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.

Safewords on the Subject

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

Basic Rules

Safety

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

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

Fun and Pleasure

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

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

The Simpler Things in Kinky Life

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

Light Binding

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

Dirty Talk

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

Light Spanking

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

Massage

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

Contraindications

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

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

Resources

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

Classes and Workshops

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

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

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

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

Books

SM 101: A Realistic Introduction by Jay Wiseman

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

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

The Importance of Talking About Sexuality with Your Clients

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leandra Vane, the Unlaced Librarian

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.

How to Tell Your Partner What You Fantasize About

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eat Chocolate. Watch porn.

The good kind, please!

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

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

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

Here are my recommended sources for both:

Chocolate

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

Pornography

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

Go find something for you and enjoy!

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

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

 

Sex Dates

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

  • You planned sex before.

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

  • It allows for the easier introduction of new things.

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

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

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

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

  • No one gets stuck with the role of initiating.

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

  • You can make your sexy time anything you want.

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

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

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

 

Role-Playing Polyamory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My notes:

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

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

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

Read this book: “When Someone You Love is Kinky” by Dossie Easton and Catherine Liszt

This is a fabulous read. It is informative, fun and relatable. Easton and Liszt’s book is meant as a resource for anyone trying to understand kink as it relates to an important person in their life. It is a description of how, what and (perhaps most importantly) why some people engage in kinky sex. The authors begin with a bit of background on research, terminology, law, school curriculum and the resultant preconceptions that this topic such a big deal. Once the building blocks are established, you are taken on a ride through the land of kink. Interspersed throughout the book are “letters you wouldn’t dare send” from kinkyfolk to their loved ones. These letters, in their raw honesty, allow the reader to peek inside the head of a kinky person and the effect is quite broadening. The authors also greatly emphasize the importance of open and effective communication and give suggestions to the reader on how one might be able to explore their own kinkiness with their partner. The book ends with a glossary and resource guide, the likes of which one could hardly find elsewhere.
Sex is sometimes filled with things that are dark and scary for a lot of people. This book is uplifting, broadening and expanding and it will leave you with a lot of curiosity and intrigue about a new world of wonderful things.

Here is a link to Easton’s site: http://www.dossieeaston.com/index.html

Gender is not Dichotomous: Part Two

Here is a mind-blower: blue for boys and pink for girls is a brand new concept, relatively speaking. In my musings about contrived gender concepts, it occurred to me recently that the pink/blue notion has an origin. Someone made that up!

It turns out that the origins are not terribly clear, but there is a lot of amazing information about at least some of the influences. First off, think back to photos you may have seen of babies in the early 20th century. They are usually wearing the standard white gown. Some of those babies are boys. Those gowns were fairly standard through most of the 1940′s, which means that even people as young as the Baby Boomers were not stamped with blue or pink upon birth.

To boot, it seems that the notion used to be that pink was for boys and blue was for girls. The thought was that pink is a shade of red, which is typically thought of as a strong and fiery color suitable (or perhaps desired more than suitable) for males. Blue is typically thought of as a softer color suitable (desired) for females. Saint Mary is most often depicted in light blue, which undoubtedly had influence.

The earliest known examples of pink-clad girls and blue-clad boys are found in the 1940′s, seemingly as a result of marketing strategies by companies to push individualized merchandise. This seems probable to me, as indeed if one has a female child followed by a male, everything would need to be repurchased. Though the question remains: why pink and blue?

There are a number of experiments (sourced below) that have been run to determine whether or not an innate preference exists, but I am dissatisfied with most of the results. One experiment suggests that humans in general may prefer shades of red. Another suggest that there are physical differences in the eyes that may be the result of our hunter/gatherer days. The fact remains that blue/pink as a rule was only very recently created and I think it is worth considering the ways in which it can be damaging. At best, it is just unnecessary.

For further reading, I recommend the work of Jo Paoletti from the University of Maryland.

Sources:
Alexander, Gerianne M. and Hines, Melissa. “Sex Differences in Response to Children’s Toys in Nonhuman Primates (Cercopithecus aethiops sabaeus).” Evolution and Human Behavior 23 (2002), pp. 467–479
Eysenck, H. J. (1941). A critical and exprimental study of color preferences. American Journal of Psychology
Guilford, J. P. & Smith, P. C. (1959). A system of color-preferences.
Hulbert and Ling (2007). Biological components of sex differences in colour preference.
Maglaty, Jeanne. (2011) When did girls start wearing pink? Retrived from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/When-Did-Girls-Start-Wearing-Pink.html?c=y&page=2
McInnis, J. H. & Shearer, J. K. (1964). Relationship between color choices and selected preferences for the individual.
Paoletti, Jo B., “The Gendering of Infants’ and Toddlers’ Clothes in America,” The Material Culture of Gender – The Gender of Material Culture, Katharine Martinez and Kenneth L. Ames, eds. (1997)
Paoletti, Jo B. “Clothing and Gender in America: Children’s Fashions, 1890-1920.” Signs, v. 13, no. 1, Women and the Political Process in the United States (Autumn, 1987), pp. 136-143
“The Baby Show.” New York Times, June 6, 1855, p. 1