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.

“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

*Hello! This article has been getting a lot of traction lately, and I love what that suggests about where we are with deepening our embodied experience. However, I have so much more I want to say here than I did when I wrote it eight years ago! So, I’m working on that for you. Please come back in, say, late March (2022), for a richer take.*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Therapy Rocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clitoridiennes

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Orgastic Cycle

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

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

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

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

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

Intimacy

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

Desire

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

Approach

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

Charge

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

Containment

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

Release

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

Satisfaction

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

Intimacy

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

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

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

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

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

Therapeutic Technique: The Empty Chair

The “empty chair” is a therapeutic exercise made popular by the genius Fritz Perls. In short, you imagine someone (or something) sitting in the chair and you express to them whatever it is you need. The intention is to complete a cycle, which results in feelings of relief, closure, and completeness.

Gestalt therapy, as it’s called, is based upon the belief that we have the ability to self-regulate and heal. I believe this 100%. Given the perfect environment, we’d be happy as clams, because nothing would lie between us and what we need. It’s the obstacles that create tension resulting in anxiety, depression, etc. As the poet Rumi said (and I’m pretty sure he knew everything about everything), “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.” That is what therapy is about. It’s my job as a therapist to create an environment in which you can be exactly who you are.

So what does that actually look like? Let’s look at a really common theme. Imagine that you feel a lot of anger towards your father, because he rarely let you do what you wanted. He pushed you to dress a certain way or play a certain sport or chose a specific career, etc. If you brought up something different, he’d criticize you or shoot down the idea. If you showed anger about this, you were grounded or sent to your room. Whatever your current level of happiness with your life, you’ve got leftover tension from these experiences. That leftover tension wants out. You have shit to say. So let’s create a space for you to say it.

Let’s put Dad in the chair. You know you’ve succeeded in imagining him there when you begin to feel sensations and emotions. The super cool part? He’s not really there! You’re safe. And your therapist is right there with you. You get to speak your piece. You won’t be met with criticism or judgment or punishment or anything icky! Just like you always deserved. What’s even cooler is that it doesn’t matter that Dad isn’t really there. He could completely unavailable for this or even have already passed away. What’s important is that your body learns how to release that kind of tension. You find the barrier and, because you have support, you discover how to get it the hell out of your way.

Sound scary? It should! It’s not easy. And that’s why us therapists spend years learning and practicing these things! It’s not scary for us. Let us teach you. Because really: “Shit happens, somebody’s gotta deal with it, and who you gonna call?”

 

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!