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?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Performance or Pleasure? – You Decide!

On a previous Blog - History Even a Sexual One Has a Way of Repeating Itself - reminded us that too many times we learn plenty “about” sex but have learned very little “from” sex. The main justification for this statement is that we continue, as did all the generations before us, to view sex as intercourse and all about performance. Let’s face it, this notion is supported through all the religions that promote procreation as the only valid reason for having “sex” and is certainly supported today by the pharmaceutical industries that peddle the “magic elixir” to make one ready when the time is right!

A man’s masculinity will be challenged if he is not able to get and maintain an erection and “perform” for his partner so that she will be pleased as well. And yes, women are just as invested in the erection as much as men in some cases maybe even more. If he cannot “get it up” i.e. “perform” she will think that she is not sexy enough and her self-esteem and sexual self-confidence can take a pretty hard hit. So why do we persist down this path when we are full aware of the dysfunctional end?

Let’s take a few steps backward. Let us go back to the place where our sexual engine was turned on for the first time. Think about what was really important to you then? If I am not mistaken, it would be all about experiencing the most pleasure possible. Hmmm maybe we’re onto something here! I’m pretty sure guys were not talking to their penises, asking – hey what gives, how come you didn’t last long enough – how ever one translates ‘long enough’. And if gals even thought of sexually touching themselves – mostly not encouraged and marginally supported even today – I am again pretty sure they were not contemplating how long a male partner might or should last.

So what is interesting to ponder in these terms is that performance sexuality is a learned and conditioned response and not “natural” as many would have us believe. So why not challenge yourself the next time you decide to engage sexually with each other to share, experience and enjoy as much fun and pleasure as possible? This means letting go of sexual encounters that are judged by stopwatches, erect penises, wet vaginas and dual orgasms, which can hamper our abilities to fully engage with our partners. So, go ahead – take the 30-day Pleasure Challenge – I dare you!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Arousal - It's what's on the menu tonight!

We need to challenge how we understand sex and sexuality if we ever hope to bring about lasting change that is helpful, healing and nurturing. Let’s take a look at what we understand about arousal – getting turned on – horny – “in the mood”, etc. For most getting aroused is only a prelude for what is yet to come. It seems as though that some of us have been conditioned to respond immediately when we feel aroused to find release and rid ourselves of this distracting feeling. In crude terms, arousal can be seen as the triggering event that has most of us react to in preparing our bodies to eventually spasm so that we no longer have to feel aroused. Why does it need to be that way?

Long ago and far away I recall hearing something to the effect that once a boy/man gets sexually aroused he will need to find release…and again, why is that? Why not let the sexual energy that is built up through arousal just be allowed to run its course, probably just like it did when you experienced your very first sexual feeling way back when. Right or wrong, I think we tend to condition ourselves around certain notions that few ever question. I am not saying that arousal should not lead to sexual satisfaction – I am just asking why arousal in and of itself at times cannot be considered a sexually satisfying event?

Think of the last time when you were aroused and there was no sexual release available – did you savor the flavor or just try to lose the feeling altogether? I think many believe that this type of activity would directly lead to sexual frustration. I am suggesting using arousal the way many in the kitchen have allowed foods to simmer and enjoy the aroma. Think of arousal in the way you would a fine wine, giving it time to breathe. Let it fill you in ways of becoming intoxicated by its scent alone.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Thrusting or lusting?

Before I dive into this week’s topic, I wanted to share an observation I made while in my doctoral studies. I quickly noticed from my weekly reading assignments that many male authors made claims as though they were the first pioneers into their field of inquiry while many female authors would refer to the writings of others in order to help them shape their way of thinking. It was very peculiar and not. So, as a preface I want to ad that most if not all my Blogs have been inspired and/or motivated by the writings of others. Paul Joannides in his awesome text – The Guide to Getting It On – Sixth Edition gets the credit for this one. I am a follower of Paul’s way of thinking when it comes to “sex” – it should always be about more pleasure with much less emphasis on performance.

I reflected on the past couple of weeks and how I had been talking to a number of men who sought help with premature ejaculation or rapid ejaculation issues. In most cases, the presenting problem was about how they could last longer with their partners. One client in particular said that he did not enjoy sex if he did not last a “prescribed number thrusts”. When questioned about the “number” he responded with his – without support as to what made it so for him. Questioned even further, he stated that sex was not enjoyable if he did not last “long enough”. When I questioned him about his partner’s input into this “magical number”, he looked at me liked I owed him money.

This really got me thinking on a lot of different levels. First, was what I wrote about previously regarding Zilbergeld’s belief that most if not all males are introduced into sexuality through three cornerstones – Secrecy, Privacy and Impersonal. Here is where my client reminded me of how males live out their sexuality impersonally by focusing their pleasure based on the performance of thrusting to standard set of motions. Since his partner did not know what he was thinking because he refused to share it, he certainly reinforced the secret and private aspects of himself through sexual relations with another. I wondered how many of us have lost our focus on pleasure in order to “hit the mark”? And what about our partners – it reminded me of something Carrie Bradshaw said on one of the episodes of ‘Sex and the City’ where she commented on ‘jackrabbit sex’ to Charlotte saying her boyfriend used her to masturbate.

Think about it [guys], if you get caught up in the “numbers game” are you not using your partner as just an extension of your hand? What’s interesting to note is that most of the research or surveys that women have responded to regarding what makes “sex good” for them rarely if ever mentions as the top contenders – ‘X’ number of thrusts. The number one and two answers usually fall into how much desire he feels for her and how emotionally connected she felt. I think sexual confidence on all levels and for both partners would increase if guys focused more of their energy on lusting after their partners in ways their partners could feel the heat and feel emotionally secure and connected.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Today's Menu: Lack of Sexual Desire or Limited Sexual Choices

Questions about the lack of sexual desire have been around since the days of Sigmund Freud. Freud was interested in trying to figure out why women seemed to have a lack of desire and what buttons needed to be pushed in order for her to become aroused. It is not hard to understand given the context of the Patriarchal society that Freud was immersed in to quickly realize why it was considered “a women’s problem” because everyone knew that men ‘never’ had a problem with desire…hmm, really??? In fact, I think that if there were assertive research conducted today in the realm of low sexual desire that we would most likely learn that it is not tied to any one specific gender but affects the entire population. I think we have been trying for too many years to scientifically explain a way to base it upon some complicated set of biological factors and functioning when maybe all we need is to give it a fresh perspective.
Let’s take a look at the model that pathologizes low sexual desire. Low sexual desire emerges when one looks at human sexuality from an orgasm based foundation. In other words, sex has its roots in reproduction where an erection is a necessary component along with orgasm, which at one point the privilege of achieving such belonged solely to the male partner. Somewhere along the timeline, the female was acknowledged of being capable of having an orgasm but again only after the male had prescribed exactly when and where it was to take place – that is during intercourse, while the penis was in the vagina. Of course, women were made to feel inadequate or abnormal if she could not perform to the male’s unrealistic demands and expectations. Unfortunately, some still believe in this anatomical challenging proposition and believe they must conform or there is something wrong with them that requires a visit to a medical professional and/or sex therapist. Be that as it may, the purpose of this writing is to challenge the old model and put it into a perspective that we all can relate to and understand.
So in English, the old model that we are all supposed to fit into and become aroused in deals with what I call meat and potatoes sex and this I believe is where the real problem lies. In fact, I would argue that there is no such thing as low sexual desire or inhibited sexual desire when viewed in this context. Let me explain what I mean by way of an analogy. In the many ways we refer to sex in our daily dealings, the one that resonates for most people has to do with appetite – i.e. sexual appetite. So, let us compare and contrast sexual appetite with what is known to every human being and that is one’s appetite for food. Very simply put, if we look at how most people satisfy their sexual appetite it reads like we are going to dine in, with leftovers and someone else is responsible for cooking the meal and better like what is being served. How much desire do you think you would have if you had to eat the same reheated leftovers night after night. I think most of us would get pretty darned bored and lose our desire completely, only wanting to eat now and then if we were really hungry.
However, what if we approached our sexual appetite in the same or similar fashion that we satiate our hunger? At the very beginning, most people feel comfortable asking their partner what food they are in the mood for? From there, most people find more pleasure in sharing a meal with a loved one and even more when there is stimulating conversation. Additionally, we all have a basic language for communicating our needs for food. We for the most part easily and openly talk about food, while we are lucky if we can even hint at sex. So why are we able to maintain a lifelong desire for food? – it is easy – because we do not offer only one meal choice and we constantly are trying new flavors, combining tastes, experimenting with new recipes, etc.
Ways to satiate sexual appetite fail in comparison to the way we satisfy our appetite for food. We offer a limited variety sexually but a vast array for hungry appetites. The question we all ask ourselves at one point or another in our lives is – What’s on the menu? And the answers we afford go something like this:
• Fine dining
• Formal, informal
• Dining in or out
• Fast food
• Leftovers
• Take out
• Pizza
• Chinese
• Italian
• Spicy and hot
• Mild and bland
• Breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner
• Late night snack
• Appetizers
• Fried foods
• Baked goods
• Desserts
• Exotic, forbidden fruits
• Culinary delights
• Cold, hot, smooth, crunchy

When contrasted to the sexual menu the list is considerably much shorter for most, possibly only one line item. It seems we have driven sexual desire out of our relationships by limiting our choices sexually. Is it any wonder desire is absent when we continually try to satiate the appetite with only one menu and in many cases one menu item? I don’t know about you but the idea of coming home every night to the same reheated leftover meat and potatoes, all but eliminates any desire I may have felt.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Decoding the Psychology of Your Sexuality

So how does one go about understanding the psychology of their sexuality? As a therapist, based on my education, training and experience I have typically looked to a client’s biological parents to inform me about their relational patterns. Like it or not, Moms and Dads have a tremendous and life-long influence and impact on how we relate to one another. So what and how have our parents contributed to our sexuality? Well for most and appropriately so, not many of us even suspected our parents of ever having sex. Our parents kept it private and secret, which is where many of us are with sex as well. If your parents were uncomfortable discussing sex, then maybe you are too When you think back to when you were an adolescent, what kind of sex messages do you remember receiving – were they positive, negative or neutral? Again this would reflect your parent’s attitude toward sex, which you now may have adopted. Again reflecting on your parent’s relationship, what do you remember about how affection was shown – comfortable (or not), forthcoming, withheld, unconditional, forced, absent, unwanted?
Another issue that would significantly impact our psychology would be how nudity and body issues were handled. In some homes nudity was encouraged and embraced in healthy appropriate ways where there were no restrictions placed on the child to ‘hide her/himself’ from others, while I think most were encouraged and in extreme cases forbidden to allow oneself to be exposed for the gaze of others. How do you remember your parents dealing with their own nudity and body issues? Did your parents keep behind closed doors while dressing? At what age were you no longer allowed to accompany them while s/he changed? When you think about that message alone, it can certainly help form our attitudes that eventually morph into beliefs that we hold onto and enforce into our current way of being with self and others. The BSPI© (http://bspitest.com) asked the question whether one preferred the lights on or off during sexual activity. The results were that 75% of all the men sampled and 37% of the women preferred the lights on. So if we look into the psychology of men along side women, the findings suggest reinforcement of a Western cultural norm that men prefer to be visual. How much of that is the way in which we condition boys/men to be? Does that mean we condition our daughters differently? It would certainly appear so, but there are other implications that surround this question and one such is around body image. Some people that I have discussed the results of their survey with have indicated that a strong reason for answering ‘lights off’ deals with body image issues and particularly when they involve another person and the fear of being judged. Again, I think culture plays a tremendous role in our reinforcing what the “acceptable body image” should be. If you look at the focal points of many advertisements, you will be hard pressed to find anything that is not young, fit, and thin as though they are the only people engaging in sexual activity. Even though one would think that body image is a visual thing, it really comes down to how one is conditioned cognitively to be able to accept or reject oneself.
This leads into gender issues, how we treat boys/girls and the expectations we have for them. As a sex therapist, I have yet to encounter a male who has not masturbated…while that appears to be the norm for boys, the same does not hold true for girls. The BSPI asked how one responds to their own sexual arousal through masturbation or through activity with a sexual partner, the results – 3 out of 5 men prefer to go it alone while the women were almost even choosing between the two options. I find this result particularly interesting given the nature of my work. I have seen many men “coerced” into therapy by their wives who “caught them” masturbating to pornographic images. In some relationships, it is expected that the partner will give up a life long pattern of masturbating and fantasizing to devote any and all sexual energy to the other. Personally, I have a huge problem with this, especially given the way in which sexuality has been discussed, promoted, and supported. There appears to be some serious mixed messaging going on in that we do not object to using sex to sell/promote just about everything until it crosses the thresholds of our relationships. It is totally unrealistic to think that someone who has self-pleasured a good portion of his/her life is going to stop once they are in a committed relationship, it is like expecting someone to never eat alone because they now have a partner to share meals with but yet these unrealistic demands persist. This is one reason why it is so important to have an open dialogue around our sexuality at the start of any new committed relationship and continue it throughout.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

History: Even a Sexual One Has a Way of Repeating Itself…

I remember back to a sunny Saturday May morning in 2007 when I was listening to a member of the graduating class of the Liberal Arts University I attended deliver her commencement address. This wonderful young lady gave such a moving and memorable speech. The part that stood out for me most was the following line: “We learn so much about history but we never seem to learn from it!” These insightful & prophetic words would visit me time and time again, especially now as I sift through the data of the survey I developed to get people talking about their sexuality [www.BSPItest.com]. Much has been said and written about sex and yet we do not seem to learn from it. I had the recent pleasure or reading Bernie Zilbergeld’s – The New Male Sexuality – which was written in 1992. Much about what he wrote remains true to this day regarding how males learn and take up their sexuality. Again much was written about male’s sexuality but nothing appears to be learned from it. For me, this answers the perennial question as to why things don’t change even though we know what’s involved and what’s needed. What I see lacking many times is the motivation to change. I apologize ahead of time for using a mechanistic analogy but many times I can explain to an individual or couple how the sex “engine” operates but that does not change how it functions. In other words, just knowing you have a 6-cylinder engine does not change it into a V-8. So the real question we need to continually ask ourselves is how we can learn from what we know about sex?
The BSPI [www.BSPItest.com] tells us that women and men do take up their sexuality differently. Men appear to be more restrictive in their sexual expression while women appear to be more diverse. The cultural messages for both men and women differ and that would help answer the difference. As I think about it from a male perspective, I am reminded that many men were introduced into their sexuality around three common themes: secrecy, privacy and impersonal. For many of us, our first exposure to the sexual in life was through printed images be they paper or videotape, that is through magazines or movies. There was usually no dialogue going on with anyone when we were first exposed. No one sat me down and said, “ok, here is what is going on and what you are most likely to experience physically and emotionally and sexually.” It was a private moment and we typically did not know the person we were fantasizing about. Even if our masturbatory trail was discovered, i.e. wet dreams, dried semen on sheets, towels, etc. nothing was usually said, thus, enforcing a code of secrecy and privacy. Now let us add on top of this scenario, years of conditioning - self-pleasuring to the point of orgasm without an emotional or intimate connection to anyone and what do you think we get? Now try and couple this notion with an individual who has been “conditioned” to think that sex is special and should be reserved for that one special person whom you plan on establishing a long term relationship with and the result is – no surprise - sexual dysfunction or an inability to connect. However, for many there is a surprise and once again I want to remind you that we need to go back to my original point that we have learned much “about” but little “from” and in my mind – no wonder!
How do we connect two people with such dissimilar backgrounds and foundational sexual messages? I assure you, the expectations are real and sometimes seem almost surreal. Think about how males are conditioned to expect and associate sexual pleasure from impersonal connections with images of individuals they do not know. We now know that exposing very young males to pornographic images as a means of educating them around their sexuality has life-long and sometimes devastating consequences.
I see it every week in my clinical practice. A wife discovers – through the history function of the family computer – her husband surfing the Internet looking at pornographic images and he is reprimanded into therapy because he has betrayed the trust in their marital relationship. When asked if he would be there [in therapy] if he had not been caught – the answer is always “no”. Typically, the only thing he sees “wrong” is that he got caught and that she is emotionally upset, but he does not equate the status of the relationship as having had an affair. Often for him it was no different than what he has been conditioned to do when he feels “sexual” and that is go into private and impersonal mode. Does it mean that he is dissatisfied with his sexual relationship with his partner? Sometimes yes and more often “no”. Unfortunately, it takes events of these magnitudes to start the often, continued awkward dialogues around sexuality and to go even further around what arouses us to the point of distraction. Does it not seem obvious that we could save ourselves a whole lot of grief and aggravation if we would just start educating everyone earlier with clear and consistent messages about human sexuality?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Hardwired or Conditioned?

I recently learned something about myself that was kind of an ‘aha’ moment. As a boy, I was raised/conditioned to keep my emotions in check, or in other words hidden from view. Basically, as males we are taught to avoid being emotionally vulnerable in any relationship. We receive continual reinforcement to keep tears away, private or deny them completely, probably by age 10. We are taught to ‘hang tough’, ‘take it on the chin’, ‘rub dirt on it’, etc. Vulnerability is not an option for most males or so we are lead to believe. As a result, we typically build elaborate cognitive labyrinths to keep any emotions from seeping through. This means we are implicitly lead to enter into relationships armed with this way of being – i.e. not feeling with our partners. Many men I have worked with in therapy for erectile dysfunction have stated such when
reporting past successes when they really did not “feel” anything for their partner, or in other words were emotionally disconnected.
The problem emerges for some men when they truly do start to “feel” or become emotionally connected and/or vulnerable when getting intimately close to their current partner. Anxiety levels spike as one feels emotionally vulnerable in ways that he typically cannot explain and had previously alienated himself from feeling. As anxiety rises to the north – arousal and along with it erection usually heads for the deep south. Let me point out that my professional opinion about erectile dysfunction is that it is usually mislabeled. If you have received a thorough examination from a competent urologist and you are able to masturbate without issue then guess what – the erection is working as it should or should not…where the problem becomes evident is when another person enters the picture – that is when the relationship with the ‘other’ becomes dysfunctional and not the penis.
The question remains is how do we educate/condition our males to permit a healthy exposure to becoming more accepting of vulnerability – emotional or otherwise? Fathers have to teach their sons [what some if not most men do not even have a clue as to how] and
we need to learn as a society to value emotions in all their wonderful variations and not limit them to a handful. Just like the push in recent years has been to accept diversity, we need to do the same for the acceptance and embracement of emotional diversity.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Go Figure!

I spend hours weekly trying to improve ‘my craft’ by reading, studying or attending workshops in my chosen profession as a sex therapist. Most recently I have had the pleasure of reading Bernie Zilbergeld’s timeless text – The New Male Sexuality. As I reflect on Bernie’s writings and the latest rush of clients that have passed my threshold seeking relief for what sexually ails them, one concern that comes up [no pun intended] is that of sexual compatibility between men and women. Let’s take a minute and think this through.

Speaking strictly from the male perspective of not only my own experience, but those clients who have shared their sexual adventures over the years about how as males, we are introduced into our sexuality...Zilbergeld claimed there were a minimum of three anchor points that males are taught regarding their sexuality – that it should be private, secret and above all else impersonal. As boys we receive clear cultural messages that masturbation is normal for us even though we are never encouraged to discuss our self-pleasuring escapades, thus, we learn at an early age that sex [as described as erection and ejaculation] is not based on relationships. We are encouraged by our peers, family members, and social media that as a man – we should sow our wild oats. It becomes all about the numbers and performance [another problem I will address in a later Blog]. Most of us hit the masturbatory trail at puberty and know how to return to that path regardless of our age or position in our relationships. Yes, please read between the lines, most of us never stop masturbating our entire lives and it happens all the time in committed relationships. I remember reading some research findings not long ago that stated that men in committed relationships tend to masturbate more often than those single people…Go Figure.

So let us Go Figure…why do you think that is? This question also brings me back to the therapeutic office where the wife is complaining that she does not understand how her husband can think of anyone but her during their sexual interludes. Let me restate one perspective, boys have received cultural messages that it is ‘ok’ to masturbate to images found in magazines, movies and the Internet. They learn to self-pleasure as they reach puberty and continually reinforce this behavior with secret, private and impersonal images of those they do not know or if they do know – do not necessarily have any emotional connection with that person. So here is this young boy finding sexual pleasure in the images he has been exposed to for years and the fantasies he has created within his own mind – this is how he has been introduced and indoctrinated into his sexuality. Conversely, the women did not receive those same messages but ones that link sexual activity with emotional and relationship stability with one person. Eventually, when they come together [they wish – and again no pun intended] as a couple – somehow there is supposed to be these magical transformations [mixing oil & water] where his sexual desires and satisfactions will now focus solely on just her, leaving behind forever the multitude of impersonal and private images of his past ….Go Figure!...again remind me, how is this to happen?

Some of you will vehemently deny that you support such a notion of sexuality and certainly are not promoting these kinds of behavior. To drive home my point, I want to share a statistic I picked up at a presentation by Stefanie Carnes [daughter of Patrick Carnes author of – Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction] to a group of Mental Health Professionals interested in learning about sexual addiction/compulsivity. She presented the following slide:

Number of Porn Pages by Country (in millions)

Japan 2.7

Australia 5.7

United Kingdom 8.5

Germany 10

and topping out the number one spot was the United States standing like a giant above the rest with 245 million pages. In spite of that number being the staggering one that it is, another point comes to mind living in the capitalistic society that we do. From a production and inventory capacity we are creating a huge amount of product that will need to be consumed…and what better way to create the demand for the supply than to prime our males with the desire and want for these impersonal images, thus, continually developing our boys to men along the lines Zilbergeld discovered almost two decades ago.

As men, as a society, as a culture we need to break this pattern so that our sons and daughters can enter sexual relations with realistic and emotionally and relationally aligned expectations. It’s all about choices and attitudes…Go Figure!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Newsflash - New Sex Survey Reveals...

Extra, Extra, Read All About It….New Sex Survey Promises to Reveal Interesting Insights into our Sexual Personality

We are a curious bunch, just mention the word sex and you will get someone’s attention. Some of us always seem to be interested in learning something new about our sexuality that has never been discussed or discovered before. I wonder why that is? Are we seeking some definitive answer that will finally inform us about our sexuality once and for all? I doubt it, but I think as long as we continue to shroud any sexual discussions in secrecy and label them as forbidden we will always want to know more.

Sex is one of those topics that typically has the effect of polarizing people. Earning a living as a sex therapist, I probably know this better than anyone. When I have been in social settings the reaction on people’s faces who support or disapprove of what I do is always apparent. The supporters want to know “everything” and sometimes have decided to inquire about their fantasy about what I do and the people I see. While I hate to put a damper on their creative enthusiasm, the reality is a far cry from the imagined place they have envisioned. Those that disapprove usually walk away shaking their hands at me as though it were some sacred cleansing ritual to keep me from destroying their soul or some such thing.

What I have noted that no matter how much has been said or written about sex, it is a subject that truly can captivate an audience to know even more. Many people want to learn as much as possible and are very happy and willing to share their views, stories and interpretations.

As someone “new” to my role as a sex therapist, [NOTE: certified in 2008 by AASECT – the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors & Therapists], I was somewhat apprehensive in approaching my peers and colleagues regarding the communication’s tool I developed, the Beiter Sexuality Personality Indicator. Since I am not a researcher by anyone’s definition, it felt intimidating to ‘push my way in’ to the field when looking at all the great educators the field has to offer.

The BSPI© was developed as a communications tool to help individuals understand their own sexual preferences in their sexual relationships and provide a comfortable means for openly discussing one’s sexuality. I have learned through the years in clinical practice that many individuals regardless of age have difficulty and struggle with being able to identify and communicate their own sexual tendencies, which may prevent a deeper level of sexual connection. The BSPI© delves into four broad categories into how individuals group common aspects of one’s own sexuality. The categories include: Partner Orientation – defined as the ways in which a person likes to initiate or be initiated into sexual activity; Arousal – defined as the ways in how one gets “in the mood” for sexual activity; Pleasure – defined as the ways in which an individual experiences sexual energy in their intimate relationships; and Routine – as defined as the ways in which you like to experience your sexual encounters.

The results may intrigue you or confirm what you already knew. To get the most out of the BSPI©, you are encouraged to share your preferences with your sexual partner to gain an understanding of each other in a way that promotes a healthier and deeper level of sexual intimacy.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Humble Beginnings as a Sex Therapist

Many have asked me how I got started as a sex therapist especially when they discover that my doctorate was received in clinical psychology. It always reminds me of a friend of mine who once casually mentioned that there are defining times in our lives that we are completely unaware of and points us in the direction we will ultimately head. For me, that came in my tenth grade English class. I volunteered to do a book report with an accompanying class presentation on sex education. Fortunate for me at the time, my oldest sister had just returned home from college and loaded up the family bookshelves with her stash of texts and paperbacks. To prepare for my class project, I decided to read David Rueben’s classic: Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex * But Were Afraid To Ask. My approach was to educate my classmates on the seemingly purposeful lack of information that we received in school, particularly in health class. I began my infamous presentation by posting the following words on the chalkboard: Cunnilingus / Clitoris / Fellatio. My classmates including the substitute teacher [a female] remained motionless and made no comment and had no reaction even when I asked if anyone knew what two of the words meant? In order to facilitate the teachings, I suggested that the girls in the classroom write down these words, take them home to mother and ask her to explain, since one was their body part. [I can only humorously imagine what that conversation would have been like that night for some if they had acted on my suggestion.] I continued on without interruption until I came to my summation point, when I decided it was time to let them know what I really thought about the public school system and its way of preparing us for the “sexual world”. So I stated “You are all going to find out very soon that there is a lot more to sexual intercourse than a man sticking his penis into a woman’s vagina.” Needless to say, this declaration forced the ending of my presentation, everyone in the room was familiar with those words as the class erupted with an explosion of laughter and the teacher finally came to life ordering me to cease and desist and take my seat. Fearful of being suspended from school, I informed my parents that evening of the day’s events and my father while doing his best to stifle the laughter, assured me that it would be “fine” with him as he said, “at least you told them the truth!”

While that event happened over 30 years ago, I personally have not seen much progress in our ability to become more comfortable with educational matters regarding our sexuality. This realization came at a very high price to me while completing my doctoral studies. One may call it déjà vu but 32 years later I was making a presentation to my classmates involving gender representations of masculinity and femininity when I was almost terminally expelled from the program after one of the students had a visceral reaction to a particular way a research participant chose to display his masculinity. The school thought it would be “in my best interest” to receive ethics consultation from a licensed psychologist of their choice at my expense and that failure to act on this “recommendation” would most assuredly result in my expulsion. I had been advised to “lay low” and let it blow over and not make an issue of it. It comes then as no surprise that many people continue to feel “threatened” by their own sexuality or the discussion thereof. What I think is interesting to note and contrast is that in Esther Perel’s – Mating in Captivity – she reveals that the research has indicated that the United States has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy of any developed country and scores lowest when it comes to sex education. One of my attempts then with this text is to support my fellow educators and help debunk a lot of the common myths and misunderstandings in the field of human sexuality.

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Sex Therapist is Born

I find it interesting that there are few subjects in the world that will polarize us as well as a discussion around sex. For many, sex has been narrowly defined as sexual intercourse and why not? If we look to how many religions have taken on the subject – it has always and only been about procreation. In order to procreate, there must be sexual intercourse if the sperm is to fertilize the egg. The erectile dysfunction drug companies certainly embrace and promote a view of sex that is intercourse specific in that “one needs to be ready when the mood strikes”. I think even Bill Clinton tried to excuse himself from having “sex” with Monica Lewinsky by claiming it was just a stimulation and manipulation of a mammalian extremity, albeit orally, but certainly not intercourse.

I have always wondered why is our sexuality so fraught with so many pitfalls and shrouded in a veil of secrecy? Think about how you learned about sex. Most parents would just as soon eat dirt than sit down and have that much feared and dreaded ‘sex talk’. My parents tossed me a book on breast-feeding – not sure what for but I am sure I was fascinated by the pictures. I cannot remember a time in my younger life where sexual related matters were spoken with ease and comfort or out in the open for that matter. My first sexual experience came when I was in the first grade. My friends and I were playing a war game in an adjacent wooded lot to a shopping center where I grew up. As I was crawling through a circular cement underground tunnel, I fell into a cardboard box filled with assorted nudist and Playboy magazines. Even at that early age I knew that what I found should be kept secret. Even now as I reflect on that moment, how did I instinctively know that the hidden treasure I had stumbled upon was forbidden even at that age? So I called my older brother over and we ripped open the lining of our coats and stashed as many of the magazines and pictures as we could fit. We hid them in the basement of our family home and the entrepreneur in me could not resist taking a few select pictures to school. There I sold them for fifty cents each until the teacher caught me and off to the principal’s office I went, ending a brief but brilliant career as a porn peddler. Again, as I recall no one dared talk about the pictures I was selling only that they had to come off the market so to speak.

I am in the process of writing a book about learning how sexual preferences can lead to an understanding of the psychology of one’s sexuality. My work is an attempt to peel back the layers of our sexuality and [pardon the pun] expose how we as individuals and as cultures and societies take up our sexuality beyond just the engagement through sexual intercourse.

To conclude my first musings about sexuality, no matter how much is ever written about sex people are always intrigued and curious enough to want to read more. Think about it, sex is one of those few subjects that has power to grab the multitude’s attention. The question remains that with all that energy going into wanting to read more – why haven’t we used this as an opportunity to educate the masses? It only makes sense that if I have an audience ready, willing and able to engage in the material then it should be made in such a way as to educate and further our understanding of human sexuality. What I have found surprising is that not everyone has an opinion they feel comfortable sharing with others. I hope my blog can create an environment for the sharing of our sexuality to take place.