On December 6th, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints published new website opening up a new kinder conversation around homosexuality than they have been known for I the past. Their key statement reads,
“The experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them. With love and understanding, the Church reaches out to all God’s children, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”
Even though this may not be all we could hope for in terms of acceptance of homosexuality as a natural and healthy part of human sexual expression and identity, it is a huge step. For the church to acknowledge that study after study, and story after story, have shown that sexual orientation is not a choice but rather an innate part of each of us, changes how society must respond. To honor that a person is born loving who they love and attracted to who they are attracted to, then to persecute them for the qualities they were born with (one could say qualities that are “god given”) is unfair and unkind. I have heard this from Catholic priests when I was in Uganda who told me directly, “if we come to believe that homosexuality is a part of the person when they are born, we will have to treat them differently. This would fundamentally change how we see this issue”.
Now the new statement by the Mormon church, will not affect Catholics in Uganda, nor is it necessarily going to stop the church from trying to limit homosexual freedoms or rights for gay and lesbian couples. But it will require a new approach, it will validate the experience of the many gay and lesbian people who know, for them, love and desire is not a lifestyle choice. And it does call for love and understanding; that is a big step.
You sit with friends at a café, everyone joking about sex and their partners, and you think, “there is no way I am telling them how I really feel”. You are lying next to your partner, relaxed after a slow morning in bed together, when you have a memory from a past sexual experience but decide not to share it. You are around a dinner table with your family and your mom makes an assumption about your sex life that is not true, but you don’t feel safe correcting her. You are passionately petting with a new partner, who gasps, “we don’t need to use protection, don’t worry”. Nagging thoughts about the risky sexual behaviors in your past stay with you, but you keep quiet.
Our sexual stories often contain both secrets and privacy and the need to make decisions about both. What is the difference between something you want to keep private and a secret you are keeping? How do you decide when to keep information to yourself and what is important to share? Is it ok to keep sexual information to yourself? How much do you need to share with partners?
Secrets often feel bad. We usually keep secrets about information that we are ashamed of or feel could still hurt us in some way. Secrets sometimes have the quality of withholding information that may be relevant to another person, and so they can feel hard to keep and dangerous. Secrets feel like a burden; they hold us back and weigh us down.
Privacy, on the other hand, can feel empowering . It can apply to information about yourself that is new or vulnerable and that you are still learning about, so it is not ready to be shared. Privacy feels like a choice. Things that you choose to keep private may cause you to smile to yourself. Privacy relates to things that you may feel you could share, but is just no one’s business but your own. Privacy is space you give yourself.
So how do you decide if this information is something you should share? Decide if it is currently relevant to the person you might share it with – will it impact the decisions they may make? Will not knowing this put them at risk in any way? Then decide how it is impacting your ability to feel intimate with this person. By not telling, do you feel like you are hiding a significant part of yourself, do you feel you are constantly holding yourself back? Are you thinking about it a lot, distracted by it? If no, then maybe this is something that you choose to keep private. It is not bad to have memories, fantasies, curiosities, that are just for you. Maybe someday you will share but if for now you feel happy holding this inside, let it feed the way you are with your partner and in the world, privately.
In my practice, I talk to many people who are considering asking their partner about changing their relationship agreements from monogamy to an open relationship. This can be a fragile, vulnerable, exciting, insightful time for people and there is much to explore. I will be writing a series of articles about what to ask yourself, how to approach a partner, and things to consider before opening a relationship to multiple partners. This article, posted on YourTango.com, outlines some questions to ask yourself before you even begin a conversation with your current partner.
In this time of gratitude (and stuffing ourselves) it can be a good to remind ourselves of all that is going right with our bodies and how lucky we are. Take some time to write about the wonderful things you have experienced because of your body this past month. What sensations, what physical activities and adventures were you able to try, what flavors did you taste, what moments of joy were based in your bodily experience? In what ways has your body been strong for you? What lapses in self care has it managed to pull you through? What can you do to show your gratitude now?
Do you feel changed by another person’s sexual energy or by interactions with past partners? Sometimes I hear people use language about their sexual experiences like, “I gave it up” or “I feel dirty from having sex with him/her”. What would this mean to you? What are you giving the other person when you are sexual with them? What part of yourself are you sharing? Do you believe something changes in you or about you after being sexual with someone? What about when you are sexual with yourself, masturbating and/or fantasizing?
How can you find your own baseline or ground after being sexual with someone else? If people are attracted to you or have sexual thoughts about you, can you stand your ground and feel confident in your own ability to choose to engage or not? Or do you feel swayed by others sexual desire to a point where it is hard to keep track of yourself? If someone else wants you, do you feel obligated or infringed upon? On the other hand, do you feel that you are only desirable when you are being desired by someone else? Is your sexuality based on reacting or responding to your partners? Truly claiming your body and your sexuality can mean separating what is your energy and desire from what is someone else’s. It can be filling yourself with your own vibrant energy so that you can actively meet someone else’s energy without being overwhelmed by it. It is knowing what you want. Think of a time when your sexuality felt truly self motivated; what was that like for you?
I invite you to journal about these questions. There is no right or wrong answer to come to, but it is valuable to see clearly how you feel about these things. These are great topics to explore in therapy too. If you are a Northern Californian local, you can come see me in my private practice in Capitola, CA. If you are in another area, you can reach out to me for referrals.
What are you going as this Halloween? This time of year many of us experience a new sense of energy and excitement from planning a costume and then the performance of wearing it. Why can this feel like such a confidence booster? And why do we still look forward to it so much?
Costumes can give us a chance to literally try on a new personality. We walk differently, see the world though different eyes (or masks), we approach people differently – Because of this we feel things more intensely. The novelty of playing a new role opens us up to feeling our body in a new way. Maybe being limited by an awkward coat of armor doesn’t seem sexy on the surface but if it allows us to be more aware of how we move and to think more creatively about interacting with the world, that can feel sexy. Even within a giant pumpkin costume, you might be able to move with more freedom or stop worrying about looking stylish, which might open up a new way of being. Getting dressed or applying makeup causes us to look at ourselves with different criteria than we usually judge by and we may find something unexpected to like about ourselves. And most importantly, we interact with other people in new ways, shaking up old patterns that we have fallen into with each other.
Breaking out of our normal role brings an aliveness that feels good and it can awaken our sexuality. Depending on the character you are trying on, you may be more playful, assertive, silly, confidant, secretive or anything else. So how can you bring that energy to your sex life without waiting for a holiday? First I invite you to remember that anything you can do in costume, you can do in the bedroom –so long as your partner is on board. Maybe you already use role play and/or costumes as a part of your sexual play. But even if that doesn’t interest you, you can bring elements of a costume to your sexual self. Use your costumed persona this year as a way to strengthen a part of yourself – play at being more powerful, practice being silly, move like a goddess, act as though you have the power to cast a spell on someone. As you allow these parts to come out one night, you can allow them to come out other nights as well. This isn’t being fake or playing a part, it is expanding who you can be.
Sexuality can thrive on novelty and risk. Don’t reserve your risk taking for one night of the year. Commit to trying out new sides of yourself and to showing up in new ways with your partner often. You may be surprised at how well the risk pays off.
A few months ago I was asked to film a series of videos for YourTango's Ask An Expert. It was a good experience and the videos are just starting to be released. Here is the first one on " Are my Sexual Fantasies Wrong?". Check it out -
Throb blush wet glow thigh heat pinch brush feather worship
Sting neck pulse sweat slippery whisper groan expand breath
Open release building tension grab contract fur please reveal depth
Gasp guide yes mask flow salty laughter taste want display explode
Randomly pick 4 words from this list, then create a poem using them. Perhaps the poem will be about desire, but maybe not. Just let the words guide and inspire you and see what you come up with.
The United Nations Human Rights office recently released a publication calling for international human rights protections for LGBT people. The 60 page publication, titled Born Free and Equal, outlines five core obligations requiring national attention: protecting people from homophobic violence, preventing torture, decriminalizing homosexuality, prohibiting discrimination, and safeguarding LGBT people's freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly. If these recommendations are taken seriously it could protect and change lives for many people.
Some of the recommendations I am especially excited to see:
- Asylum laws and policies should recognize that persecution on account of one's sexual orientation or gender identity may be a valid basis for an asylum claim
- Repeal laws criminalizing homosexuality, including all laws that prohibit private sexual conduct between consenting adults of the same sex.
- Protect individuals who exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association and freedom of assembly from acts of violence and intimidation by private parties.
This statement is a huge sign of progress for human rights. The tides, they are a changing…
You can read and download Born Free and Equal: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity booklet here.
I am in the business of helping people create changes in their lives - and survive the unwanted changes that come to us all. I know that change can be tricky. So often we have changes in mind that we know will improve our lives, we just don't know how to implement them. What I have found is often when people feel stuck, it is in part because they have lost sight of options and possibilities. They are truly stuck doing what they have been doing with no room to add something different. And that is one of the tricks of change - it always requires us to give something up too. Yes, change requires a letting go.
Let me give you an example that is common in my sex therapy practice : A couple comes to me because they would like to have more sex in their relationship. Now we will certainly explore dynamics of their relationship and ways to increase desire and self esteem and much more, unique to each couple. But what I can guarantee you we will talk about is what are you doing instead of having sex? Literally, what is this couple doing with their time? Because if they want to have more sex, they have to create more time for sex. In our culture, we tend to fill our time so I know this couple will need to make some choices about how they are prioritizing their free moments. And it will mean that something has to go. Maybe that is TV viewing time, or a workout a week, or the time it takes to cook a complicated dinner. But it will probably be something that they enjoy, something that will hurt a bit to give up, something that was working for them - just not as much as the desired change (more sex) might work for them. And preparing to make that change means addressing the reasons it is hard to make that change and what might be lost or left behind in making it.
Change requires us to make space in our lives for something new. But we tend to focus on what needs to be added and we can end up adding more and more postive changes to our lives until we hit the limit of the actual hours in the day. In preparing for a change your life, remember to ask yourself - what am I willing to let go of to make time and space for this change?
If you are interested in more ideas about making time for sex with your partner, you can read my article for YourTango.com "I Have You Penciled In...For Sex" at http://www.yourtango.com/experts/melissa-fritchle/i-have-you-penciled-infor-sex