Read This Book: Healing Sex by Staci Haines

I should have written this review ages ago, because I’ve been recommending this book for ages! Haines’ work is not only an excellent resource for moving through difficult experiences into having fun and fulfilling sex, it’s also one of the most well articulated descriptions of somatic work that I have come across. If you’re interested in having a firmer grasp on somatics, you can stand right there in your library or bookstore and read just the introduction.

One of my favorite things about Healing Sex is the author’s optimistic and sex-positive tone, and this has been echoed by many of my clients. And what makes Haines’ optimism so enjoyable is that it stems from clarity about the need for therapy, and the simplicity of the somatic process. Sexuality is complex enough without trauma, so the necessary focus is on allowing your body to be your guide. Sensations bring clarity, and offer direction. The body is a very useful guide in any process, but it’s essential for overcoming body-based difficulties. Haines further inspires engagement in this healing process by reminders that the end result is, not just better, but awesome sex.

The heavy somatic component also invites a lot of empathy from readers who have not experienced any sexual trauma, making it an excellent resource for partners. We all have bodies, so being educated about the body’s sexual response processes is pretty darn relatable! And the book is filled with anecdotes, which serve to ground the author’s points in visceral awareness. These are also great for partners who sometimes can’t quite “get it.” That said, while I would not say that they’re at the level of re-traumatizing, some of the anecdotes are especially difficult to hear, and I have recommended to some clients (particularly empaths or the highly sensitive) that they skip over these parts. All the stories and quotes are italized, so this is fairly easy to accomplish. I myself feel things very easily, and I’ve gone back and forth with reading them when reviewing a particular chapter.

I also love this book for its political savvy. Healthy sexuality is hugely important to a society, and yet we don’t get to engage much in intelligent and useful discourse about it. Haines emphasizes the importance of finding community, and/or supporting people and organizations that foster healthy relationships to sex, whether it be support groups, anti-rape coalitions, or sexual educators. More education and more conversations will mean healthier and healthier sexuality for current and future generations.

To boot, Haines finishes with a wonderful list of resources, which I myself have gone back to over and over.

Staci Haines’ own wonderful organization, Generative Somatics, offers therapy, workshops, and social justice opportunities.

Safewords on the Subject

BDSM is a catch-call term for bondage & discipline, dominance & submission, and sado-masochism. Essentially, it’s playing with power in the bedroom, and it can be super duper fun and hot. I rarely need to explain the acronym anymore, and I think that’s great. Kink is becoming increasingly mainstream. But because there are lots of emotions involved, it’s about way more than just technique. Here is a basic guide for adding a little BDSM play to your sexual bailiwick.

Basic Rules

Safety

Safety safety safety. Everyone involved must feel physically and emotionally safe at all times. This means that each person is genuinely interested, has given explicit and enthusiastic consent, and that at least the following rules are followed:

  • Know your partner(s). BDSM play is not something to venture into with a stranger, or even a new partner. You must have a solid amount of information about each other, and have had enough time together to fully trust one another. Vulnerability is a huge part of this world, so it’s absolutely necessary that it’s safe for you to become so.
  • Negotiate. Know what you want and don’t want, and communicate it clearly to each other. Most of this should be done beforehand, but you should also agree on how to negotiate in the moment. It can be nice to leave some room for flexibility, but tell your partner where your emotional and physical limits exist, and respect them once sexy time has begun. In-the-moment negotiation should never involve bending the rules you previously set. Communicate with each other afterwards, too. What did you enjoy? What didn’t you enjoy?
  • Bind right. If any body parts which are tied up begin to feel tingly or numb, untie them immediately. All bindings should allow for the insertion of at least two fingers in order to maintain proper circulation. Be mindful of using scarves or ties, as they create knots that are difficult to undo.
  • Establish safe words or gestures, and use them. Make them clear, avoiding words that you might like to use playfully, such as “stop it,” or “don’t.” Make them easy to remember (avoid Bill Paxton or Bill Pulman). And do not be shy about using them. It is a normal part of BDSM play, and feedback in the moment is great training for future sexy time play. Treat yourself to this amazing thread on Reddit to hear about other folks’ safewords (and jokes).
  • Prepare for the unexpected. Keep scissors, handcuff keys, etc. easily accessible in case of surprise visits from Mother Nature or your actual mother.
  • Stay attentive. Stay present and mindful of yourself and your partner at all times. Be sure that you are actively in your body and feeling sensations (always a good rule for sex!), so that you can communicate what you want and need in the moment. Heart rate, breathing, sounds, movements and muscle tension tell you a whole bunch about what’s going on for you and the person you’re pleasuring. This is especially helpful for when anything unexpected arises, but it’s also just a great way to ensure that everything is as enjoyable as possible.

Fun and Pleasure

Sex is a complex landscape. That’s why it’s beautiful and enjoyable, and it’s also why it’s necessary to be mindful of your process. Don’t lose sight of the fact that, like any sexual act, BDSM play is always meant to be fun and pleasurable.

  • Be playful. Because there is so much involved, it’s important that you stay playful and patient. If a binding comes loose, a blindfold falls off, or anything else happens that “breaks the scene,” allow yourself to take it in stride. Playfulness and flexibility is an asset to many areas in a relationship, and some of the most solid couples I’ve worked with have gotten to where they are by working directly on improving their sex life.
  • If negative emotions or sensations arise, attend to them. That can mean something as simple as shifting your position, or calling it quits on the spanking. But it can also mean using your safeword to take a break or for stopping things altogether. Be honest with yourself, and communicate honestly with your partner. BDSM sex is intense, and therefore more capable of eliciting negative stuff. It’s not at all uncommon to work with a sex-positive therapist in order to process what comes up for you sexually. Many of my clients specifically sought out therapy in order to move through negative emotions and sensations in order to have a healthy and fun sex life. And it’s completely awesome to see that kind of healing happen.
  • Remember that a little can go a long way. Our bodies are elegant systems, and can respond to very subtle changes in sensation. Even the suggestion or symbolism of certain things (like simply having rather than using a whip) is sometimes plenty.

The Simpler Things in Kinky Life

It’s no joke that BDSM play can be risky. If you’re just starting out, try one of the following activities first. For every last one of these, the same rule applies: communicate, and keep communicating.

Light Binding

A lot of people enjoy binding and/or being bound, so this can be a great place to test the waters. For binding, start with soft or flexible material, such as bondage tape or faux-fur lined handcuffs. The psychological appeal of binding is often about the feeling of vulnerability, which can take very little to elicit. For this reason, you might first try binding just your hands, or just your feet. Then incrementally add more bindings, if you want to. Remember, always allow enough room for two fingers worth of slack.

Dirty Talk

Talking dirty to each other can be very effective for evoking the desired emotions and tension. And using words is physically safe. But be sure to negotiate what you each want, as language can evoke negative emotions that will shut down the body’s pleasure responses.

Light Spanking

Spanking is another thing that a large part of the population enjoys. It’s a burst of sensation that wakes your body right up. Introduce it when it’s right for you- some people enjoy it as foreplay, others enjoy it only after they’re signicantly aroused. Most informed sex stores offer paddles, spankers and slappers of varying softness, and there’s always that perfect little slapper of a hand. Start slow, and find out where you land on the spectrum of sting, which is felt more on the skin, to thud, which is a deeper sensation felt in the muscles and bones.

Massage

This suggestion sometimes surprises people at first, but when you really reflect on massage, you realize that it involves a lot of BDSM-y sensations and emotions. The receiver of the massage is essentially submitting to the control of the giver. And massage is all about discovering what a particular body wants in order to feel pleasure. Some people enjoy light caresses on the skin, others enjoy deep fascia-rearranging massage. It takes very little to make a massage super hot and sexy, and this can be a really great way to try on the emotions and sensations of powerplay.

Contraindications

BDSM play is not for everyone. Steer clear for now if…

  • …you have unacknowledged or unprocessed trauma of any kind. See a sex-positive trauma therapist, especially before you venture into powerplay.
  • … if you are in an unstable relationship or one that involves distrust, jealousy, or manipulation.
  • … you have significant or ongoing numbness of sensation. This can be a sign of trauma, but it also just makes it difficult to play safely, as you aren’t getting enough feedback from your body.
  • … you aren’t sure about trying it, but your partner wants to. Instead, further educate yourself on the subject, and see if a genuine desire is created within you.

Resources

There are oodles of great classes, books and videos out there. Here are a few of my favorites:

Classes and Workshops

The Pleasure Chest offers weekly workshops, many of which are on different types of BDSM. Check out their calendar of upcoming events in Los Angeles. They’re free!

Just about all of the informed sex stores offer classes, and have educated staff on duty who are happy to answer questions for you. A Touch of Romance and its sisters, Good Vibrations, The Pleasure Chest, She Bop (my favorite name for a female-oriented sex store), Babeland, Jellywink, and Smitten Kitten are all excellent. Hopefully one of them is near you, but all have great websites.

Wherever you live, the whipsmart Leandra Vane can support you through her fabulous blog. She’s open to and awesome at answering your questions via her comments section, or you can shoot her an email.

Podcaster Sex Nerd Sandra is also a mobile resource. She’s an excellent sex coach and she even offers personal sex toy shopping!

Books

SM 101: A Realistic Introduction by Jay Wiseman

How to be Kinky: A Beginner’s Guide to BDSM by Morpheous

The New Topping Book and The New Bottoming Book by Janet Hardy and Dossie Easton

The Importance of Talking About Sexuality with Your Clients

Making sexuality a part of your clinical work is absolutely essential. Let’s start by looking at why this is so.

Sexuality is where the body and psychology come together without trying. Our sexual dynamics in partner sex, as well as in masturbation, are a stripped-down version of our m.o. The body speaks in clear and simple terms. What happens when someone is using her body so directly for experience and communication is the clearest possible message about what it’s like for her to relate to herself and to others. It is for this very reason that the sexual self is a primary interest in a client’s self-exploration in therapy. But do not expect your clients to be the one to broach the subject. More importantly, do not confuse a client’s reticence with a lack of desire, or even a lack of willingness, to explore their sexual life.

When I was 17, I was at a pool party with my friends and I brought up the topic of masturbation. I was aware that it was taboo, but when it came up organically in a discussion, it suddenly seemed silly to me to hold back from commenting. So I didn’t. And the response was pretty intense! Everyone there exclaimed some version of surprise, relief and excitement about the unfolding conversation. “You do that, too? Oh my god! I thought I was the only one!” I was happy and relieved that bringing it up went well, and amused at how little it took to get the discussing going. I was also a little angry. Why had we been so secretive? Something needed to change. For me this moment solidified my understanding of the need for an invitation.

Sexuality is sacred, but that does not mean it has to be secretive. We tend to like to keep it private, but secretive can breed misunderstanding and shame. Sexuality is a thing to be explored and understood and wondered at. And we could all use a little help with exploration of such a powerful force. Many clients simply don’t realize that it’s ok to talk about sex. Follow their pace, but let them know that it’s a welcome and important topic.

If you’d like to make this part of your practice, here’s how to successfully navigate this territory, especially if you feel hesitant:

1. Know your own sexual self. This is no different than the ongoing work of being a therapist: You must know yourself well, and know how to continue to do so, before you can assist others.

  • Bring up your sexuality with your own therapist (a move which will itself propel forward the ability of our field to be awesome at this).
  • Revisit your psychodynamics. What did you learn about sex and the body? From who? What were the gender rules or expectations in your family? What wasn’t ok? What’s hot to you? Why? What isn’t? Why? When one of your clients tells you that they want to urinate on their partner’s face, because it’s always been a fantasy of theirs, you’ll need to have already practiced telling your internalized parental voice that judges such things to stfu, and let you explore this with your client.
  • Find books you’re pulled to and read them (see my resources for some curated options).

2. Know your facts and/or where to find them. Learn all of the basic facts you can, and develop go-to resources for yourself as well as your clients. As with any topic that arises in the room, be mindful of your blindspots, and be sure that your self-education includes the following:

  • Basic anatomy and physiology. A few things that come up regularly with my clients are the facts about the orgastic cycle and related hormones, the complicated nature of expecting vaginal orgasms, and the fact that men still ejaculate after a vasectomy.
  • Cultural awareness and sensitivity. For some cultures, the mere existence of this blog is blasphemous. I know that. For that reason, I don’t recommend it to everyone, and sometimes I give warnings about the content. Know your client’s cultural and religious background as you begin to guide them into exploration. This includes generational considerations. Find out what the general teachings are about sexuality within their culture(s), so that you can remain sensitive and empathetic. And enjoy the gift of an expanded body of knowledge. There are so many ways to get sex “right.”
  • Trauma considerations. If you do not already work somatically, get very familiar with the nervous system. It will be crucial for you to be able to track any traumas responses during your discussions with your client. This can be especially important when it comes to BDSM play, which toys with the line between healing and catharsis.

While being informed is important, do not be held back by the feeling of not knowing enough facts. Your training and experience as a therapist will guide you here, as it would with any other topic that arises in the room. As always, it is ideal for you to be a little ahead of the game, but your willingness to engage in the exploration is often enough for you to be of service to the client. This does not apply to trauma awareness.

3. Cultivate a matter-of-fact tone. One of the main qualities shared by my favorite sexologists is that they all speak matter-of-factly. Sex is a big deal, but it also just isn’t that big of a deal. You will help to normalize the discussion by speaking about it with confidence and directness. I strongly encourage you to practice speaking aloud about sex. You will encounter any stuck places very quickly! Penis! Cunt! Fucking! Dildos! This leads me to my next point.

4. Have a sense of humor. Be willing to laugh. This also helps with normalization, and it can bring a little relief into the room. As is often the case with laughter in therapy, there may be a need for you to clarify what you’re laughing at and why. It is very important not to perpetuate any shame for your client, which is rampant when it comes to sex. But laughter can be healing when it comes to shame. And sex is just funny sometimes! Sometimes your cat watches you, sometimes you run out of lube at an inopportune time, sometimes the body makes funny noises, and sometimes things just get a little awkward. Your client will benefit enormously from being able to laugh about sex. Show them how.

When you feel ready, make sure that clients and prospective clients know that sexual exploration is part of your skill set. Check that box for “sexual issues” on those therapist search engines. And make use of me! I offer one on one coaching for psychotherapists, as well as case consultation.

You can find my curated list of resources here. I also highly recommend that you check out The Unlaced Librarian’s book reviews, and Sexologist Vixenne’s own resource page. Enjoy your sex ed!

Clitoridiennes

Not only that: téleclitoridiennes, mesoclitoridiennes, and paraclitoridiennes! While it’s not unheard of for me to make a Star Wars reference to a client, I’m not talking about science fiction here. The clitoridiennes are names for women according to their vagina type. Vagina type?! Yes.

In the 1920′s, Marie Bonaparte took it upon herself (quite literally) to study her lack of vaginal orgasms. She concluded that distance between clitoris and vaginal opening greatly affected a woman’s ability to orgasm. She grouped her study respondents into the aforementioned categories.

Paraclitoridiennes have a distance of less than one inch between their C and their V. They tend to have regular orgasms from vaginal sex.
Téleclitoridiennes have a distance greater than one inch, and thus infrequently to never orgasm from vaginal sex. This is what fingers, tongues, and wands are for.
Mesoclitoridiennes land, you guessed it, at right around one inch between C and V. As the lovely Mary Roach puts it in Bonk, “They fell on either side, depending on their mood, their husband’s compensatory skills, his feelings about Greek sprinters, and what have you.”

I bring this up because it’s a reason to approach one’s own struggle to orgasm with more matter-of-factness. Most women are either téleclitoridiennes or mesoclitoridiennes. Struggling to orgasm vaginally should be expected, and accommodated. So have other kinds of sex, too!

This sort of thing is a good example of how increased knowledge and communication between partners can assuage a lot of heartache and stress. Learn about yourself. Learn about your partner. Learn how to talk to each other clearly and openly. This is what couples therapy is all about!

Her own publications are in French, but you can read a bit more about Marie Bonaparte here.

The Orgastic Cycle

You will often hear me say that sexuality is a deep and complex landscape. That is largely why it’s wonderful- it’s rich and expansive and can bear our multitudes, if we tend to it successfully. There is one aspect, however, that isn’t so complex, and that is the orgastic cycle.

Some of you may be familiar with the work of Virginia Johnson and William Masters in Human Sexual Response from 1966 (a great year for cars), because it’s what most of us who were lucky enough to have sex ed learned in school. It’s good and valuable work focusing on the physiology of the sexual response. I highly recommend reading it. It’s your body after all. Why not understand it?

Here, I will give an overview of the orgastic release cycle as defined by the Integrative Body Psychotherapy (IBP) Model. This model allows us to understand the emotional landscape involved with each physical response. Here’s the TLDR version, but good luck stopping there!:

Without further reading, you probably have a sense of what each of these stages means. Each of us has a particular relationship to this cycle and therein lies the material point. As Rosenberg puts it, “The way you do your orgasm is the way you do your life.”

For a happy, healthy, and fun sex life, it’s important to have a sense of which phase(s) you’re adept at managing and which ones are more difficult. These phases show up in nearly every aspect of our lives. So let’s look at each a little more in depth.

Intimacy

Intimacy is absolutely essential to this process. It’s necessary that you feel comfortable and safe, that you genuinely like your partner, and that you open up to them. Only with intimate familiarity can you have flow into desire.

Desire

To understand what’s happening in this stage, I like to think of it as an analysis of your raw materials: are you working with a healthy body, and do you let it do its thing? Your body must have the ability to be aroused, and you have to be willing to let it. Factors like clinical depression and “hangups” (a word I don’t love, but it makes its point) greatly affect our ability to become aroused. When I have a client who is struggling with this stage, we begin by ruling out physiological factors via a visit to the doc, endocrinologist, or psychiatrist. While physical symptoms are not at all separate from our psychology, we must know what we’re working with and what resources will aid our journey. After all, if we can’t get the engine started, we aren’t going to get anywhere.

Approach

Approach is about your ability to ask for what you want. Successful approach entails being willing to ask, having different ways of asking (plenty of verbal and nonverbal), and being approachable yourself. If you’re struggling here, you might never be the one asks (or you always are), you feel rejected easily, you let yourself get overtired at night, etc.

Charge

Where desire is the ability to feel drawn to aliveness, charge is the ability to experience it directly. Sexual charge is created by all the lovely touching, kissing, smelling, tasting, thinking, seeing, talking, dancing, holding, hugging, etc. Struggling with this stage can manifest as a need for conflict to be aroused, a feeling of overwhelm, checking out/dissociating, etc.

Containment

Containment is your ability to tolerate the charge that’s been built. Successful containment means savoring the charge for a while. The term “plateau” from Johnson and Master’s work is fitting here. Can you hang out in the nice feelings for a while, allowing for a plateauing effect on your arousal level? One obvious example of containment difficulty is premature ejaculation, but struggling here can also mean making attempts to lower your charge by talking, wiggling, holding your breath, etc.

Release

Now that all that lovely charge has been built up, it needs to go somewhere. Releasing means allowing the charge to flow out of you. I don’t mean just ejaculate, either! The release stage is where the heart opens its gates without knowing just when they’ll be shut again. Holy vulnerability, Batman! Because of how vulnerable you must be, two main problems often arise here: refusal to let go, and the need for super duper specific conditions for orgasm. Releasing successfully means letting go, and staying present while doing so. This is where all that hard work pays off. It’s no wonder we can be “orgasm-focused,” is it? What a beautiful experience this can be when we execute it well.

Satisfaction

I like to think of this stage as your ability to take a snapshot of your sexual experience and carry it with you. After orgasm, your body is being flooded with oxytocin. Will you allow it to wash over you or will you try to run away from it? Achieving satisfaction means staying present a while longer to take in this wonderful experience. Appreciate it. Let it brighten you up. Look your partner in the eyes and store this memory. Sometimes we block our ability to feel satisfied by immediately distracting ourselves, picking a fight, feeling abandoned or guilty, etc.

Intimacy

Completion of the orgastic cycle should bring feelings of increased love, closeness, and relaxation, which fuel us in moving forward. We carry these things with us until the next stage begins again.

Earlier, I said that this cycle applies to just about everything. And I meant it! That’s part of what makes it less complex than all the rest of what might be included on the topic of sexuality. The cycle always has these stages and the same stages show up in different contexts, including nonsexual ones. The experiences that we have, both good and bad, strengthen and weaken our ability to execute different stages. That’s why it shows up all over the place! I’ll leave you with some considerations.

Think about how you typically decide what to eat and what factors affect your process. How exact does a dish need to be for it to be appetizing to you? Think about how you actually consume the food (how quickly, how neatly or messily, how much). And consider how you feel afterwards.

To understand our sexuality is to understand ourselves. Individual and couples therapy is a gift that you give yourself in order to live your life as you should for you. Call or email to schedule an introductory session.

For further reading on this and other IBP models, check out their website and books. I particularly recommend The Intimate Couple.

How to Tell Your Partner What You Fantasize About

That scenario you imagine so often when you fantasize? Consider the impact it could have on your sex life to be able to successfully communicate what you like about it to your partner.

It is with staggering infrequency that we share our fantasies with our partners. And for good reason: it’s scary! We risk being misunderstood, embarrassed, or causing offense. The first step in avoiding those things is having some depth understanding about ourselves, so that we can communicate the specifics.

Understanding the primary emotional motivation for a fantasy is essential for your partner to be open to it. Let’s look at a common fantasy that has remained pretty taboo: bondage. Suppose “Kelly” likes to imagine what it would be like to be tied up and then pleasured by her captor. Just that one sentence is pretty vague and into your mind may sweep all kinds of scary things: pain, abuse, disrespect, etc. So we need to get more specific. We need to know what Kelly likes about this scenario. Her partner may be overwhelmed with questions or assumptions about what this means to Kelly, and if we end the communication here, this will likely result in the aforementioned icky emotions. What she really needs to say is that she likes to imagine being completely vulnerable to her partner and having experiential proof that she’ll be well cared for- even pleasured- in that space.  Relinquishing (or conversely, having) control in a safe space is one of the most common elements of bondage.

From here, Kelly can get even more specific and begin to speak to some of her partner’s concerns. In regards to pain, she may want there to be lots, some, or none. Often people desire to feel the pressure of the binding, but no pain. It’s important that she understands and communicates what she’s interested in, and why.

Understanding the particulars of your own desires is no easy task. I recommend beginning by exploring as much as you can on your own.

  • Spend some time journaling about it. This is a great place to begin articulating what you feel. We often surprise ourselves with what comes out in writing or speaking aloud. It can be a lot different and/or better articulated when it’s put into words instead of kept as thoughts.
  • Seek out the support of a therapist. Educated and non-opinionated support is the best kind there is!
  • Do some reading on the topic. Lots of people have done lots of work to help you with this process! Check out my blog post on Dossie Easton’s book on kink.
  • Shop for and try out the toys you might need. This is one of the best parts! But if it makes you nervous, be sure to limit yourself to the sex educated stores, such as The Pleasure Chest, Smitten Kitten, or Good Vibrations. You can shop online at all three.
  • Talk to friends you feel comfortable with. Our friends often know us best and can give some great ideas and advice. You’ll likely be surprised to find that, after some initial awkwardness, most people are willing, even eager, to talk about sex.
  • Post anonymously in the Reddit community. This is a fabulous beyond fabulous resource for learning about sex in all its beautiful complication. This online community is filled with friendly, non-judgmental, generally well sex-educated, and often terribly funny folk.
  • Get used to talking to your partner about sex by practicing doing so. Becoming comfortable with sharing vulnerably requires actually sharing vulnerably. (Damnit!) If you find you are often met with judgment, defensiveness, or misunderstanding, you would benefit from the support of a therapist.

As much as possible, do some exploring with your partner. It’s ok to not fully understand what you like and why. Having sex together can be a huge part of your explorative process. For this to go best, set some boundaries before you begin. For example, maybe Kelly isn’t sure if she wants pain or not. Let’s say she’s tried pinching herself a bit and has liked it, but feels nervous about having her partner inflict any pain. She can say exactly that: “I’d like to try having you pinch or bite me a little, but I might not like it, so I may ask you to stop. Is that ok with you?” If this kind of conversation seems impossible, seek the help of a therapist.

All of this can be tough work, but it’s also lots of fun along the way. It is so very worth it, because you deserve to have what you want. And a healthy sex life helps to sustain a healthy and vibrant you.

Eat Chocolate. Watch porn.

The good kind, please!

Most people needn’t be persuaded to eat chocolate, though I do recommend making a bit of ritual out of it. It’s a simple way to treat yourself to something that can get those happy hormones (endorphins) flowing.

Porn is trickier. But like chocolate, when you have the right kind, it can be a real gift. Before you decide that it’s not for you, consider the possibility that you haven’t been exposed to the right kind. For example, did you know that there is a wealth of feminist porn?

In addition to just being a fun date with yourself, watching porn can be a wonderful way to find out what you like (or don’t!) before trying it. And the arousal and orgasm cycle produces oodles of hormones (dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, endorphins, and prolactin) that make you feel lovely.

Here are my recommended sources for both:

Chocolate

  • Ococoa. The name really says it, doesn’t it? The product lives up to the name. Their butter cups are to die for. Order online for the best selection.
  • John Kelly Chocolates. Los Angeles boasts locations in both Santa Monica and Hollywood. Santa Monica’s location is double the delight with playful shop keepers who make picking your treats even more fun.
  • Scharffen Berger. Fabulous chocolate and an easy go-to, because it’s available at most good markets, like the Santa Monica Co-Op.

Pornography

  • Good Vibrations. This wonderful company has sections like “Produced by Women.” Shop online if you aren’t in New York or the Bay Area.
  • The Pleasure Chest. Go and peruse on your own or, even better, ask a salesperson for some recommendations based on your interests or restrictions. Remember that it’s perfectly normal to feel shy about this, but you won’t get a lick of judgment from anyone you encounter here.
  • Violet Blue’s book The Smart Girl’s Guide to Porn. This is an amazing resource! Not only does it contain an extensive list of websites, books, comics, producers, and companies that offer quality porn, but it includes extensive discourse on the history and politics of porn.

Go find something for you and enjoy!

For further reading on the topic of good pornography, check out The Feminist Porn Book or After Pornified.

A healthy and vibrant relationship to sex is necessary for a happy you. If you believe you may have an addiction to pornography, I encourage you to call or email me to schedule an appointment for therapy. It is ok to talk about.

 

Sex Dates

A sex date is just what it sounds like: a scheduled time to have sex. I highly recommend doing this, even if your sex life is already awesome. But isn’t that a little formulaic? boring? crazy? Nope. Here’s why:

  • You planned sex before.

When you are in the beginning stages of a relationship, you’re planning sex all the time! You knew how the night was likely to end, so you were making preparations for sexy time almost every night. And the anticipatory excitement was crazy hot! This is essentially no different. And now you have home court (or home away from home court) advantage.

  • It allows for the easier introduction of new things.

It’s very important that you communicate your sexual wants and needs to your partner. But it can be very difficult! When you have a date coming up, it gives you many opportunities to check things out with your partner in the days beforehand. You can text ideas, photos, articles, etc., which gives both of you time to ready physically, emotionally, and logistically for whatever it may be. Need ideas? Go visit The Pleasure Chest.

  • You’ll discover you have a favorite time of day for sex.

This is super important! Number one, we let ourselves get overtired often. Overworking is even valorized in our society. More importantly, our level of arousal fluctuates during the day and not always due to the presence of stimuli (or lack thereof). Just as some of us are morning people and others are night owls, some people want it right off the bat, some need a midday recharge and others prefers it at nighttime. And there are oodles of options in between.

Here’s a good test to discover your “prime time” before scheduling your date: when do you usually masturbate when you’re home alone all day? If you don’t masturbate, get on it, because you’re missing out. Somatic therapy can help you explore your blocks to masturbating.

  • No one gets stuck with the role of initiating.

Many couples fall into a pattern where one person or the other does all or most of the initiating. Interestingly, this isn’t correlated with higher desire. It happens for a myriad of reasons, which you can explore in therapy. Sex dates will mix up this dynamic. Yes, it can still show up a bit when it comes to setting the date or when the clock rolls around to your scheduled time. But simply knowing that you’re both committed to your sexy time makes an enormous difference, because it means you both want it.

  • You can make your sexy time anything you want.

And you don’t actually have to have sex. Sex dates are about increasing connection and intimacy, and committing to this time together. Flexible sex dates can be especially important for anyone with a difficult sexual history. So make it whatever you feel like in the moment.

Need a few ideas from the infinite number of possibilities? Try snuggling, mutual masturbation, spooning, watching porn together, napping together, or one of my favorites- skin time (bare skin against bare skin).

Now for the hardest part: go do it. And enjoy!

 

Role-Playing Polyamory

Polyamory is appealing to many and it is growing in popularity. But how can one explore this without actually opening their relationship, which can create conflict that is very difficult to overcome?

I had the honor of interviewing a couple who takes role-playing to the next level, essentially combining it with polyamorous sensibilities. Betsy and Sam’s inspiration for their frequent role play comes from people they encounter in their every day lives! So if Sam has a client to who he is attracted or Betsy finds herself turned on by one of their friends, that person is mentally brought into their sex play. Sam will pretend to be that friend, acting and speaking like him/her, so that Betsy can experience having sex with that person. *1 Then Betsy will return the favor on another occasion! How cool is that? It allows them to experience both themselves and each other in a variety of contexts and expressions.

One of the most powerful gifts of a polyamorous lifestyle is tied to the fact that different people bring out different parts of our personalities. This is something that most anyone can relate to, whether or not you have experienced having multiple partners at the same time in your life. Different friends and family members bring this sort of experience to our lives as well. Your brother might bring out your playful side where your best friend inspires your creative side, etc. The same applies to sexual partners. Think back through your partners. You had different types of sex with each of them, because they are each unique individuals. And, of course, some of the sex was the same no matter who you were with, because you are the common denominator throughout and you were bringing yourself to the table (or bed! or chair!) with each of them. So imagine being able to have that broad range of experience in your sex life right now. Anyone would want that! But polyamory is not for everyone (I realize some would argue otherwise), and opening your relationship can be a lot of work. Sam and Betsy have found a way to bring in that rich and wide breadth of experience with far fewer challenges and risks. Note: fewer challenges, not none!

In my work with clients who are interested in polyamory, one of the first things we explore is what might be keeping one person from experiencing themselves more fully with their current (or primary) partner. Sometimes this is simple: you want to try something for which you believe your partner will judge you, but when you voice it, you find out that you were wrong, and you get to go home and try it! More often, we find self-judgments or triggers in need of either removal or toleration. This part can take lots and lots of work. It can feel like so much work that one would prefer to just ignore their needs or get them met elsewhere. And sometimes that is perfectly fine. But I am a therapist and I advocate for expanding one’s abilities. I happen to believe this for a lot of things. Want some good jam? Why not try making it? Need a scarf? Knit one! Yes, it is more work. And sometimes you will end up back where you were: in need of outsourcing *2. But all the work you put in goes towards you becoming an increasingly awesome person.

Back to Sam and Betsy. Sam could wish forever that Betsy were as feisty as his client, because he loves how playful he feels with that person. Or he could (and does!) ask Betsy to try out being that feisty person. Then, Sam gets to feel more playful in their sex and Betsy gets to add a little feist to her expressions of self *3. This stuff deepens intimacy like crazy. Why? Because it takes both people making themselves pretty darn vulnerable. And it feels wonderful when you open up a part of yourself and experience someone being with you in that space. It is so worth all the work.

I have oodles of tangents on which to go off, because this is a complicated and topic. If you have questions, feedback or heated (but kind) arguments to make, please send me an email. I will surely be making future posts on this topic.

Find the interview in my next post, transcribed for your amusement, enjoyment, and inspiration.

My notes:

*1 Yes, pretending to have sex with someone is different than actually having sex with them. But we know (from science!) that conjuring up a context can be as powerful as the real one. Check out the recent empirical data stemming from research on the therapeutic benefits of theatrics.

*2 Outsourcing is a term I use for going outside one’s primary relationship to get an emotional need met, just like we do with products and services.

*3 While a large part of what makes it possible for us to express something is the context within which we find ourselves, I also believe it is necessary to expand one’s ability to express themselves the same way, regardless of their surroundings. In the case of Sam and Betsy, were they clients, I would challenge Sam to find ways to be playful even if Betsy is not being feisty. And I would challenge Betsy in the same way.