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.
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.
Remember the interview I did with Leandra Vane, the Unlaced Librarian? Remember how it ended with her letting us know that she had a book coming out? We all thought, “Damn, I bet that’ll be awesome.” Well it’s even better than that.
If any parts of who you are lie dormant, they will surely stir at the sound of Vane’s writing. Her experience living with a visible disability has made her extraordinarily clear on social lenses, narratives, and that disparity between how you feel and how you are perceived.
Her stories are relatable regardless of your experience with a disability, because she speaks to the interpersonal and intrapersonal experience of self-understanding and expression. Disability itself simply becomes a symbol of that thing in each of us that we’ve been told not to show, that thing we fear expressing, that thing we struggle to integrate into our healthy sense of self.
One of my very favorite aspects of this book is the heavy somatic component. Vane has become a master of embodiment through her journey of extreme intimacy with her body, which has at times included the experience of checking out from her body. It strikes me that, as a person with unavoidable pain, she does not avoid pain in general. This is paramount to being in your body. You will experience pain as well as pleasure and neutrality. That’s not a reason to run. As Vane demonstrates with incredible clarity and humor, it is a reason to get really, really good at knowing what your body likes.
Here are just a few of my favorite verses from her about embodiment:
“I’ve been in many places and out of body has been by far the most excruciating and unbearable.”
“…my sexuality was crucial to having a whole, finished experience in my body.”
“I learned pleasure would not abandon me.”
Other vital topics that she covers include kink, passing, porn, non-monogamy, and shit.
Enjoy Leandra Vane’s super smart and sex-positive articles, book reviews, and resources on her blog.
Buy the book here.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Kegan Blake is the latest incredible human to participate in my interview series. I am so honored to have had the opportunity to interview him, as he’s someone that I’ve admired for many years. He is passionate about human rights and equality. And he loves trying to find the common ground- a place to build a truly solid foundation and develop lasting peace and understanding. With a Masters in Holistic Psychology with a Buddhist emphasis, and a deep understanding of trauma, sexuality and gender, he is a wealth of information and insight about the mind, body and soul of sexuality. Please join me in begging him to write a book!
You responded to my call for those who consider themselves sexual outsiders. How did you decide to identify that way?
I don’t think it was so much a process of deciding to identify as a sexual outsider as it was a process in recognizing the fact that my sexuality lies outside the normative experience. As a transman (female to male transsexual), there is a lot of curiosity about what is under my metaphorical fig leaf. There are a lot of assumptions on how I have sex and what roles I can, or cannot, perform in a sexual relationship. With that comes a few awkward and vulnerable conversations before a sexual encounter can occur. I don’t get to just pop down to the club and pick up strangers for a night of anonymous sex; well, I could but there are some very real safety considerations to consider before I do that other non-transgendered people don’t have to consider. For instance, there aren’t really reliable forms of safe sex for transmen who haven’t had lower surgery. Obviously, it is more complicated than that, based on how and with whom one wants to have sex. We can’t just go out to the store and pick up a pack of condoms. There are methods out there but I’ve never found them to be reliable. That places us at a much higher risk for STIs.
In what ways do you find this identification helpful? Unhelpful?
I think it’s helpful in that it opens doors to conversations that I might not be privy to if I were more “normative”. I am invited into discussions on different ways sexuality can be expressed and that is an incredible gift I get to receive. It deepens my understanding of sex and intimacy in ways that I think a lot of people don’t take the time to understand. Sex is both taboo and taken for granted in this society. Everyone just assumes that it is supposed to go a certain way and so people don’t really talk about it, even with their partners. I think that leads to a lot of hurt and misunderstanding in relationships. After consciously acknowledging myself as an outsider, I started to explore the sexual landscape and have found that I enjoy bondage, domination, edging, flogging, electrical stimulation, knife play, exhibitionism, multiple partners, and some other things. For some of these activities I only enjoy being the top, for others I switch roles depending on mood and partner(s).
Being a sexual outsider is unhelpful in that sometimes I get frustrated and angry that I don’t have the luxury of taking my sexuality for granted. That may sound weird to some people but there is some privilege in not having to talk about details of sex before the act or in being able to just dash over to the store to ensure your sexual safety. I’m not naturally monogamous and there are sexual situations I would like to explore which aren’t safe for me and that’s difficult to swallow sometimes. I suppose though, everyone has aspects of their sexuality that they feel frustrated with or that seem off limits to exploration whether they be self enforced repression or actual physical limitation. It is helpful to recognize that, even in my frustration, I am not alone.
I have friends who have non monogamous relationships who enjoy multiple partners and occasionally have random anonymous sexual encounters. If I were cis-gendered (according to The Oxford Dictionary: a person whose self-identity conforms with the gender that corresponds to their biological sex.), I would be able to participate in those activities more freely. Since, I am super conscientious about my health and safety and that of my partner(s) I refrain because there is no reliable protection for the configuration of my genitals and that’s frustrating.
That word “normative” is so tricky, isn’t it? It was my intention with this series to help stretch societal awareness of what constitutes healthy sexuality by bringing in folks from lesser understood parts of the spectrum. There are just so many ways to have a healthy relationship to one’s own sexuality, and I wish that children were more often taught that early on. In that regard, what advice would you give your young self in regards to sexuality?
I suppose it would be to be more open to exploration. When I was in my early adulthood I was a bit closed minded to anything other than traditional monogamous sexual relationships. That led me to serial monogamy where I would enter a relationship and break it off within a couple months because I knew from the start it wasn’t a good fit but there was sexual attraction. I think my sexual and relational experiences wouldn’t have been as painful, for anyone, if I could have opened my mind to a broader definition of relationships and sexuality.
Also, I might warn myself off of a couple dating adventures. Not that I’d listen, even to myself.
Haha. What resources might you recommend to others wanting to explore their outside-the-box sexuality?
Find a community where that kink is practiced. Sometimes, there are books and videos available for beginner education and sometimes there aren’t. Finding a community where these things are talked about and people are willing to teach beginners in a supportive and not predatory way can be invaluable. The internet is a great resource for this kind of thing. In regards to transmen, and what to expect there are websites that have pictures of genitals, FTM-centric porn, personally, I like Couch Surfers series best for that. Buck Angel is a big name FTM Porn Star but I’ve only seen one of his videos & it wasn’t for me. The point is there are a lot of ways to do some homework if people are curious about what’s under someone’s fig leaf. The only way to learn how to best please a potential lover is with that person. For very basic beginners looking for community there is are websites like FetLife, and while they’re not the best place in the world, they can lead to local groups and help people get connected to and support from the kink community. For anyone going to the internet, understand that there are predators and misinformation out there; so, use your instincts to stay safe and use the buddy system if you plan on meeting someone in real life.
I really appreciate your cautions, and your emphasis on community and connection. There are resources for just about anything, but I don’t think anything really beats the support and attunement of others.
You’ve already named several aspects of sexuality about which are educated. Are you proficient at any forms of kink?
Depends on what you mean by proficient. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert in any of the kink I practice, but my partners have always seemed to enjoy the experience we co-create. I’d have to say that bondage and knife play are the areas I am really talented in and enjoy most. The thing I’m most proficient at is after care. It’s imperative after completion of a kinky session that there is good after care, making sure that the submissive is emotionally and physically taken care of and has a safe space to process what just took place. I am really good at creating that safe space from the first conversation about a particular kink all the way through planning to processing, even days or weeks after.
Wow. The extent of your aftercare sounds incredible! I don’t think that gets talked about enough, and it’s such an important space, especially with the more intense forms of kink. Being that you’re a practitioner of psychology, I’m extra excited to ask you about what your kink meets for you.
There are a couple different things I get from kink. Foremost is intimacy and building trust. We’ve all seen those team-building programs that encourage a trust fall, where one person allows themselves to fall and trusts that the other person will catch them. Well, with bondage, domination, and knife play you have to trust each other. You also have to communicate and be really in tune with your partner. Paying attention to circulation, breathing, the person’s eyes, checking in with every new move ensuring everything you’re doing is serving your partner. A lot of people think that only the bottom is in service to the top, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The top has to be totally attuned to what is happening for the bottom and stop as soon as anything seems off. Learning someone’s body like that is intensely intimate.
The other thing I get from my kink is total surrender. In the rest of my life I tend to be in my head a lot, staying in control of myself and maneuvering situations to my best advantage. My mind is constantly taking in information and trying to fit it into a larger puzzle. So, when I’m bound or blindfolded, or both, I totally relax and give over all control. The only thing I can do is Be Perfectly in that moment. Sensing and Feeling everything that is happening. I can carry those moments into my daily life to help me remember how to be mindful and stay in this moment. It is amazing and spiritually rewarding.
That is such a beautiful description. The need to stay tuned in to your partner(s) really is essential with kinky play, and I love that you called it intensely intimate. And I love the metaphor of the trust fall! I will definitely be using that. What tips do you have particular to bondage or knife play?
Don’t be afraid to use theatrics. I have a special blade I use for knife play and it makes a really great sound when I pull it from the scabbard. If my partner is blindfolded I’ll bring the knife close to my partner’s ear and draw it so they can feel the zing and scraping of the metal on metal in their bodies. Then, I’ll lay the blade on their chest so they can feel its weight and the coldness of the metal on their skin. Also, use bait and switch. I don’t feel comfortable using my blade on genitals but I use something that simulates that feeling and my partner is none the wiser. So, they get to feel the thrill and anxiety of a sharp pointy thing on/in very sensitive areas but you know it’s perfectly safe. Engage all of the senses and it will be an amazing experience for everyone.
Do you have any fun names for things you do?
Not really a funny name for the acts themselves but my partner and I often call explorations “Science.” So, we often “sacrifice” in the name of “science” when we try a new thing.
Ah, that’s delightful! I do like to use the word “experiment” a lot in therapy, as that is so often what we’re up to: trying something out and studying it! Are there things you haven’t tried yet that you might like to get into?
Oh, for sure. I think the next thing I’ll try is Japanese style knot bondage. It is gorgeous and intricate. I’m fascinated by abduction fantasies & consensual non-consent but, I don’t know if I’ll ever have the courage to try it. It just seems too dark and potentially psychologically dangerous.
Oh those knots are so beautifully intricate! I definitely understand your hesitation with the consensual non-consent play. It simply is riskier to concretize it.From where do you draw strength and support for doing what you do?
I don’t know about strength, in regards to my transness, it really came down to not being able to continue living the life I had lived; something had to change or I’d die. In both things, my transness and the kink, support comes from my partner, some of my more open minded friends, and online community.
I hear that so often from my clients who are trans- that it’s essentially choosing life or death. I’m so glad that you chose to make a change, and that you have support. I look forward to a world where transitioning is more fully understood and supported, so that it’s simply a logical next step.
You’ve already shared so much awesomeness; is there anything about which you’d like to spread awareness?
I think there is a misconception that transmen don’t have “real” penises unless they get bottom surgery. That isn’t true. On Testosterone, transmen can get between about 2 – 4 inches of flaccid length. Girth also changes with Testosterone. So, when erect, transmale cock performs in the same way that a cis-gendered penis works, with the exception of sperm production and peeing through our cocks. We can pee standing up using a variety of tools, techniques or through surgically re-routing and lengthening the urethra. Maybe somewhere in the future, science will figure out how to help us produce sperm but, for now, that’s all sci-fi.
My hope is that, with education and communication, someone will innovate a way to protect transmen from STIs more reliably.Currently, the methods most often used are either cellophane or cutting a latex/vinyl glove and fitting it to our genitals. For some guys that works fine and for others not so much. In my experience, cellophane doesn’t work for penetrative sex acts; yes, some transmen can penetrate their partners with their biological cocks. And modifying a latex glove isn’t effective because the glove continues to tear and doesn’t really stay in place. It’s possible that I’m not doing it right but there isn’t really anywhere to learn how either. It’s all trial and error for each of us. There has to be a better way.
I’m really glad that you brought that up. I’m realizing that there is often very little talk or even educational resources about penises grown through the use of testosterone, and that probably perpetuates a lot of fear and myths! And there’s undoubtedly a need for more research funding for condoms. Science (the kind done in labs rather than your bedroom) has given us so much incredible technology, and frankly, a condom for transmen seems only moderately challenging.
Kegan, with your background and experience, I’m thrilled to know that you’re part of this community, and that you’re so dedicated to change. We are so lucky to have you! Thank you very much for granting me this interview. I’m so proud to count you amongst my colleagues.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
BDSM play is not for everyone. Steer clear for now if…
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!
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 was thrilled when this gent agreed to let me interview him for my sexual outsider series, because he takes swank and chivalry to a deeply fun and sexy level. Every time I’ve seen him, he has been dressed to the nines, togged to the bricks, hittin’ on all sixes from head to ground grippers in fabulous vintage attire. I was thrilled to learn that being part of the vintage scene is completely intertwined with his kink life. What a combo! He is just the cat’s pajamas (where the pajamas are authentic vintage, and get used to tie a girl up at the end of the night).
One of the first things you told me when we began to talk about doing an interview was that you wanted to share your process of consciously choosing to expand out from “vanilla” sex. I think that the desire to do this is something a lot of people can relate to, though not everyone chooses to embrace. So how have you come to consider yourself a sexual outsider, and what was your process like?
I consider myself a sexual outsider for several reasons, the most cliché of them probably being that I like things, people, places, and acts that society generally frowns upon. Those things usually revolve around my core of kinks. I like to do things or have things done to me that make people generally uncomfortable. I am an outsider because vanilla sex is just that: plain. The more taboo the sex, the better.
I did not really have a set process, or at least nothing I immediately recognized. I guess years of realizing what my kinks are, and looking for compatible people helped. I do remember quite clearly when I decided that I was an outsider. It was about three years back. I had a good personal friend, who was an amazing slut. I really loved her as a friend, and also as an occasional sexual partner. She was younger than me by maybe three or four years, but had much more experience in the realm of “unusual sex,” partly because she was bisexual. As time went on, we became better friends and of course, occasional lovers. It was occasional because she happened to live in an adjacent state, so we would visit each other several times a year. But it was one time in October that turned me. She invited me to this event called “Fetish Ball.” College friends of hers frequent it, and invited her. Knowing my general interest in kink, she invited me. It was a single night event in a two story industrial complex that has musicians, dancers, kink demonstrations, and the best part: an uncensored after party. That night I learned how to use tools of the trade, learned about pain- both giving and taking- and the difference between good and bad pain. And I got to spank another man’s wife. In the long run I think they wanted to swing with my friend and I. What a pity I didn’t catch on to that! But what we did was secure both his wife and my friend together in stocks, bent over. He motioned to me to spank his wife, and the look in his eyes was the sincerest look of “we are all here for a good time.” Then I did it, and that was the beginning.
That sounds super hot! And I love that your first experience of this was in an informed setting. Exposure to the kink community can really aid in owning that part of yourself. So in what ways do you find this identification helpful? Unhelpful?
I actually prefer being identified as unhindered,” primarily because being unhindered is the reason I am a sexual outsider. Unhindered by social norms and expectations, that is.
That makes perfect sense. It’s about living outside the box. And that can be so hard, especially when socialization is a primary vehicle for learning about our options, yet it is far from all-inclusive. What advice might you give your young self in regards to sexuality?
I would tell myself to take the chance and chase the women I wish I did all those years ago. I had one minor (some think major) kink in high school, that I still greatly enjoy to this day, but back then it scared me to death. I have a foot fetish. High school was the first time I saw a large variety of girls wearing open-toed footwear, and the feelings it gave me were odd and confusing. I thought that girls would think I’m too weird and avoid me; that I would be judged harshly and cast out of my normal circle of friends. In hindsight that was ignorant thinking on my part. Girls dig weird guys, plus it would have set me apart from all the other hormone-enraged boys. It would have showed that I enjoy more parts of woman over the normal M.O. of tits and ass. My thoughts currently, which I wish I had then, are if you can take care of a woman’s feet, you can take care of the woman.
Well there’s my new catch phrase! So then what resources do you recommend to others wanting to explore their outside-the-box sexuality?
Actually, Facebook is a wonderful source to find kinky things. There are many burlesque shows, fetish-related events, and other sex-related events that advertise there. However, being that it’s Facebook, it can be somewhat easy for others to see what you are up to, which could be good or bad. But in general, the internet is your best friend to discover or practice kinky things. But it’s important to know what you’re in for. I was lucky to have friends who already knew how to safely go about things, so I had steps to follow in. I say start with a definite known kink, follow it and see where it leads. For me, going to Fetish Ball did that. It opened the flood gates of sexuality, pleasure and all around fun.
At what forms of kink are you proficient?
Short: Bondage, sadism (but it varies from person to person), dominance, foot play, group sex, role play, erotic massages, knife play (but no blood or actual cutting), body painting, pornography, swinging.
My favorite form of kink is something I think I came up with, because I haven’t seen it anywhere else, (but I could be wrong since I do not keep up with popular culture). It’s something I call being a Gentleman Deviant. You can attest to this, since you met me at a vintage event. I love to dress up in a suit, tie, tuxedo- all vintage only- comb my hair, shine my shoes, be as well-groomed as a man can be…and then play the devil. I will wine and dine, be sophisticated, charming, funny, a perfect gentleman, but deep inside a fire burns. I may not always act on it, but I do my best to put the feeling into any woman that I am with that I am the devil. Women can’t see it, but they can sense it. Actually, a lot of the kink I like to do is done with me all done up. It’s sophisticated torture, and it’s simply delicious. I know I’m successful when a woman, whether or not I’ve known her sexually, refers to me by the end of the night as The Devil.
Wow! You take the term “decophile” [a word that lovers of Art Deco like to use for themselves] to a whole new level! I’ve seen you out several times, and never knew the depths to which your sauciness goes. How devious! So do you know what needs your kink meets for you? Is the word “Devil” a religious reference for you?
Honestly, I am still figuring it out. For me sex is never black and white; pleasure is never black and white. I understand why I do certain things from purely a physical standpoint, but the emotional satisfaction of others is still somewhat of a mystery. I do it because I love it, and it makes me feel whole, but why? Who knows? It’s a great mystery that I intend to study for years to come.
And not being a religious person myself, it is not a religious reference. I love the mysticism behind the idea of a devil, and I try to embrace it. The Devil has both bad and good points behind him, it just depends from whose point of view he is seen.
Do you have any cool tips on your type of kink?
Just be cool and confident with it, and of course start small. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so don’t try to build the Coliseum on the first try. YouTube actually has helped me quite a bit on several of my kinks. I care more about her pleasure than my own, so researching and learning helps me do my job better.
Do you have any fun names for things you do?
I like to call it the Devil’s Work.
I love that! It really reclaims the “naughty” aspect of kink. Are there things you haven’t tried yet that you might like to get into?
I’m honestly not sure, I am some what closed minded towards being a submissive, but who knows, maybe one day. I think, with more exploration, fetish clubs and events, I can find something.
That’s fairly common, especially when you prefer to focus on the other person’s pleasure. Do you have a sense of what might be blocking you there?
It’s hard to say really. I’ve spent the majority of my life not in control of my own life, so that the thought of surrendering myself to someone is just alien. It could also be a trust issue, I guess. I’ve never opened myself up to trust my life in someone else’s hands.
I know that a lot of people can relate to that. It is incredibly vulnerable to be sure. From where do you draw strength and support for doing what you do?
My significant other, though not as open as I, is the one who truly set me free. Through her I have indulged almost all of my sickest of fantasies, and created a thousand more. She is my sexual muse. Maybe one day I can tell that story.
Well of course I’d love to hear more from you! And a sexual muse? What a poetic experience of sexuality. Your willingness to open up about your sexuality is so appreciated. And I do believe that fingers are now officially crossed to see you dressed up as the devil himself for Halloween.
Leandra Vane is a sexuality blogger and erotica author. She was born with a physical disability and works professionally with people who have developmental disabilities. With a background as a librarian and a bachelor’s in literature, her real love is reviewing and recommending books about sexuality and body identity. She’s a sucker for knowledge, emotional intelligence, and self-actualization. In other words, she’s a total badass.
Why do you consider yourself a sexual outsider, and what was your process for deciding to identify that way?
I was born with Lipomyelomeningocele and though most of the effects are invisible – I can’t feel about half my body, I have kidney/bladder problems, nerve pain – there are a couple visible signifiers in that I walk with leg braces (that I usually keep covered) and have an uneven gait due to a shallow left hip. Even so, by the time I reached college I was completely independent. I lived on my own, commuted to college (and college parties) and usually had two jobs at a time. I am now married, have a full time job, run our household unassisted, etc. Despite my independence and comparatively mild visibility, both men and women asexualize me because of my disability. I have had men tell me that though they would like to date me (or have sex with me) they wouldn’t want anyone to know they were interested in “the disabled girl.” I actually dated one man in private for several months because of this. In college, most of my friends referred to me as “one of the guys” or “just like a sister.” One time a waiter hit on me instead one of the girls in my group and, well, she got pissed off. It came back around to me that she couldn’t believe a guy would pick a disabled girl over a normal one.
The scales were finally tipped when at 19 I went to the doctor to get birth control. I was not sexually active but I planned to be and wanted to be on the pill along with using condoms (which had to be polyurethane as I am allergic to latex). The doctor checked me out and during my examination she told me that because of my body my cervix was low and sex would probably be painful for me. She then told me that sex would probably be painful for the man having sex with me, too. I somehow managed to keep it together but when I got home I ripped up the prescription and cried for a very long time. I went through a period of a few months where I literally felt like I was outside of my body. I felt like my entire identity had been taken away from me. In my mind, a doctor had just told me I couldn’t have sex. I was a virgin at the time, so I didn’t know whether she was actually correct, but I didn’t see any reason to get a second opinion. I was very upset. So few, if any, people acknowledged my femininity, let alone my sexuality, and on top of that I had some monster vagina that would cause my partners and myself pain. It was then I decided I must be asexual.
This was ridiculous, and a part of me knew it. Ever since the hormones kicked in around age 12 I have always been a very sexual person. I found out around this age that I had orgasms just from thinking sexy thoughts and as an adult I very much so enjoy my ability to “think myself off.” I love flirting, I love being sexual, and I always related to people who considered themselves sexual outsiders, people who identified as GLBT and other gender benders like cross dressers. I’ve always read mountains of erotica and navigated my own body to give it maximum pleasure despite the numbness and parts that had limited function. This included kink and fetishes though at the time I was an independent practitioner, using fantasy alone. Yet I went for about a year deciding that I must be asexual. Eventually my sex drive won and I realized that typical sexuality was not going to work out for me. I needed to embrace my kinky side, and I needed to find a partner that was willing to go against the crowd. I met my husband a couple years later and my vagina did not rip off his penis. I ended up going to a specialist and he verified that, yes, my cervix does sit low but this shouldn’t have any real bearing over sexual intercourse, I just might not enjoy certain positions that facilitate deep penetration. No monster vagina for me. However, I do admit that sensation play and spanking are much more erotic for me and I need these things in order to reach orgasm. Rarely do I orgasm from penetration alone (which, um, is not exactly a rare problem from what I’ve researched).
But my identification as a sexual outsider has more to do with sociology than biology. I love being feminine but I feel few people outside the kink community are able to see past my disability to see my femininity. In kink circles and with people who identify as being sexual minorities there is more freedom to be sexual in a way my body needs to be and there is not as much shame. Since then I have explored my sexuality in ways I would not have otherwise. My husband and I have successfully negotiated an open relationship and I have recently begun to appreciate feminine sexuality and have had female play partners. Since my body and my marriage both fall outside the realm of the typical heterosexual monogamous template, I do consider myself a sexual minority.
That is such an incredible journey. I can’t believe that doctor! I’m thrilled that you were able to reclaim your sexual self and find your subculture. In what ways do you find this identification helpful? Unhelpful?
It is helpful in that I have a better relationship with my body and I can finally be who I am instead of what everyone else wants me to be or says I should be. I find it unhelpful in that sometimes labels can go against you. For example, I feel more comfortable in GLBT circles but since I am married to a man and act traditionally feminine, I am not always “welcome.” Sometimes I feel people are in a competition to see who can be the most “hardcore” in kink and people hide behind these labels just as people in the mainstream hide behind the façade of polite society. I have found a few people in kink who are genuine and that is fantastic. But judgment, shame, and competition exist just as strongly in the kink world as in the mainstream.
What advice would you give your young self in regards to sexuality?
Don’t listen to other people! I made myself miserable for so long trying to be what others wanted me to. My family always wanted me to be the nice naïve, inspirational girl I was in elementary school and I know I have disappointed some of them coming out as a sex blogger (though admittedly most of my family still doesn’t know). I also fell into a spiral of self-loathing that I couldn’t be feminine the “right” way. I didn’t want to be androgynous, I didn’t want to be one of the guys. I wanted to be feminine. I had to finally learn that I’m not hurting anyone by wearing a skirt and if other people don’t approve it really isn’t my problem. Also, I am really happy that I confronted my insecurities with things like porn and jealousy at a relatively early age and my husband and I share such an open relationship. I know an overwhelmingly high number of couples who have had their marriages ruined by porn or emotional/physical infidelity at 30, 40, 50. So I do give myself some credit for exploring my sexuality in a healthy way in my 20’s. And I’m only 26, so I have a ton of time left to enjoy that security.
That is no small feat! So what resources do you recommend to others wanting to explore their outside-the-box sexuality?
Sexuality blogs and podcasts are great (Sex Out Loud with Tristan Toarmino and Psychology in Seattle are two of my favorites) but nothing beats a good book to carry with you and give you a safe space to explore. My two favorite publishers are Cleis Press and Greenery Press.
Your book reviews are pretty stellar. And I’m very envious of your library! You seem to know a great deal about kink. At what forms of kink would you say you are proficient?
I love spanking so I am fairly proficient at turning most household implements into disciplinary objects, however they are all used on me. I have experimented with needles, electric wands and rope, though I am always the bottom and the tops are more knowledgeable and efficient at applying these things than I am. I tend to be more interested in relationship dynamics and sociology than participating in scenes as a top.
I think the most misunderstood part of this world is the underlying motivations for one’s sexual desires. Do you know what needs your kink meets for you?
Physical pleasure. I am not drawn to power exchange and though I understand the desire in others I truly do not “get it.” I don’t have a need to submit or dominate. Because I can’t feel half my body, I have erotic zones in really weird places (the crook of my elbow, for example, can give me an orgasm if bit and sucked when I am aroused). Spanking also just feels really, really good. So I really enjoy exploring sensation play so I can have orgasms or feel sexual pleasure. My body is also in pain quite a lot so placing a manageable amount of pain on another body part will alleviate nerve pain. Perhaps it has something to do with interrupting the communication of my nervous system input/output. Whatever it is, I like it.
That is really cool! It sounds like an article on pain as an interruption for pain may be necessary for our readers! Do you have any cool tips on your type of kink?
Not tips, but since I can “think myself off” I do encourage people to use fantasy and masturbate to learn more about what they really desire. I wish masturbation and fantasy were not seen a “less than” partnered sex because I have learned a lot about myself this way.
Besides “thinking yourself off,” which is totally awesome, do you have any fun names for things you do?
I can’t really think of any names, but as a quirk I do think that Jalapeño Cheetos are THE BEST sub-space munchies. At events my friends get me a bag so I can be blissful and ride the high for a little longer. I get buzzy after a long scene of sensation play. Even though I’m not submitting in the actual sense, I call it subspace anyway.
That’s delightful, and I definitely want a bag now. Are there things you haven’t tried yet that you might like to get into?
I am interested in more hardcore bondage but with my lack of sensation I need to find someone I really trust. I am also interested in experimenting with age play as it is something I never thought I would do but age players make it look so fun I want to try at a kink event.
There can be so many conflicting or just plain negative messages about sexual outsiderdom. From where do you draw strength and support for doing what you do?
I have few friends in real life that are kinky and I can be my genuine self around. I am slowly “coming out” to friends and family because I don’t want my erotica writing kinky sex blogging life to be a secret forever. But since I live in a very conservative small town I worry about my employment security and random harassment that comes with the territory. So I must admit I get most of my empowerment from books. Books on sexuality, kink, porn, disability, open relationships, fat studies, body identity, beliefs, psychology, sociology, emotions, GLBT studies, etc. They are my sanctuary when I feel alone among people I live and work with. People I have never met who are willing to have the conversations no one else in my life had been willing to have with me. As for support, my husband is number one. We talk and experience things together (including sex with others) and we never stop growing. He supports me and we can be real around each other. Sounds cheesetastic but I never thought I would be connected to another human the way I am with him. We charge each other’s batteries.
Is there anything about which you’d really like to spread awareness?
I spoke a lot about my body in the above but my real passion in sex blogging and education is teaching good relationship skills and self-awareness. Jealousy, lack of empathy, adhering to social mores, and poor communication lead to really miserable relationships. People label porn, nonmonogamy, and kinks as immoral and blame them for deterioration of relationships. I believe that being manipulative, neglectful, and lying to your partner are much worse. Yet because many aspects of sexuality are deemed evil or unhealthy, people will continue to lie about them, to themselves and their partners. Not everyone in the world needs to be a polyamorous bisexual Dom but we do need to nurture authenticity in relationships. That means knowing what you need sexually and practicing emotional awareness so you can be confident being safe and nurturing to your partner/s in relationships. Jealousy, porn, temptation, etc is not an almighty force that controls you and your body. You control how you treat others. I wish more people would take responsibility for their lives instead of blaming sex and society. Sorry, I’ll get off my soapbox now 😉
Your personal story and the work that you do is very moving. I think I can safely say that we all hope you’ll stay on that soapbox!
Leandra is currently working on a sexuality memoir entitled “Trophy Wife: Sexuality. Disability. Femininity, scheduled for release in 2015. Follow @Leandra_Vane on Twitter, and check out her fantastic blog, The Unlaced Librarian.
“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.
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.
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.