Sunday, August 1, 2010

Swinging in America

Just the title of this book will cause much discomfort for many who assume they know what swingers do. What struck me when I first started reading the book was who the authors were and who they were not. They claimed to be the first authors that were not in the ‘lifestyle’ and married, but not to each other and represented a totally different and unbiased perspective. Because of the nature and potential damaging effects of being identified in the ‘lifestyle’ the researchers were still able to get 1,100 participants to help inform and create a knowledge base of what it is like to be non-monogamous. The book was written in the traditional academic research style. In spite of that I still found it an interesting read. I found it interesting in how the researchers took on the highly debated monogamous relationship and clearly explained how all of the relevant forces have shaped and reinforced it in such a way that anyone trying to break free of the “socially acceptable” mold meets with dire consequences. One is certainly left wondering in the end just how the researchers were impacted by their view of the ‘lifestyle’.
Some of the take away gems that stayed with me were as follows:
• Swinging will never help a relationship in trouble
• Swinging is not for everyone
• One has to be secure in their emotional and physical relationship before ‘swinging’ should be explored
• Go slow and take your time – remember fools rush in where wise men dare to tread
• There are many forms of swinging from soft to full and everything in between
• Those successful in the ‘lifestyle’ have also successfully eliminated relationship killers such as lying, deceitfulness, and cheating
• The ‘lifestyle’ will continue to exist despite the sometimes overwhelming forces and attitudes of those against such a way of living

It was interesting to note that once a person has been caught outside the monogamous field they are stripped of and discredited for anything good they had to offer. It was a sad commentary but reinforces just how powerful these structures are in the world. Even the law has its say into what is considered “normal and acceptable” as a society when it comes to monogamous relationships and the choices that surround them. So if you are looking for a fascinating and thought provoking read then ‘Swinging in America’ might just fit the bill.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Everything I needed to learn about relationships I should have learned from my car!

I like to consider myself a “car guy”, make no mistake, I am no ‘gear head’ – never had the talent, could change the oil, tire and an occasional light bulb but that’s pretty much where it ends – I just appreciate beautiful cars. It is truly a sensual experience for me – I love the sight of a brilliant shine and the way light and every object around it is reflected. I love to touch a smooth, polished finish and glide my hand across the cool texture of a clear coat, along with the scent of a soft leather interior and the sound of a throaty engine that envelopes you when you give the key a turn. Therapy for me has always been about detailing my ride until I have it looking, smelling and feeling the way I want to drive it. I can spend hours washing and waxing and cleaning the interior, windows and tires…and of course over the years I’ve heard the complaint – “if you spent as much time with me as you do your car…”

So it got me thinking…imagine if I treated my relationships like I do my car. I would be investing in my relationship on a weekly basis. For starters, I invest in a tank of gas roughly every week, so how can I invest in my relationship on a weekly basis that “keeps it running without worry about it coming to an end? I usually don’t wash my car unless it is dirty but how can I “polish the relationship” when I feel I have neglected it and it is really in need of some TLC [Tender Loving Care]. I am not looking for the car to tell me what it needs and I can certainly adopt that attitude with my partner. I can be proactive and decide that our relationship needs my time and attention and how best to tend to those needs.

I can easily spend a couple of hours washing, rubbing and buffing, why not share massages with my partner and rub her from head to toe? Why not find new ways to hold her, feel her, hear her, taste and smell her and really appreciate seeing her beauty “from all angles”? I do not have to do a detailed and thorough cleansing every time I decide to “work on the relationship”; sometimes a quick and easy wash is all that is called for or all that I have time for but the point is that I make time for the relationship.

I am usually pretty good at scheduling maintenance ahead of time and could easily translate that behavior into planning special times with my partner, like date night or take her out dancing or whatever it is that she enjoys. My attitude, like being with my car, should be enjoying time together-just the two of us. I can plan for major expenses as I can plan for anniversaries, vacations, birthdays and other special events.

If we men can start thinking about our relationships in the term of our “love affairs” with our cars, it may do us well to realize that we have been practicing our relationship skills for many years without even knowing it…something like the movie The Karate Kid where Mr. Miyagi taught Daniel all about self defense in the realm of waxing his car.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Man’s Perspective on Jillian Lauren’s – Some Girls: My Life in a Harem

As an avid reader, I thought I’d write a book review on Jillian Lauren’s – Some Girls: My Life in a Harem. I was captivated by the way she chose to narrate her memoir which gave a graphic and detailed emotional account of her life as a sex worker. She is very gifted and definitely knows how to hold a reader’s interest – at least mine anyway. I was intrigued by the fact that all the reviewers on the covers of her book were all female – so maybe I get to be one of the first males to comment.
I think one of the most difficult obstacles for some people to overcome will be to read the text without judging Ms. Lauren’s choices. Ask yourself if you had been dealt the cards she had been would you be able to play the hand any better – don’t judge – just read. Unfortunately, job titles of ‘sex worker’ are viewed negatively throughout our society and I think it kind of funny because as a business concern [from a purely capitalistic standpoint] it continues to generate incredible returns. Again, unfortunate for many with that job title – ‘Sex Worker’ has been forced upon them but that’s a subject for whole other Blog.
I was surprised that even though the way it is titled one would expect it to be somewhat graphic about exposing the world in which she was submerged; I walked away with an understanding of how she allowed herself to graphically expose her soul to all who read her work. This is not a fairy tale rags to riches story but how one woman learned to survive as she appropriately described “a very dangerous” world. I was intrigued in the way she described her survival as a disassociation of the self from the events that were happening. As a psychologist, I found it interesting to note that in some ways she had followed in the footsteps of her biological mother, emerging from a pattern she did not even know until later on in life. She highlighted that sexual intimacy is between two people that feel emotionally connected and that is what one needs to be present for. In the end I felt she had reached out to all who would listen to her story as a way to heal by reclaiming her soul, a resurrection of sorts.
So maybe after reading ‘Some Girls’ you might change your mind the next time you see a ‘sex worker’ and imagine how great or easy or sexually satisfying her/his life is because I believe at some level the price that is being paid is one’s soul.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Sex – It’s just not for everyone!

Recently I was asked to speak on a panel concerning the lack of a sexual relationship in as many as 40 million couples in the United States. While many people believe that sex is natural and normal and vital for a relationship to survive, there are those do not. I guess if you are one of the ones experiencing a healthy sexual connection with your partner then you might find this notion to be untenable. Even though I am one of those in healthy sexual relationship, I could easily imagine those that are not. As I reflected on what might steer one away from a sexual union with another, it was not difficult to start listing what makes such a relationship unattractive.

I previously mentioned Zibergeld’s – The New Male Sexuality in another Blog and liked what he had to say about how our culture is dominated by a “Fantasy Model of Sexuality”. It was one that was based on performance, orgasm, passion and flawless forms as portrayed by the media, movies and the like. However, I find it interesting to note that “sex” as a human interaction is typically portrayed and experienced by many as purely physical, even though if you really think about it – sex starts and ends in the mind. After all, to begin one has to get in the “mood” by “feeling” erotically motivated and to finish one usually experiences a wave or waves of pleasure that equates to “feeling”. So for something we exponentially promote as physical – sex is really about feelings – a word that typically and unfortunately holds little value in our culture and society. If Zilbergeld was correct in his assumption about the “Fantasy Model”, then it seems apparent why many would choose not to play along.

Of course there are many other reasons as to why many would not find a sexual relationship appealing. For many their decision was based on unwanted sexual experiences in their life. For others, sex was just not that exciting, rewarding or gratifying. Many people have told me that sex is too much like work and not worth the effort. Others have stated that doing without eliminates any and all the anxieties they had previously experienced and were happy to be free of the constraints. Does it have to be that way? Of course not, but until we do something about changing what sex “looks like” and means in our society then many will choose not to engage.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Breast envy is here to stay!

Way back when I was working on my Master’s degree in psychology, I had decided to make a run at my understanding of Freud and his concept of penis envy. Basically, as I understood it at the time, Freud was making claims that women were envious of men because of a fundamental anatomical member differential – that of the penis. Even though at the time, I had no idea as to why I found that way of thinking difficult to comprehend, I decided to wrestle with it as academically as I was capable of doing.
I started with the premise of what if Freud had gotten it all wrong? What could it be that one was or could be so envious of? As a male, it seemed obvious that many of us guys have this uncontrollable obsession with breasts and I was damn curious as to why? How could the ‘object’ that we obsessed about also be the very thing that we were most envious of?
My inquiry lead me to the path of a male’s early childhood. As the early child psychologists wrote, we all seem to be part of a symbiotic soup with our primary care-giver – namely Mom. Therefore, it seems logical that our relationship with Mom represents our first intimate connection with a female. During those first few years we are supposedly fused to Mom and see ourselves as part of her. Inevitably a time comes when we [meaning males] must be separated from the ties that bind. Think about it…we are allowed to go pretty much anywhere Mom goes without any fuss. However, there comes a time when we will have to break free from her [or pushed/forced away from as the case may have been] – for good. What I mean is that at some point the ladies room and changing rooms will be forever cut off from our presence. Now this is a non-issue for girls since they continue to go where Mom goes but we [boys] do not.
As males we no longer have access to the female beginning at this very early age. As a result, one could argue that many males have the potential to get upset over this parting of the waves. We could become very envious of what we are denied…so much so that it may just be possible for us to envy them or something they have that we do not…and that something could easily be their breasts. After all, many of us had access to the breast as a way to sustain our existence that eventually was taken away from us without our consent. So it is possible to make sense that we envy the breast so much that we are willing to be obsessed about them. In the psychological tradition of projective identification, many males have unconsciously learned how to project their need for the breast onto the woman who has subsequently identified with her need to attain [in some cases to mythical proportions] them at all costs.
Given this scenario, male breast envy seems to make much more sense and would certainly support the ways in which men’s obsessions continue to lead them. If you still have doubts, check out HBO’s Breast Men and see who envies what? Remember, it wasn’t a woman who woke up one morning and said – “Hey, I think I need bigger ones!” – it was men who created [I would argue projected their need] the breast enhancement revolution. Sorry Sigmund your penis [theory] just doesn’t measure up – the breasts have it!

Monday, April 19, 2010

The mythical life of your sexuality

As a sex therapist, I am always intrigued by the notions/beliefs/understandings my clients have regarding sex and sexuality. So I decided I wanted to start creating a list of at least the more prevalent ones:
• In order for sex to be “sex” it has to be intercourse.
• Sex is over when the “erection leaves the building!”
• Sex is only sex when both man and woman orgasm through intercourse – forget anatomical considerations it’s just media hype!
• Men are always ready for sex.
• Men are the Wizard of Oz when it comes to sex being the ‘Know All’
• Only boys are encouraged to masturbate
• It’s not healthy for a women to masturbate to learn about her own body, what pleases and pleasures her – that responsibility belongs to the man!
• Our sexual fantasies are our hidden desires of what we really want
• Sexual fantasizing while making love with your partner is tantamount to having an affair – you are only allowed to be thinking of the one you’re with – and no one else – forget the fact that you have an imagination.
• Like the magic beans from the Jack-in-the-beanstalk tale – E.D. drugs alone are the solution to the age-old [or young] problem – Help I’ve fallen and I can’t get [it] up!
• All men are sexually aroused and ready for intercourse by the sight of a naked woman
• Women love to be treated like porn stars or Pounding without Pleasure!
• The erection or the lack thereof is the only real indicator if a man is aroused and desires his partner
• A woman’s sexual desirability can be measured by an erect penis
• Once aroused you have to see it all the way through to orgasm

This list is far from inclusive and the purpose of it is to get you thinking about what myths do you carry around, accepting them as truths without really questioning them. So how do these get started and why do they continue to flourish? Human sexuality seems to be and should be one of those wonderful life experiences that many of us enjoy and so few people understand or know that much about it. I think at some level we need to add a fourth “R” to schooling our children – Reading – wRiting – aRithmetic – Relationships. Human sexuality should never be defined for you ever or in a way that severely restricts or limits your ability to experience a full spectrum of pleasure and fun. Hmm…so what myths are you entertaining these days?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Internet and the Proliferation of Compulsive Sexual Gazing & Engagement

Another point that needs discussing is the issues regarding Online Sexual Addiction [OSA] and the use of pornography. Paul Joannides in his wonderful text – The Guide to Getting it on – has a very healthy and thoughtful discussion regarding OSA. Pictures of naked people engaged in various sexual acts has been around since the dawn of time and is not likely to ever go away. What we need to learn is a healthy way to educate our children and adolescents on the proper use of our bodies and stop setting it up so that it becomes something so forbidden that we find ourselves desperately seeking out these images in ways that can lead to obsessive-compulsive behaviors. It only becomes a problem if we make it that way and we have certainly gone out of our way to make it such, so much so that a whole field of therapy and counseling has been established to help those afflicted in order to find relief from the distressing effects of looking at too many digitized images of naked people engaged in anything sexual.

I recently read an interesting article where Raymond Lawrence an Episcopal cleric takes on the subject of sexual addiction and claims it to be nothing short of another attempt of Western Christianity Religious belief systems to control ones’ sexual pleasure, which given their history – is destined to fail – “Sex is not an addictive substance. It’s a human interaction on which the survival of the species is dependent. It is also possibly the most pleasurable and sought after activity known to humankind, and arguably an experience no one should be deprived of. Most normal people consider more rather than less sexual pleasure to be a major objective in life.” As I reflected on his comment, I was also struck by the fact that so many people are struggling with this in their relationships and truly do need help…but help with what?

If one were not in a relationship, would it still be a problem? You could easily answer “yes” if it impacts ones’ employment or finances or any legal ramifications if what one seeks is judicially wrong. However, most people I see in my practice are there because of their relationship being in trouble – in other words they got caught. As absurd as this may sound, what if you compare this situation to someone who takes exercise to the extreme? One could get in the same problems at work, with money and legally if one decided to ‘break in’ and steal the use of equipment. Would we tend to call extreme excessive exercise addiction or as some believe ‘compulsive behaviors’? Since addiction appears to be coupled with substances like cocaine, heroin, and alcohol maybe we should/need to rethink the use of the word addiction. Should we consider whether or not addiction is the best avenue to take when trying to describe and understand one’s need/consuming desire to seek out and engage in sexually explicit encounters?