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Is Porn Addiction Really a Disorder? How Shame is Connected to Problematic Porn Use

What if the problem with frequent or problematic porn use was not the behavior itself, but how you, your partner, your religion and the culture around you judged it?  For the past twenty years since pornography became easily accessible online, there has been a tremendous amount of attention on the potential addictive qualities inherent in porn.  There has also been a huge growth in residential treatment facilities who offer sobriety and recovery programs for those that self-identify or whose partners identify them as “porn addicts.”

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There have been much discussion in sexuality research and clinical circles on possible new diagnoses and treatment models including: hypersexual disorder, Impulsive/Compulsive Sexual Disorder (ICSD), nonparaphilic compulsive sexual behavior disorder (CSBD) and Out-Of-Control Sexual Behavior (OCSB). As a sex therapist who sees clients who frequently come to treatment in crisis when their out of control sexual behaviors are threatening their marriages, relationships or jobs, I often hear clients self-diagnose as “porn addicts.” I recently began to run Out of Control Sexual Behavior Men’s Group in my practice. While there was not enough research to warrant a formal diagnosis in the most recent revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM5) in 2013, in 2019 the World Health Organization included the novel diagnosis of CSBD in the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases.  

 

Porn Use and Relationship Challenges

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In a recent study by Beáta Bőthe et Al. from a large sample (13,778 participants) researching hypersexuality and problematic porn use, the results indicated that both impulsivity and compulsivity were weakly related to problematic pornography use among men and women, respectively. There is however, growing research that tells us that the frequency of porn use may not be the most critical variable associated with a person’s feeling dysregulated or out of control. Self-Perceived Problematic Porn Use (SPPPU) is a term referring to an individual who self-identifies as addicted to porn because they feel they are unable to regulate their porn consumption, and that use interferes with everyday life.

However, within academic research (Grubbs, Lee, et al., 2020; Vaillancourt- Morel et al., 2017) and my clinical practice, people who report problematic pornography use may do so independently of the actual number of times a week they’re using porn or the length of time spent online while watching porn. Thus, there is evidence that quantity or frequency may not be the only determining factor in whether a person reports feeling out of control in their use of porn. 

The problematic porn or self-described ‘porn addiction’’ use can be viewed more as a symptom of deeper psychiatric issues and/or relational conflicts the person has with others. 

In my clinical experience, which has been primarily with cisgender male clients, a client feels out of control due to the shame he feels when the type of porn he is watching is discovered by a partner and he/she feels disgusted by his erotic interests.

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In other situations, a client may feel angry with himself for paying a large amount of money to watch porn secretly. He feels guilty for what his partner and he may look upon as a ‘filthy habit’ that has eaten away at their joint savings.  At other times, if a client feels resentful of the sense of powerlessness he feels in his relationship or at work, his use of porn may be an unconscious expression of anger, freedom, revenge and liberation, a powerful antidote to this concoction of emotions that centers erotic and sexual pleasure to silence the feelings he can’t communicate effectively.

Part of the Sex Esteem model used with clients is to teach them how to identify what he is feeling by using mindfulness techniques to initially locate the emotion in his body.  If it’s anxiety, frequently a client will feel tightness in his chest, with shame he may report a nauseous sensation in his stomach. If he has not come to terms with his own rage, he may feel clenching his jaw area.  Frequently these clients report masturbating to porn then feeling deep guilt and shame afterwards. What he learns through individual and group therapy is that although he had a moment of reprieve from these intrusive feelings, his conflicts have not been resolved or communicated to the person about or to whom he feels angry, frustrated, ignored or worried.

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In a 2021 paper by Joshua B. Grubbs and Shane W. Kraus, the authors state that “although there is evidence that pornography use can be longitudinally predictive of negative relational outcomes, it is not clear whether such links are causal in nature, how prevalent such associations are in practical terms, and whether third variables (e.g., sexual orientation, sexual dissatisfaction, sexual misalignment between partners, religious differences between partners) are potential moderators.”  As a couples sex therapist, I hear about longstanding conflicts and misunderstandings that have been swept under the carpet repeatedly for years at times resulting in both partners feeling angry, defensive and frustrated.  The porn use may then be a strategy to avoid further conflict with a partner and more of a symptom of a deeper relational conflict.  

 

Porn Use and Internalized Cultural Shame

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For clients brought up in highly strict families or communities, sexual activity is rarely discussed among family members and informed sex education may be missing from one’s development. Frequently children and young teens internalize shame and guilt about sex in general including the experience of having sexual fantasies. 

Many self-perceived addictions are shame-based. Unlike diagnosed addictions to substances, porn addiction which one prescribes to oneself is, more often than not part of an internal conflict with values learned implicitly and explicitly in one’s family of origin and larger culture as to the:

  • “Right” way of having sex
  • “Normal” masturbation frequency
  • Accepted sexual orientation
  • Unacceptable fantasies if one identifies as heterosexual 
  • Potential sinful nature of masturbation in general 
  • Derogatory views of a person paying for pornography

Therefore, part of the Sex Esteem assessment is an in-depth inquiry into the implicit and explicit lessons learned from childhood around sexuality, religious beliefs, cultural norms, familial expectations regarding marriage, erotic taboos and the use of sexually explicit media.  I have worked with clients who have had strict Catholic, Muslim, Hindi and Jewish religious upbringings and educations. While they may still practice these religions and believe in a deity, they have not come to terms with how they want to have sexuality in their lives and relationships. 

In another study by leading porn researchers Joshua B. Grubbs, Samuel L. Perry, Joshua A. Wilt & Rory C. Reid the authors regard the problematic sexual behaviors a person who self-describe as porn addicts better understood “ as functions of discrepancies—moral incongruence—between pornography-related beliefs and pornography-related behaviors.”

This study puts some finality into the answers as to whether porn addiction is a true addiction. By reframing “porn addiction” as an “an incongruity between morals and behaviors,” the paper showed that the amount of time spent using porn does not predict problems with porn; rather, religiosity seems to be the bigger problem.

 

New Findings About Religiosity and Porn Addiction 

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An exciting new 2021 study from the Archives of Sexual Behavior by researchers David C De Jong and Casey Cook found that religiosity–the belief in a deity–had indirect effects on perceived addiction via shame. “…religious primes were associated with higher shame, and in turn, perceived addiction among individuals high on both organizational religiosity…” With regard to pornography addictions, those who self-reported as religious and who were more morally disapproving of porn were more likely to perceive addictions.

Religiosity, then, emphasizes the moral incongruence of porn by forming a system of belief. For those who worship a god, the use of porn depends less on the amount of minutes spent watching porn than the amount of pressure a sense of religiosity imbues on the time spent watching porn. Time is subjective. The misalignment between religious beliefs and pornography use can alter time.

 

Larger Cultural Myths in the Media 

Unfortunately, the self-help industry is able to perpetuate this sense of shame for their

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profit. In this way, religiosity and capitalism promote feelings of shame in their own self-interest. These are some things a “porn addiction clinic” may try to shame people into thinking:

  • People can become addicted to pornography in much the same way they can become addicted to drugs.”
  • They often conflate “sex disorder” with “porn addiction.”
  • “Porn addiction is the result of smartphones, social media and the Internet.”
  • “There is too much pornographic content in the world.”
  • Do not thoroughly examine the root causes of the problem.
  • They encourage a separation between the stresses of daily life and pornographic addiction. 
  • “There is such a thing as excessive porn use.”

The treatment models of Sex Esteem and the Out of Control Sexual Behavior used in my practice looks at porn use as an expression of all sorts of internal conflicts including moral incongruence, relationship struggles and potential symptoms of some underlying disorders that have never been assessed or diagnosed. For example, a client may have ADHD and plays  out in the distraction of porn to avoid doing mundane aspects of their jobs.  He may have a debilitating Anxiety Disorder and the porn use is a way of overwhelming feelings of anxiety. 

When seeking help for what one might experience as problematic porn use, it is critical to ask a potential therapist what their beliefs are regarding pornography.  Many therapists are also impacted by the culture at large and may regard frequency as a sign of compulsivity rather than using a larger biopsychosocial lens to help clients get more focused on what the behaviors mean, if they want to moderate them and giving them tools to do that individually, in a group and/or in couples therapy. 

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?

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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.

What’s in a Name? Is Out of Control Sexual Behavior Treatment Really Different from Sex Addiction Recovery Programs?

What IS so important about the name of a pattern of sexual behavior? A new term called Out of Control Sexual Behavior is closer to the clinical frame I have used to help clients coming in to CLS for help to stop their compulsive sexual encounters.  People diagnosed–casually, jokingly, or professionally–as suffering from “sex addiction” might want to think twice about what this term implies and how it in fact will impact their therapeutic treatment,  how they feel about themselves and the relationship with partners (if they are in a relationship).  

Although most people in the field of sexual addiction cite Patrick Carnes as a the father of the term sex addiction, it was actually a Cornell psychiatrist Dr. Lawrence Hatterer, who defined homosexuality as a pathology, conflating homosexuality/queerness with “addictive hypersexualized living” and “addictive sexual pattern.” The term he wrote about argued that a sexual orientation was an illness. He unfortunately stood by this opnion both before and long after homosexuality was removed as a diagnosis from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM).

But Carnes popularized the term sex addiction, putting it on the map in America by creating a list of thoughts, feelings and behaviors that he cited were proof of of a pathological diagnosable disorder.  He created the Sex Addiction Screening Test (SAST) that attempts to create a differential assessment of addictive vs. non-addictive behaviors.  However, this assessment is still prone to pathologizing certain sexual behaviors deemed alternative, or kinky.  

Many of the treatment recommendations in his curriculum and at many of the sex addiction programs or 12-step groups around the country are based on heteronormative expectations in sobriety including only having sex with one’s spouse, no casual sex at all and/or no masturbation with or without porn.  There has been a long debate between Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT) and AASECT Certified Sex Therapists and Counselors. As part of their training, CSAT therapists have historically not received training in established Sexual Disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, sexual anatomy, ethics nor education on the diverse practices of sexual health.

These are requirements in the AASECT Certification Training.  

I would argue that Carnes regards the sexual behavior itself as the illness.  Sex therapists view the sexual behavior as a symptom. 

Sex therapists utilize a Sexual health model that understand that even though some people may feel tremendous shame about the erotic interests and sexual behaviors they enact,  frequently there is nothing inherently pathological about them.  The behavior may feel out of control because it’s against one’s values or it may be tied with an underlying untreated diagnosis.  The term and treatment of sex addiction may not thoroughly assess and treat underlying established diagnoses like: Depressive Disorder, Biploar Disorder, Attentional Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Panic Disorder or PTSD. Many clients who report years of Out of Control Sexual Behavior may have in fact experienced attachment trauma by a loved one who abandoned them,  severe neglect or physical or sexual abuse early on. 

The organization solely responsible for certifying Sex Therapists in the U.S., American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT), released a statement calling for the retirement of the term “sex addict” referring to it as a treatable illness including this section: 

AASECT:

 1) does not find sufficient empirical evidence to support the classification of sex addiction or porn addiction as a mental health disorder, and 

2) does not find the sexual addiction training and treatment methods and educational pedagogies to be adequately informed by accurate human sexuality knowledge.

 Therefore, it is the position of AASECT that linking problems related to sexual urges, thoughts or behaviors to a porn/sexual addiction process cannot be advanced by AASECT as a standard of practice for sexuality education delivery, counseling or therapy.”

There have now been several suggestions put forth by sex therapists and/or researchers for behaviors that contributes to negative outcomes socially, professionally and relationally.  These include: 

  • Compulsive Sexual Behavior (Eli Coleman): “…the experience of sexual urges, sexually arousing fantasies, and sexual behaviors that are recurrent, intense, and a distressful interference in one’s daily functioning”
  • Hyper-Sexual Behavior (Martin Kafka): “a sexual behavior disorder with an impulsivity component.”
  • Out-of-Control Sexual Behavior (Doug Braun-Harvey): “a sexual health problem in which an individual’s consensual sexual urges, thoughts, and behaviors feel out of control [to them]” (p. 10, Treating Out of Control Sexual Behavior).

These are all different names that do NOT include the term addiction  but instead utilize a model that points to underlying disorders, internalization of shame in the face of not living up to one’s values and the ambivalence around changing. They also point to behavior that is more linked to underlying psychiatric disorders than a process oriented addiction.  

I believe two of the greatest strengths of the Out of Control Sexual Behavior model are that it not only addresses potential underlying causes of compulsive sexual behavior, but also that it is focused on organizing around and encouraging the individual’s unique expression of sexual health through wanted sexual behavior–which the Sex Addiction model fails to do. 

When a client comes in to our office self-identified as a “sex addict” we look at the whole person, their family of origin, their religious beliefs, how and when the pattern of sexual behavior began, whether they have a history of abuse, whether their symptoms line up with a proven psychiatric disorder and how the secretive nature of their sexual practices play into the beliefs they have about sex, fantasy, consent, monogamy and desire.  We ask them to create a sexual health plan that allows for all the disparate parts they’ve been splitting off into secretive sexual behaviors to come together into one person who is supported in their search for personal integrity and potential treatment for underlying issues. 

What CLS therapists offer is individual therapy and couples work to help clients who are struggling with sexual behaviors that are negatively impacting their mental health, their job, and or their relationships.  We work frequently with clients who are having affairs, hook-ups or encounters with sex workers that feel split off from their own sense of what it right, and hurts their partners or spouses when it’s discovered. On Oct. 20th, I’ll be co-leading a small group-oriented men’s therapy group that creates a safe space for all those in distress to come together and reassess how their sexual habits have gotten out of control and learn new skill to help their behavior align with their own values. Sexual shame thrives in secrecy, and addressing it head-on with others sharing the same difficulties helps to chip away at the shame while allowing a space to consider and create new choices that are supported in a sexual health plan that belongs to you. 

I am co-leading the 6-week Men’s Out of Control Sexual Health group with my colleague Shimmy Feintuch LCSW. It is designed for those identifying as male who feel that their sexual behaviors are out of control and that they want to get more information on why they’ve continued these behaviors despite its negative impact.  If you feel this group could help you or someone you know please email my intake coordinator for more information: coordinator@centerforloveansex.com 

The goals for this group include:

  • Having each member define what their sexual health goals are
  • Identifying the internal conflicts they have regarding these goals and their current behaviors
  • Learning about potential underlying disorders which may have never been diagnosed and treated before that contribute to their behavior like: Depression, Panic Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, ADHD, PTSD, Bipolar Disorder and finding sources for treatment
  • Learning new stress and coping mechanisms including: mindfulness, CBT, Embodied recovery for trauma-induced dissociation
  • Developing integrated and positive coping in their sexual lives
  • Relational skills to communicate sexual desires to existing and future partners
  • Increasing one’s core Sex EsteemⓇ 

While the last task force of the DSM (#5) considered the term Hypersexual Disorder, they felt there wasn’t enough solid evidence to prove that this best describes a clinical pattern of behavior.  The most recent International Classification of Disorders-#11 did include Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder, defining the pattern as repetitive sexual activities that may become an essential focus of a person’s life to the point that they neglect their health and personal care or other interests, activities and responsibilities. Other symptoms may include continued repetitive sexual behavior despite negative consequences or receiving little or no satisfaction from the behavior.”

So while there are many diagnostic names and criteria still being studied by American researchers and clinicians for a pattern of compulsive sexual behaviors, NONE of these terms include the wording or clinical treatment framework of addiction.

Impact of PRIDE, BLM & SCOTUS’ landmark LGBTQ Rights Decision on Sex Therapy Clients

It’s PRIDE 2020 and included in the rise of consciousness among so many citizens in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a white police officer and the current swell of Black Lives Matter protests around the country is another reason to be hopeful.  In a huge victory for LGBTQ+ employees, the Supreme Court handed down the Bostock v Clayton County decision to include legislative protection for ALL LGBTQ+ folks in America. The majority decision written by Neil Gorsuch stated: 

“In Title VII, Congress outlawed discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear. An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”

In the Bostock v. Clayton County case SCOTUS considered Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids employment discrimination that occurs “because of [an employee’s] race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” While the Civil Rights Act didn’t set out to protect people who had same sex attractions and alternative gender identities, the context of equality embedded in this law is what was considered paramount.  

As a sex therapist who works with straight and LGBTQ+ clients who struggle daily with shame around their erotic desires and gender identity, this decision provides a long awaited public affirmation that their jobs are legally protected. I have heard many a client articulate why they need to keep their sexual behaviors on the down low, or dress one way at work for fear of appearing too gay, fem, butch or non-binary.   As a white therapist who sees Latinx, Black, and Brown clients individually or with their partners, I’m aware that sharing sexual experiences and challenges can be a harder bridge to cross due to racist experiences they have had with the majority of past authority figures along with generational racist trauma genetically inherited through their DNA.  I may also add to this load with unconscious statements that a client may feel angry about but won’t reveal to me. The fear a client experiences of being judged, blamed or dismissed by one more white expert is palpable in a session and I try to ensure the racism ‘elephant in the room’ is addressed early on by encouraging clients to let me know if I’ve said or done anything that triggers or angers them.  I ask them how they feel I am white and how they came to choose a white therapist. 

With this latest Bostock v. Clayton County decision, the Supreme Court justices have cleared a path for the wider protection of the Equality Act which will need to be finalized in the Senate since Congress already passed it last year.  According to Kevin Jennings, CEO of Lambda Legal: “We have a long way to go in securing the full and undeniable civil rights of LGBTQ people, especially those in our community who are Black, Indigenous and people of color for whom their sexual orientation or gender identity is only one of many barriers to equal opportunity in this country.  But today’s victory is a necessary step forward on the journey toward equal justice for all without caveats or qualifications.”

Most American citizens understand that discrimination is wrong, so the hope is that with the Equality Act,  the loopholes and cracks not addressed in this decision will be covered by comprehensive federal protections. The Equality Act updates and expands protections in the workplace not only on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, but also on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin and religion in the workplace, the marketplace, and beyond.”

The Stonewall Inn, NYC

Last June we celebrated the 50th anniversary of The Stonewall Riots begun by gay men, and trans-women who with their protests proclaimed they had had enough and refused to be beaten, arrested and killed sorely because of who they chose to have sex with and how they identified in gender expression. Stonewall marked the beginning of the LGBTQ+ Rights Movement.  Today we are in the midst of  a new chapter of a multi cultural response to continued violence and discriminatory arrests of BIPOC in every American city despite facing a deadly COVID 19 viral pandemic. 

However, just last year alone at least 18 transgender people the majority of whom were people of color, were murdered in the U.S. This SCOTUS decision could be the most hopeful moment in decades to pass a law that protects all LGBTQ+ folks and impacts Black and Brown queer folk at a time when the wounds of racism have been violently torn open once again.  When the outside world brings confirmation, validation and freedoms into the therapeutic work my associates and I do with our clients, it is a day to celebrate, even if it is cautiously.  I say cautiously because of a case that is coming down the pike to the Supreme Court next fall challenging the rights of religious organizations who feel they should have a broad right to engage in anti-LGBTQ discrimination. 

Remember that case brought by a bakery owner in Colorado who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple’s wedding because his religious opposition to same sex marriage? Yep, that one. Well that’s the issue coming up again this fall to the Supreme Court in another case and Gorsuch sided with the religious bakery owners last time. So by all means let’s celebrate but the battle for racial, sexual orientation and gender identity equality is very much a slow work in progress.

                   Happy Pride 2020 !                                                                                          BLACK LIVES MATTER 

BLM Protests in the streets of NYC
Photo taken by @ELanser Instagram

 

 

 

 

Why I’m Marching

There will be a Women’s March and two Women’s rallies In New York City tomorrow supporting women’s rights. A conflict that ensued after one of the co-founders of the original Women’s March on Washington Tamika Mallory was accused of anti-Semitic views due to her alignment with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. There were also accusations of anti-Semitic remarks made by Carmen Perez, another organizer. lastly a third organizer Linda Sarsour has stated her support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel’s policies in the occupied Palestinian territories.

There have been so many published articles on the conflict over the past two years between these initial Women’s March activists and co-leaders of the first 2017 Women’s March and the leadership of many community groups supporting Jewish and LGBTQ+ women. This led to a new organization called the Women’s March Alliance to take on the mantle of organizing the 2018 and 2019 marches. Tomorrow Alliance sponsored march will begin on the Upper West Side of NYC. The gathering affiliated with the original organization Women’s March group will be a rally downtown at Foley Square and is led by women of color.

There have also been women with disabilities who claim they were not granted a permit to march who have organized a rally of their own in Grand Central Station tomorrow.

I’m a family therapist who views conflict and repair through a systemic lens. What this means is that a conflict expresses a challenge and a hope for change, whether between a couple, a family or any other system. The whole system needs to change the previous patterns for full healing to take place. It’s not the fault or blame of one person or one group or one side. If there’s going to be real change it will require dialogue, empathy and compromise.

It saddens me that the American tent for the Women’s March, a reckoning the likes of which had never been seen, echoed across the globe now presents as no longer big enough for all of us. The feeling that day on 2017 after Trump’s inauguration when people of all genders took to the streets to protest all the misogynistic, sexist, racist, anti-LGBTQ, anti-Semitic rhetoric that had been spewing throughout Trump’s marching side by side was cataclysmic in its enormous hope that each of us could be a change agent. Each of us could repair the world whether in our small communities, organizing politically or running for office.

When I attended fundraisers this past year to hear women run for local office for the first time in their lives, each one of them said:

 

“I just thought, I could no longer wait for someone else to change our lives.

I must do this”.

This to me is the sound of hope, change and healing. But it is only THROUGH conflict, engagement and action with those that have different views that longstanding experiences of hurt, hate, disenfranchisement, assault, harassment and harm to one’s body can be both authentically witnessed AND repaired.   It would be immature to think that the vast differences in beliefs that women hold regarding Israel’s political policies, Zionism and Palestinian challenges would NOT unleash tremendous energy and anger. As Rebecca Traister reflected about her discussion with co-chair Linda Sarsour in her elegant piece in The Cut recently:

 The painful reflections and calls to responsibility were meant to bring anger to the surface as part of the process of marching together, rather than allowing that anger to fester and separate a group that could, united, wield power.”

But I believe that the tent has to be large enough to hold all women’s courage to address the inequities and injustice in this world for all of us.

This is why I’ll continue to march and rally. With those that come from very different places and those that come from similar spaces.

I’m marching for those who can’t.

I’m marching to protest #metoo assault and harassment.

I’m marching to support women with less/no privilege

I’m marching to support those that need a living wage.

I’m marching for those that are targeted for the color of their skin, their religion, their orientation, their gender.

I’m marching to inspire and be inspired.

I’m marching for healing because this world is fractured.

I’ll end this blog with a quote by Martin Luther King whose legacy we honor this Monday:

“We may have all come on different ships but we’re in the same boat now”

 AND A QUESTION TO KEEP YOU THINKING:

 Why are you marching?

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.

Remembrance of Sex Past: Talking to Kirra Cheers about The List

Modern sex, digital dating, hookups and contemplating past sex with a partner are all topics covered in THE LIST  Kirra Cheers’ upcoming immersive photography project in NYC.  I am so looking forward to leading a talkback after the May 19th show  which poses the question “what would your exes say about you?” after a friend gave her a list he had made of all the sex partners and experiences he had had.

Here’s a preview interview with her.  For those of you who don’t know Kirra’s work, she is the photographer behind the viral sensation Tinderella in which she photographed the men with whom she went on dates gleaned from Tinder to explore different aspects of modern digital dating life.

WHY?

SC: It seems like this piece flowed out of your first show Tinderella, that was a study on digital dating, what was the initial spark that was triggered when you were gifted the List? What were some of the questions about sex you were looking to answer?

KC: I saw the list of names as a puzzle. Each name represents a moment in time they shared together. I wanted to know, if I could piece together the moments, what would the narrative of his life look like? As with Tinderella, I play the role of the unreliable narrator, calling for the audience to reflect on their list and how people might judge them based on their time together. This experience of self reflection is different for everybody based on age, gender and individual experiences. Where one person might question, how many is too many? Another might reflect on how much they have changed as a person or who they may have hurt along the way.

HOW?

SC: In the work of sex therapy, we help clients get comfortable, get embodied, and help them articulate what it is they’re looking for in a sexual scenario? Did you find that the majority of partners with whom K had sex were open about their needs with him?

Kirra Cheers, The LIST

KC: As a society, we are used to being fed this lie that men want sex more than women. I think that women are more sexually adventurous than we give them  credit for. There was definitely this conversation about wanting sex and expecting so be satisfied but there seemed to be a communication breakdown in exactly how to achieve that goal. This might be because they didn’t feel  comfortable expressing their needs or perhaps they were still exploring their sexual desires.

SC: Often I hear from men who are single and dating that they aren’t as concerned about their partner’s sexual pleasure if they’re clear the sex is a hook-up and they’re not interested in getting emotionally close with them. Did you hear a range of reflections on how giving K was in the bedroom? Did it tend to coincide with how long they saw one another?

KC: Reviews on his sexual performance vary greatly. Everything from, the sex was “transactional” to it’s “the craziest sex I’ve ever had”. Hard to believe they were talking about the same person. I think it had more to do with how attractive he perceived them to be and therefore, how much time and effort he was willing to invest.

CONSENT

SC: Given the viral nature of the #CatPerson story in the New Yorker this past December, were there many women who expressed ambivalence during the act that they felt unable to express? Did many partner regret the experience? It sounds like one woman felt that the hookup was not consensual on their part? Did she ever tell him?

KC: I spent some time reflecting on why she opened up to me and chose to share her experience. I think that this was her way of telling him. It’s a hard read and unfortunately an experience that I believe most women will relate to in some way. There seems to be this accepted grey zone where it’s ok to pressure someone into an experience they’re not comfortable with. I used to think it was a matter of education but I’m not so sure anymore. Men understand consent, they just choose to ignore it. I think the problem lies in a power dynamic that has been exploited for far too long.

SC: Were these hookups freeing for some of the women who, like K were looking for sexual expression without commitment? What else did they discover about themselves in the process?

KC: Absolutely – many of the women on ‘The List’ are at a stage in their early adult life where they are exploring what they like and don’t like. It was refreshing to hear about women taking control of their sex life and feeling “empowered” by the experience.

TRANSFORMATION

SC: When sex therapists conduct what’s called a sexual history in therapy, we are looking to find out the influences on the way a person regards themselves as a sexual person, the influences of home, culture religion and how they explored their desire if they were allowed to. Did you feel his journey through these encounters/relationships had an intention behind it, questions he wanted answered or was their more emphasis on proving something to himself or others?

Kirra Cheers

KC: I ended the project at no.38 because I felt that he was beginning to have experiences just so they could be documented. In fact, I would go as far to say that he enjoys having an audience and has continued to explore that thrill in his sex life. As a somewhat quiet or shy person in his day to day life, I think he enjoys exploring a different side to himself when it comes to sex.

SC: What most surprised you about the way your own relationship changed with K over the period of the project? Did you discover further vulnerabilities of his as you delved further into the project? Do you feel his choices of partners reflected a wide palette of facets to his personality or were they more similar than you could have guessed?

KC: We definitely became closer friends over the time that I worked on the project. He allowed me full access to his personal life and at no time seemed embarrassed or uncomfortable with the information that was shared. I was very impressed, if the tables were turned I may have had a crisis of identity. He seemed content to accept that this was their experience, even if it differed from his own.

INTENTION

SC: Why do you think K gifted the list to you in the first place?

KC: K enjoys surrounding himself with interesting or eccentric people that can orchestrate different experiences for him. For K, this was the ultimate walk down memory lane. He is now in a committed relationship and I often wonder whether the experience was somewhat of a sexual renaissance, allowing him to grow in a new direction. Perhaps we should all reflect on our list and learn something along the way.

Kirra Cheers’ The LIST

THE LIST runs for a limited engagement Fridays & Saturdays, May 18-26 at 10pm at the Steve and Marie Sgouros Theatre (115 MacDougal Street).  Tickets can be purchased online for $20 at https://thelistbykirracheers.com/.

“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” .

 

 

 

 

How to Say Yes, No or Some Sex With Sex Esteem® Without Shame,Guilt or Fear; A Post #CatPerson Discussion Part #1

In the recent viral slew of reactions to Kristen Roupenian’s short story “The Cat Person” in the The New Yorker Magazine, many readers have projected their own unsatisfied, frustrated and angry reactions of past sexual encounters, creating a hashtag #CatPerson and linking it to the #metoo movement on Twitter.

 

 

 

The original “me too’ movement was initially begun 10 years ago by social justice activist Tarana Burke  (who attended last night’s Golden Globe awards) as a tribute to girls and women of color who were survivors of sexual abuse. The #metoo movement that went viral this past fall was due in part to the Twitter hashtag and invitation to share that Alyssa Milano posted  in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein expose in the NY Times which featured reports by many women in Hollywood dating back years of alleged sexual harassment, coercing, assault and legal non-disclosure agreements made by Weinstein to buy accusers’ silence.

However, I think to conflate “The Cat Person” short story with both Burke’s “me too” movement and Twitter’s #metoo campaign (while they may be connected under the large umbrella of the power imbalance embedded in the patriarchal system) misses many important lessons we can glean about dating and modern digital sexuality illustrated in the fictional story.  These lessons include ingredients of erotic mating and issues of consent and entitlement.  The Cat Person story has stirred a lot of controversy due to the fact that many Millennials feel like the encounter authentically reflects what it’s like in the dating/hookup culture they experience on a regular basis. Roupenian has expressed that the story stemmed from experiences “accumulated over decades, not drawn from a single bad date.”

I completely believe Roupenian’s and the readers’ experiences due to the fact that for many years as an AASECT-Certified Sex Therapist and founder of Center for Love and Sex, I have seen many women who discuss how they felt like they told themselves they might as well have some sexual activity (give a guy oral sex, agree to vaginal penetration, give a “hand job”) even when they felt more undecided, had mixed feelings or were completely sure they didn’t want to have any sexual touch. Many of these women felt unable to harness the words needs to express these feelings and experiences to the date, hook-up or partner.

In the story, Margot is a college student and meets Robert, a man some years older than she while working at a movie theater concession stand. The story is told from Margot’s perspective and the reader hears much of her internal dialogue throughout the story so that we come to understand Margot more intimately than we do Robert. The beginning of the story gives us the first lesson about dating in the digital age.

Limit How Long You Flirt exclusively through text, Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook Before Meeting In Person

“While she was home over break, they texted nearly non-stop, not only jokes but little updates about their days. They started saying good morning and good night, and when she asked him a question and he didn’t respond right away she felt a jab of anxious yearning.”

Margot is admits internally that she has developed a crush on this man with whom she has spent very little in-person time. And while it is true that part of meeting someone new is the fantasies one creates about them is as much part of the erotic excitement than the actual time spent with them, I have found that some people spend too much time communicating digitally rather than in-person. Some of my clients prefer the online flirting, seduction, or revelation of private thoughts because it keeps their mood afloat and helps them avoid potential disappointment in what the ‘real life’ person might actually be like. Given their past painful break-ups or mediocre dates, these clients are seeking treatment to recover, heal and gain some hope in their efforts to create new connections.

Some of our clients suffer from social anxiety and the back and forth texting exchange allows them to be more confident, forthright, or overtly sexual than they would ever feel in person with someone to whom they’re attracted. Koupenian wrote of Margot’s experience in #CatPerson:

“She still didn’t know much about him, because they never talked about anything personal, but when they landed two or three good jokes in a row there was a kind of exhilaration to it, as if they were dancing.”

However, research conducted on young adults has shown that higher rates of texting for people already stressed or anxious only leads to further agitation.  What I recommend is to keep a bit of digital flirting in the sexual menu to get both your juices flowing erotically but plan a phone call soon so you can speak hearing one another’s voice. For some people the voice itself increases the romantic pull and for others can be a complete “no go” turn off. This allows a person to use their time wisely in their efforts to find a person with whom they’ll be more compatible. In sessions and on my webshow Sex Esteem®, I always ask clients to figure out their top 3 erotic triggers and if sound is up there in the top 3, then the sound of the person’s voice, laugh, moan will most likely make or break an erotic attraction.

The Pace of Texting May Cause Anxiety & Lack of Good Planning

#CatPerson illustrates the rhythm Margot notices of the initial texts between she and Robert : “Soon she noticed that when she texted him he usually texted her back right away, but if she took more than a few hours to respond his next message would always be short and wouldn’t include a question, so it was up to her to re-initiate the conversation, which she always did.”

Clients commonly complain of the anxiety they feel when their texts aren’t responded to as quickly as they would like. They begin to feel more vulnerable and less in control of the relationship.

While some people might like this experience of dominant seducer and longing chaser (it’s the erotic trigger I refer to as “psychological trigger” BTW), for others it just raises their anxiety to a level that’s turn off and may cause them to agree to something they normally wouldn’t including: sending a sexual photo in an effort to gain control, agreeing to a date that doesn’t especially excite them (a late night booty call as a first “date”), or meeting them in a place that doesn’t provide enough safety back ups.

Set up Expectations for Your First Meeting/Date

Due to her anxiety caused by Robert’s seemingly busy schedule, she quickly accepted his invitation to a movie. The problem here is that she asks to go to a movie theater that isn’t in her neighborhood (guaranteeing they won’t see any of her friends), that she would be going in his car (since she doesn’t own one), and that in fact she has barely spent any one on one in-person time with him.

“On the drive, he was quieter than she’d expected, and he didn’t look at her very much. Before five minutes had gone by, she became wildly uncomfortable, and, as they got on the highway, it occurred to her that he could take her someplace and rape and murder her; she hardly knew anything about him, after all.”

For first meetings I encourage clients to meet in very public restaurants, cafes or bars and to let their date they can only meet for a period of time. For example, meeting for a coffee between 4-5:30 on a weekend due to dinner plans, or a drink after work from 6-7 PM. It allows both people to:

  1. a) find out if there’s chemistry
  2. b) there’s more to talk about then one-liners or quips about some social media meme and c) limits physical intimacy opportunities in case you’re not so into the person erotically
  3. d) leave room for you to finish the first meeting wanting more.

Sexual Consent Begins with First Touch/Kiss

Robert first hugs Margot after she begins crying out of shame after she’s turned away from a bar because she’s underage.   “ She let herself be folded against him, and she was flooded with the same feeling she’d had outside the 7-Eleven—that she was a delicate, precious thing he was afraid he might break. He kissed the top of her head, and she laughed and wiped her tears away.”

If we are going to improve the many layers of consent that went missing in #CatPerson, here’s could have happened. Margot could have talked about her expectations of the first date in a more explicit way like:

  1. Thanks for the invitation, I would like to go to the movies (my preference is a comedy) and holding hands in the dark.
  2. I would be up to going out to a bar for a drink afterwards but since I’m underage it would need to be at a place that doesn’t card me.
  3. I would like to perhaps kiss tonight but would like to keep the experience light and would prefer going home alone since it’s our first date.
  4. I don’t have any STIs just so you know.

Robert could have said:

  1. I’m looking forward to taking you out to this movie
  2. I’m getting cleaned up a bit, wearing a nice shirt.
  3. Hope you have time to go out afterwards for drink.
  4. Would love to finally kiss you tonight, been admiring your lips for a while.
  5. If you’re into it we can come back to my place, I don’t have a roommate so have the place all to myself.
  6. I was most recently tested 4 months ago, am negative on all counts and haven’t been with someone since that time.

What happens in the story though is that after the hug, Robert does initiate a kiss and it’s not what Margot expects: “he came for her in a kind of lunging motion and practically poured his tongue down her throat. It was a terrible kiss, shockingly bad;” Although perhaps the kiss could have been the red flag for some women that the chemistry might be off, Margot warms up to Robert at this point because she now feels she has regained some of the power in their relationship and perhaps feel a bit sorry for him which arouses her erotically.

Part 2 of this blog will focus on other lessons gleaned from “Cat Story” in this aftermath of #metoo, #timesup, “me too” so that we can begin to help one another reach that #NorthStar (Laura Dern’s quote from last night’s Golden Globes) of dating and respectfully relating with sexually without losing the eroticism.

Sex Toy Holiday Gifts for the New Year!

As a Certified Sex Therapist I’m always encouraging my clients to consider their intimate relationship as an entity in itself that needs feeding, nurturing and growth by both/all partners to continue a vibrant long-term erotic sexuality. I know it’s last minute shopping week for the holiday season and you’re hoping to get everyone in the family that special something they’ll love when they unwrap their gift. I suspect though that the last person you may be thinking of is a) yourself and b) your sexual relationship.

And because erotic triggers can be psychological, visual, auditory (hearing), emotional, gustatory (taste), olfactory (smell) as well as tactile (touch) as described in my Sari Cooper Sex Esteem webshow, I wanted to present a smorgasbord of holiday gift ideas for couples who want to take their sensual life to another level. You could even think of it as a series of stages to take you through the erotic and sexual experience.

Thanks go to The Pleasure Chest, the upscale sex toy shop and online store that carries beautiful items in a sex friendly atmosphere for sending me these wonderful items to review.   Here are this year’s line up of holiday gifts to be either slipped under your partner’s pillow or in a private stocking hidden in the bedroom closet.

Gift List for the Happy Couple: 

  1. Kinky Truth or Dare: This is a like Pick-Up Sticks for adults with each stick containing either a truth question or a dare invitation.   I used to love pick-up-sticks as a kid and love the fact that the container and the sticks are black and red, reminding me of a tango dancer just demanding your focus. This is a great way to transition into a playful, flirtatious mood and perhaps find out some things about your partner that you actually didn’t know. An example of a truth question might be:

“Tell me about a part of your body I should get to know better” or

“Would you rather try a threesome or an orgy? Why?”

If you flip over the stick to the red side, a dare might declare:

“Pretend we’re in the back row of a crowded movie theater. Get me off with no one knowing”

“Take your phone and disappear. Call me for some dirty phone sex.”

While these requests are on the tamer side of what some people might call kinky they do get a couple flirting, revealing and whetting their appetite for sexy scenes outside their usual sexual script. It utilizes the psychological trigger to imagine scenes that play with consensual power and expanding where and how a couple can be sexual*

*Note it may be illegal in some states to be sexual and/or exposing certain body parts in public so do your research and make conscious choices.

  1. If you need to be teased through the tactile and psychological triggers to get into an erotic zone, Pleasure Chest creates an Awaken Your Senses Kit. The container is black, metal cylinder that looks like it holds a candle but inside are items to increase the sensitivity and anticipation of a power exchange game. It contains a black blindfold, 2 red satin wrist/ankle ties, a black and red feather tickler, a pinwheel and a mini massage candle. (A pinwheel creates sharp pricks sensation that might be experienced as painful for some and alerting to others). I love the way the candle wax melts into massage oil that can also be used to give massages or dripped on certain erogenous zones to get things heated up. The kit has enough to set up a warm-up scene in which one partner can take control and play out different types of sensations on the other’s body. I like the packaging that is not blasting its contents and the fact that it might be a convenient take-a-long when you go out of town for a night or a vacation. It would have been nice to include something tasty to suck on for those that like oral stimulation and a small thumb drive with music to set the scene.

  1. For those that are into jewelry and having a great vibrator, the gift that is modern, seductive, and handy when out on the town is the Vesper Necklace by Crave. For women who want their empowered sexuality combined with a beautiful necklace, the Vesper is an elegant gift. It comes in 3 finishes; silver, gold and rose gold and has a single small button that offers 4 types of vibrations and is quiet yet powerful. It’s long, sleek cylinder shape looks like something you’d find in an expensive designer shop or a modern museum gift store. It can be used with water based and oil based lubes (but not with silicone lubes) and can easily be washed gently with soap and water. It charges through a USB cable and can be used for both solo and partner play. This is a piece of jewelry that will make you feel full of Sex Esteem® on a date, a night out dancing with your girlfriends or brunch with your bestie. By wearing it you’re reinforcing your own pleasure, power and priorities in taking your desires into your own hands (and around your neck).

  1. Lastly, the latest vibrator created for hands-free stimulation during intercourse or for solo play or for long-distance play (I know you’re thinking what is she talking about? Don’t worry I’ll explain), the We-Vibe Sync is a beautifully shaped U-shaped vibrator that can be used during penetrative sex with a partner. It has one smaller arm for insertion into the vagina to stimulate your G-spot while the second arm has a flat rounded pad at the end that hooks up and rests on the clitoris and vulva area to give you double bang for the buck. Speaking of dollars, this baby will set you back about $199. 95 but may just be the best investment you make in your couple sex life.

 

In this latest model, the wearable vibrator has a stronger hinge that is able to be used by all types of body to attain a tight fit so that when you switch positions with penetration it doesn’t come popping or slipping out (a huge improvement on the older versions of this toy). It retains the position you set and different pulses can be chosen by pressing one button on top or by using the remote offering you more convenience and fluidity in the movement. The motor is powerful but quiet offering a variety of rumbly kinds of sensation that emanates out from the point at which it sits on your clitoris.

 

The other super feature is that it connects through an app called We-Connect which allows you to choose music, specific pulses or to have your partner who is out of town on a business trip choose these so you can have hot Facetime sex while physically in two different locations. I see many couples who are separated due to jobs being in different cities, work travel requirements or family emergencies. This app and toy allows for intimacy to continue and keep the ‘glue’ of your sex life to continue in a seriously fun sexy way.

It is rechargeable through a USB cable and the stand has a lovely egg shaped cover that can be left on a night stand and look like an air freshener. Finally, esthetically the design of the vibrator is made of a sleek smooth silicone either in purple and turquoise packaged in a beautiful box with a ribbon on top making it look like a classy candle.

This should be a fun-loving and sex holiday in addition to being one that also celebrates family.  Ensure you leave some time for some erotic delight and play this holiday season.