If I am a slice of pizza, of course, I must be a sexy slice of pizza...
It’s that time of year again. The time for women to be presented with costume choices that range from nearly naked to just strategically exposed. Ugh, the tyranny of “sexy” once again. Today I saw his/hers versions of Freddy Kruger costumes in a catalog. OK, Freddy is scary and a little bit gross, correct? If you want to be Freddy you are going for the serial killer, monstrous vibe. The guys costume was pretty straight from the movie – red and black striped sweater, black pants, boots, hat, and the knife fingers. Great. All items a woman can wear, right? But no, the women’s costume had a ripped sweater (to display cleavage), mini skirt, fishnets, and high heel boots (no doubt, great for chasing children down in dream land). If a woman likes Freddy, why would she have to portray him differently than a man? Why on Halloween do we drop all practical considerations about the way we can dress? Why do our clothing choices actually become more limited rather than more free when we are in costume? Even if we say she needs to portray a female version of a serial killer, is the best we can come up with that she would wear a miniskirt and heels? Really? Pardon my costumer sensibilities but why can‘t a woman dress like she would actually like to kick some ass (maybe even without flashing her panties)? Or at least, survive a horror movie encounter.
Sexy costumes are fun. Be a sexy something or other if that is what you want to embody this year. I can think of a lot of things and roles that are genuinely sexy. But make it your own – don’t give in the simplified belief that sexy is about breasts and thighs. See if you can be more creative than that; what feels sexy to you? And, we have to say that when every costume a woman can buy is a sexy-fied version of anything, something is wrong. Halloween should be a time when all options are available to you – that is the gift of a costume, you can be anything you want to be. You can choose to be macho, ugly, badass, monstrous, powerful, magical, otherworldly, alien, creepy, funny, unreal, haunting, commanding, wicked, angelic, maniacal, possessed, exotic, inappropriate, historic, cartoonish, dainty, or something else. Just don’t buy into the idea that you can only translate that through the vehicle of first being sexy. Don’t limit yourself or your fantasy because what is being sold to you is not very creative.
cue sound of storm outside....
I love this time of year. I like to be scared, in that mostly safe kind of way. I cannot stop smiling as I make my way through haunted houses and plot for months on how to creep the trick-or-treaters out. But that is me. Creepy horror movies are not for everyone. I have friends who do not find glimpsing my life-size rubber zombie baby behind a door funny at all.
But maybe this season’s spookiness is actually doing us a favor. Studies have found that our libidos apparently do enjoy a little scare. A study done in the 1970s by Arthur Aron & Don Dutton found that mild risky situations make men feel more attracted to a female stranger. Online games or scary movies that have mild stress involved give us boosts of both adrenaline and endorphins. The enthusiasm and focus of adrenaline and the pleasure–taking relaxation of endorphins seem like a good mix for sex drive, right? And in fact, this chemical release can boost sex drive and increase arousal and put many of us in the mood. We, humans, have a history of blending the thrills of scary stories and the thrills of sex- from the original tragedies in Greece featuring gouging out eyeballs and other punishments, to the private boxes at the turn of the century horror theater the Grand Guignol, to the monster movies of the drive-ins.
Then we must consider the simple benefits of huddling together on the couch, clutching each other in scary moments, the close contact of hiding your face in someone’s chest. Oh, and in the category of random facts --- apparently 83% of Americans rated rainy nights the best time to have sex (Trojan’s Degrees of Pleasure Study (2010) so enjoy the creepy sound of the storm outside. Why not let the excitement of the season stoke your arousal.
There are two new products on the market to treat early ejaculation in men, and sadly, I think they reflect the limitations in the way we view sex. Both products are spray numbing agents designed to reduce sensitivity in the penis. In truth men have been trying numbing agents of various sorts in hopes of lasting longer for years, so the real invention now is that the spray apparently doesn’t transfer to the partner. I have no doubt that by reducing pleasure they allow a man to last longer, but I have to ask – is that an acceptable trade?
First as a sex therapist, I think it is sad to settle for a solution which requires one person to enjoy sex less so the other can enjoy sex more. And, in most cases, it is not necessary. Many times early ejaculation happens because the man is unaware of his level of arousal, so he is tipped over the edge into orgasm before he wanted to be. Often times he is distracted by thinking about his performance, worrying about when he will come, or wondering if his partner is close. Actually learning to become MORE aware of his sensation and messages from his body can help him to pace his arousal, change the level of intensity for himself, and possibly feel more in control as well. Becoming numb will not help to build a relationship to his arousal, it will just help him last longer, as long as he is numb.
The other sad aspect of this is how it encourages us to limit our sexual scripts. One approach to dealing with early ejaculation is to expand your sexual play to include a variety of things that feel good and give pleasure, using hands, mouths, skin, toys, etc, so that penetrative intercourse is only one possible aspect of a sexual experience. That way orgasm for either partner can happen at any time and both know that there are still many ways to be satisfied. Penetration may still be the preference, but we might question the impulse to numb someone’s genitals if we didn’t see intercourse as the only “right way” to have sex.
And speaking of numbing genitals – can we for a moment imagine the outrage if a company was marketing a product to numb women’s vaginas so they could have sex longer? Think that would be considered an acceptable solution? No, women would be angry about being treated like objects and insulted that their sexual pleasure was considered irrelevant to the sex act. Maybe we could give men the same respect and see their ability to have intense, fully sensate sexual pleasure as important. Let's shoot for the stars - everyone's pleasure is important!
Guilt and shame are two different beasts. Both inspire us to feel pretty crappy. Both serve to shape our behavior. But, important difference, guilt inspires us to do better, while shame leaves us feeling hopeless.
Those of us who spend time studying and delineating different emotional states – oh, the fun conversations about qualities of shame! – have noted that guilt and shame work on us differently. Guilt is created from a belief that you have done something wrong or bad. It is behavior driven. Shame hits us deeper; it is a belief that we, our self, is bad or wrong. It is personal. Again, both feel awful. Both make us want to crawl away and hide. But guilt, because it is about DOing something that felt wrong, motivates us to change our behavior. We can do something to avoid future guilt. Shame on the other hand, since it feels like something true about us, is about BEing. There is little we can do about a flaw we feel is deep within us. Shame is the internal voice that says, “if people really knew who you are, they would not like you”. Shame gives us little to bargain with. In this way, it is not very motivating. Shame makes us believe there is a problem within us that cannot be fixed, so our response to shame is often an internal giving up – depression, or a desperate avoidance – rage.
I believe that guilt is useful. It serves as a marker for our own integrity and values. It can guide us. Shame however, I think is an illusion about ourselves. It is a voice from old wounds that we couldn’t fight against, because we were too young to argue or too vulnerable. Shame tells you a lie – that you are ultimately bad and the best you can do is hide it from others. Shame blinds us and separates us from who we really are and who we want to be.
I remember in junior high being taught to respond to people with “I don’t like what you did” rather than “I don’t like you. Now, in junior high I was pretty certain that, in fact, I didn’t like certain people. This is still true as a more evolved adult. But the lesson is a good one for a lot of reasons. Shame will not make us better. Shaming is giving up on each other. Being clear about behavior that doesn’t work for you, that is something people can work with.
Why am I writing about this in Conscious Sexual Self? Because sexuality is an area where shame has been used a lot. And we have internalized it. Every time you think “I am bad for desiring that or “I am not OK for the way my body responds”, you cut yourself off from something important. And shame makes us feel like we don’t have choices, like our sexuality can never feel good and in integrity. But it can. You may feel guilty sometimes about something you did sexually. Ok, use that as guidance. But spare yourself the shame, if you can. The sexual part of you is good, natural, and deserving of a place in your life. We can learn to lessen shame, if we let ourselves.
YourTango.com asked me to write an article addressed to women who were having affairs with married men. This was considered controversial since usually the “mistress” and her motivations or feelings are left in the dark background in the cultural unpacking of infidelity. We talk a lot about affairs, why they happen, what motivates someone to cheat, whether to repair your marriage or not, etc. But we don’t talk about the “other woman” or man and their experience. The fear is, if I write in a compassionate way about the complicated emotions in affairs, I will be seen as promoting infidelity. I think it is time we all got more nuanced than this.
The article has been picked up by Huffington Post and what has been interesting is the commentary and attention it has gotten. I am not surprised by the amount of responses that are full of hatred and condemnation of the mistress, presenting her as someone out on the fringes of society, someone we don’t need to consider or try to understand. The basic thread being: only a terrible person would do that. It reminds me of people’s approach to premarital sex in the 1950’s, “those bad people” doing that are different from us, not worth discussing at any depth. Well, that approach didn’t stop pre-marital sex and shaming hasn’t stopped infidelity. Based on the stats we can safely assume that each of us knows someone (probably several someones) who has played one role, or more, in the infidelity triangle. These are not bad others out there, these are people like the rest of us. I understand that it feels safer to pretend we can isolate “mistresses” or “cheaters” in some moral ghetto. I understand that is feels comforting to profess bravado and threats of violence if this happened to you. I understand that it feels emotionally less complicated to believe that love is something we can own and that can be “stolen”. But the reality for many, many people is that affairs are complicated, emotionally confusing, and deeply personal. It doesn’t serve us to demonize and shut down the conversation. And everyone, deserves a place to explore their motivations and choices. In fact, this open conversation may be the thing that eventually helps us to reduce the pain that infidelity causes.
If you are interested in reading the article you can find it here.