Masturbation Month A.M.A.

Happy Masturbation Month, all! I’m here to answer your questions about self-pleasure.

Please note that, while I am a therapist, my “Ask Me Anything” forums are not therapy, but are intended for your education and enjoyment.You can view this AMA on Reddit.

Ask away!

On Sex Therapy

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by one of my favorite sexual wellness companies, Peekay Inc., whose line of female-centric boutique shops are all about sex-positivity, education, and fun. Together we’d like to share with you about the beautiful world of sex therapy.

Originally published as “The Life of a Sex Therapist: Heather Brewer” by LoversPackage.com on 3 April 2015.

 

“We met Heather Brewer at the Sexual Health Expo in L.A. this January. She stopped by our A Touch of Romance booth, where we talked briefly about her work. With a focus on listening to our bodies, she is a great resource for sex and gender exploration.

Heather Brewer is a registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern; Therapist internships can be likened to a doctor’s residency status. After seven years of face-to-face client work, Heather is close to completing her required 3,000 internship hours. She works under the supervision of Mindy Fox, a Marriage and Family Therapist in Santa Monica, California. As for her education and training, she attended the somatic psychotherapy program at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco.

Without further ado, here’s our in-depth interview with Heather Brewer.

 

What do sex therapists do, exactly?

“Sex therapist” is a bit of an umbrella term for slightly different types of healers who make sexuality a central focus of their psychotherapy practice. While sex is the topic of exploration, the modalities differ amongst us. I work somatically, which means that I have extensive knowledge of the body, and that I use it as a diagnostic tool as well as a vehicle for healing. Because the body speaks very clearly, what goes on for a person in their sexual life is both an excellent source of information about how they move through the world, as well as a wonderful place for growth and healing to occur. What I do in session depends on the wants and needs of my clients, but it always includes tracking of sensations and gestures.

“Heart rate, muscle tension, and the nature of one’s breath are major indicators of what’s happening in a person’s emotional landscape… Somatic work takes you beyond the ‘why’ into the ‘how.’” – Heather Brewer

 

What makes you, and your practice different from other therapists and sex therapists?

My specialization in sex and gender definitely sets me apart from many other therapists. Sometimes this is simply due to my knowledge base, but clients often seek me out for my willingness to explore these realms without judgment. Sex can be so evocative that people sometimes won’t engage in a process with it, or fail to see it as symbolic of a larger dynamic.

Most sex therapists are very familiar with the inner workings of the body, especially the nervous system, but not all of us work somatically. For instance, let’s say a couple comes to me because neither one of the partners is adept at initiating sex. This dynamic will inevitably play out in our sessions (they might both experience discomfort with starting to talk when the session begins, etc.), and they will be gently and safely guided through becoming conscious of it, and practicing better ways of relating. Somatic work is really effective and long-lasting, because it’s systemic. You can’t hide from sensation.

Also, I often quote Seinfeld or refer to Star Wars for analogies. And actually, that brings an important point to mind. I’m very big on being myself in the room. It’s the relationship between therapist and client that is the most important in therapy, so it matters that my clients and I like each other. Therefore, I have to show some of myself and my emotions. So our particular ways of being will inherently differ from each other.

 

Can you pick three words that describe the world of sex therapy? Can you share how these words are important?

Beautiful, intense, and complex. These are the things that come up for me the most often both in my own explorations, and in my work with my clients. I think they kind of speak for themselves, and they’re necessarily subjective anyway. It’s such a vast landscape.

 

Who can benefit from seeing a sex therapist? Who might it not help?

I truly cannot imagine anyone not being able to benefit from exploring their sexuality, because everyone has one. It is simply part of our being. And it is my belief that all therapists ought to be comfortable making this a part of their practice, and I hope that “sex therapist” will eventually be a redundant term. But perhaps this is a good time to clarify that sex therapists don’t always or only focus on sexuality. There are many realms I explore with my clients. Letting people know that I’m a sex therapist is more of way of saying, “We can talk about that, too,” because it’s not yet a given. That said, sometimes a person isn’t yet ready to talk about sex directly, or they desire to focus on it too narrowly. But as long as a person is willing to invest themselves, there is always a way to do therapy that’s right for them.

 

Can you describe your journey towards this type of work?

I find that I have slightly different answers for this each time I’m asked, so there are probably a great many reasons. But what often comes to mind is this conversation I had in high school with some of my friends. I can never remember how it started, but the topic of masturbation was being skirted around, and I decided to just disclose that I did indeed masturbate. Each of our reactions was this fascinating mix of astonishment, relief, and excitement. I also had a really potent desire to discuss it more. And to get other people to discuss it. The desire to do so had obviously been getting squelched for all of us, and it was so easy to just name it and get things rolling. I guess that sums up a lot: it’s really important to most people, yet most people don’t talk about it. I really wanted that to change, and it’s been an honor be on that crusade since.

 

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I guess I’d just like to add that the point of this work is to uncover who you already are, and to maintain an environment that nourishes you. That can look so many different ways, and I really want people to understand that. Find the people, places, art, books, music, and explorations that feed you. In some ways it’s a very simple path.”

 

Interview conducted by Aleesha Alston. Aleesha and I share a passion for sexual education and healing, and Peekay is lucky to have her! Check out the company’s own killer mission and browse their website for all kinds of sexy time resources.

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

“I just need to be single for a while.”

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” -Rumi

If you want to learn how to better yourself in order to be healthy for your next relationship, you may find that you’re more likely to learn while you’re in a relationship. In order to truly master something, you must embody it through practice.

When someone says that they need to be single for a while, I get curious about what that means for them. It’s often said right after a break-up, especially by the serially monogamous. And I very often hear it spoken in tandem with the existence of a budding relationship. So let’s dive a little deeper into this.

Our society is pretty big on dating. “You’re young!” “Live a little!” “If I were in my 20′s again….!” “You have to find out what you like!” Dating is a really important way to learn about yourself and others. And it’s fun! And awful! It’s the best! And it’s definitely the worst! I love when a client comes in after a first date. There is so darn much to explore, and it’s really fertile ground for insight into beliefs about oneself and others. First dates are also a killer place to practice somatic techniques, because you need ‘em in those nerve-wracking first moments!

What our society pushes on you less frequently is exploring where you may be blocked when it comes to intimacy. Can we please make the following into catchphrases?: “You should explore that!” “Try journaling!” “What role do you think you play in that dynamic?” “Bring that up in therapy!”  “What is your intuition about this?” The messages we get the most often ought to be about enriching your life through self-exploration and learning how to get the closeness and connection that we desire. Shopping around for what you like can be a tough battle without understanding your needs and their motivations.

Knowing yourself comes via many different roads. For some, it is far easier to travel new paths with another person alongside them. While I absolutely advocate for learning to do things alone, I believe that that can be done within a relationship, and I also believe that you have to honor your natural tendencies. Some people do better when they’re partnered. If you’re trying to be single, but find yourself quickly falling in love with someone new, then I’m talking to you, chum.

Often the challenge is not being alone, but in bringing your whole self into any relationship.

When we fall in love with someone, we have all kinds of glorious ideas about the relationship to come. Some of those things turn out to be reality, and some of them do not. A lot of couples break up when one or both parties discover that it won’t be exactly as they fantasized. This makes it really important to understand what you like and why you like it, as well as to uncover what prevents you from expressing your full self.

So how the hell do you do that?!

The short answer is that you have to keep yourself conscious of your process as you move through it. The best way to do that is to work with a therapist with whom you jive. You can also read some of the kick-ass relationship books that are out there (a few of my favorites are listed below), and revisit them each time you are struggling with a new part. The counsel of a person in a relationship you admire can also be tremendously powerful. But I really encourage you to be in therapy. It rocks.

The therapy room is a fabulous place to explore both how you got here, and how to move past your stuck place. We get to explore what you’ve learned about relationships, and how those lessons are helping or hindering you. And we also get to explore the therapeutic relationship as a microcosm of what happens in your life outside of therapy. This is one of the primary ways that therapy is successful in exacting change: when we encounter those stuck places in our therapeutic relationship, the process is made conscious and you get to practice how to do something different. And then you get to go apply what you’ve learned in your current or future relationships!

Loving someone completely means letting your heart swing on a trapeze with theirs. It’s absolutely terrifying, especially the first time. But the more you do it, the more comfortable you will feel- the more aware you will become of each minute shift in your movement. After a while, you won’t think about it anymore. And then occasionally, you’ll grab a bit of awareness and think, “My god, what am I doing?!” But then you’ll feel your hands gripped by theirs and you’ll realize that you’re safe. The likelihood that it will go well again increases. But it wouldn’t have had the chance to if you hadn’t risked it in the first place.

Everyone deserves a crazy awesome relationship, and that includes you.

Recommended Reading:

  • Hold Me Tight by Dr. Sue Johnson
  • Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix
  • In Quest of the Mythical Mate by Bader & Pearson

 

The Science of Somatics

Soma is an ancient Greek word, once used to describe the whole person.

Somatic psychotherapies are modalities which utilize the body’s role in diagnostics, as well as the healing process itself. Somatics combines the realms of the body and the mind, which were never to be divided in the first place.

Diagnostically speaking, working somatically means paying attention to the body. Heart rate, muscle tension, and the nature of one’s breath are major indicators of what’s happening in a person’s emotional landscape. When you start tracking these things, you are organically placed on the path to vibrancy, because the body speaks in simple, clear terms. Somatic work takes you beyond the “why” into the “how.” Knowledge and insight seldom exact major changes. You can absolutely know why you’re doing something, yet not understand how to stop or change.

Everyone has had the experience of hearing a sentence spoken with an emotional tone that negates the words themselves. Take the classic childhood interaction of being made to apologize. “Sorrrrrrryyyyy.” Are you really? If you’re the receiver of this kind of apology, you know you’re being ripped off. In the therapy room, we follow these inconsistencies. The body always has something to say. Somatic therapists are adept at helping you listen to the body and follow its messages, because it’s easier said than done. That is a major tagline of somatics! We’re trained in the doing, not only the saying.

Professor Don Hanlon Johnson, eloquently writes, “language emerges from the body, if we only wait and allow it to happen, with ever-fresh solutions to seemingly intractable problems.”

What’s happening in the body tells us both about the specific nature of a problem, as well as how to move through it. If, when taking deep breaths, you find it difficult to let your breath all the way out, this tells us something about your body’s ability to relax. An inability to take in enough air can point to tension that is restricting space. Typically, my client and I both have a sense of why this would be happening from our explorations about their past experiences. But again, now what? For the person struggling to exhale completely, we practice incrementally increasing their ability to relax. This is almost guaranteed to trigger emotions, because of its tie to past experiences. For that reason, somatic work is gentle and incremental. Like learning to play an instrument, you are invited to try something that is at the edge of your range of ability. Each time you practice, your range expands. Sometimes we find that certain contexts, people, or beliefs inhibit that expansion, and we deal with those as we encounter them. Therapy is about learning what it takes for you to feel like yourself, and to express who you are to others.

It’s not magic. It’s basic biology. If you don’t take in enough air, your body signals your brain that it’s in danger. If you don’t break this cycle, you are kept in a perpetual state of low-grade (or not so low-grade) anxiety. The more difficult experiences you’ve had, the more convinced your body becomes of perpetual danger, and the harder it is to recognize safety. Somatic work is very effective for exacting needed changes.

Read my article on the science of the orgasmic cycle for an example of working somatically in the sexual realm.

The body is really good at doing what it needs to do to thrive. When it acts up, it’s for a reason. Listen. Somatic therapists are here to help you make sense of what you feel, and to teach you how to meet your body’s request.

If you’d like to do a little reading on the research, check out the journals listed below. And for even more somatics resources, visit www.usabp.org.

The International Body Psychotherapy Journal
Somatic Psychotherapy Today
Hakomi Forum Professional Journal
Journal of Authentic Movement and Somatic Inquiry

 

Why Therapy Rocks

Let’s clear up some major misconceptions about psychotherapy, because it kinda kicks ass and everyone should understand why.

I’d like to start with something very basic. A few years back, I was in a conversation with a fellow patron at a local diner. When the gentleman asked what I do for a living and I said, “I’m a psychotherapist,” he gasped, furrowed his brow, and said, “Therapy for… psychos?” Now, this is the most extreme of the misunderstandings that I have ever encountered, but it points to a belief that comes up a bit too often. “Psycho” is a pretty commonly used word, and it doesn’t mean anything good. But “psyche” means soul. In fact, even that is a derivation. And it’s root is the Greek word for life. Life! Psychotherapy is the healing of the soul.

Therapy is not something you seek out because you are weak. Therapy engages you more deeply in both everyday occurrences, as well as more acute incidents. By “deeply” I mean that it assists you in understanding your underlying beliefs and needs, which affect most everything you do. When we know ourselves intimately, we are better able to get what we need in order to thrive. It’s for everyone. That said, sometimes we really need it. And that’s ok, too. A big part of therapy is learning when to lean, and when to use internal resources that you already have, as well as the ones gathered from your work with your therapist.

The work done in therapy cannot be done alone. Oodles of it depends on your involvement in the process, of course. But almost every last thing that hurts us is the result of an injury in a relationship with another person. Because of this, it takes another person to provide the external portions of what is needed to heal those wounds. We are hurt in relationships and we heal in relationships. This is a primary reason that beginning therapy can be scary. It means being vulnerable enough to open up to someone. But unlike many other places, therapy is a safe place to do so. We therapists are trained to find out what it takes for you to be exactly who you are. This is what makes the therapeutic relationship different from friends, family, or co-workers. This brings me to the next vital point.

It matters that you like your therapist. While you must expect there to be occasions of discomfort or disagreement, you should have a general sense of your therapist being your kind of person. This doesn’t have to mean that they are your same gender, race, age, etc. In fact, much healing can happen when you have diversity in the room. However, you must have some basic comfort and connection in order to get anything done. You could hate your G.P., and still benefit from the medicine she prescribes you. But the “medicine” of therapy is relational. You must be willing to take it in to benefit from it. If you’re seeing someone for the first time, give yourself two or three sessions to make a decision about the fit.

Therapy is not a place to go to feel crappy about yourself. You will not be shamed or judged for who you are, what you believe, or what you do. You will be assisted in identifying what works for you and what doesn’t. One of my favorite articulations about therapy is the metaphor of the thorn. We must find the thorn, and then we must pull it out. In that process, there is some pain and difficulty, but then it’s out! And then you will then be able to practice new or better ways of being in the world. Remember, the goal of therapy is for you to realize and actualize who you have in you to become.

If you’re a Los Angeleno, contact me. If not, check out the search engines at GoodTherapy.org or PsychologyToday.com. And enjoy!

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.