Category Archives: Sex Therapy

Erectile Disorder and 8 Masculinity Myths Part 2

Myth #5 Erectile Disorder is All in Your Mind

Erectile Disorder has comorbid origins in medical diagnoses and at times is the early harbingers of underlying illnesses like MS or Cardiovascular Disease. While sex therapists do a thorough assessment that includes psychiatric diagnoses like Major Depression, Anxiety Disorders, Bipolar Disorder, ADHD, and  PTSD that can impact erections, they also do a thorough history-taking of medical issues and medications that can frequently impact a man’s erectile functioning including: Diabetes, PTSD, Parkinsons, and past genital injuries.  There are also many medications that have sexual side effects like SSRIs and statins.

Additionally, there is a  recent study by Kevin Chu, Et Al  showing an increased chance of new onset Erectile Dysfunction post-COVID-19 infection.  

In this study conducted by the University of Miami Urology Department, it was observed that the likelihood of having an erectile dysfunction diagnosis was 20% higher if the male patient had a prior COVID-19 diagnosis. This may be due to virus-induced cell dysfunction. Nonetheless, many people with penises may have recently been wondering why they have been having newfound issues with performance. If a COVID-19 diagnosis is in their past, this data may provide men a resolve to the confusion and frustration, and encourage them to seek treatment from a urologist.  

Myth #6 Erectile Dysfunction Is a Man’s Problem to Deal with on His Own

Men are taught that in order to be ‘a man’, they need to “pick themselves up by their own bootstraps” (which by the way is a phrase originally intended as a sarcastic Physics-derived comment on the impossibility of such a task).  Frequently partnered and married men come in to sex therapy on their own with the misguided notion that since they are having a problem with their penis, the responsibility lies solely with them to resolve it.  What many of these men miss is that they are part of a relationship system and that there is an impact and a relationship feedback loop that can help and at times hinder progress in healing the erectile issue.  In other words, they are better off not going at it alone. Sexual chemistry and well-informed, clear and compassionate communication (all cornerstones of higher levels of Sex Esteem) are essential for increased pleasure in partnered sex and what couples can address in couples therapy with an experienced sex therapist. Further, the increasing emphasis on surgical and pharmacological solutions to erectile dysfunction has led to a neglect of the importance that couples dynamics including attachment must hold in the conversation–in terms of the genesis and response to erectile challenges. This is true for heterosexual and LGBTQ+ couples.  According to a study by Kristen. Mark “Attachment style appears to be a more important contributing factor to satisfaction than desire amongst diverse sexual orientations”. 

Myth #7 Erectile Dysfunction Only Affects Older Men

There has been a notable rise in complaints of erectile dysfunction in younger people, chiefly between the ages of 16-35 years-old. This demographic includes people with traits such as psychiatric diagnoses (anxiety, depression, bipolar). Erectile dysfunction is associated with major depressive disorder (MDD), and treatment is associated with decreased rates of MDD. A recent study by Sirpi Nackeeran Et Al showed that men who received ED therapies had lower rates of depression compared after ED treatment to those who did not. Further, relationship concerns, performance anxiety, technological savviness and many other issues can be resolved by ED treatment. 

Myth # 8 Online Remedies for ED are Effective 

Due to the heightened rate of erectile dysfunction, be it as a result of psychiatric stressors, medical illness and/or medications, relationship issues or following a case of COVID-19, many men are seeking remedies outside of a medical practice. With an increased demand, erectile dysfunction supplements (ED-S) have been featured on online marketplaces like Amazon.com, with dedicated pages and claims that they naturally treat ED. However, their efficacy and safety are largely debated, which limits the ability to counsel patients regarding their use. Human studies that evaluated the efficacy of ED-S ingredients are limited and have yielded no definitive findings of the effects on ED. This is to say, patients who are considering ED-Ss should receive appropriate counseling by an experienced medical provider and potentially include sex therapy as part of their treatment plan. 

Men often learn about their bodies and sex through societal standards displayed on TV or in porn. In short, men are told they must conform with traditional masculinity in the bedroom–be strong and dominant–and that they must always be down for sex–get turned on fast, be aroused easily and finish just as quickly. These notions are not standards, far from it, and many more men are being diagnosed with some form of erectile disorder. This can manifest in many forms from difficulty getting and/or maintaining an erection to getting less hard, and these symptoms appear for myriad reasons that do not make one less of a man. Stress, relationship struggles, ADHD, even diet, and now COVID-19 can be underlying conditions that lead to erectile dysfunction. There is no uniform way in which sexual activities should be performed, no base rate for hardness and no timer going for erection duration. The ways in which a man has sex is not able to be generalized, and to perform in a way that does not align with commonly held notions does not necessitate a lack of masculinity. Very often, and increasing daily, men are discovering that they have erectile disorders that can be caused by external stressors. There is no shame in this, and to talk with a sex therapist and seek a diagnosis is very beneficial to one’s sexual confidence, and in turn, one’s mental health.



Erectile Disorder and 8 Masculinity Myths Part 1

Many men approach a sex therapist having self-diagnosed themselves with Erectile Disorder. Frequently a man may have intermittent trouble obtaining or maintaining an erection but these situations aren’t consistent enough or continue over a period of 6 months or longer to qualify for the DSM 5 diagnosis of Erectile Disorder.  Here are the symptoms of Erectile Disorder: 

  • Inability to get an erection during sexual activity
  • Inability to maintain an erection long enough to finish a sexual act
  • Inability to get an erection that is as rigid as previously experienced
  • the problem causes stress or loss of self-confidence, affects a relationship, or is found to be a sign of an underlying health condition that requires immediate treatment

Myth #1: Men are Always Ready, Willing and Able to Have Sex

From a young age, boys and teens are often told, or it’s depicted that “real men” have to demonstrate power over their sexual partners and take charge while having sex, whether  engaging with female partners or as a top in sex with men. Through generations of conditioning to this end, there has been established a societal belief that males are always DTF (ready to be erotically turned on every time it’s on offer) , and should be ready to go at a moment’s notice due to a perceived heightened sexual prowess. This is simply not true. Many factors, such as diet, sleep, stress, illnesses and relational satisfaction affect one’s desire and ability to become aroused enough to get an erection. The pressure “to perform” is ingrained in men’s psyche in most societies such that men will avoid any flirtation, dating or relationship encounter in order to avoid feeling deep shame if their penis isn’t responding to a partner. 

Myth #2 A Bigger Penis Makes You a Real Man and Sex More Satisfying.

Boys also learn through watching sexual explicit media, stand up comedians or colloquial sayings which they overhear that a penis has to be large if they’re going to pleasure a partner. People have all sorts of erotic and sexual desires and the size of a partner’s penis may be low on the erotic prioity list of many women, men and non-binary partners. For example, 75% of women require direct clitoral stimulation to bring them to orgasm so that vaginal or anal penetration is not as high on their desire list as oral, manual or sex toy stroking and licking. Some men who have sex with men prefer non-penetrative sexuality and would prefer being a side where both partners can self-stimulate or stimulate one another through oral or manual stimulation. Some partners’ primary turn on may be the sound of emotionally intimate talk, dirty whispers or dominant commands rather than the size of a partner’s penis. A 2020 review of research on penis size found that the average length of an erect penis is between 5.1 inches and 5.5 inches. However, the girth of a penis and the potential for intravaginal stimulation has been shown to be more alluring to a small sample of colleage-aged heterosexual women. while a study by Nicole Prause Et Al using 3D models of erect penises contrasted the penis size heterosexual women found desirable in a one-time sexual experience from what they found attractive in a long-term partner.

Myth #3 Porn is a Realistic Depiction of Real Sexuality

Porn or sexually explicit material is a form of entertainment to trigger an erotic response. Much of the porn/SEM industry is owned and  produced by men for men who watch it in larger numbers than women. However, as in PG films, the actors are just performers who are chosen for their physical looks including what their genitalia look like in a close up.  These performers are also acting, so that when a woman squeals with excitement without any kissing, caressing or receiving any stimulation from her male partner, the film is misrepresenting what many women state they need in order to get turned on psychologically and emotionally as well as physically aroused.  

Myth #4 Sex Needs to Include Ejaculation

While most men expect to have an orgasm/ejaculation if they are engaging in a sexual act, it doesn’t mean that it should be a given or a demand.  Studies of white heterosexual couples in relationship have shown us that there is an orgasm gap between the amount of times women come to orgasm with partner sex, and a gap between how often men think their female partners have reached orgasm and the actual number of times they do orgasm.  Sex is a sexual umbrella under which many sexual behaviors are included.  It is more important to focus on what each person desires and defines as a pleasurable and satisfying experience each and every time since each person’s body is in a different state each day and each moment.  And while male partners may feel discomfort or pain when they don’t climax after sexual arousal, suffering what is colloquially called “blue balls” isn’t dangerous and the feeling subsides. 

 

How ADHD Influences Your Sex Life and Intimate Relationships

It is not uncommon for a couple to seek out sex therapy and for the sex therapist to discover that one of the partners has been struggling for years with undiagnosed Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD/ADD). A recent research literature review by Soldati et al in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found “that subjects with ADHD report more sexual desire, more masturbation frequency, less sexual satisfaction, and more sexual dysfunctions than the general population.”  

For partners in which relational intimacy is their primary erotic impulse, a partner with ADHD  may struggle to foster and sustain sexually intimate relationships —be it brief or enduring due to the symptoms of the disorder including: impulsivity, novelty seeking, forgetfulness, rapid mood changes and challenges in consistency. Part of this break in intimacy may also be due to the dynamic of the partner who doesn’t have ADHD taking on more responsibilities in the relationship, household and/or with their children.  Over time the non-ADHD partner feels more and more resentment and may begin to feel more like a parent while the partner with ADHD may feel a combination of emotions including feeling:  nagged, disrespected, embarrassed and angry. These feelings all contribute to a less than desired relational pattern that can spark sexual passion. Part of the work a couples therapist can focus on is to have each partner write blocks of time or deadlines when tasks can realistically get completed in a joint family calendar and have the partner with ADHD utilize reminders or sounds to help them transition into chore time. 

Another point in this study was the pattern of partners going to bed at different times when the ADHD partner has extra work to catch up on or who may have poor sleep hygiene. One of the interventions a therapist can help couples with is intentional times that partners can go to bed together and help them create intimacy dates.  In terms of the actual sexual experiences, partners who have ADHD/ADD report having trouble attending to some types of physical stimulation when the sexual script becomes repetitive, predictable and less novel over time leading to a lowering of sexual desire, a lost erection, or an inability to orgasm.  When involved in a sexual script that is un-varied,  the mind of an ADHD person wanders to places that do not include the bedroom like work related tasks that they’re behind on which is a turn-off or alternatively the mind searches for more novel types of erotic fantasies that they’ve watched on sexual explicit media, have had in the past or wish they’d like to have in the future.   In fact some of the studies reviewed in this literature review found that the person with ADHD/ADD themselves may has less sexual satisfaction in partnered sexual experiences which may be due to their mind continually wandering. The potential problem when their focus goes to erotic imagination is that it might look like an emotional detachment to their partner, in fact some clients in sex therapy have described this occurence as their partner “ just going away”. These clinical observations are supported by a 2008 survey by Gina Pera of partners of people with ADHD who reported that “30% felt no connection when having sex with their ADHD partner, as if their partner was not there.” In order for emotional intimacy and sexual intimacy to form and grow, it is imperative there be an environment that is built on—and promotes—relaxation and playfulness and a sense of embodiment (a body/mind connection). One can cultivate this through present-focused techniques like yoga or meditation or introducing sex games that both partners would find fun and novel.

There are extensive other sexual difficulties that those with ADHD deal with aside from a lack of focus during partnered sexual activity: Medical News Today found that another desire issue was found in folks with ADHD; hyposexuality—that is, a level of interest or involvement in sexual activity lower than the norm, which is sometimes symptomatic of ADHD and sometimes an effect of medications used to treat ADHD symptoms; a healthy sex drive yet a struggle to reach orgasm despite prolonged stimulation, which is often due to boredom, trouble with focus, or an influx of other feelings; hypersensitivity—that is, a sense of discomfort in response to tactile stimulus, such as painful sensations in response to genital stimulation. It’s important to find out what kinds of touch a partner with ADHD finds pleasurable when working with a couple who have avoided sexual connection due to this issue.

ADHD can cause a person to thrive on excitement and to be fulfilled by an ever-changing landscape. This restlessness, only satiated by new phenomena, grows exponentially and often involves sexual fantasies as well for men. According to a 2019 study by Bothe et al, ADHD symptoms might be a critical driver in the severity of hypersexuality or out of control sexual behavior for folks of both sexes, whereas ADHD symptoms might only be significant with problematic porn use solely among men. The literature review by Soldati et al noted that people with ADHD have demonstrated an extensive use of online pornography, which, in such excess, leads to a difficulty in the formation of secure attachments. However, the studies reviewed bySoldati et al were not fully conclusive that people with ADHD were more likely to struggle with out of control sexual behavior or CSBD (Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder).  In a study by Bejlenga et al,  the  most common sexual disorders among men who had ADHD vs. men who didn’t have ADHD were orgasmic problems (10-14% vs 3%), premature ejaculation (PE) (13-18% vs 10%), sexual aversion (12-13% vs 1%), and negative emotions during/after sex (10%, no data in the control group), whereas women reported sexual excitement problems (8-26% vs 3%), orgasmic problems (22-23% vs 10%), and sexual aversion (15% vs 4%). There were no significant differences in the results between patients treated with ADHD medication and patients without psychostimulant treatment. 

It is critical for those folks seeking help for these sexual problems to be sure their therapist has the experience to conduct a thorough biopsychosocial assessment to explore the possibility of an ADHD/ADD diagnosis. A therapist needs to address the ADHD/ADD diagnosis, the consequences of this disorder on the couple’s relationship over time and the sexual disorders to which it has contributed. I will add some Sex Esteem tips for couples in a future blog.

This is What Black Women’s Sexual Pleasure Looks Like in America

What if the gender, racial identity with which you identify and the positive sexual pleasure you had was repeatedly ignored by sexuality scientists? What if the most common sexuality topics researched about your community with whom you identify were exclusively focused on (unplanned) pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?  Would you feel the racist stereotypes associated with your racial and gender identity hopelessly stuck in American society? In celebration of National Women’s History Month (and International Women’s Day), I wanted to center this month’s blog on a much-needed discussion regarding what American Black women’s sexual pleasure in relationships really look like.

While we sex therapists see Black women in treatment discussing their dating, relationship and sexual issues, queer identity, and/or their issues that might come up in their interracial partnerships, there have been a dearth of studies exploring Black women’s erotic and sexual pleasure. 

Thankfully, there is a brand new study by Ashley Townes, et al. titled Partnered Sexual Behaviors, Pleasure, and Orgasms at Last Sexual Encounter: Findings from a U.S. Probability Sample of Black Women Ages 18 to 92 Years in The Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy . The study exclusively focuses on American Black women’s partnered sexual pleasure and orgasms in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy bringing us factual information about a group long excluded from academic research.  Dr. Townes is a Sexuality Researcher and Educator based in Atlanta.  I was fortunate enough to get some of my own questions answered by Dr. Townes which I’ve edited for the blog below.

In the study, Townes and her colleagues found that over 74% of Black women respondents indicated that their most recent sexual experience was with a male friend, significant other or spouse. In other words, these partners were known to the women and many were intimate partners. According to several researchers and authors including Patricia Hill Collins, Black American women continue to be racially profiled as promiscuous, hyper-sexual, sexually free, and as having “animalistic” sexuality. The study emphasizes the ways in which Black women have been oppressed and abused through the frame of their sexuality. These racist stereotypes are part of a longstanding litany of names attributed to Black women including: 

“Mammy, Aunt Jemima, Auntee, Jezebel, Sapphire, Sister Savior, Diva, and Freak” implying a wanton sexual desire to be assaulted have continued to be projected on women since the original period of slavery in America. 

SC: Beyond the sexualized racist stereotypes listed in the study, what are further stereotypes that Black women have to contend with in modern day media, dating apps, and relationship studies? 

AT: The “strong Black woman” stereotype creates an unrealistic expectation of strength for Black girls and women in all areas of their lives. This idea that Black women are not allowed to be vulnerable, weak, in pain, or deal with physical or mental illness actually can lead to greater physical and mental illness; it’s as if Black women are not allowed to express their imperfections.

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Many of our BIPOC clients describe this same feeling when they talk about letting their partners down when they’re going through a hard time or experiencing loss of desire due to stress and fatigue.  They at times even express concern for their therapist when they have to miss a session due to extra work they’re doing in hopes of getting a promotion at work. They  worry more about what the loss of the session income will mean for their therapist rather than reflecting on what the impact of wanting or needing to over-deliver at work is on their own mental and physical health. 

I also noted that over 92% of the women in Townes’ study identified as heterosexual.  While the study mentioned that most Black heterosexual women choose Black men as partners, the heterosexual Black women we see clinically in the practice are frequently in relationships with men that identify as white and brown. I wonder if perhaps this is due to the fact that more than 50% of Townes’ respondents were from the south and the practice is located in the Northeast.  The interracial couples who come in to see me or my associates for help frequently bring divergent lenses when it comes to beliefs, values and rituals related to their sexuality desires and practices.  Frequently, these gaps in core values can lead to a misalignment and conflict in the bedroom. What a specific desire or sexual behavior one partner enjoys may be loaded with negative meaning for their partner due to the way they were raised.  They may also feel shame about letting their partner down if they’re experiencing penetrative pelvic or vaginal pain.  

What was also notable about these latest findings is the fact that most of the women had their most recent sexual experiences with a man they knew, were dating or who was a longstanding partner or spouse. 

SC: What do you make of that finding that most of the partnered sexual relationships were with a male partner that the woman knew vs. someone they had just met?

 AT:  For this finding, I think it is important to highlight the idea of “hookup culture.” There has been a thought or belief for decades that Black women are promiscuous and that young people, especially, are engaged in hooking up or sexual exploration with many sexual partners. Less than 2% of the Black women in this study had partnered experiences with men they had just met. I think this finding dispels the idea that Black women engage in “riskier” sexual behaviors (i.e., one-nighters).

Sex therapists see a skewed population in terms of the fact that folks coming in for treatment are looking to get therapy for presenting issues like:  past trauma, neglect, painful penetration, lack of desire, anorgasmia, recent breakup or discovery of a partner’s breaking of a monogamous agreement. Although our therapists will always ask about sexual experiences that have included boundary crossings, abuse and assault, sometimes our clients will wait until they are several sessions into treatment before revealing past sexual trauma.  

As a white cis-gender female therapist I am conscious of the fact that a Black female-identified client may open up more cautiously in a cross-racial therapeutic relationship than they would with a BIPOC female therapist in the CLS practice.  What was surprising to me in this study was the fact that very few Black women reported “unwanted” sex and those that did were in a specific age group.  Differently than in a therapy practice where clients at times request to see a particular therapist, study participants are not aware of the researchers’ racial identities. I was curious to learn more.  

 

SC: What reflections do you have on the responses from respondents that the most recent sexual encounters they had were wanted in all but the 25-29 year old cohort of Black women studied? 

AT: Overall, less than 1% of Black women reported an unwanted sexual experience and this happened to be reported by women in the 25-29 year old age cohort. We report that a limitation of this study is that women who were invited to participate in the survey and were less comfortable with discussing sexual health may not have consented to participate or may have not answered certain questions, and therefore, contributes to limited information or nonresponse bias. As researchers, we do our best to ensure privacy and explain the nature of the study, yet some individuals may remain uncomfortable completing a sexuality questionnaire.

Unwanted sex may include sexual harassment, coerced sex, sexual assault and sexual abuse. These traumatic experiences are usually kept as secrets especially if they occurred at a younger age. I often encourage all the therapists I supervise to engage their clients in discussions around boundary crossings from time to time in treatment to ensure that the client is assured that the therapist can hear these stories if they aren’t readily shared in the initial sexual history taking. 

A big taboo subject for many Black women to discuss openly is their participation in Bondage & Discipline/Dominance & Submission/Sadism & Masochism sexual experiences.  Having been cast in the aforementioned stereotypes in America, sex that from the outside looks like a recreation of historical chattel slavery scenes might make a Black female kinkster feel extremely anxious about revealing to a therapist anything about their being erotically turned on by these experiences.   As a white ally and kink-aware Certified Sex Therapist, I collaborate with clients who identify as kinky on ways to navigate their desires and address the challenges they feel when they are dating or in relationships. I’m highly aware that BDSM can be judged harshly by those who are not part of the scene. I was curious about the fact that the Black women’s sexual behaviors studied here were by and large on a vanilla menu.  There are paltry few studies researching sexual practices of Black women in kink and BDSM play. 

SC: Are there reasons you chose not to include more kinky sexual behaviors into this study? 

AT: The 2018 National Study of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB) was carefully planned and included a range of aspects about sexual/response functions, particularly, pleasure, desire, orgasm, and painful intercourse. There are other results from this nationally representative study exploring kink and BDSM activities experienced by Black women. Here are the results from that other wave of research: 

  • Public sex 37% 
  • role-playing 20% 
  • spanking/being spanking 36% 
  • Using anal sex toys >17% 
  • playful whipping 17% 
  • tying up/being tied up 9% 
  • having engaged in threesomes 8% 
  • Lifetime group sex, attending sex parties, sucking/licking a partner’s toes, and going to BDSM parties were uncommon each <8% 

While a minority of Black women in this last study are involved in various types of kink-type sex play, it is an area only recently explored more publicly by artists like: Jeremy O Harris’ whose play Slave Play took a deep dive into Antebellum power exchange and interracial relationships and the NY Times profile of Sexuality Educator and writer Mollena Williams-Haas who is a Black 24/7 slave and muse to her white husband composer Georg Friedrich Haas.  True erotic pleasure is a deeply personal, creative, transformative and at times revolutionary and healing act.  It’s an honor to see Black women’s authentic sexual pleasure given the time, respect and nuanced exploration by academics in the world of sex research. 

 

Citations: 

Townes A, Thorpe, S, Parmer T, Wright,B, & Herbenick, D. (2021): Partnered Sexual Behaviors, Pleasure, and Orgasms at Last Sexual Encounter: Findings from a U.S. Probability Sample of Black Women Ages 18 to 92 Years, Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, DOI: 10.1080/0092623X.2021.1878315 

Townes A, Fu TC, Herbenick D, and Dodge B. (2018, June 14-17). Sexual diversity among black and Hispanic women: Results from a nationally representative study. [Conference presentation]. American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists 2018 Annual Conference, Denver, CO. 

Rosenthal, L., & Lobel, M. (2016). Stereotypes of Black American Women Related to Sexuality and Motherhood. Psychology of women quarterly, 40(3), 414–427. https://doi.org/10.1177/0361684315627459

Woodard JB, Mastin T.( 2005)  Black Womanhood: Essence and its Treatment of Stereotypical Images of Black Women. Journal of Black Studies.;36(2):264-281. doi:10.1177/0021934704273152

https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/consentsowhite-on-the-erotics-of-slave-play-in-slave-play/ 

 

Will a New Year’s Resolution to Have More Sex Lead to More Happiness?

Many couples seeking to reinforce their relationships may resolve to have more sex in the new year. However, does more sex really make partners happier? Is this belief held up equally among single, gender-fluid, gay, lesbian, and polyamorous folks?

Whose happiness matters during sex?

The assumption behind the oft-made resolution to have more intimate/erotic times with one’s partner assumes that upping sex will make a relationship stronger and bring about more happiness between two partners. While some studies do show a correlation between partners’ sexual habits and their happiness, the nature of these studies’ participants reveals an intrinsic bias. There is bias about what is a working definition of sex for each partner, who experiences pleasure in couples, and whether by “couple” they mean heterosexual couples. Then, the bias continues: which partner’s opinions on pleasure are more readily available through research studies in general?

A November 2015 study from the Social Psychology and Personality Science titled “Sexual Frequency Predicts Greater Well-Being, But More is Not Always Better” points to the idea that more sex for heterosexual married couples tends to lead to more happiness for both people in the relationship. According to a press release from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, the subjects “are most representative of married heterosexual couples or those in established relationships.” But does this type of claim take into account the different meanings of happiness for all genders?

IgorVetushko/DepositPhotos

In sex therapy, the experience of “happiness” can also have intersectionally different meanings. For a Black woman who may feel less-empowered in her relationship with a Latinx man, happiness may mean that she focuses more on her partner’s pleasure and less on her own, with the thought that this will protect their relationship from a non-consensual hookup or affair. However can she be keyed into her own sexual pleasure within a sexual encounter?  For an Indian-American first generation man, penetrative sex in which both he and his wife, who is white & third generation, climax, may have him report feeling “happy”  since they both have orgasmed, but may have a meaning that has more to do with his feel masterful and turned on because he’s proven himself “worthy” of her. Whereas his wife senses that he’s not fully present to his own experience and this leaves her feeling like the sex they’re having is more performative.  Perhaps she feels like her orgasm is for him and less about what kind of sex she would rather be having.

Sexual Quality over Sexual Quantity

For those in consensually monogamous  heterosexual relationships, more sex might be a good resolution; but some studies bring in the variable of affection to see if it changes the happiness quotient. In a  March 2017 study published by Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, researchers asked sixty couples to take notes on their phones about their sexual and non-sexual activities, and when they individually experienced affection.

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The study found that sex created feelings of affection not just immediately after the sexual act, but hours later. This suggests that sex can be a means to an affectionate end. A clear takeaway from this study is the idea that sex with affection between sexually-exclusive consensually monogamous couples can be the glue that makes that particular type of relationship stronger.

This may seem like an obvious result. However, what clients report in the therapeutic space is that while some partners want more frequent sexual connection, the quality of the sexual experience helps to make them feel either closer to or more distant from their partner.

In fact, in another study researchers explored the hypothesis that more sex would enhance a couples happiness. They asked one group of heterosexual couples to double the amount of weekly intercourse sessions they normally would have. The findings surprisingly showed that partner did not report feeling happier. I have clinically found through clients’ reports in sex therapy treatment that if partners create more time and relaxation around a sex date they are more likely to feel more intimate. Bringing more intention to their sexual and emotional connection and staying embodied is more likely to be increase pleasure on all body/mind/spirit levels.

Communication and Sex Within the LGBTQ+ Community

There  are many assumptions in the aforementioned March 2017 study published by Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin  to the finding of sex as a reinforcer for a happy relationship between a committed couple: one needs to examine the meaning of  the terms: “committed,” “happiness,” and “couple.” Largely, these terms belong to the world of consensually monogamous, sexually exclusive, heterosexual relationships. One needs to keep in mind that the sixty couples who were subjects were most likely to be married, heterosexual couples, and not representative of some parts of the population who don’t identify with one or all of these variables.

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As a sex therapist who works with many types of couples, including LGBTQ+, consensually non-monogamous, kink-identified, in addition to sexually-exclusive heterosexual couples, I have found that the bonding or glue comes when there are two (or more) partners fully present in a sexual experience. When one partner is not fully present or is going through the motions, the experience of bonding may not be mutually enhancing.

When one partner is continually giving pleasure to another partner, they may not experience feeling as bonded. In addition, if one partner  feels it is their duty or responsibility to have penetrative sex, it may actually alienate that partner from their own embodied pleasure. This is why I give many mindfulness-based exercises to clients so that they can check in with themselves to see whether they are turning themselves off, avoiding feeling excited or feeling distracted from the sensations and experience. These sexual encounters  don’t always result in happier or more bonded couples.

The queer community might have higher rates of orgasm

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2017 study from Archives of Sexual Behavior published by the NIH found that in heterosexual relationships, heterosexual men were most likely to say they usually-always orgasmed when sexually intimate (95%), while the women they were sleeping with reported the lowest likelihood, at 66%. The queer community had the higher reporting of orgasm, on average: gay men (89%), bisexual men (88%), lesbian women (86%), and bisexual women (66%).

In the clinical setting, LGBTQ+ clients tend to have a wider menu of sexual activities than heterosexually-identified clients. While it is not a requirement that all partners need to orgasm every time they have a sexual encounter, it is important that partners check in with one another on whether they’re satiated.  It is part of my Sex Esteem®️ model as a sex therapist and coach to help clients expand their sexual menu to include many erotic and sexual experiences. Orgasms are an important menu item for all genders.

Another step in the Sex Esteem®️ model allows for each partner to communicate the array of options they would be open to explore with a partner, whether they are a longtime sexually exclusive partner, a longtime consensually non-monogamous partner, or a person they are dating or hooking up with.

For those seeking to make a New Year’s resolution for a current romantic relationship, be aware that the resolution to “have more sex” is riddled with preconceptions about happiness, sex, orientation, relationship status and identity. It would do one well to do a deep dive into how you feel about each of these topics’ meanings for yourself personally before diving under the covers with one’s longtime bae or a new partner. This type of inquiry and practice would be what I call a New Year’s Sexolution and would boost your Sex Esteem®️ intelligence.

Watching The Crown’s Portrayal of Bulimia as a Sex Therapist

Princess Diana’s Bulimia Disorder

The Crown‘s latest season shows Princess Diana’s longtime cycle of Bulimia, an eating disorder involving binging on food then vomiting it up soon afterwards. The depiction of Diana’s patterned rituals is quite graphic in its detail.  In this period of social distancing, increased loneliness and upcoming meal-based holiday season, here are some psychological concepts  audiences can learn from the Netflix show.

After eating emotionally during a hearty holiday meal, it is all too easy for a person suffering from disordered eating and eating disorders to engage in a litany of self-criticism and potentially binging. The intensely negative self-talk often leads to internal negotiations around forms of restriction. Inevitably, the unforgiving rules imposed on oneself in moments of harsh guilt will reach a tipping point. At that moment, the person’s shame and rebellion lead to an overthrow of the restrictive policies leading to new overeating or binging. This is the cycle of eating disorders and disordered eating.

We see extreme cycles of Bulimia in the latest season of Netflix’s The Crown. The introduction of Lady Diana to the royal family was presented as a fairy tale romance in the press. Her public image, however, was somewhat a foil to her private life. In the television drama, we see Princess Diana in a secretive isolating cycle, experiencing years of intermittent bulimia. Starved of physical touch, kindness, sympathy, and sexual intimacy from Prince Charles, Diana sought control, expressing hurt, anger, loneliness  and possibly vengeance by binging on royal delicacies and then making herself throw up afterwards.

The Connection between Infidelity, Betrayal and Eating Disorders

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Eating disorders (like Bulimia and Anorexia) and disordered eating patterns are interpersonal as well as intra-personal disorders, meaning that they are triggered by feelings of betrayal or abandonment by others then turned inward as hatred or humiliation of oneself. What Diana experienced was an extreme sense of  isolation almost immediately after she first became engaged to Prince Charles. Soon after the engagement announcement was made public, she became aware that Prince Charles was still romantically involved with Camilla Parker-Bowles. In Diana, In Her Own Words, a documentary also on Netflix featuring secret recordings of Diana, she states that: “The bulimia started the week after we got engaged.”

After discovering that the whole engagement and courtship was totally fake and that the marriage was solely “a call to duty” and nothing more, Princess Diana experienced infidelity’s pang of betrayal as a deeply interpersonal wound. Turning Charles’ rejection against herself, she tried to be more of what she thought her husband wanted, hoping to win him back. As a sex therapist working with couples after the discovery of infidelity or an affair, the betrayed partner frequently takes out feelings like self-blame and anger at their partner out on their own bodies.  At times they begin behaviors of binging, purging or restrictive diets to lose weight in an effort to compete with their partner’s lover or a paid sex worker, who they assume are thinner than they are.

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In a BBC1 Panorama Radio Interview Diana gave in 1995, she described how after spending her days fulfilling her royal duties visiting charities which involved comforting others, she was left feeling emotionally depleted and rejected by Charles who was giving his emotional and sexual attention to Parker-Bowles.

“I’d come home feeling pretty empty, because my engagements at that time would be to do with people dying, people very sick, people’s marriage problems, and I’d come home and it would be very difficult to know how to comfort myself having been comforting lots of other people, so it would be a regular pattern to jump into the fridge.”

Eating Disorders in the Media

 

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While in reality, Diana’s eating disorder thrived in secrecy and shame for years, The Crown’s decision to portray bulimia in graphic scenes could be seen as glamorizing the disorder. Mary Anne Cohen LCSW, author of French Toast for Breakfast, says: “[Depictions of eating disorders in the media] can be a tremendous relief and, hopefully, become the first step to make the decision to get help and share one’s burden.”

Generally, eating disorders are treated by therapists who are specialists through individual and group therapy with a focus on healing a client’s attachment style, learning regulation skills, and mindfulness techniques while creating new habits.

Attachment Styles and Eating Disorder Treatment

Secure attachment to caretakers extends to one’s secure attachment to comfort in eating and feeling comfortable in one’s own skin. Insecure attachments, on the other hand, come from early unmet developmental needs. Diana revealed through her secret tapes In Diana in Her Own Words that she had been treated like “the virgin, the sacrificial lamb” by Prince Charles, the royal family and her own family.  “Isolation with pastry needs to be replaced by intimacy with people,” writes Cohen.

A crucial element of eating disorder treatment involves helping a client learn how to express their emotional needs directly to people they can rely on and to cognitively shift from a diet mindset to an anti-diet mindset. An anti-diet mindset is precisely what eating disorder specialist Alexis Conason Ph.D. recommends for those struggling with this punishing cycle.

A New Year’s Resolution Worth Trying: The Anti-Diet Mindset

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Dr. Conason suggests a sustainable and fundamental shift in mindset. “You haven’t failed your diet,” writes Dr. Conason, “Your diet has failed you.”

An anti-diet mindset is an agreement to eat in a way that honors your body’s needs, connecting to one’s body in a nurturing and peaceful way rather than a belittling, abusive one. Repairing this relationship with your own body is a way to repair the insecure attachment of childhood and the as outcome of infidelity.

People have traditionally created New Year’s resolutions to begin a diet after weeks of emotional holiday (Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa) eating. However, given that 2020 saw an avalanche of COVID-19 weight-gain memes, with people feeling so guilty about their added pounds, we can logically expect  the 2021 New Year’s diet self-recriminations to be even more rigid and punishing.

Many times people who are dieting may feel too weak or less desirous of sexual intimacy. Whether they are waiting to show their body to a partner when their body is at the “perfect” size, or too ashamed to have their partner touch them for fear they will feel a part that has too much fat , many people with eating disorders deprive themselves of sexual pleasure.

Part of their healing is to understand that all emotions are human, including the desire for sexual intimacy and comfort. Helping them to turn toward a person instead of food or dieting to alleviate hurt and express anger is a critical step in their recovery.

The Trifecta: Sexuality, Eating Disorders and Body Dysmorphia

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Sexual disorders, Bulimia, Anorexia and Body Dysmorphia are interrelated issues. Researchers in an NCBI study “Sexual Functioning in Women with Eating Disorders” found that more women with eating disorders had:

  • loss of libido
  • prevalence of sexual anxiety, tension, frequent changes and higher frequency of detached relationships
  • relationships without intercourse and fewer with intercourse
  • avoided sexual relationships

In Diana: Her True Story – In Her Own Words, Andrew Morton quotes the Princess of Wales saying: “My husband [Prince Charles] put his hand on my waistline and said: ‘Oh, a bit chubby here, aren’t we?’ and that triggered off something in me.”

Some of our CLS clients verbally express body disgust for their own bodies in session to their therapist in addition to directly telling their partner their aversions. Most often their partner still feels quite attracted to them, continually trying to reassure them of their desire for them,  yet feeling helpless to have their compliments authentically received. If a comment about one’s weight is made unwittingly by a partner, the partner with the eating disorder catastrophizes and thinks their entire body is revolting.

Another important fact to consider is that Body Dysmorphia (BDD a persistent and intrusive preoccupation with an imagined or slight defect in one’s appearance) is not exclusively a women’s disease. In one American survey, for example, found that an estimated 2.2% for men and 2.5% of women suffered from Body Dysmorphia. Whether the focus is on weight, the thinness of hair or the longing for more muscles, men can be as secretive about their body shame and disordered eating as women. BDD interferes with male sexual desire and connection in similar ways as other eating disorders.

How to Approach the 2020 COVID Holiday Season as an Anti-Dieter

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Understanding the larger context of a meal is the first step to enjoying the holidays as an anti-dieter. With the additional stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic this year, I encourage more self-compassion and present-moment mindfulness. Make sure you have a buddy who you can call on when feeling triggered to binge, purge or withhold food. Give yourself permission to take a walk to ground yourself if feeling overwhelmed.

Coach yourself to receive sexual pleasure. Erotic intimacy should be considered a place to play and feel aroused rather than a space in which one needs to perform or pose. High Sex EsteemⓇ means that one accepts the notion that erotic behavior is a pleasurable, connecting place we go to experience comfort, fun, stress relief and passion, all basic human needs. Given that most Americans won’t be travelling long distances to gather with large groups of relatives this holiday season, use the extra time to have some mindful, sensual touching sessions with a partner who you can rely on, whether that be someone else or yourself.

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, a free resource in the U.S. is The National Eating Disorders Association. They offer extra chat hours over the holidays: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/.

Why Are Women Still Staying Silent About Their Sexual Pain?

When it comes to women talking about sexual pain, omission is a form of communication. 

 

Vulvodynia = Women’s sexual pain.

 

Our society still grapples with the experience of female sexual pain. Specifically, Vulvodynia (vulvar pain) affects some 16 percent of women. “Vulvodynia is chronic vulvar pain without an identifiable cause,” reads a statement from the National Vulvodynia Association (NVA), a non-profit created in 1994 to help improve the health and quality of life of women suffering from sexual pain. “The location, constancy, and severity of the pain vary among sufferers. Some women experience pain in only one area of the vulva, while others experience pain in multiple areas.”  While some sexual pain may be located on the vulva or in the vestibule (the vaginal opening), some women may feel pain internally as well. Unfortunately, millions of women experiencing pain during sex are being misdiagnosed.  And so, millions suffer in silence.

Dyspareunia is an older term to describe all types of female painful sex. The most recent diagnosis of genito pelvic-penetration pain disorder (GPPPD) is the clinical diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Version 5. It is the name of the conditions formally known as vaginismus and dyspareunia. Vaginismus results from involuntary contraction of the vaginal musculature. Primary vaginismus occurs in women who have never been able to have penetrative intercourse. Women with secondary vaginismus were previously able to have penetrative intercourse but are no longer able to do so.

 

How Women’s Sexual Pain Shows up in the Medical Realm

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Epidemiological studies indicate that only 60% of women with vulvovaginal pain seek medical help and among those, 40% never receive a diagnosis. The lack of support from the health care system may contribute to feelings of invalidation and stigmatization often experienced by women with Vulvodynia. When it comes to pain specific to female anatomy, like the vulva, diagnoses frequently veer off-course. Doctors suspect menopause, PMS, depression, or anxiety. Yet surprisingly, many of the women sex therapists see are actually younger than 40 and nowhere near peri-menopause or menopause.

This gap in a detailed assessment process leaves a woman with the wrong diagnoses and still in pain, with the additional psychological pain and loneliness of being misunderstood. Women presenting with genital pain frequently experience rejection from their biopsychosocial environment. This contributes to a belief that silence is better than being misunderstood and embarrassed.

“There’s a huge problem,” Dr. Elizabeth G. Stewart, M.D., told attendees at a session on vulvovaginal disorders at Internal Medicine 2011. “There’s virtually no vulvovaginal training for clinicians.” Due to the minimal training doctors receive about women’s sexual health in medical schools, doctors may feel stymied when their female patients report having genital pain. Stewart also added that “clinicians also tend to rely on patients’ self-diagnosis and manage their problems by phone, or don’t do a physical exam before treating, which leads to incorrect therapies.”

What might cause Vulvodynia?

In a recorded webinar presented by Center for Love and Sex (CLS) created for professionals with my colleague gynecologist Dr. Chris Creatura titled “How to Help Women with Sexual Pain and Low Desire,” Creatura let therapists and gynecologists know that while examining a woman with vulvovaginal symptoms, a doctor must consider many differential diagnoses. Although we still don’t know exactly what causes all Vulvodynia symptoms, she explained that some contributing factors include:

  • An allergy
  • Atrophy
  • A drug reaction
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Infection
  • Low estrogen
  • A dermatological source
  • Disease elsewhere in the body
  • A drug
  • Cancer or a precancerous condition
  • A combination of these factors

 

How Women’s Sexual Pain Affects Their Partners and Relationships

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Many women often keep the reality of the level of sexual pain or discomfort from their partners (whether they are new partners or longtime partners or spouses). Omission in the realms of sexuality and intimacy is a mechanism women resort to in order to feel more accepted by a partner and society out of fear of rejection, shame, and exclusion. Recent research cited in Michael Castlemen’s recent post also illustrates that it is a reaction to a patriarchal society that privileges men’s sexual pleasure over women’s desire and pleasure. Women reported that the reason they don’t tell their partners about their pain is because they felt “they should subordinate their erotic pleasure to their men’s.”

In fact, studies show that male partners of women who experience sexual pain are also deeply affected by their own shame when they are aware of the pain. In a recent study published in the Journal of Pain researching women with Vulvodynia and their partners, women experienced greater pain when they also reported pain-related shame, while their partners experienced distress when they felt shame related to the pain they were causing their partner through sexual activity. Furthermore, on days they had sexual activity both partners reported greater levels of sexual distress. The authors of the study state: “Qualitative studies have reported that many of them feel inadequate, are apprehensive to speak about their pain, and fear this condition spells the end of their romantic relationship.”

 

How Can Sex Therapists Help Women and Their Male Partners

As a systemic sex therapist, I consider the reach and power of a woman’s genital pain, the impact on her partner, and their relationship. It is critical for a sex therapist to first validate and empathize with the woman’s pain, since most women feel like a complainer or at times even like a hypochondriac. To uncover the source, experience, and history of the pain, the sex therapist should conduct a thorough sexual status and history assessment. (The Center for Love and Sex offers two recorded webinars on these interventions for medical professionals including therapists, sex therapists, pelvic floor physical therapists and doctors.) But then they also need to conduct assessments of her partner.

Frequently, for women in committed sexual relationships (in the cases I provide here, the partner is male), the vulvar pain also has an effect on a man’s sexual functioning. Male partners, feeling guilty for causing pain in their partner during penetrative vaginal sex, may experience erectile dysfunction, uncontrolled ejaculation, or low desire. It is important for women to seek help not only on their own but with their partner as well.

The Plan

The research cited above provides a strong argument for therapists to work with both partners in couples systemic sex therapy. Within this type of couples sex therapy, it’s critical for sex therapists to:

  1. Provide sex education about Vulvodynia to both partners so they understand that this is a medical condition and no one’s fault.
  2. Refer the woman suffering from pain to a well-trained sexual health medical professional able to diagnose and treat Vulvodynia and GPPPD.
  3. Explain how the disorder impacts the entire couples’ system.
  4. Encourage the couple to use the therapy space to address both partners’ feelings of shame, anxiety, and sense of brokenness. Give them hope that these conditions can be treated, and that their reactions are understandable.
  5. While treatment for Vulvodynia is ongoing, outline a treatment plan to work on the pain treatment, their couple communication, and sexual alternatives.
  6. Teach them mindfulness techniques in order for them to become more relaxed and embodied and focused on giving and receiving sexual pleasure. There is a whole body of research and a recent book written by Lori Brotto showing the benefits of MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) for women suffering with sexual pain.
  7. Advocate and support women as they work with allied health care professionals.

 

Creating a Holistic Systems-Oriented Medical Team to Help a Woman and the Couple

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In the second of CLS’s webinars on sexual pain co-presented with Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist Amy Stein titled: (“The Collaborative Clinical Care Model Between Therapists and Pelvic Floor Physical Therapists”), a case example showed a client (all identifying information was removed) experiencing severe genital pain who described feeling like a freak amongst her sexually active college peers. Another woman described a breakup with a boyfriend, suspecting the cause to be her pain during sex and the consequent lack of sex. In another example, a high-achieving professional woman worried she would lose her supportive fiancé once he started business school. In almost all cases, these women felt extremely isolated.

Therefore, silence about pain, shame, and distress creates a vicious cycle of communication and intimacy breakdowns. Excellent communication skills and having a team may ameliorate and amend communications. The system around a woman in pain–her gynecologist, therapist, physical therapist, sex therapist, and her partner(s)–must all work holistically to treat Vulvodynia and sexual pain. Sex therapists can create and coordinate care among all these providers. They can encourage women to speak authentically about the sexual pain to their sex therapist, their medical providers, and their partner.

 

References

Kearney-Strouse, J. (2011, June 1). Vulvovaginal disorders common but commonly misdiagnosed. ACP Internist.

Millions Of Women With This Condition Are Being Misdiagnosed: Here’s What To Know About Vulvodynia. (2018, March 14). National Coalition for Sexual Health.

Paquet, M., Rosen, N., Steben, M., & Bergeron, S. (2019, April 1). (174) Let’s Talk about it: Daily Associations between Shame and Pain and Sexual Distress in Couples Coping with Vulvodynia. The Journal of Pain. Brotto, L. (2018) Better Sex Through Mindfulness: How Women Can Cultivate Desire, Greystone Books: Vancouver

Vulvodynia Treatments. (2020). The National Vulvodynia Association.

What is Vulvodynia? (2020). The National Vulvodynia Association.

 Brotto, L. (2018) Better Sex Through Mindfulness: How Women Can Cultivate Desire, Greystone Books: Vancouver

 

 

The Attraction to Sex Parties: My Interview with Emma Sayle, CEO of Killing Kittens

As a sex therapist I’m privy to a variety of different sexual lifestyles that our sex therapy and sex coaching clients practice.  I had been working on this blog about sex parties based on an interview I did with Killing Kittens founder Emma Sayle right before the COVID-19 self-quarantine began.  I followed up with Sayle via Skype in order to find out how the stay home order had affected KK’s community. I am including both the Pre-Covid-19 Live Interview and Part 2 Online Covid-19 Skype Interview on the topic of group sex historically and what’s occurred online now that the shelter in place requirement has extended to both sides of the pond.  

History around Sex Parties 

Interest in sex parties and/or orgies has been around since the times of the Greeks and Romans. However it’s a less-studied topic in modern sexuality research. Recently the anthropologist Kate Frank published a book on the topic titled: Plays Well in Groups: A Journey Through The World of Group Sex in which she explores the history and range of behaviors that people practice in modern day sex parties. Frank defines group sex as “erotic or sexual activity that implicates more than two people and consists of various possible configurations of participants and observers”. 

Research on Group Sex, Sex Parties and Threesomes

While the majority of Americans prefer engaging sexually in private, there are a percentage of folks who enjoy engaging sexually in a group setting (either on their own or with a primary partner). Colloquially participants refer to these events as play parties.  In a recent cross-sectional, Internet-based, U.S. nationally representative probability survey of 2,021 adults (975 men, 1,046 women), many more men reported having ever engaged in a threesome (17.8% vs. 10.3%) or group sex (11.5% vs. 6.3%) while there was less of a difference between men and women ever having gone to a sex party (6.3% vs. 5.2 %).

 Perhaps this is because coupled partners may attend a sex party more frequently as a pair than as individual partners. Some couples report that these types of group sex dates can be a their top erotic interest or another way they “spice up” their sex life. Sex parties are commonly referred to as play parties and partners are called play partners. I would include threesomes under the umbrella category of group sex because sometimes couples may go to a party to find a third partner with whom to “play” rather than looking exclusively to play with another couple. According to Pornhub’s 2019 Year in Review page, the threesome genre was within the top 15 search terms coming in at #13. 

 There are many more options for Americans these days to intentionally experiment with strangers at public or private play parties in which attendees are vetted beforehand. Some sex parties can be organized by friends at a private home where there are perhaps six or fewer degrees of separation between guests and vetting isn’t required. Whether attendees identify as being: Polyamorous, in the “lifestyle”, “swingers”(a term used more by boomers), consensually non-monogamous or as being “into playing”, there are a variety of fantasies or specific sexual acts and scripts partygoers explore at sex parties. While some sex parties are exclusively organized for gay men or straight couples, others offer folks who are bi-curious, sexually fluid or bisexual to explore the wide spectrum of sexual interests.

 In a 2009 non-randomized study researching swinging culture, Professor Edward M. Fernandes  found that about 50% of the women engaged in woman-to-woman play only while about 8% of the men reported engaging in man-to-man contact only.  According to an analysis done by researchers D’Lane Compton and Tristan Bridges on the results of the 2018 General Social Survey data, almost 6% of women responding to the survey identified as bisexual compared with 1.5% in 2008.  And the most recent data on the question of sexual fluidity hints at the fact that about 14 percent of women and about 10 percent of men express some degree of same-sex attraction although many of them may identify as mostly straight. According to sexuality researcher Lisa Diamond “ the largest group of individuals walking around with same sex attractions are individuals who you would never know had same-sex attractions. They identify as heterosexual. They think they’re mainly heterosexual, but they’re, like, hetero-flexible.” 

The Connection between Sexual Fluidity,  Female Sex Esteem®

and Sex Parties 

One businesswoman innately understood that women were more sexually fluid in their fantasy life and if given the right opportunity, would enact these desires if given the right context. Emma Sayle had her ear to the ground at the right time just as the television show Sex in The City began inspiring women to talk more openly about sexuality. From discussing these shows with her peers and listening to their more candid conversations, she gleaned the fact that women are more curious to explore sex with other women.  While the audience for Sex in the City was predominantly white, resourced urban women, the underlying theme of single women’s being independent and unashamed to casually date and have sex was catnip to Emma Sayle, CEO of Killing Kittens.  Emma recognized a wave of female sexual empowerment that the show helped to unleash. This desire for more sexual fluidity and empowerment are key ingredients to what I teach in Sex Esteem® workshops and panels so was eager to find out more about KK’s origins.

Killing Kittens is a UK-based sex party and online dating and discussion community that brought her parties stateside to NYC two years ago.  The parties have flourished and she maintains the same model she did originally, creating parties for heterosexual and lesbian couples and single women to explore their sexuality in female-empowered, elegant surroundings.

Killing Kittens Panel: The Date Debate

I got a chance to sit down with Emma for an intimate interview after she had invited me to be an expert on her Valentine’s panel, The Dating Debate in a hip downtown hotel in NYC in pre-Corona February (which seems like a long time ago now). In the interview she explains the feminist origins of her very successful sex party model.  Soon after the COVID-19 required all clubs, restaurants and gatherings to close down, I got back in touch with Emma virtually to create an addendum to this blog. This is an edited version of both interviews. Enjoy and as always, I invite your questions and reflections. 

 

S: Can you tell me how you came up with Killing Kittens in the first place?

E: It was founded in 2005 and it was a long time coming, it wasn’t a sudden thing it was I went to an all-girls boarding school for ten years whilst my parents lived in the middle east, I kind of had this unbalanced view of women and what we could do. At school I was taught I could do whatever I wanted to be and do whatever I wanted to do, then you’d go home and see sort of the women were second class citizens and how they were treated out in the middle east.  And I had friends and sort of grew up running around with them. And the fire got lit very early and kept being flamed. That fire in this sex life isn’t right and it’s unbalanced, it’s not fair kind of thing.

S: How did this belief affect you once you became more sexually active?

E: I’d be out and about at university in my early twenties and seeing that if girls had a one-night stand they were sluts and all the slut-shaming going on. But if boys had a one-night stand they were legends and high-fived and I’d hear guy friends of mine saying: ‘Oh I’ve met a really  nice girl but she’s not girlfriend material.’ and I’d be like: ‘Why isn’t she girlfriend material?’ ‘Because she’s slept with loads of men’….That’s how society was.

S:What was the turning point from witnessing the double standard into creating a response to it?

E: Sex and the City came out and suddenly women were talking about vibrators and having sex lives and it became okay to talk about at the same time I was doing PR for a big erotica exhibition in London.  And I again saw loads of wonderful amazing people and businesses but it was all run by men. It was all run by men claiming to be female friendly.

S: Tell me why you felt it wasn’t female friendly.

E: It was all the porn stuff ,  brightly lit with white lights. And the more I saw it and that world, it was very black and white for men. If they saw sex going on, they’d be turned on. Women were much grey…. We kind of operate across the spectrum and our brain is our biggest sex organ and we need to be turned on. It’s the touch and the feel and the smell and it’s the mood. I was watching this and there was a massive difference.Everything out there was very male and in your face. …it wasn’t turning me on.

S: It wasn’t serving you, you weren’t the customer they were targeting with this type of entertainment.

E: Nooo. There were two dildos in your face, and it was nothing subtle, and I thought that’s what’s missing. Female-friendly in the end is that subtlety.

S: So for people in America who may still know about the term Killing Kittens, can you tell them where the name came from? 

E: That was the lightbulb moment, I was at a wedding in Ibiza with a loose hedonistic crowd. And who were all very strong, sexual women who sort of  slept with each other. And no one had really been asleep for 3 days and someone phoned up the groom who hadn’t made the wedding and asked: Are you guys just sitting around killing kittens at the moment? So we had this discussion and thought about what killing kittens was.

It’s a very old cyber slang meme, that every time a female masturbates, God kills a kitten. Or anytime anyone masturbates, God kills a kitten.

That’s where the name came from.  

I was like, right that’s it. I like it, it’s crazy but it’s kind of about pleasuring yourself, that’s what it stands for. And I liked the two Ks. K is a very strong letter. I want to set up an offline, online community that is all about women exploring their sexuality in a safe space. And it’s all about them, and they make the rules without any fear of judgement. 

S: Talk about the rules. Tell us how you created a boundaried setup for people and
what the parties are like.

E: The rules are still the same and they’re the same at all the events. And the same across online.Men can’t approach women they have to wait for the women to make the first move. And not letting in single guys, it takes that testosterone factor out. And they’re the main rules. 

S: I like the fact that you flipped the erotic power.. I talk about the term I use, Erotic Triggers which are a combination of the 5 senses and add psychology and emotional intimacy.  I discuss power exchange with Sex Esteem workshop attendees and what you declared to women was that  you now have the power to make decisions about where you want to go, and how you want to set it up.  

E: Exactly.

You discussed that good friends distanced themselves from you when you began this business which helped to spur you on even further. Can you articulate what you think it was that they were distancing from? 

E: I think people are scared, the majority of people like a comfort zone, or the norm.  

 Follow Up Post COVID-19 Shelter at Home Interview


S: Has there been more or less activity on the KK platform since the advent of COVID-19? 

E: We have seen a 330% increase in user activity online and 425% more messages being sent.

S: How many new members have joined? 

E: There’s been an 18% increase in new member sign ups.

S: How do you explain the increase in folks signing up for KK when there are no longer any in-person events going on? 

E: KK from day 1 has always been about community and has always had a strong online community, we now have over 160k members and over 60% of revenue comes from the digital side of the business so the events with approx 1000 attendees a month globally out of 160K online members are actually just the tip of a much bigger iceberg. Our chatrooms have always been busy as well as the direct messaging so now people are in isolation they have turned to the online side of KK to be part of that community.

S: In our pre-Corona interview in NYC you mentioned that there was at least 50% or more business on the dating platform versus the in-person parties, are people using the dating platform not necessarily identifying as folks into sex parties? 

E: Yes, most of our members do not ever attend a KK party, they join the online platform for the dating, social community side of KK, to belong to an open minded, sex positive ,non- judgemental environment that has women at its core.

S: Has KK begun to offer virtual sex parites? 

E: Yes we are doing weekly zoom house parties, featuring KK performers, DJ playlists and up to 100 members, hosted by some of our community kittens. We are doing uk , Australia and NYC parties now along with girls-only virtual cliteratti events.

 S: How have you encouraged continued engagement of your members? 

E: We are doing weekly virtual house parties, weekly virtual workshops and weekly insta live chats where I speak to dating, relationship, sex experts from around the world, along with more educational blog posts too so theres a lot of virtual activity within kk going on!

 S: Are any people going on first time virtual dates ? 

E: Yes, there’s a lot of hanging out, Netflix film watching dates, virtual drinks dates and just a lot of chat going on. Old school dating of actually getting to know people and not having 4 drinks before jumping into bed with them on night 1!

 S: What changes can you envision for sex parties in general and for KK in particular
 once we all emerge from self-quarantine? 

E: I think our parties will not change we will just keep a lot of the virtual offerings as it is a good way to engage our whole community which we haven’t really done before rather than seeing it all by city. The virtual world brings together the global community regardless of location.

References for blog:

https://inequalitybyinteriordesign.wordpress.com/2019/04/12/2018-gss-update-on-the-u-s-lgb-population/ 

https://qz.com/1601527/the-rise-of-bisexuals-in-america-is-driven-by-women/

https://www.ttbook.org/interview/new-science-sexual-fluidity

 

 

 

6 Reasons You Fake Liking a Gift Are Mostly Why Women Fake Orgasms

In the classic scene in the film When Harry Met Sally the character Meg Ryan portrays performs the most audacious, guttural, delicious FAKE orgasm in the middle of New York’s famous Katz’s Deli. (If you have never seen it,  you HAVE TO, it’s hilarious). Sally does this to prove her point to Harry (played by Billy Crystal) that at one point or another, women have faked an orgasm with a male partner. Before this public fake orgasm, performance she attempts to explain to Harry that despite his arrogant confidence that all his past partners have orgasmed with him,  most men don’t realize when a woman has been satisfied nor do they bother to ask what she needs to climax . (Not every woman wants or needs to orgasm but it sure feels good to be asked).

RESEARCH ON FAKING ORGASMS

In a recent study authored by Debby Herbenick and others from Indiana University exploring why women have faked orgasms, it occurred to me that several of the reasons reported are pretty similar to the reasons people express for not telling a gift giver they’d prefer something else.  I’m not saying it’s exactly the same, but there are lessons here, humor me a bit.

With Thanksgiving behind us and Black Friday upon us, gifts will now be bought, wrapped, and eventually presented to those we love.

So I decided to focus this month’s blog on giving and receiving gifts AND giving and receiving arousal for orgasms; female orgasms in particular.

I know, you’re reading this, thinking: What is she talking about? Let me explain.

GIFT RECEIVING ETIQUETTE

When you receive a gift, the polite thing to do is of course thank the giver. You may unwrap the gift in front of the giver(s) and many other friends and family gathered for Christmas, Chanukah or Kwanzaa. And then you’re expected to express pleasure and delight at the sight of the gift, even if you’re not that pleased with the gift. Why?

Here are some common reasons:

  1. you don’t want to be ungrateful (We’ve been rightly taught that “it’s the thought that counts”)
  2. the person that gave you the gift is someone you really like so you don’t want to hurt their feelings
  3. you figure the person will figure out what you actually DO like over time
  4. being the center of attention is so uncomfortable anyway you usually want the whole unwrapping-a-gift-in-public experience to end as quickly as possible
  5. you want to make the giver feel good about themselves in the choice they made while shopping for you.
  6. insecurity prevents you from letting the giver know that while you’re thankful, you’d prefer something else and they didn’t offer you the opportunity to exchange or return it.
  7. having had had little experience in receiving gifts because due to a background of minimal resources and/or poverty where gifts couldn’t be afforded, you don’t know what the protocols are or that you are entitled to ask for what you’d like.
WHY DO WOMEN FAKE ORGASMS?

When a man makes an attempt to pleasure a female-identified partner,  the woman may have many of the same reactions when she doesn’t reach an orgasm. In Herbenick’s study, they researched how many women fake their orgasm, the reasons for doing so and women’s histories of not communicating about their sexual needs. They found a whopping 58.8% of women reporting having faked an orgasm with a partner in the past.

Some of the reasons they gave in this study are hauntingly similar:

  1. 57.1%, wanted their partner to feel successful
  2. 37.7% liked the person and didn’t want them to feel bad
  3. being “young and insecure”
  4. being “young and thought I was ‘suppose’ to,”
  5. they didn’t know what an orgasm was supposed to be like
  6. wanted sex to be over “so he would leave me alone,”

There were 4 more reasons women gave in this study that varied from the gift-receiving reasons described above which involve biological, psychological, coercive and/or traumatic reasons:

  • 6% wanted sex to end because they were tired
  • a partner “almost demanded them,”
  • difficulty having orgasm due to being an incest survivor
  • no longer felt in love with a partner.

There are those in my field that feel women shouldn’t experience their orgasm as being “given” to them. I do agree that women are responsible for their own advocacy and empowerment when seeking sexual pleasure. It’s this same argument that reminds women that remaining passive is not an option in their workplace if they want the wage gap to be eliminated.  As a reminder, when compared to every dollar a white non-Hispanic man earns: a white American woman earns 82 cents, a Black woman is paid 61 cents, a Native woman 58 cents, and a Latinx woman earns 53 cents.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WOMEN’S AND MEN’S ORGASM FREQUENCY

Returning to the subject of women’s pleasure,  a recent study of 3,000 single men and women in the US researching the frequency of orgasm during partner sex with a familiar partner, the authors found that 62.9% women reported orgasming while 85.1% of the men reported orgasming.This study proved what is now termed an “orgasm gap” in American women’s sexual pleasure. Based on the above research on women faking orgasms, and the clinical stories heard in our CLS therapy offices, there is an obvious need for sexually active humans to develop more Sex Esteem® in approaching their own pleasure.

SEX ESTEEM® TIPS FOR GIFT GIVING AND RECEIVING

I believe you can both conceive of receiving sexual stimulation and erotic seduction as you would receiving a gift while at the same time, expressing your empowerment. So with this BOTH/AND lens,  I created some curated Sex Esteem® mindful techniques to practice in this holiday season as you launch your shopping days this Black Friday and begin to purchase gifts. The tips also include the mindful acts of giving and receiving during Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanza.  These skills can be then expanded and practiced with your boo as you approach conversations about expanding your sexual relationship.  Here are my tips for the giver:

  1. Ask them if there’s something specific that would make them feel special
  2. think about what your partner might like by imagining what you’ve seen them wear, use or heard them talk about in past discussions.
  3. Ensure that you purchase a gift that offers a gift receipt so it’s easy to return
  4. If you live in a different city be sure that you shop at a national chain that has a location in their town or that makes returns easy if it’s an online purchase.
  5. When you give it to them let them know you really want them to enjoy the gift and to feel free to return or exchange it .
  6. Reassure them they shouldn’t feel worried about hurting your feelings by keeping it if they don’t truly like it.
  7. Let them know their pleasure is the most important aspect of your giving them a gift and you want them to feel excited by the gift.
  8. Tell them giving them a gift is really all about them, not you.
  9. If you know they’re shy about being in the center of a group, find a private space to give them their gift. If they’re one on one, they won’t feel “on the spot” and can more authentically express their feelings.

And here are my Sex Esteem® tips for the receiver:

  1. Thank the giver for giving you the gift and taking the initiative.
  2. Let them know that you recognize they put a lot of thought, effort and/or expense into the gift.
  3. Express how much you care or love them for wanting to give you pleasure this holiday season. Let them know how grateful you feel to have them in your life.
  4. Compliment them on how nice the gift is, but that you may not be able to use/wear it much. Thank them and let them know you’d prefer another color/size/style.
  5.  Let them know you know they are focused on your pleasure and ask them kindly if you showed them something you would enjoy more.

Happy Holidays, I wish you a mindful and pleasurable gift receiving and giving season!

11 Facts You May Not Know About Stonewall: Celebrating Stonewall 50

Much like women’s history, much of LGBTQ+ history has simply not been well-documented. This month we celebrate Stonewall 50, the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.  I thought it would be a great time to revisit some important facts about Stonewall – and what you may not know.

  1. The Stonewall Riot  wasn’t just one night.

Though documented historical accounts of the riots agree that the violent police raid of the Stonewall Inn broke out in the early morning hours of June 28th, 1969, the riots gained momentum, with the crowd growing into the thousands, drawing out the battle on and off across five more nights.

  1. The crowd wasn’t limited to just gays and lesbians.
Marsha P. Johnson one of the instrumental activists of the Stonewall Riots

While the Stonewall Riots are largely regarded as the start to the gay rights movement, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, who were instrumental catalysts in the uprising, were actually transgender women of color. Though there are many accounts of how the Stonewall Riots began, Johnson and Rivera were the first protesters to physically resist the police raid – in fact, Johnson is said to have thrown the first brick.

  1. Sex workers’ rights were also born out of Stonewall.

Though the issue of sex workers’ rights is still a relatively modern debate, sex work was actually a survival tactic for many civil rights activists at the time. A vast number of LGBTQ+ youth were living on the streets of Greenwich Village after being kicked out of their homes, and the majority of them, including Johnson and Rivera, turned to sex work in order to survive.

  1. The riots had nothing to do with the death of Judy Garland.

  A long-standing myth that the Stonewall Riots were sparked by the death (and funeral on Madison Avenue and 83rd Street) of Judy Garland has been debunked by many in the community, including Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, a reliable witness and protester who was in attendance for each of the six nights. While it is somewhat understandable that the death of an unmistakable gay icon like Judy Garland may have provoked enough outcry to bring about the violent riots, Stonewall was more so centered around trying to survive as an LGBTQ+ community in a contentious environment like New York City. 

  1. After 47 years, the Stonewall Inn and the LGBTQ+ community received its first national monument.

On June 24th, 2016, the first national monument in honor of the United States LGBTQ+ community was opened in Greenwich Village. President Barack Obama designated 7.7 acres along Christopher Street as an LGBTQ+ historic site, encompassing the Stonewall Inn, and the block bordering the Christopher Street Park, including the Park itself, where the 1992 Gay Liberation statue stands, consisting of four figures – two men and two women – positioned in natural, easy poses.

  1. At the time of the riots, homosexuality was actually illegal.

Though LGBTQ+ equality remains a human rights issue to this day, it wasn’t long ago that homosexual sex was considered illegal, punishable by law, in a majority of states. It was also classified as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association, found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders up until 1973. Some states are behind on legislation, even now – 13 states in the U.S., as of 2014, still have anal penetration listed as an illegal act of sodomy: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oklahoma.  On June 26th, 2003, the Supreme Court found the Texas Homosexual Conduct Law unconstitutional and established, for the first time, that LGBTQ+ citizens had just as many rights as heterosexual citizens. While the landmark Supreme Court case of Lawrence v. Texas ruled these laws unconstitutional, therefore rendering them impossible to be enforced, the aforementioned states still have not repealed their anti-sodomy laws.

  1. The Stonewall Inn was originally owned by the Mafia.

Given the hostility surrounding the gay community at the time, many popular gay bars and other establishments had their licenses suspended or revoked for “indecent conduct.” The New York Mafia saw a business opportunity in owning and operating establishments catering to the gay community. The Stonewall Inn was considered a sanctuary to many gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals in the community, and if individuals weren’t recognized or assumed to be gay through the peephole on the door, they would not be let in.

  1. Most community members in the crowds during the Stonewall Riots are no longer alive.

Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, now 71 years old, is among the very few still alive who participated in the riots. He explains that many of these rioters were gay or transgender youth living brutal lives on the streets, and if they did make it through the brutality of surviving in such marginalized conditions, they faced the AIDS crisis barely a decade later.

9. The Stonewall Inn had only one exit – the front door.

The Stonewall Inn, NYC

Since the Stonewall Inn was owned and operated by the Mafia, care was not taken to ensure health and fire codes. Before backup law enforcement arrived, rioters barricaded the police and other patrons in the bar as shouts turned into physical fights, including the throwing of bricks and other heavy objects at police officers.

10. The first gay pride march was a solemn, politically-driven demonstration in honor of the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.

Gay Pride March NYC

While this year’s Pride 50 NYC  Parade will be celebrated as a festive, rainbow-strewn party, it started out as a simple commemoration of the brutality of the Stonewall Riots. Originally called Christopher Street Liberation Day, June 28th, 1970 marked the first celebration of LGBTQ+ pride, which now celebrates equality, dignity, community, visibility, and joyous emancipation.

11. Homosexuality was considered a mental illness by the American Psychoanalytic Association.

The APA considered homosexuality as “phobia,” “sexual deviation,” “sociopathic personalitydisturbance,” and “neurosis.” Transgender folks were simply regarded as another version of patients who needed to be cured of their homosexuality.   This led to the diagnosis of homosexuality to be included as a “sexual deviation” in the 1968 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.  After Stonewall, activists disrupted the 1970 conference of the American Psychiatric Association demanding they de-pathologize homosexuality by removing it from the DSM. It wasn’t until this week on June 20th, 2019 that the President of American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA) made a formal apology for the many years of conversion therapy clinicians used to practice. At the annual conference,  Lee Jaffe M.D. stated: “Regrettably, much of our past understanding of homosexuality as an illness can be attributed to the American psychoanalytic establishment. While our efforts in advocating for sexual and gender diversity since are worthy of pride, it is long past time to recognize and apologize for our role in the discrimination and trauma caused by our profession and say ‘we are sorry.’”

 There’s now a new children’s book, for 5 to 8 year olds, titled: Stonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution by Rob Sanders, illustrated by Jamey Christoph.

For more information on Stonewall, check out these first-person narratives about the Stonewall riots, as well as poetry and creative art that came out of the oppression.