A Guide for Effective Journaling

Therapy is where we learn to cultivate our inner sanctuary. It’s where we can get what we need in order to be present with ourselves when no one else is around. Because relationships are our holding space for being ourselves, it is getting enough practice at that with others that allows us to become our own safe space for doing whatever delightful baloney we choose. Journaling is a thread between those inter- and intra-personal spaces.

Consider your diary to be a log of your honesty with yourself. From honesty comes our best explorations and our best art. Know that the work is to move towards increasing depths of understanding of yourself and of the world. Work to be honest to the extent that your diary becomes a sort of photo album of your living experience- but one no more organized than a dream.

Here is my guide to making your experience pleasurable and useful…

Remember the intention: What do I need in order to be willing to see the truth of myself, and of the world?

Flow with your materials.

The richest explorations are done in a relaxed but alert state. That begins by being physically comfortable and supported. Ideally the sensations of the journaling itself are pleasant and draw you in so that you can focus on pouring yourself out.

So, use the path of least tension. Unlined paper, a writing implement you like, and a quiet room are usually considered the most suitable. Somatically speaking, it’s very useful to see how your words are written. Writing is a form of drawing. Our muscle tension or relaxation, our speed of writing, the slant of our words or lines- all of it expresses something beyond the letters and words themselves.

However, it is most important is to honor whatever particular things you need at this point in time. If lined pages help you not to worry about straight lines, then lined pages it is. Typing instead of writing is also fine. Use whatever means keep you from physical distractions, but also work to get rid of any physical barriers in order to give yourself incrementally more space. Challenge yourself to try a new setting or technique so that you can keep expanding. Work to stay relatively comfortable as you do so.

Once you find something like a flow, you can move on to attending to the more complex distractions. That’s where the good stuff is.

Be alert for all manner of distraction.

Because this is a practice of burrowing into oneself in order to explore one’s depths, it’s vital to notice what gets in the way. What is the blockage made of, and what is needed to move past it?

Notice your willingness or reticence to write something down. Write down as much of what you notice about this as you can bring yourself to do. These are some of the richest moments of potential for noticing what you are and are not yet willing to know or to do.

Zoom out, and take a look. Every now and then, perhaps at the end of each paragraph or page, slow down and consider your writing. Ask yourself questions-

  • What am I feeling (sensations and emotions) right now?
  • What am I afraid of happening?
  • Who am I writing this to?
  • Who am I afraid will read this?
  • Who do I hope will read this?
  • What am I really trying to express?
  • What do I want to feel- now, or if I reread this?

Use your answers to increase the realness and honesty of your entry.

Honor your reticence.

We tend to suck at this. We are far too practiced at telling ourselves, “If I just…” or “All I have to do is…” Practice not doing that. Replace those moments with honest reflections about what is making something difficult. When you dislike something, it’s for a reason. Listen to yourself about it with kindness. The reason helps to point to what you need. Often you won’t know what you need, but paying matter-of-fact attention to what you’re feeling will often get you there, if only after you’ve enlisted support in the process.

And expect your hurdles to increase in size and complexity for some time. Keep your process moving along the way. Eventually, you’ll move through to deeper work. And then you’ll hang there for a while. And then you’ll deepen again. Eventually the practice becomes the work. The practice is the work, and this becomes apparent after a few times of moving through something tough or lovely.

Before I move on to particular ways of writing, notice how much of this is about paying attention. This is the bulk of the work of journaling, just as it’s the bulk of the work of therapy. You are working to get out of your own way by paying attention to what’s in your way. And paying attention indeed requires paying something. The practice of doing this is the work itself. The technique is what allows you to create something. So return to these reminders often. Now onto the ways to create entries…

Explore from different angles.

  • Have conversations- with yourself now, with yourself at past ages, especially childhood, with your imagined future selves, and with others. Focus on emotions and needs.
  • Log your experiences. Go heavy on sensation-based descriptions. These entries are great for important experiences, pleasant or unpleasant, and are a big part of creating an album of your life that is rewarding to make and to read. But logging can also bring the needed reverence to minutia.
  • Track yourself and your surroundings in the moment. You can do one or the other, or both at the same time. Go heavy on sensation language here, too, and be as grammatical or un-grammatical as you please in the moment. Our experiences go beyond words, so breaking free of their form becomes very important during tracking.
  • Draw. Sketch, paint, scribble, whatever. Being able to draw as you journal is a huge step in being willing to put anything down. It’s a great way to get at the aforementioned wordlessness of our experiences.
  • Write down your dreams. Dreams are a wonderful peak into the deeper chambers of our unconscious, which are typically closed during waking hours. Often just describing them in your journal will cause you to remember more of them, and to dream in a richer way. You can choose to explore them on paper or not, but be sure to notice what emotions you felt during your dreams.
  • Store precious items. Be careful with this one, and really curate what you add to your collection. The intention is not to increase your diary’s show quality (at least not for others). These items are for recounting visceral reactions, and for exploring these reactions. It needn’t even be a special item, but simply one that evokes a sensation or emotion.

Whatever arises, attend to it. If you don’t know how, ask for help. Happy journaling.

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!

Winter Rest

“He who marvels at the beauty of the world in summer will find equal cause for wonder and admiration in winter…. In winter the stars seem to have rekindled their fires, the moon achieves a fuller triumph, and the heavens wear a look of a more exalted simplicity.” -John Burroughs

Hello lovely readers, and happy winter! Many of you have asked why I’ve been quieter here and on social media lately, and it means a great deal to me that you wondered and reached out. As I’ve shared with a few of you, I’ve been amidst a winter rest.

Particularly because I’m a therapist, I tend to steer away from speaking heavily about my current personal process. But over the last few months, what’s been happening in my personal life has been a clear and, I hope, relatable example of a somatic process, and so I hope that you will find value in my sharing it.

I’ve finally come to understand that winter is about rest and renewal. As a hardcore sun worshiper, in the past I’ve treated winter with indifference at best- a time where you just sort of hold out for the warm weather to return. But a few years ago, I began to celebrate the holidays in a more earth-based way. This began with small things like cooking with seasonal produce more often, and putting local plants and flowers in vases around my home. I recall the latter being a fiscally-inspired decision during a spring season wherein I found myself on a major fresh flower kick. One day I decided that I may as well use the flowers outside of my front door. This started a new habit of noticing more closely than before the subtler changes in the plantlife around my home and city.

Last winter, I read something by Henry David Thoreau that landed and stayed with me: “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” I’m especially crazy for that last bit. A huge part of somatic work is about resigning yourself to and embracing the reality of the present.

I’ve realized that in the same way that our consciousness is affected by our bodies, our bodies are affected by the seasons. It sounds terribly obvious to me now, especially since I’ve been clear on other environmental influences. But only during this last autumn was I able to feel the seasonal change in my body. This, by the way, is something that us somaticists absofuckinglutely live for: clear, wise messages straight from the body. I felt my body slowing down, I noticed that I was focused more internally than externally, and on days when I didn’t need to set an alarm, I’d begun to sleep significantly longer. When I happened to read something about the ways in which plants and trees, like animals, hibernate during winter, this new awareness really fell into place. It couldn’t possibly be that plants and animals need to hibernate during winter, but that human animals do not.

So this year, I intentionally made very few plans. And that meant saying no to a lot of activities, of which there is no shortage in Los Angeles. I must have said some version of, “Perhaps next month. I’m in winter rest mode,” at least a dozen times during the month of December. It was in itself an interesting experiment with setting boundaries. And not all the boundaries were external. I have a tendency to become a knitting machine over the winter, and this year I took on fewer, less results-focused projects. Most of us think of cozy indoor activities when we think of winter and the winter holidays, but somehow that often translates to being busier and broker than ever. I simply decided not to do that this year, and while it has felt really good, it has also meant facing certain old beliefs.

Working your ass off and making as much money as possible are values pushed on us from multiple angles. Even most western therapeutic models don’t have a name for over-working. It’s culturally sanctioned. So even in the absence of criticism about taking a long winter holiday at home, I noticed that I would, on occasion, question my choice. Shouldn’t I at least offer a workshop? Or work on my book? Or at least, I don’t know, get some new pillows for the office? Once I got clear on the decision to not even look at email, the suggestions from that voice in my head got a little sneakier… Ok, so don’t work. But produce something. Maybe just throw a small holiday party? But, as one learns to do in therapy and is sometimes able to execute real-time, I was watching my internal process unfold and got wise to this sneaky voice and its overworky intentions.

So most everything that I did was internally-focused, and I believe this to be the essence of winter. Reflection, assimilation, and release. We work hard for months, putting plans and intentions into action, being creative in as many arenas of our lives as we can. Winter is for enjoying all the work we’ve done while our bodies and minds are renewed by the rest. Through reflection we can become clear on what has worked and what hasn’t. Through resting we renew our energies to begin the cycle again.

“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.” -William Blake

If I hadn’t rested, I wouldn’t have heard from my readers who wondered about my absence. That was in itself a gathering of the fruits of my labor: a time to use a bit of distance to reflect on what I’d produced in the last few months, and to hear how it affected others.

Amongst the other lovely effects of this process has been a deepening of my appreciation for nighttime. And this is something I thought impossible. I am very much a night owl. It is when I have the most energy and creativity, and also when I feel the most peace and wonder. That the nights are longer during winter is not something that I was able to appreciate or enjoy back when I was tensing my body against the weather until springtime. This year, and especially on the solstice, I have been reveling in the nighttime hours. I have done far more stargazing than ever before, and have even begun to dream about space.

I’ve also begun to dream lucidly on occasion, which I also attribute to this slowed-down time of reflection. It’s given me a chance to get more intimately and intricately in touch with my internal world, which feels really, really good.

It’s still winter. If you didn’t rest over the holidays, you have many weeks left in which to do so. I’m very aware that taking time off from work is a privilege that isn’t available to everyone, and by no means is that the only way to rest or enjoy winter. For me it was only one of many ways I’ve done so this season. And while I’m back in my office, and here writing this for you now, I am continuing my winter revels. Rest can and should be integrated into each day of your life.

Find or create quiet moments, however brief. Refuse to take on anything besides the simplest and most necessary of tasks. Walk outside with your morning coffee and see what’s happening in the plantlife. Notice what you can smell. If you live somewhere quite cold, enjoy the stillness. Listen to how well sound travels through the cold, dry air. Soak up the particular magic of snow. When you walk from your car to your home, look up at the sky. What do you feel when you gaze at the moon. My own therapist said something beautiful when I told her how quickly I was able to get grounded and present one night when I walked outside to look at the stars. She said that it’s very easy for us to let the sky be the sky.

If you can work less, do so. But do not call it a luxury or indulgence. It is a bodily necessity, and it is never indulgent to take care of yourself. Slowing and letting go is necessary in order for new things to emerge. Rest is not a stagnant process. Understanding and caring for ourselves is both discovery and creation.

“Neuroqueer: An Introduction”

Originally posted on www.neurocosmopolitanism.com on 2 May 2015 by my amazing friend and colleague, Nick Walker. Nick is an Autistic educator, author, speaker, transdisciplinary scholar, and martial arts master, and has been at the forefront of the neurodiversity awareness movement for many years. It’s my pleasure to present his latest work.

“The term neuroqueer was coined independently and more or less simultaneously by Elizabeth J. (Ibby) Grace, Michael Scott Monje Jr., and myself. Having coined it, all three of us managed to spend a few years not getting around to using it in any published work, even though the set of concepts and practices represented by the term came to heavily inform our thinking. I almost used Neuroqueer as the title for my blog, but decided to go with the title Neurocosmopolitanism instead. Michael almost used Neuroqueer as the title for a novel, but decided to go with the title Defiant instead.

It wasn’t until Michael mentioned this last fact, in an online conversation in which he and Ibby and I were all involved, that we discovered that all three of us had been playing around with the same term. Happily, though we were all approaching it from different angles, our various interpretations of neuroqueer (or neuroqueerness, or neuroqueering) were in no way incompatible. In the same conversation, we learned that another friend and colleague of ours, Melanie Yergeau, while she hadn’t yet stumbled upon the word neuroqueer, had been thinking along quite similar and compatible lines in playing with the concept of neurological queerness; Melanie’s contributions have been extensive enough that even if she didn’t come up with the actual word, I consider her – along with Ibby, Michael, and myself – to be one of originators of the concept of neuroqueer (or neuroqueerness, or neuroqueering).

All four of us – Ibby, Michael, Melanie, and I – emerged from that conversation freshly inspired to begin introducing the term, and the set of concepts and practices it describes, into our public work and into our communities and the broader culture. Since then, we’ve been following through on that intention in various exciting ways. Ibby, Michael, and I, along with Bridget Allen and Corbett O’Toole, founded the independent publishing house Autonomous Press, to publish books in which neuroqueerness of one sort or another tends to play a prominent role (starting in 2016, Autonomous Press will also have an imprint called NeuroQueer Books). Ibby founded the NeuroQueer blog, with Michael and Dani Alexis Ryskamp and I later joining as co-editors. Melanie is working on a book that I can’t tell you about yet, but it’s going to be extraordinary and most definitely relevant. We’ve all started talking about neuroqueerness and neuroqueering in our academic conference presentations and public speaking engagements. Ibby and I are now co-editing the NeuroQueer Handbook, which will be published by Autonomous Press in 2016.

Meanwhile, the term is catching on in various circles and communities, taking on a life of its own, as terms and concepts tend to do when the time is right for them. It’s showing up in academic papers and conference presentations, creative projects, Facebook communities, blogs and Tumblr accounts and all manner of social media platforms. It’s been adopted by a whole lot of people I don’t know – and when a new term/concept spreads beyond the social circles of its originators, that’s generally a sign that it’s “got legs,” as they say. In other words, it’s a term that you’re likely to be hearing a lot more of in the years to come.

(The day before I wrote this piece, I was at California Institute of Integral Studies for the first meeting of a course I teach called Critical Perspectives on Autism and Neurodiversity. I was introducing my students to basic neurodiversity-related terminology like neurotypical and neurodivergent, when a young undergraduate excitedly asked me, “Have you heard of the term neuroqueer?”)

I’ve already seen a lot of interpretations of neuroqueer and attempts at definition from folks who’ve adopted the term. Some of those interpretations miss the point, sometimes in ways that are truly facepalm-worthy. Other interpretations are more on-point but overly narrow, such that Ibby, Michael, Melanie, and I look at them and say, “Yeah, that’s part of what we were getting at… but only part of it…”

So what were we getting at? What is neuroqueer (or neuroqueerness, or neuroqueering)?

I should first of all acknowledge that any effort to establish an “authoritative” definition of neuroqueer is in some sense inherently doomed and ridiculous, simply because the sort of people who identify as neuroqueer and engage in neuroqueering tend to be the sort of people who delight in subverting definitions, concepts, and anything “authoritative.”

That said, the definition that follows is as close to an “authoritative” definition of neuroqueer (and neuroqueerness, and neuroqueering) as is ever likely to exist. I wrote it with the input and approval of the other three originators of the concept. So it’s the one definition out there that all four of the originators of neuroqueer have agreed is not only accurate, but also inclusive of all of the various practices and ways-of-being that any of the four of us ever intended neuroqueer to encompass.

Neuroqueer is both a verb and an adjective. As a verb, it refers to a broad range of interrelated practices. As an adjective it describes things that are associated with those practices or that result from those practices: neuroqueer theory, neuroqueer perspectives, neuroqueer narratives, neuroqueer literature, neuroqueer art, neuroqueer culture, neuroqueer community. And as an adjective, neuroqueer can also serve as a label of social identity, just like such labels as queer, gay, lesbian, straight, black, white, hapa, Deaf, or Autistic (to name just a small sampling).

A neuroqueer individual is an individual whose identity has in some way been shaped by their engagement in practices of neuroqueering. Or, to put it more concisely (but perhaps more confusingly): you’re neuroqueer if you neuroqueer.

So what does it mean to neuroqueer, as a verb? What are the various practices that fall within the definition of neuroqueering?

  1. Being neurodivergent and approaching one’s neurodivergence as a form of queerness (e.g., by understanding and approaching neurodivergence in ways that are inspired by, or similar to, the ways in which queerness is understood and approached in Queer Theory, Gender Studies, and/or queer activism).
  2. Being both neurodivergent and queer, with some degree of conscious awareness and/or active exploration around how these two aspects of one’s identity intersect and interact.
  3. Being neurodivergent and actively choosing to embody and express one’s neurodivergence (or refusing to suppress one’s embodiment and expression of neurodivergence) in ways that “queer” one’s performance of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, occupation, and/or other aspects of one’s identity.
  4. Engaging in the “queering” of one’s own neurocognitive processes (and one’s outward embodiment and expression of those processes) by intentionally altering them in ways that create significant and lasting increase in one’s divergence from dominant neurological, cognitive, and behavioral norms.
  5. Engaging in practices intended to “undo” one’s cultural conditioning toward conformity and compliance with dominant norms, with the aim of reclaiming one’s capacity to give more full expression to one’s neurodivergence and/or one’s uniquely weird personal potentials and inclinations.
  6. Identifying as neuroqueer due to one’s engagement in any of the above practices.
  7. Being neurodivergent and producing literature and/or other cultural artifacts that foreground neurodivergent experiences and perspectives.
  8. Being neurodivergent and producing critical responses to literature and/or other cultural artifacts, focusing on intentional or unintentional characterizations of neurodivergence and how those characterizations illuminate and/or are illuminated by the lived experiences of actual neurodivergent people.
  9. Working to transform social and cultural environments in order to create spaces and communities – and ultimately a society – in which engagement in any or all of the above practices is permitted, accepted, supported, and encouraged.

So there you have it, from the people who brought you the term. This definition is, again, not an authoritative “last word” on the subject, because that would be a silly thing to attempt. Rather, I hope this will be taken as a “first word” – a broad “working definition” from which further theory, practice, and play will proceed.

Happy neuroqueering!”

Reposted with permission from Nick Walker. Source: http://neurocosmopolitanism.com/neuroqueer-an-introduction/

 

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

Ask Me Anything

I had the distinct honor of being part of the expert’s “mix and meet” at the first annual Sexual Health Expo, and it was my pleasure to offer you an AMA during this event! I received so many great questions, and it was a treat answering them for you!

Please note that while I do indeed offer therapy, this AMA is not therapy. It is intended for your education and enjoyment only.

“What do you do to get past the edge when you can’t?”
This depends largely on just where you’re getting stuck. There are three stages of the orgastic cycle that are at play here: charge, containment, and release. Orgasms are a release of built up muscular tension (charge). When enough tension is built and sustained, an orgasm is forthcoming.

So first off, factors such as fatigue or intoxication must be ruled out. Then consider if enough charge is being built. Sometimes we can become over-focused on a fantasy and get drawn too far from awareness of the body. Shifting focus to sensation can build more charge. There are also positions that are especially good for building charge, particularly ones which allow the quadriceps to be engaged. (This is why some people flex those muscles during sex.)

Sometimes the biggest challenge is allowing yourself to be vulnerable enough to orgasm. You have to feel safe and comfortable enough to jump off, because it is pretty darn vulnerable to allow another person to see and hear you in that space. If you have a sense that this is what’s holding you back, there are many paths that you can take, and all involve introspection. You can practice masturbating in front of a mirror in order to get used to what you look like during orgasm. Notice what you like, and what you don’t like, and spend some time reflecting upon why for each. You should consider your partners. Do you genuinely like them? Do you feel safe with them? If you stay stuck, seek the support of a therapist.

“Do white guys do the best at cunnilingus?”
In short, no. But perhaps that’s been the case in your experience. If you’d like to say more about why you’re asking, feel free to email me or leave an anonymous comment below.

I did some research into cultural perspectives on cunnilingus, but I haven’t come up with anything substantial as of yet. I have noticed that there seem to be stronger opinions about fellatio than cunnilingus, which is interesting.

“How do you start to be comfortable with anal sex even though you cringe at the thought?”
Well, it matters a lot that you are genuinely interested in it. The sexual activities that we enjoy are ultimately no more complicated than our food preferences. There are just some things we like, and some we don’t. So make sure you’re approaching this from the standpoint that it may not be for you. That would be ok! Then consider what your blocks may be. Anal sex, probably more than any other sexual act, can be pretty tangled up in false beliefs, and you may need to process through some thoughts and feelings. That can take a lot of exploration and communication, so be patient with yourself and your partner, if you have one. Once you decide if you genuinely want to try it, seek out educational resources that will guide you through the process. The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Men, The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women, and The Adventurous Couples Guide to Strap-On Sex from Cleis Press are all excellent.

“What does somatic sex therapist mean? What degree did you get?”
Check out my “Home” and “About Heather” pages to learn about my background.  In some ways, specifying somatic therapy and sex therapy is redundant, because it’s all about the complete person. One’s sexuality is simply a clear way to see into their inner landscape. We are good at certain things, and we get stuck on certain things, and when you understand how the body is organized around those qualities, you will see the same enactments in all areas of a person’s life. If the realm of somatics seems a little elusive, you might like this article.

“Can you have anal sex with an exterior hemorrhoid?”
It’s possible, but this is a question that should first be answered by your doctor, so that your exact physical condition can be considered. I like this article from urologist Dr. Joe DeOrio. He addresses both what’s happening physiologically, and raises some important considerations about the question itself.

“Is oxytocin released when you touch yourself or only when someone else does?”
Oxytocin is released during and after any orgasm. Isn’t that cool? Check out Susan Kuchinskas’ book The Chemistry of Connection if you want to learn all about this amazing hormone.

“What is cunnilingus?”
In short: awesome. Cunnilingus is oral stimulation of the female genitalia. There is a wealth of excellent information about it out there, from books to instructional videos. For curated resources, take a peek at my resources page.

“What are some people so afraid of STIs? Most are very curable. Some people kill themselves with food, smoking, alcohol or skiing?”
I suspect that the answer has to do with the higher presence of shame and embarrassment when it comes to sexual considerations. Generally speaking, we are more private about our genitalia than we are about the rest of our bodies. Some of us even call them “private parts.” And injuries in particular are much more difficult to tolerate when they affect the genitalia. Even with fully curable STIs, one still has to deal with the negative impact on an especially sacred part of the body.

If you’ve been struggling with this personally, it would probably be very useful to explore how you talk to others about your STI. Effective communication is paramount. In conversations with potential sexual partners, make sure that you don’t brush off their concerns by being too relaxed. That can just heighten their fears. You will best assuage their worry through empathy and education.

Your question invites an exploration that I think is pretty important. It can be very difficult to teach children about the sacredness of sexuality without creating a culture of secrecy, which can breed shame. Privacy and secrecy are quite different.

“How many licks does it take to get to the center of a cock-pop (or cunt)?”
Well, I’ll tell you one thing. Please don’t stop at three and then bite. Unless she’s requested that you do, of course.

“What % of heterosexual women have bisexual and/or lesbian fantasies?”
This depends on the particular research experiment, of course, but if we just lump together any fantasy involving a woman had by a heterosexual woman, the average seems to land between 30 and 40%. Bisexual or homosexual fantasies are both normal and common, for persons of any gender. And they don’t always mean anything about one’s ultimate sexual orientation.

Here are a few studies that you might find interesting (you may need to hit up a grad student friend to access the full journal articles):

“Do you think that hand-written love letters are a dying art?
I most certainly do! Rather, I believe that it’s on the decline. But hand-written anything has been on the decline for some time, and I don’t think it will even actually die out. We like tactile, non-verbal, and non-digitized things far too much for this to be the case. Look at the explosion of Emogis, for instance. The more we text, the more we want and need to include images to fill in the gap left by removing all those non-verbal goodies. Language can be limiting enough without subjecting it to the generic nature of typed text. Of course, you did ask a person who choose a profession that is rooted in deeply intimate interactions!

“What do you do if you get jaw locks as you’re giving your man blowjobs?”
This depends on what’s causing the locks. A jawlock is the body’s way of saying no. So ask yourself if you’re just wearing yourself out, or if there may be a psychological cause. If you sense that psychological factors may be at play, then it’s important to take a step back from the situation and consider what you’re feeling. I encourage you to allow this process to be supported by a therapist with whom you are comfortable. If it seems to be strictly the former, there are lots of physical techniques to make fellatio easier. To start, know that you don’t have to be thrusting him into your mouth and throat over and over for the whole performance. Variety is key, and most men really enjoy this, as it can really build up a lot of charge. Use your hand to stimulate the base, or even his scrotum and perineum if that’s something he enjoys. You can also use your tongue to stimulate just the more sensitive parts of his penis without having it fully in your mouth. You can even stick your tongue out between your teeth, giving your jaw a solid rest. There are some excellent books out there, such as Violet Blue’s Ultimate Guide to Fellatio. If you’d like some in-person coaching, Sex Nerd Sandra often teaches free classes on fellatio at The Pleasure Chest.

“How do I become a sex therapist?”
Fun, you want to be a sex therapist? Lemme tell ya- it’s a wonderful career. There is both simplicity, and infinite complexity.

If you haven’t been a client of sex therapy, start there. You absolutely must know what the work is like. Then you can begin to decide just what you’d like to do in your own career. What fuels you? What population would you like to work with? For example, I have a psychotherapy practice wherein sexuality is a specialty. But there are sex therapists who deal more in education and technique than with psychological exploration. These are hugely overlapping realms, but knowing how you’d like to spend most of your time will guide you in finding the appropriate education.

You might start with checking out what AACAST, AASECT or the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality (IASHS) have to offer. Talking to graduates can be a great way to see if a particular program a good fit.

“Does anal sex make a woman’s gluteus maximus larger?”
Not directly. If the positions you use are working those muscles or you tend to flex them during sex, then you may be doing some strengthening. But anal sex does not automatically engage the gluteus maximus, and this goes for individuals of any gender.

“What’s the best way to get my wife to try a vibe?”
You’re an awesome partner for asking this question! Vibrators can be the source of so much pleasure. I have known several women who never orgasmed before they used one. First of all, make sure that the two of you are on the same page. Does she want to try one? And why would you like her to? If she doesn’t want to try one, you can respectfully ask her why. The “why nots” are almost always the source of the answers to this sort of question. Make sure that you create a safe environment for her to answer. Be warm, curious and non-judgmental. She has a reason for her hesitation that makes sense to her, so join her in that before you try to pull her somewhere else. Perhaps she’s tried one and found it overstimulating or understimulating. Maybe she associates vibrators with something unpleasant, like abuse or a negative belief about masturbation. If you’re male, maybe she’s embarrassed that you’re “ahead” of her on this. Once you’ve established solid same-pagedness, then you can start your human-vibrator calibration. Informed sex stores (including those online) offer information about the typical sensations of different toys, and how/ when to use them. Check out my resources page for a list of recommended places to shop.

“I think I was sexually abused, but I don’t know. What should I do?”
Find a therapist that you click with. If this is a question that continually plagues you, you are likely to get a lot of relief from addressing and processing it with support. It will indeed require you to face some uncomfortable feelings, but it will not be like reliving them. Sexual abuse is too big to hold by yourself, and you deserve to be free from this. And remember that you are you, no matter what you discover in the process. Often what we think abuse looks or feels like is quite different from the reality of the experience. All of our experiences shape us.

“What is the procedure to prepare for anal sex?”
I’m guessing that this means that you are ready to try, and I think that’s awesome! Preparations and execution can be different depending on what type of parts you have and your particular body’s needs, but here’s the relatively universal stuff:
-Have a whole lotta lubricant. And no skimping- your body deserves clean, high-quality lube. If you’re using a toy, make sure that your lube is compatible with your toy’s material composition (silicone and silicone don’t get along, for instance). And expect to be surprised by how much you need! I’m a fan of keeping it in a container with a pump for easy access.
-Evacuate your bowels. You want that rectum free and clear to play in! Some people recommend douching, but this isn’t necessary for comfort as the rectum only contains feces just prior to a bowel movement.
-Relax, especially if you’re on the receiving end. There’s a reason we call some people “anal retentive.” The anus closes right on up when the body is tense, and sometimes just because. It’s a lot like a cat. You really can’t predict what it’s going to do. You can only attend to it as needed.
-Keep everything clean and contained. Traces of feces are often left in the rectum (even after douching), and it can cause infection or illness if transferred into any other openings.
-Communicate. And keep communicating. Anal sex should never be painful, so stay on the same page by speaking up, checking in, and trying new positions, angles and rhythms.

I recommend that you get yourself a couple of books. The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Men, The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women, and The Adventurous Couples Guide to Strap-On Sex from Cleis Press are all excellent.

Have super amounts of fun! It’s wonderful to expand your sexual toolbox, and I hope that you very much enjoy your first experience.

“Is female ejaculate pee? All pee? Some pee?”
Actually, the jury is still out on just what makes up female ejaculate. We do know that it’s not just urine, but urine does show up fairly regularly in studies. Female ejaculate seems to come from the Skene’s glands, which are surrounded by tissue that swells with blood during arousal. These glands drain into the urethra, so we’d expect to find some bladder fluid in the mix.

I think it’s pretty cool that this fascinates us, and that it has for such a long time. In the 16th century, Dutch physician Laevinius Lemnius referred to how a woman “draws forth the man’s seed and casts her own with it.” A little heteronormative, Lemnius, but I commend you for being interested! I assume Mrs. Laevinius Lemnius was a pretty satisfied gal.

“Does attraction mean sexual attraction, or are there different types of attractions?”
Yes, I believe that there are indeed different types of attraction, with each sharing in common the experience of being pulled to something. What you’re pulled toward or in need of defines the type of attraction.

I believe that this is a conversation that is nearly synonymous with the theories on the different types of love. There are six types of love according to ancient Greek wisdom: agape, eros, ludus, mania, pragma and storge (categorization and terms vary a bit). The Wikipedia page on these has a nice little synopsis.

Psychologist Robert Sternberg proposed that there are components of love: intimacy, passion, and commitment. This triangular model gives you seven different types of love, depending on the particular combination of these elements.

I imagine that my answer may fall short of what you’re particularly interested in, so I’ll offer this: If you’re struggling with the types of attractions people have to you (as with “nice guy syndrome”), then consider your sexual archetypes and what blocks you may have to embodying them. Chelsea Wakefield’s book, Negotiating the Inner Peace Treaty, is a great resource for this exploration.

“Is it possible to have the feeling of a ‘phantom limb’ even if it was never ‘lost?’ I feel like I have, or should have had a penis & when it’s aroused it’s extremely frustrating because I am biologically female, so stimulating myself even to completion doesn’t help. It feels like a different part of me. Sometimes, mentally fantasizing helps.”
It is indeed possible. It’s a condition called a “supernumerary phantom limb.”  This is one of those things that makes the body-mind connection so very apparent. It seems that phantom limbs are caused by what is essentially a mapping issue in the brain. There have been many successful experiments in which subjects are put through exercises which “rewire” their cognition, and the phantom sensation diminishes or disappears, or the subjects were able to gain control of its action (which is probably what you’re needing). The usual course of treatment involves creating an optical illusion wherein a subject with a missing limb perceives two limbs before them. The existing limb is stimulated or the subject is asked to move it, and the illusion creates the perception of sensation in the phantom limb. Similar experiments have been done with subjects who have no missing parts! The brain is powerfully adaptable!

Since you said that mentally fantasizing is sometimes helpful, I feel a lot of hope for you that you can successfully do some re-mapping of your own. If you haven’t already, you might try getting a strap-on to wear while you masturbate, or simply while you fantasize. It could give your arousal a physical place to land, and then you can do with it what you please. The kind of strap-on that vibrates or rubs against you in a pleasant way, or a double dildo is probably what you want in order to have enough physical stimulation. If you have a male partner, you could do a little “reverse cowgirl” straddle so that his penis is visible between your legs as if it were your own, and then stimulate yourself and him at the same time. I’m betting that you’d need to repeat these experiences many times. Masturbating in a new way isn’t the worst homework ever, eh?

You might consider creating a relationship with a neurologist who will run some experiments with you. I’d be very happy to help you find someone here in Los Angeles, as well as to support you through this. Don’t hesitate to call or write. And keep me updated, if you’re comfortable doing so.

“When/where does one draw the line between reclaiming sexual freedom & expression, and when is one re-enacting trauma? Trying to figure out promiscuity!”
Great question. I believe that the answer is extremely dependent on the person, but can be pretty easily found by tuning into the body. Ultimately, your body knows what’s up. You just have to listen. Freedom and open expression are exhibited through relaxed muscles, deep breathing, a sense of groundedness, awareness of what’s happening in the moment, etc. In regards to sex, do you feel authentic most of the time? Does the sex bring a feeling of lasting satisfaction? People who are re-enacting trauma exhibit symptoms of it, such as shortness of breath, increased heart rate, chronic muscle tension, chronic nervous system hyperarousal, extreme cold, etc. It’s also common for someone who is unhealthily promiscuous to feel dettached, disgusted, disocciated, shameful, etc. directly after orgasm or the next day. Such a person is likely re-enacting negative experiences, and the healing process for them would likely be to feel safely vulnerable in deep intimacy. It’s not always easy to track what’s happening in your body in each moment; you may need and enjoy the support of a therapist. If you’d like to aid your exploration with some reading on this topic, treat yourself to The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy.

“Why do women feel more connection after sex than before? And why is the connection more intense with women than men?”
Hormones, baby, hormones! Oxytocin is released in the bodies of any gendered person both during and after sex, and it’s role is to increase intimacy and bonding. (It actually does all kinds of kick ass stuff, and I highly recommend Susan Kuchinskas’ book The Chemistry of Connection if you’d like to read up on it.) But there is a slight difference between males and females. Males also release vasopressin, a hormone that differs from oxytocin by only two amino acids. Vasopressin actually activates some get-up-and-go (which is believed to be about protection, not about running away from intimacy), where oxytocin stimulates more snuggly, nesty feelings.

If you’re finding that you and your partner(s) differ in terms of what you want in your post-coital time, I suggest that you communicate your individual needs in order to find something that works for each person. It doesn’t have to be a big deal that your desires are different, but because this is such a vulnerable space, it can bring up a lot of past issues around invasion or abandonment. Be specific about what you want and why so that you can get on the same page.

“Is there any way a woman would ever notice a testicular cyst?”
Yes, I do think this is possible. Many scrotums like to be played with, so if you find yourself with a woman who takes it upon herself to stimulate yours, then she could certainly notice. But what you’re feeling about this is probably more important, and the truer aim of your question. If you haven’t already sought the help of a medical professional, do so immediately. But if you already know all the facts about what’s happening in your body and the cyst isn’t removable or you just want to know how to handle sex before its removal, then I encourage you to take steps to feel more relaxed about this. Arousal and orgasm is greatly aided by muscle relaxation, so it would go a long way for your enjoyment if you weren’t preoccupied with imminent cyst discovery. A lot of women wouldn’t be bothered by a cyst as long as it’s not bothering you. Try telling them about it before your sexy time. You can also let your partners know that you don’t enjoy having your scrotum touched, or that you don’t enjoy having certain parts of it touched. They’ll likely appreciate your openness about this.

“Why are some women nervous of blowjobs? What are they afraid of?”
It depends on the individual. There are obvious cases where a person has had a bad experience with fellatio, whether in an abusive situation or not. Some people associate it with degradation, which is unfortunately too often perpetuated by media portrayals. Others don’t care for the taste or the texture of semen, but don’t want to ask you to warn them before you ejaculate (and to those folks I say find a way to get comfortable communicating this). Others aren’t sure what to do, and don’t want to disappoint. Some people purport to simply not enjoying it. One of my question askers gets jaw locks (see my answer to those). And there are probably infinite reasons beyond that.

If you’re in a relationship with a woman who’s nervous about this, start by acknowledging her fear. Be non-judgmental, and help to make it easy for her to share what she’s experiencing. Then get a little vulnerable and tell her what you’d like about having her go down on you. In the case of a person who considers it degrading, it could go a really long way to hear how you actually see it. A lot of men feel quite vulnerable when receiving a blowjob. Your penis is in a mouth, after all! There are teeth in there! She might really like to hear that from you. But whatever her hesitation, successfully communicating to her what you would like- and making it a gentle request- is likely to go a long way.

Thank you all for being willing to ask me your intimate questions. It is my pleasure to support you. If you do not see your question listed, please shoot me an email. Two of the questions were not legible.

“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