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.