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How to Get/Give Comfort from Your Partner After a Mass Shooting (Post Pittsburgh)

When Bad Things Happen to Good People, the world seems more fragile

When Robert Bowers, the gunman who ran into The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh this past Saturday he murdered 11 innocent people and wounded 6 more.  The event also tore into the fabric of the American community’s sense of safety, respect and collective faith in the country.

Each time there’s been a traumatic event in the US whether it’s a terrorist threat (the bomb packages allegedly sent by Cesar Soyac last week),  the Las Vegas shooting one year ago at the Harvest Music Festival and the riot allegedly incited by white supremacists RAM members in Charlottesville, Virginia last year, clients come in to sessions and are palpably frightened.  They are seeking a place to express their feelings of rage,  fear and vulnerability (many of the bomb packages were mailed to locations all around Manhattan).  The rabbi of the Tree of Life Synagogue described receiving letters of condolence and support from people all over the world.  The media shows communities spontaneously gathering to hold candlelight vigils in cities around the USA.  What does a therapist who specializes in sex therapy advise after a traumatic event that shakes a nation like this?  How does this even connect with one’s sex life?

Vulnerability and Sex 

One of the main challenges for clients in my group practice Center for Love and Sex, is the longing they have for more meaningful sex.  This can come in the form of wanting more frequent sex with their partner or spouse.  It can also present as the desire to express a long-held fantasy to a partner in order to feel more whole in their sexual expression. It also can be described as the wish to lower one’s anxiety so as to feel more present and freer in partnered sex.  For many of these presenting problems, anxiety is a large contributor to the challenge.  According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of American,  anxiety disorders affect approximately 40 million US adults aged 18 and older.

One might not be surprised that folks who already suffer from anxiety will feel a spike in their anxiety levels when a mass shooting or terrorist attack occurs.  According to a Gallup Poll taken soon after the Las Vegas mass shooting 39% of Americans are either very worried or somewhat worried that they or someone they love will become a victim of a mass shooter.  These levels were similar to a poll taken right after the San Bernadino mass shooting.  So how do people with anxiety seek out comfort?  What is interesting to me is that while most of my female clients (whatever their sexual orientation) feel comfortable in seeking out comfort verbally from their partner or friends, most of my male clients are reluctant to ask their partner/spouse directly.  However, they may ask indirectly by initiating some type of physical touch,  whether a cuddle, a hug or some sort of more direct sexual signal.  Why might that be?

Men and Comfort, an oxymoron?

Most men are acculturated to repress their fear outwardly. They’re taught that to be “real” men they need to be tough and indifferent because that is the way you win and get ahead.  Never show your hand when it comes to cards, in business and at times in romantic relationships.  Thus there’s a small menu of emotions that are socially sanctioned in American life (although there’s some variance depending on your cultural background).  Some of these common emotional expressions include: anger, rage, disdain, belittling others (either in humor or with aggression), frustration, disgust and physical extensions of these emotions.

American men (this includes those that identify as gay, bisexual and queer) are  taught that they have to be the ones that their partners can lean on.  But in the years I have worked with men from diverse ethnic, cultural, religious and orientations, I have witnessed there’s one place they can experience a wider menu of emotions. This is in the sexual and erotic realm.  Through a sexual scenario a more vulnerable side (even if most men aren’t even conscious of it) emerges, and sex isn’t just something he is performing or doing. It becomes the place he goes to be held, rocked, whispered to allowing him to feel accepted, loved and yes comforted.

Meaning of Sex and Death Anxiety

When I work with men I help them become more aware of their own fears and how they might learn how to express their worries and concerns to their partners in other ways beside being  withdrawn, belligerent, complaining or in some cases angry when their partners turn them down for sex.  I help them uncover what sexual activity with their partner means to them in the larger significance of their lives.  For some it is a return to connection that is beyond having to prove themselves, for others it’s a space they can be gentle givers of pleasure, for others it’s where they’re given free reign to lead which quiets their fear of lack of control in the outside world. And for others it’s a haven from death. 

Death Anxiety and The Lack of Living Fully

Irving Yalom, the famous existential therapist and writer has written about his theory of death anxiety can keep people from truly living deeply, including shutting off their sexual desires.   He wrote: ““…the more unlived your life, the greater your death anxiety. The more you fail to experience your life fully, the more you will fear death.”  But when faced with death either through a terminal illness or at the top of the World Trade Center, a man urgently calls their partner and/or family to tell them in an emotionally authentic voice how much they love them, finally freed of society’s chains of decorum.

Ask for Comfort without Shame

When a massively violent event occurs like the Tree of Life Shooting last weekend, it tears into our day to day lives and threatens our own sense of safety. It is the human condition to want to reach out, to hold a partner close and to give and get comfort through touch. It’s our primal urge when we’re born and it’s a haven against our own fears regarding our own eventual deaths. I always let clients know that inside all of us are the children we used to be; playful, eager to learn, and longing to be comforted when we’re frightened.  This need is not something to be ashamed of.  The increase in mass shootings are fear-inducing for all Americans and for all humans.  If you have a partner, let your guard down, tell them of your fears and invite them to comfort you and offer yours to them.  If you don’t have a partner, reach out to friends, your community, attend one of the hundreds of interfaith vigils that are still occurring across the country and offer to give and receive a hug.  The only way through this is to confront pure hate with pure love and authentic comfort.

“Prurience” Exposes 3 Controversial Topics in America: Sex, Porn Addiction & Recovery

While I’m not sure in what order they should be listed, I have spent years helping people say the unsayable, articulate what turns them on, and supporting their journeys in coming to terms with the particular consensual erotic interests they find most compelling. At CLS, we also help those who tell us they have a porn addiction or who find that their porn gazing has become out-of-control.  In a recent performance called “Prurience” created and performed by Christopher Green at the Guggenheim’s Works & Process Series, Green created a space in The Wright restaurant that while not a safe therapeutic environment, still encouraged some participants/audience members/performers to communicate what they are erotically drawn to when watching porn or how their porn watching became what they deemed to be an addiction.

Christopher Green in “Prurience”

Green invited participants into an unusual immersion/theater which was a combination of a 12-step sex addiction meeting, a confessional, a one-way-mirror-interrogation, and a-funhouse-mirror-maze. I was lucky enough to interview Mr. Green during his show’s run in NYC given how it reflects on some of the issues our clients are confronting given their porn use whether as an out-of-control behavior on their own or wanting to incorporate the fantasies they enjoy with a partner or spouse

I wondered if the impetus to create the piece coincided with the changes in UK laws regarding pornography. Green stated: “Funnily enough no, it happened all at the same time. Suddenly when I was writing it, David Cameron became obsessed with it and started legislating and talking about porn all the time.” In 2013 Prime Minister Cameron proposed having all porn blocked by internet providers in the UK, where Green grew up.

The audience is invited by the person we think of as the leader of the Prurience group, an American artsy-man with an effeminate inflection in his speech played by Green, to make a circle with the chairs as usual before the “meeting” begins. He is apologizing for being late and haphazardly setting up the product table in the corner, offering up swag printed with the Prurience logo. Once settled, he begins the group by asking participants to share their first memory of seeing porn for the first time. This question aligns with many of the questions we ask at CLS when conducting a Sexual History as part of a full bio-psychosocial assessment to learn about our clients, their families of origin, their education regarding sex (formal and otherwise) both through self-pleasuring and/or partner sexuality.

In this immersive theater experience, several participants shared the discovery of their father’s Playboy, or a friend’s older brother’s stash of videos, or searching online at sites like Pornhub. In our practice, clients express how they watched their parents hold hands, or kissed a “crush” for the first time in 5th grade at a friend’s house party or happened upon porn online at age 14. The firsts of our lives leave an imprint, and at times it is so strong that it becomes a go-to fantasy that one seeks to recreate again and again whether in one’s imagination, online, or with a partner.

In “Prurience” we are led to believe that the members of this so-called self-help group are struggling with so called porn addiction. While the term sex addiction was not accepted as a formal DSM5 diagnosis, nor has it been accepted by the American Association of Sexual Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT), the terms sex or porn addiction has been popularized enough by people like Patrick Carnes, the unscientific YourBrainonPorn site and the many rehabs that continue to charge thousands of dollars to help people with sexual behavior they may find out of control, sinful, shameful and unfaithful.

At CLS we work with people who struggle with Out of Control Sexual Behavior or hyper-sexual behavior that have put their relationships, family and livelihoods at risk. In a structured, thorough assessment process we discover what other overlapping challenges, potential diagnoses, past trauma and/or relationship dynamics are contributing to the behavior and collaborate with the client on the treatment goals and individualized plans we recommend.

In the Prurience porn addiction meeting one soon hears from people who are revealing ever more detailed descriptions of what they like to watch, what they desire and the level to which these desires haunt their waking and sleeping hours. The comments are sharp, humorous, disturbing, self-flagellating, erotic, disgusted and intriguing.

SC: How important was it for you to create an Uber-reality of a 12-step meeting?

CG: “Yeah, I wanted to unsettle people because one of the effects of porn as we know one of the effects of porn is it’s deeply troubling, or arousing in the fundamental sense of the word. It alerts us and wakes us up…I wanted to try and replicate that in a theatrical setting”.

SC: “Like in a parallel process kind of experience?”

CG: “Yeah, absolutely.”

The term I used in this last question, “parallel process” is a psychotherapeutic term to express the feelings or dynamics that crop up in the relationship between a supervisor and a therapist who is telling the supervisor about a particular client. While relaying the issues, the dynamic may well unconsciously mirror the dynamic that is occurring between the therapist and their client.

In his run on the West End in London, Green told me that some audience members got up at the break and walked out, never to return. They were too disturbed, or embarrassed or uncomfortable to stay through the 2nd part. The topic of porn is still rarely brought up in general therapy but in sex therapy, we try to help clients describe what turns them on so that they can articulate it to their partner(s). If a person is into porn, or erotic novels or other fantasy-type trigger, describing a scene or exchange can help them formulate what it is that fires up their erotic ignition.

Green wondered how I felt at witnessing his role as group leader who didn’t really “hold” the members of the porn addiction recovery group in a safe space by setting clear boundaries on the length of people’s contributions or the intensity of what was shared even when someone seemed to be in a high risk situation.  I thought it was an astute question since in fact I was quite aware that the experience was theater and that his playing the role in a passive manner was intentionally done.  It certainly unnerved some folks who felt unsure of what was to come. Much like getting on a roller coaster that might make you nauseous, many audience members were rattled by the tea break. 

This lack of structure and support that one sees in the group is NOT like a professional therapeutic experience where a therapist lets a client know what comes next in the process, allows the client to ask questions, holds their fears so that they don’t become overwhelmed and may stop someone who becomes hurtful to another.  The therapist closely monitors the clients’ experience, and checks in to ensure that the sessions are going at an emotional pace that they can handle.

I asked Green about the fact that the group didn’t seem to have a performer playing a partner who has suddenly discovered their partner/spouse’s compulsive sexual habits and come to the group to express their shocked, hurt and angry reactions. He let me know that in fact in the original version of the piece there had been a female character who had discovered her husband’s porn use and ostensibly came to the meeting as almost one would go to AlAnon to get more education and support but that in the final edits made by the dramaturge, he lost this character which saddens him at times.

In our work with a client wanting help with their compulsive sexual behavior at Center for Love and Sex we at times work with the individual and refer the couple to another therapist for couple/marital counseling. in other cases we’ll work with both the couple and each partner individually if it seems like a better plan. Like any secret kept hidden for years, the ripple effect after the discovery of an out-of-control porn problem has tremendous impact on both the partner with the issue and the relationship. For many of our clients the recovery of Out-Of-Control sexual behavior includes the opportunity to speak about all sorts of issues (including their sex life) which had been swept under the carpet for years.

We help them understand the behavior, treat the underlying or coinciding disorders that might have contributed to the behavior and then help them and their partners begin the long road to rebuilding trust, expressing hurt, articulate anxiety, and describe erotic desires. The split-off part of their self that was continually numbed out through the compulsive behavior can now emerge and be known not only to the individual but to their partner. And the therapist helps them stay grounded through the at times painful,  anxiety-ridden process.

I’ll quote Chris Green with his perceptive reflection on therapy and theater to end this blog:

“I think a lot of therapy is sitting with discomfort isn’t it? It’s being able to turn your face towards the thing you normally turn away from. And it’s.. to put that into theater you have to sit with discomfort, you have to encourage people to sit with discomfort. And it’s only through that that we make any breakthroughs in life” .

 

 

 

 

Embrace Sexual Liberty This July After the Fireworks

We have just celebrated another July 4th which marks this country’s liberty from the restraints of despotism. When the fireworks went off we honored the declaration of independence that promised Americans “with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  How do these rights influence your sexual life? Many in Washington seem to be challenging the meaning of these ideals in as far as sexual liberty goes, including the right for a woman to choose whether she has an abortion, the right for a transgender student to use a bathroom that aligns with their identity, and the question of whether a business owner’s claims of religious freedom override the discrimination wrought when they refuse to sell their products based on the customers’ sexual orientation.

In this July blog I wanted to focus on the theme of liberty as it relates to a couple’s sexual relationship because as an AASECT Certified Sex Therapist and Director of Center for Love and Sex, the majority of our clients come to us seeking help in identifying and/or expressing their unique erotic “pursuit of happiness”.  According to Merriam Webster’s definition, liberty is alternatively described as

 the quality or state of being free:

a :  the power to do as one pleases

b :  freedom from physical restraint

c :  freedom from arbitrary or despotic control

d :  the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges

e :  the power of choice

When a couple first meets and they seem to click or hit it off they may feel hopeful that they finally found the ‘one’ with whom they can be totally authentic; free of restraints, or arbitrary control, and fantasizing about how they will enjoy one another to the fullest including in their sexual connection. Perhaps after that first date where they make out or the morning after they lay next to one another in the nude, the endless imagined erotic freedoms seem to pop like Independence Day firecrackers during passionate daydreams.  couple in loveThe last definition of liberty, namely “the power of choice” is where I find many couples get stuck. What do I mean by this? Once the first couple of years have passed, many couples find that the original sexual fireworks have mellowed to the flickering of candles with an occasional pop of a sparkler or firecracker. At this point, many couples tell us that they have become so close to their partner they feel like they have literally become ‘family’, experiencing the other more like a sibling or best friend. What happened to that erotic thrill they felt when their partner was less known? Why has their erotic connection lost its sizzle?

Once partners become joined, very frequently they may unconsciously regard the other under the same category as a member of their family of origin. What can become triggered are the many restraints one felt growing up in their particular family including restrictions dictated by: religion, community, and their particular culture. Those rules, boundaries and traditions may cause them to erect walls inside their minds leaving them powerless to choose who they want to be in their sex life.

A client at CLS who was engaged to be married was working hard with her sex therapist to recover from the Genito-Pelvic Pain Penetrative Disorder so that she could honestly tell her priest that she would be ready to “perform her wifely duties” once they wed. This priest had not asked about what she looked forward to in her sex life, nor did he ask her fiancé if he was ready to give pleasure to his fiancée once they were wed. The Roman Catholic ideal of wife and husband having intercourse was focused more on procreation than bonding, pleasure and intimacy for both partners.couple marryied by Catholic priestWhen I use the phrase “who they want to be in their sex lives”, I mean what fantasy they want to enact, what sexual acts they may want to try with their partner(s), and/or what kind of erotic power exchange they may have dreamt of playing in the bedroom. Do they want to be consensually taken, ravaged, or overtaken by their lover? Are they hoping to play out a scene from a movie that turns them on? Do they want to dress in particular clothing that heightens their arousal?

Couples can become what David Schnarch in his respected book Passionate Marriage describes as “emotionally fused” when they fall for one another and the idea of a person making the choice to express a desire that might differ from a partner/spouse’s can lead to their partner expressing ridicule, disdain, disgust or abandonment because it is alien, kinky or frightening. The partner who is hearing the request or fantasy may not even have to say a word but the roll of the eye, or raising of an eye brow may be all it takes to indicate surprise scorn. Like a firecracker going off the partner quickly shuts down further requests of new or different sexual interests for fear of losing their partner, not to mention wanting to avoid feeling put down, rejected or just plain weird.

Recently when I asked a married het couple (I’ll call them Chloe and John to protect their identities) who were having trouble infusing their sex life with more passion and excitement, if they had seen, read or heard something recently that turned them on and kept it to themselves. The wife tentatively began telling me how she and her husband loved to watch Showtime’s series Billions together. Billions couple enact a BDSM sex sceneWhen the scene of the lawyer Chuck Rhoades (played by Paul Giamatti) is being tied up by his wife Wendy (Maggie Siff) she quietly said that she noticed some tingling in her genitals. Her husband looked at her in surprise in the session as if seeing a new woman emerging. I asked her what happened next with this awareness and she said: I was turned on by the sensation and the scene but didn’t think I could share this with John, he would think it was weird.

So what happened in your body after you edited yourself, I asked. She looked down and said, the sensation went away and we continued to watch the show. I reflected that she had chosen to let the feeling go because she didn’t feel permitted to include what she considered transgressive turn-ons with John. Then I checked in with him and wondered what was going on in his body and mind when he heard this sitting next to her and he said: I was getting a bit turned on hearing her describe the scene, and felt surprised that she didn’t share it with me since I never knew she was into that. In fact, I was turned on watching the scene myself at the time but chose to keep it to myself to protect Chloe from my dirty mind. Each of these partners has remained behind their wall of excitement and passion for fear of how their partner might judge them negatively.

I helped them to anchor their physical experiences so that they don’t run off into analytic explanations and remain true in the session that is free of judgment and shame, so that they stay present with their authentic selves in the presence of their partner who is equally as vulnerable. In various ways with clients, I ask them these questions:

What aspects of ourselves do we choose to keep hidden or private from our partner?

What could shift in an erotic partnership if we choose to become more vulnerable, playful and curious with ourselves and one another?

These are the questions that have been continually asked by artists, scientists and creative thinkers for generations. My colleague Esther Perel asks in her latest Podcast, Where Should We Begin?, how can you want what you already have? The teacher and writer Alton Wasson offers participants of his Contemplative Dance workshops the metaphor of moving and witnessing the mover as an experience akin to a “chest of drawers”. Similar to partnered sex in which one partner is engaged in and witnessing/experiencing a partner, the choice to open a drawer to experience an aspect of ourselves and our partners happens only when there is “freedom from arbitrary or despotic control” (Declaration of Independence), meaning free of limits set by an external power. In this case it could mean external societal values, misunderstandings/myths of meaning when it comes to one’s fantasies, or limits placed on gender roles.

Myths or misunderstandings about sex, fantasy and erotic desire begins with a child’s learning from their family, religion and schooling about sexuality. Unfortunately, due to limited subjects being allowed in schools due to Abstinence Only education in the US, and heteronormative focus of sex education,  people grow up with the kind of limited information that inhibits them around speaking of their sexual desires with a partner. lesbian couple expressing sexual passion  They may have learned about STIs (formerly known as STDs), or protection like condoms, oral contraceptives and the IUD (why oh why are doctors not telling folks about the female condom, stay tuned for an upcoming blog on this topic!). Many people also believe that their partners should be able to read their mind and automatically know what turns them on. I can say from my clinical experience that it is almost impossible for people to be mind readers and know exactly what turns their partners on sexually without active and open communication.

 According to relationship therapy research conducted over many years by John Gottman, open and continual communications are the building blocks of a satisfying relationship). There is often a misperception that too much communication and frankness about sexuality in a relationship may lead to the end of relationship; however, couples who are emotionally and verbally expressive (whether strongly or even in moderation) tend to have long and satisfying relationships. In other words, it is important that partners in a relationship be comfortable expressing themselves in constructive forms of communication. Since partners don’t get this training early on, nor is it modeled for them, they are lost in the woods and revert to silence and emotional shutdown on this critical aspect of their lives. After the early novelty wears off,  a couple need more nuanced language to describe what they desire. Couples come to us months and sometimes years into a relationship that has been reduced to a tapering spark. 

My mission in creating CLS and the Sex Esteem® model is to provide people the education, the confidence and the curiosity to become more aware of their erotic triggers, their sexual fantasies, and explore the play space of their sexuality with their consciously chosen partners.  My background in modern dance and improvisation taught me from a very young age that exploration is fun, that there are no wrong movements (as long as all around you are safe and consensually there) and that you can create

from nothing an experience that is new, unique and fortifying when you are fully free.

Being able to constructively communicate sexual desires to a partner/spouse is not only freeing and gratifying for oneself and one’s partner(s), but the freeing nature of co-creating an experience serves as a bridge to a more intimate, authentic relationship. The rocket needs to be ignited again and again by each person to produce a sustaining spark of passion. And as the Declaration of Independence states “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

Be mindful of your erotic liberty and honor your intentional choices this July to enhance your sex life.

 

 

Painful Sex: Best Therapy Practices for Women and Couples

Women who experience painful penetrative sex due to Provoked Vestibulodynia (PVD), Vulvodynia  and other forms of Pelvic Pain may have suffered in silence for years. They may have thought that the pain was due to being new to intercourse and that it would subside. Or perhaps they may have mentioned it to a gynecologist, only to be told that there was no evidence of any diagnosis, or that they had a bacterial infection and prescribed a medication that didn’t help. For some women who had painful sex that was intolerable, they may have avoided going to a gynecologist for their entire adult life.

Women we see at Center for Love and Sex who are in heterosexual relationships where penetrative sex is an expected part of the sexual repertoire over time develop tremendous shame, anxiety and fear of any sexual encounter if they feel it will lead to intercourse. Their partners may gradually avoid initiating sex due to the obvious reason of not wanting to cause their partner/spouse pain but in addition, of wanting to avoid being turned down which they experience as outright rejection, lack of desirability and at times shame.

As a consequence to the painful sex, some male partners/husbands may develop their own sexual disorder like erectile dysfunction or premature/uncontrolled ejaculation due to the anxiety that develops around their penetration hurting their partner. Couples like this tend to self refer to a CLS therapists when sexual avoidance has gone on for some time and couple is in crisis or fear of losing their sex life altogether. The physical ailment causes intra-personal and interpersonal challenges that have to be addressed in therapy. Many times these women can treat and heal their pain when working with a pelvic pain physical therapist.

When I mention pelvic floor physical therapists to friends and even other therapists, they have never heard that this specialty even exists.  As a systemic sex therapist, I frequently see women and couples who present with painful sex and collaborate with pelvic floor PTs to coordinate treatment in a holistic manner. I have had general therapists refer some of these cases to me after seeing clients for many months or years assuming the pain was a somatic outcome of early trauma.

It is critical for all therapists to understand the structure of the pelvis and causes of pain so that they know how to support, advocate and refer their client to the right doctors and pelvic floor PTs so that they can move ahead quickly with a treatment protocol that addresses their particular issue. It is also important for pelvic floor PTs to understand the consequences the pain has had on the client’s primary relationships, her Sex Esteem®, and shame level around discussing the specifics of her condition so that they can collaborate with the therapist. I will often assign homework assignments that will echo or support the exercises being assigned by the pelvic floor physical therapist.

Amy Stein Co Presenter

In my upcoming webinar for therapists, sex therapists and physical therapists titled The Collaborative Clinical Care Model Between Therapists and Pelvic Floor Physical Therapists Involving Sexual Pain, I’ll be collaborating with Amy Stein, DPT Founder and Director of Beyond Basics, a specialty PT practice in NYC and the author of Heal Pelvic Pain, a self-help book for people dealing with painful sex, urination and other physical activities involving the pelvis. I invite you to spread the word about the webinar which will be live and take place on Monday February 6th from 12:30-2:30 PM EST and is geared for professionals.

For those of you reading this who suffer from any sort of pain during sexual activity, I invite you to contact my practice, Center for Love and Sex via email sari@saricooper.com or coordinator@saricooper.com to discuss your situation and set up an appointment for an in person session or a coaching session if you’re outside of the NYC region.

Trump Redux: 5 Lessons this Presidential Nominee Illustrates about Narcissism in Relationships

There could be a lot of lessons to be gleaned by this very unusual primary season thus far but nothing has baffled politicians, pundits and journalists as the immense popularity of Donald J.Trump. I thought I would use Trump as a good example of a person who exhibits many of the behaviors consistent with a person who a therapist would diagnosis with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I write this blog to assist those people who feel like they might be involved with a person who may have similar tendencies with hopes they can begin to see the pattern of negative dynamics, the low self esteem that their behavior engenders in others and look to ways a person might change their relationship or leave to preserve their sense of self. In my years as a therapist, I have worked with many people who complain that their partner or spouse is berating them for a small behavior, or degrading them for not being attractive enough to have sex with, or throwing a tantrum when their partner finds fault with some of the narcissist’s behavior.

Donald Trump at a rally
Donald Trump at a rally

The symptomatic behavior of Narcissistic Personality Disorder are expressed when a person to is compelled to rely heavily on others’ adulation to maintain their own self esteem at a high level. Underneath all that self-aggrandizement is actually a very fragile ego. One can see Trump’s lack of empathy and bullying manner as efforts to be viewed consistently as a take-no-prisoners winner in the nominee race. He keeps talking to drown out any doubt about his abilities. People with this disorder can be at one time charming in order to get what they want from others and the next antagonistic, displaying feelings of entitlement, selfishness, and attention seeking. His frequent displays of lack of empathy and disdain are illustrated in his immigration policies and rhetoric on minorities and women, and his heightened sense of self-importance. Past tweets including one that reads “…my I.Q. is one of the highest -and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure,it’s not your fault” exemplify just this.

Clients of mine who tell me that their partner either yells when they try to address a conflict or retreats into a depressive state express the feeling that they often feel stifled to ask for what they authentically desire in the relationship for fear of their partner’s reaction. The “walking on eggshell” comment is a frequent description of how they feel. Although only about 0.5-1% of the general population is diagnosed with the disorder, about 50-75% of those diagnosed are men. There are also those who do not qualify for all criteria of a Personality Disorder by still display a few narcissistic trait. For example a man may feel his boyfriend is with him merely because he has great looks and is well built but when they begin to have sex the experience feels empty, as if he’s there only to make the narcissistic partner feel special enough to have won such a good looking partner. His boyfriend may begin that he is not fully seen as a 3 dimensional person nor that his needs are really met with authentic concern.Ill man sitting on his bed

Trump says whatever he wants with little remorse or concern for the feelings he may have engendered in others. He constantly works to be the loudest, most powerful, and authoritative figure in every room that he enters. From statements of “I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created” to “(John McCain is) not a war hero…He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured” ,Trump has made it clear that he is a bulldozer, will to squash anyone in his path to his final destination: presidential nominee for the Republican party.

You may have already noticed these patterns in your relationship but I use this blog to outline more specifically five patterns of narcissists which we have seen in Trump’s behavior to enable you to figure out if your partner fits into these types of patterns.

1. Narcissists are only connected to those who mirror back greatness in looks, success, and greatness.
As their values are rooted in their thoughts of their own superiority and greatness, narcissists surround themselves with only those who they see as superior as well. This is used as a mirror of their own excellence. Their relationships are based on the reward they see in each person, judged by how well the person matches their description of power, control, dominance, and superiority.
Trump has claimed that “all of the women on The Apprentice flirted with [him]” illustrating that he thinks he is a kind of irresistible hunk that no woman could resist. Trump seeks out women who have superstar looks(according to this society’s beauty ideals) as a reflection of his own looks and to illustrate his power. While this behavior is not that unusual in our patriarchal society, Trump takes it a step further when he boasts of his sexual porwess: “And, he referred to my hands — ‘if they’re small, something else must be small.’ I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee”, inferring that because his penis is large he is deserving and sexually appealing to Melania his current wife, who is several years younger than Donald, and a much photographed professional model. While there may be a lot more to his wife than we know, she is only brought out as arm candy to adorn his designer suits and upscale photo ops.
at the "NBC All-Star Party" in the Hollywood & Highland Complex, Hollywood, CA 01-14-04
2. They seemingly have thick skins but in fact are either covering up deep wounds from childhood or a feeling that they aren’t as smart or as capable as their parents may have expected them to be. They cover the narcissistic wound by putting down others to elevate their status.
Trump speaks with horrific insults of groups of people who he perceives as lesser in extremely hateful and derogatory ways. When he announced his run for the nomination he described undocumented Mexican immigrants as “… people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists”
He constantly searches to put others down in order to establish his own dominance and to cover up his deeper sense of inadequacy. His motto could be hit him hard, non-stop and fast so they don’t know how to hit back. man in boxing gloves
One wonders what woman in his history would cause him to degrade and demean women in his many years in public life.

The realization that a narcissist may have been demeaned or abandoned by someone they loved or looked to for praise in their past cuts deep and in response, they often add to their bullying pattern externally, a set of extremely challenging goals as revenge for their experience of victimhood. For example was Donald driven to building a larger real estate empire to show his critical mother that he is more powerful than his father, or beat a brother who was favored for his warmer personality? We may never know what that chip on his shoulder is.
If your partner feels like he has to be a the best in every category and his pursuit of money, prestige and attention override his engagement with you, his partner, it may be that he considers you just another possession that he has won along his path to success. Research has shown a possible link between narcissists’ low self esteem and structural differences in their brains, with weaker links of the brain regions involved in self- esteem.with weaker links of the brain regions involved in self- esteem.(Citation). Narcissists have underlying beliefs that they are actually frauds and they are in constant panic of being exposed of perceived failure, leading them to overcompensate in many ways. You may see your partner being extremely self-blaming about their own mistakes and project this anger on you their partner as well as others, who are around them on a daily basis, like children, employees and parents. Man yelling at girlfriend not looking at him black and white

3. They also lash out with narcissistic rage when someone criticizes them so that they never have to be vulnerable or responsible, this can leave their partner emotionally abused.
Given that their superiority is simply a facade to accommodate past questioning and failure, narcissists will attack those who question their dominance or criticize their ego. This is quick, easy way to maintain the illusion of entitlement and selfishness, as those who show any sign of weakening them are quickly devalued and diminished

Trump exemplifies this pattern, seen when he attacked Fox News Anchor Megyn Kelly multiple times. In August 2015, Kelly asked Trump a question regarding his language use toward women, calling them ‘fat pigs’, ‘dogs, slobs and disgusting animals’. Trump responded by claiming that she had “blood coming out of her wherever” (some took this as Trump referring to her menstrual cycle, although he denies this) and then went to Twitter to post public tweets, in form of a rant, about Kelly, her personal life, her professional success, and more. This illustrates the pattern of rage, lack of empathy, and aggression in response to questioning of authority.
In an intimate relationship, this rage and blame can leaving the partner emotionally and/or physically hurt, while the abuser shows little to no remorse, never taking responsibility for their contribution to an argument or fight. Instead, the attack leaves the narcissist feeling even more in control, in the right and remarkably calm.
Young woman arguing with her boyfriend

4. They will cut you off if you don’t continually feed them positive feedback.
Months after his attack on Megyn Kelly, Trump announced that he would not attend the Republican Party debate that Kelly hosted in Iowa . Although he later denied that it was because of Kelly, I argue that this was his way of cutting her off and avoiding the chance of future criticism and lack of positive regard. By doing so, Trump asserted his presumed power and continued his cycle of dominance.
He also broke up his first two marriages and while we don’t know all the details, given his vicious attacks in public during this primary, one could guess that perhaps his wives challenged him and he wasn’t going to accept that kind of behavior from a woman or anyone for that matter. His current wife stated recently that she and Donald don’t try to change each other. Perhaps, this is another way of her saying she doesn’t challenge him too much.
You may experience your partner will cut off communication, positive regard or even financial support if you do not constantly focus, support, and reassure them of their power and greatness in order bolster their superiority facade. They may ignore your phone calls, block you from social media, and remain silent. This makes the person feel in control and proud of their imposed emotional distance while leaving you their partner feeling rejected, at fault and abandoned. It is their last resort in establishing dominance while distancing themselves from potential harm.

Sad couple having an argument sitting on bed

5. As a partner you’ll feel superficially connected during sex. You may feel like you have to perform in bed, and feel anxious if you’re not thoroughly turned on causing you to ‘fake’ your arousal and/or orgasm. You may feel like you have to appear perfect and/or spend a lot of time and/or money on your appearance. If you feel like a reflection of your partner who expects everyone and everything in his life to be of the highest quality, there may come a time when you start questioning your appearance and develop some body image disorders or disordered eating.
Your partner may make comments about the size of your breasts, your weight or your nose or compare you negatively to other women. This pattern of verbal abuse can lead a partner to seek out plastic surgery, go on extreme diets and lower their sense of self to an extremely low level leaving a partner feeling depressed and demoralized.

Do any of these descriptions sound like your partner? Have you remained quiet and cautious of complaining of their treatment of you or asking for your needs to be met? Lastly, If you have this feeling of never being enough to satisfy your partner’s visual and performative expectations, feel like you’re constantly walking on eggshells and can’t express yourself honestly, I encourage you to seek help from a licensed experienced AASECT-Certified sex therapist or a coach who can help you gain back your self esteem and your Sex Esteem®.

Latest Blog: Engagements & Weddings: 5 Topics to Cover

Dissatisfied wedding couple

It’s Spring again and a new crop of couples are preparing all the details for their upcoming nuptials.   Unfortunately, many people get caught up in the romance, erotic excitement, and wedding and dress plans of that first year to two years of their relationship that they neglect to talk about some critical elements that will help them safeguard their marriage and fidelity for the long haul.  Since June is one of the most popular months to marry and Americans are spending an average of $30,000 on a wedding according to theknot.com ,  I thought I would use this month’s blog to offer some sage advice to those out there that are getting ready to invest their hearts and money to wed.

Frequently in the media we have heard engagements and weddings called off by celebrities like  Bristol Palin and  Miley Cyrus . The actual statistic of cancelled weddings have been estimated at 20%,  and the issues can be about lies discovered, financial concerns or frequent arguments that never seem to get resolved.  I have done a lot of pre-marital counseling and have helped some couples who decide to delay their wedding until they are able to nail down some pretty challenging issues before they can say “I do” with the skills and confidence needed to fulfill their vows.

Wedding couple conflict, bad relationships. Woman bride and man groom looking at each other with angry expression. Isolated on white

Some of the issues couples come in to discuss before their weddings include: sexual incompatibility, concerns about cheating, alcohol or substance abuse, disagreements over financial habits, whether and/or when to have children, and differing religious beliefs.  After 20+ years of counseling couples who have been traumatized by infidelity, financial secrets, or constant arguing, I can state that EXPLICIT agreements are needed at the beginning of a marriage and need to be updated continually as situations change and people grow.

Relationship agreement? I know, some of you are scratching your heads and thinking: “ What agreement? We get married and we vow to honor, love and be faithful to one another, isn’t that all we need?”  The definitive answer is no, one needs to discuss these issues as seriously as where they want to hold the ceremony, reception and go for their honeymoon.  (As a note, I think the following tips could also be helpful to those committed couples that haven’t sat down in a while to discuss critical aspects of the marriage/relationship agreement).

Young couple finding out results of pregnancy test at home

  1. Make sure you share the same bottom line goals in life.

I am always surprised when couples have gotten engaged without discussing things like whether they both want or don’t want to have children, the religion in which they would raise their children, what city in which they would live. Make sure you and your fiancé(e) have a thorough discussion about these questions and make sure you’re agreed on the decisions. Leaving what I call deal-breaker decisions until after the honeymoon can frequently derail a marriage later on.

2. What do you consider cheating?

I know this sounds obvious but I have to reinforce the idea that couples frequently have different ideas about what they regard as broken commitments to their oath of fidelity.  Most people don’t have what I have termed Sex Esteem™, the confidence, education and skills to discuss sexual issues with one’s partner and yet sexual fidelity is a critical part of the agreement you’re creating with your partner.

Cheating his wife, young men chatting with his mistress while his wife sleeps

If this topic is too challenging to discuss on your own,  or you have already run into questionable situations of trusting your partner, seek out an experienced sex therapist to have some sessions on this topic before the wedding. It could save you a lot of heartache later on. An example of what partners might disagree on would be: a one-time kiss at a company party after having drunk too much, watching certain types of sexually explicit material, dancing all night with another man/woman, and a hook-up during a bachelor/bachelorette trip to Vegas.

3. How much time do you each want to spend on your own, with your friends/family and with one another?

It’s hard to judge what your baseline needs are when you are in the throes of a new relationship because all those hormones are making you want to spend every minute with one another. But once that stage settles down you each have your own sense of lifestyle that makes one feel balanced. Your partner may have a very different expectation about how much time you’ll spend as a couple going forward.   Make sure you’re clear about how many times a week and the amount of time you want to work out, how many times you like to speak to your parents/sister/brother, how many nights you want to have dinner together, and how frequently you want to have a date and/or sex etc. Mark-Zuckerberg-and-his-wife-Priscilla-ChanTake some inspiration from Priscilla Chan, wife of Mark Zuckerberg who asked her fiance to agree to 100 minutes of time each week, 1 dinner date a week and a 2-week trip abroad at the very minimum.

4. Commit to being your partner’s emissary to your parents

Depositphotos_11881176_l

Some of the most stressful times couples experience as they plan a wedding is with their soon-to-be in-laws. Remember you are creating a new family with your own beliefs and traditions from your family of origin. You each need to explain to your own parents why you and your fiancé(e) have made your decisions and that they need to support you both and not blame or criticize her/him because they’re disappointed. ( I think this role needs to last for the first 2-3 years of a relationship until the son/daughter-in-law can forge their own relationship with their in-laws)

5. Plan business meetings to discuss finances

coin couple

Marriages are about mutual love and support, fun and erotic connection in addition to being a financial partnership. I find that many couples discuss their financial goals and budgetary concerns as frequently as they discuss their sex life. Meaning, not as often as they should. I find those in long term partnerships or marriages need to carve out time (that is not designated for fun or sex) to discuss each of their goals, the steps they each are going to take to get them there and who is responsible for what aspect of their financial plan. Whether it’s how much to save for retirement, what each of you consider a reasonable rent, or how to plan for a vacation, preparing for a meeting and the considerations you each want to address can help keep underlying tension and anxiety from building. You can then move ahead to your fun time together more unified and eager to bond romantically.

Fifty Shades of Grey Movie Review

Can Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan Fulfill Their Roles as Ana and Christian?

I got a sneak preview of the much anticipated movie Fifty Shades of Grey last night and I was surprised to see that Dakota Johnson does a great job creating the nuances needed to express the innocence, wonder, and inner strength of Anastasia Steele. Johnson was able to express a dry humor that shows her intelligence and assertiveness in a tension filled scene as they negotiate hard and soft limits. And her handling of a drunk dial call to Christian is quite cute and funny.

Unfortunately, I felt Jamie Dornan seemed pretty blocked off emotionally as Christian Grey until close to the end of the movie when the audience glimpses his little boy fear as the reality of Ana’s potential rejection becomes more apparent. Some of the lines showed the arrogance and entitlement Christian Grey’s character has regarding his type of sexuality. When Ana asks: “Why would you want to do this” Christian responds: “To please me”. Unfortunately he leaves out the pleasures and excitement the arrangement might bring to Ana based on the limits they set. In another scene Ana asks: “What would I get out of it?”, alluding to the contract. His answer is simply: “Me”. But this shows the limits and inexperience of Christian Grey integrating love and lust due to his history of early trauma that affects his attachment abilities.

I actually expected the movie makers to keep it more PG and leave the audience wondering if they’d get to see the explicit scenes in the book visually expressed on the screen. Well, Hollywood delivers with many visual depictions of both the vanilla and kinky scenes between Ana and Christian. I was concerned in the first sexual encounter Ana has with Christian in that the audience never sees Christian stimulating Ana externally before he penetrates her. What a shame I thought, since this is her first sexual experience. However, there are plenty of variations of his arousing her to heights of passion after this scene to illustrate his mastery of touch and tongue.

The faults of Christian’s character in the book are expressed in the movie in that he loses control when it comes to making the right decision of not introducing extreme BDSM experiences to a woman who is a beginner. He also doesn’t know the rules when it comes to the pacing of a dating relationship and respect for Ana’s personal space. However, his Christian expresses his vulnerability through his mournful tunes he plays on the piano in the middle of the night to signal Ana that there is more to his rigidity as a person. What she does respond positively to is his striving for excellence, his extreme wealth and generosity, his love of adventure and surprise and his singular pursuit of her as a playmate.

The audience will get to see quite clearly how floggers, ropes, and cuffs are used in a BDSM room. This may be a turn off for some viewers while others might be drawn in to the technical and erotic aspects to this type of sexuality. They will also see how the characters take on roles of dominant and submissive when playing in the Red Room.

This movie illustrates Ana’s initial steps of growth in confidence and knowledge (the prime ingredients of Sex Esteem™), as she falls in love for the larger than life, complex character of Christian Grey. Enjoy the film, would love to hear your comments.Can Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan Fulfill Their Roles as Ana and Christian?

Women Who Don’t Orgasm

Why are women having sex without orgasms in their relationships?

I saw an older rom-com last weekend titled: “Because I Said So” (link is external) with Diane Keaton playing a neurotic mother trying to find a partner for her youngest still single daughter. While the movie is not one of Keaton’s best (hands down Annie Hall (link is external)), the moment that touched me the most (no big spoiler alert here) was when she let her daughter know that she had never experienced an orgasm.

Because I Said So
The female orgasm is under the microscope again in the media but for different reasons. n the recent HuffPost article (link is external) by Catherine Pearson, women discussed their acceptance of not orgasming with their partners while still being able to bring themselves to orgasm through masturbation. A few women expressed the wish to stop faking having them during intercourse, and one woman said she wished her partner would try harder. It occurred to me that what wasn’t fleshed out fully in the article was the anxiety and fear these women had in their partner’s reactions when they brought up the fact that they weren’t orgasming. One man became enraged that his wife was faking and keeping it from him for so long and yet didn’t attempt to bring her to orgasm in their subsequent sexual sessions. The other man sobbed for all the years his wife had missed out on the pleasure she could have received and at his failing to give to her.

Orgasm-less Woman

The other point was the fact that many of these women hadn’t developed enough Sex Esteem™ to show their partners how they bring themselves to orgasm when they self pleasure. Sex Esteem™ is my term for the confidence and ability to bring yourself the erotic pleasure and intimacy you want. While most of my clients say they feel too shy to masturbate in front of their partner or spouse after years of doing it in private and not considering it part of partner sex, it can be so helpful for women to pump up their confidence to do this if need be. Perhaps due to their upbringing and their love for their partner, the women in this article were protecting their partner’s feelings and ego when they kept the information to themselves and didn’t let on that they weren’t orgasming and that they wanted to put effort into figuring out how.

If these women had more Sex Esteem™ they would desire to further their discovery of sexual practices on their own, show their partner with their hands, or by watching a video together to grow as a couple. An exception in this story was Lisa, who did coach her husband as he tried oral and manual touch. When they tried a vibrator, though, he became excited very quickly, which caused him to climax quickly, so he nixed the idea of the vibrator completely. Instead of pursuing the vibrator which would have challenged him to work on his ejaculatory control while she could build her arousal, she backed down. She says in a surrendering way: “It still really bums me out, whenever I think about the fact that I can’t have that with him”.

While an orgasm is not the be-all end-all of any sexual encounter by any means (in fact, putting too much emphasis on ‘finishing’ may create performance anxiety and inhibit couples’ ability to linger upon and savor other sensual acts), it nevertheless upset me that so many women are in relationships with a sexual disparity without a healthy way to address it if they want to. I am not judging women who seem happy without a partnered orgasm, I just wonder if they had more Sex Esteem™ which=education+communication skills+ confidence, they might feel even closer to their partners. While there are certain medications and medical issues or past trauma which may inhibit a women’s physical ability to orgasm with or without a partner, the majority of these women had relationship or power dynamics, and/or lack of their partner’s technique in resolving their dilemma.

We have come (pun intended) a long way since the 1970s when my colleague Betty Dodson (link is external) began running her Bodysex (link is external) groups where women learned about their bodies and how to self pleasure. Betty was and still is a disruptor of accepted myths. At that time, the accepted theory was still Freud’s (link is external) that a clitoral orgasm wasn’t a mature one and that a “real” orgasm was a vaginal orgasm.

Betty Dodson in the 1970s

Most women need direct clitoral stimulation to reach climax, and about 25-30 percent of women may climax with vaginal penetration. While there are a variety of types of orgasm which I’ve previously discussed (link is external) in articles, the majority of women need a longer warm up and more clitoral stimulation before climaxing.

However, I still see women of all ages in my private practice who have challenges achieving orgasm for a variety of different reasons. Some women are capable of achieving orgasms alone, but not with a partner; others have never had an orgasm, and others still who are generally dissatisfied with the quality of their sex lives (solo or partnered). Some of them still feel shame and embarrassment that they aren’t climaxing with their partner and/or with intercourse. Others may feel that they’re rejecting their partner or being antisocial as was suggested in a recent NY Magazine articl (link is external)e if they pleasure themselves alone.

Female Orgasm
In my view, masturbation can be approached as a practice (much like yoga or meditation) allowing a person to explore and find new ways of attaining pleasure and relaxation. Orgasmic ability does not decrease with age, and just as one’s taste for food might change throughout their life, so too might the type of stimulation they find pleasurable and erotic. Women who have had their first orgasm after years of trying are often moved by the extreme pleasure their bodies are capable of and the sense of mastery and Sex Esteem it brings to their relationships. We are seeing more references to self-pleasuring in the pop music world (link is external) thanks to St. Vincent, Rihanna, and Miley Cyrus. Women need more films that show a partner stimulating a woman either manually or orally so that women understand what physical arousal is needed. It’s Valentine’s Day coming up, and the Fifty Shades of Grey movie is about to premiere. Give yourself or your partner a V-Day gift; time alone to explore your inner Goddess.

After discovering that her mother had never had an orgasm, I wish the daughter character in the film “Because I Said So” had said: “Mom, I’m ordering a vibrator online for you right now, you are going to love it!”

Taste, Texture & Sex; Food’s Sultry Senses for the Holidays

Taste, Aroma & Touch can enhance both your dining and sensual intimacy

Eroticism and food have long been paired together in the annals of history—with references to culinary pleasures found in literature, film, and pop culture. Pleasure taken from eating and drinking often falls into a category of sensual experiences. Indeed, the definition of sensual is “of or arousing gratification of the senses and physical, especially sexual, pleasure”. Certainly, while food itself may not bring about sexual excitement or orgasm per se, the act of eating and drinking bring to many a profound and visceral pleasure. The intersection of food and sensuality is often portrayed in popular culture when one partner feeds their blindfolded lover—who, deprived of one of the five senses, is overwhelmed by their heightened sense of taste. Popular culture has also used this pairing for comedic effect—notably, I recall a Seinfeld episode in which George, pairs his love of food and sex (link is external)unconsciously and ends up sneaking pastrami sandwiches into bed. While Katz’s may be delicious, perhaps it’s best to choose an item a little less messy.

There have been many cultural and artistic depictions of the link between food, sensuality, and sexuality. Take for example an infamous scene (link is external) from the 1963 film Tom Jones, based on Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel. Two couples gaze longingly at one another has they feast on delicacies such as crab, wild game, oysters, and fruit. They flirt with one another through the seductive manner in which they eat—practically acting out their sexual desires upon the food in front of them. In this instance, the food has become both a symbol of and a part of their passion. The shared meal is a slow seduction—culminating in the couple’s passionate kiss.

Readers might be familiar with a Sex and the City episode (link is external) in which Samantha Jones covers her nude body in sushi upon request from her boyfriend, as an erotic treat for when he returns from work. Samantha hopes that the sight of her body as a literal serving dish, coupled with the smell and taste of delicate sushi, will encourage her partner to experience her body in a similar way to the tiny morsels. Sushi is pristine, beautiful, and delicate—a work of art in and of itself. By presenting her body in such a manner, she is inviting her partner to take the same approach to savor her appearance, smell, and taste.

Social media has ushered in not only the age of the “selfie”, but that of “food porn”. Food porn is a term referring to images of food that are so succulent and enticing they provoke deep reactions in viewers akin to viewing pornography. As with viewing erotic art, there is an anticipation which builds when one sees an image of a particularly inviting meal. The viewer salivates, eyes widen, and pulse may quicken, just like a sexual response. Additionally, terming images as “food porn (link is external)” connotes a form of teasing between the artist and viewer.

Social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram are full of photos of friends’ meals. Going out for a meal and photographing your food prior to digging in has become so common that some restaurants have had to ban (link is external) the practice. Like sharing images of attractive partners or talking about sex with your close friends, there is an element of braggadocio here.

Pop culture references aside, Thanksgiving and winter holiday celebrations often center around food. Certain foods are eaten due to tradition or their status as a delicacy and rare treat. Think of sugary butter cookies or chocolate truffles thst melt in your mouth, the exquisite velvet texture of foie grois, or champagne bubbles giddily poppingin your mouth. Holidays like Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanza, prominently feature special foods. Turkey, stuffing and potatoes are classic Thanksgiving (link is external) fare; Potato latkes (link is external) are a traditional and symbolic Hanukkah dish; Christmas culinary traditions (link is external) vary around the world, but some notable examples include fruit cake, eggnog, mulled wine or cider, and a vast array of sweet and savory pies. Kwanza cuisine encompasses classic Southern dishes with an African flair, such as sweet potato pie and collard greens. While all of these holidays feature special and culturally significant foods that are a cause for celebration themselves, these holiday gatherings are typically intended as times to be with large groups of family and close friends.

Unfortunately it is not until New Year’s Eve that it is deemed culturally appropriate to share a glass of champagne (and perhaps sex) after the kids have gone to bed or the party with friends have ended. This long stretch of holiday festivities can be extremely stressful for the individual and couple at hand. Often, clients tell me they feel guilty for taking time to themselves during purportedly family holidays. However, there is no need to feel guilty—it’s okay to be a little selfish and take some time for yourself and your partner to honor your relationship in the holiday spirit. Taking some alone time to enjoy some culinary delights might bring you closer, aid your communication in and out of the bedroom, and give you some much needed alone time amidst the holiday rush.

Many of the words we use to describe sexuality and food are similar—both areas of experience deal with different textures, tastes, and smells. If couples can connect over what tastes good and pleasurable to them, they can have the same types of discussions about what feels good to them.

The holidays are often a stressful time—planning parties, travel arrangements, gift buying and giving—it’s no wonder that by the time New Year’s Eve rolls around, many people feel completely depleted.. I encourage you to carve out time between now and when the ball drops to ring in 2015 for sensuality.

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Perhaps it can be the night before the big office party or a sleepy Sunday morning before the next holiday open house, when you create a sexy tasting menu for two (or more depending on your “tastes” (link is external))

You don’t have to blindfold one another to enjoy it, either. Pick a few things that you and your partner(s) enjoy—perhaps a decadent truffle, juicy pineapple, or a nutty cheese—the food itself doesn’t matter, but it should be something that tastes good to you.


Take turns feeding each other a bite and describing all the sensations: How does it smell? How does it feel? How does it taste? The best part about this kind of activity is that it’s a great way to relax and be flirty in the midst of holiday gatherings. If you’re short on time, you could do something like this for only five to ten minutes. Thinking about the sensual nature of food can bring out sensual communication and intimacy in other areas of your relationship as well, and help you de-stress over the holidays!

The Power of Dressing Up: Comicon NYC, Halloween, and BDSM

Six ways that Halloween and role playing can enhance one’s erotic sex life

With the runaway popularity of the 50 Shades of Grey (link is external)trilogy of novels, and the hotly-anticipated film adaptation (link is external) (due in theaters this upcoming Valentine’s Day) women and couples across the country have been inspired to experiment in the bedroom (link is external), with Lelo reporting an 82% increase in sales of vibrators and vibrating rings at the end of 2013.

Power Exchange Role Play
Once considered deviant or bizarre sexual behavior, role-playing, power exchange, and BDSM are becoming mainstream as more and more people experiment with this type of sexual play. There is a musical parody of Fifty Shades playing off-Broadway in New York (link is external) where women and men come to laugh and get titillated by the sexually-charged scenes between Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele. Many of my clients have experienced greater intimacy and passion after bringing an element of fantasy into the bedroom. On the heels of New York City’s recent Comic-Con (link is external) (the most widely-attended event of it’s kind; this year’s surpassed the famed San Diego Comic-Con) and with Halloween approaching, the playful spirit of dress up and fantasy are in the air.

New York Comic Con attendees
For couples who are curious about exploring role play and fantasy in ther sex lives, now is a wonderful opportunity.

1. Openness About Fantasies Can Increase Intimacy

The old saying that “the brain is the biggest sex organ” still holds true. How we become aroused in a sexual scenario—either solo or with a partner—begins with fantasy and imagination. Often, my clients are shy about sharing personal fantasies out of fear of being perceived as strange, bizarre, or disgusting by their partner. Not being fully open about one’s sexual desires and needs can lead to problems down the road in the relationship. I work with couples to navigate ways in which they can share and explore their fantasies to achieve a fulfilling sex life. Role-playing is one of many options that provides a safe, non threatening way for couples to explore.

2. Novelty Creates Excitement and Spark

The novelty of a role-playing scenario—whether it is doctor-nurse, teacher-student, or involving bondage, dominance, and submission—transforms a sexual encounter into something utterly new and exciting. Role-playing may help couples who feel they have “lost the spark” are in a “rut” or whose lovemaking has become routine and stymied. One of my clients was so amazed and enthralled when he saw his wife in a corset and stockings—he was able to see her in a new light. Novelty can help partners increase their desire and libido in the long run.

3. Using Fantasy in the Bedroom To Balance the Reality Outside

Role playing allows couples to enact scenes that are very different from their daily lives. Each person is able to step out of themselves and take on a new, exciting role. The harried career woman who feels powerless at work with a demanding boss can take control and power over her husband via safe and consensual bondage. In this way she is balancing her lack of control in her day-to-day existence by engaging into this kind of play. It is a way of subverting her frustrations and playing them out through sex play.

4. It’s All About Communication

To have a successful and stimulating role-play encounter, clear, direct, and honest communication is necessary. Especially for those exploring BDSM, knowing when to stop, and when to say “no” is extremely important. It is vital that activities remain consensual and safe, and the easiest way to do so in a BDSM scenario is to use a “safe word”. As many BDSM scenarios involve one partner overpowering another—by force, rope, or command, sometimes a submissive partner’s cries of “No!” don’t necessarily mean “stop”. It is required as part of a contract or agreement made beforehand that a neutral word like “red” be used as a safeword. Couples should respect one another’s limits and boundaries—and clear communication is at the heart of navigating these encounters. BDSM’s main rule of Sane, Safe and Consensual is at the heart of playing with power during play. Here’s a link for those interested in keeping sex-play with power safe.

5.. Enhancing Trust

Engaging in roleplay and/or BDSM is something that can enhance trust between partners. Roleplay and BDSM put individuals into vulnerable positions. One might feel silly and absurd acting out a teacher-student scenario, not be able to control their giggles, or feel worried about what their partner will think if they reveal their curiosity about being tied up. To expose one’s fantasies—and then explore them—is an act of putting tremendous trust in one’s partner. It not only takes trust to engage in these activities in the first place, but couples might find a newfound sense of trust after engaging in roleplay. This type of sexual activity pushes one’s boundaries and comfort zones, and doing so with someone you love or feel strong affection for can strengthen the bonds of trust and the erotic connection with one another. One has to realize that the play created in role play is just that: play. It is not necessarily the way a couple relate to one another outside the bedroom.

6. Boosting Confidence in the Bedroom Can Increase Confidence Outside the Bedroom

Naming your fantasy and figuring out how to enact it in your sex life can be an empowering experience sexually and help you gain power in other areas of your life. Mustering up the courage to act out a fantasy with your partner might just give you the courage to ask for that raise, promotion, or more vacation time.