulkner, and it has stuck with me throughout the month. Its emotional resonance can be quite scary. It sounds like the kind of advice you don’t want to take. And, indeed, it asks a lot of you. But I think it represents a vulnerable truth that applies to intimate relationships.

 

For writers, this applies on one level to the idea that to create emotional truth and tension, you need to be willing for any character, even the most beloved, to die. It also means you should not rely on tricks or themes that have worked for you before. Don’t write what you want to write, don’t let ego lead; write what is true, what organically needs to happen in the story.

 

This is just as relevant in sustaining intimate relationships. No, I am not advocating violence against your lovers. Nor am I suggesting that you abandon the people of things you love. But I think to sustain true intimate connection, we have to be willing to let things die or transform. We cannot rely on the old way of doing things. We cannot take anything for granted. The way you had amazing sex 2 years ago may not be working now. The person you got to know 5 years ago is different today.

 

Sometimes we can hold on and protect something we love so tightly, that we stop taking the risks we need to take to keep it alive. Oh, it might be going through the motions. There can be a kind of deadness or numbness that comes from desperately loving something so much we don’t want to rock the boat. But to be fully vibrantly alive we need to take risks. We need to have the difficult conversations, take the fearful step of hearing a new truth from an old love. We want to have faith in our long term connections and often faith is warranted. But we shouldn’t let that make us lazy or fool ourselves into thinking that all the questions are answered and doubt or confusion or change will never visit again.

 

 

Just as writers must stay true to their story, we must stay true to our relationships by being aware that everything can end, that everyone has lights and shadows, that change is inevitable. It is committing to aliveness to stop overreliance on past gifts and to risk whatever needs to be given and received now. It is scary. I have a lot of empathy for the couples I see in therapy who are in that frightening and disorienting stage of needing to kill their darlings, their story of their partner and the way things were going to go, to access something new. But that something new is almost always more alive, more honest, more intimate. Maybe for therapy the quote should be – Kill your darlings, so that you can stay alive to what it here for you now.

 

Melissa Fritchle

Melissa Fritchle is 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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