How Could Petraeus Betray Us? Infidelity Unmasked

Decoding the Latest Scandal and What It Teaches You about Spouses who Cheat

Since the discovery of David Petraeus’ affair with Paula Broadwell, I keep reading and hearing that “it’s beyond shocking” (link is external) that the now former head of the CIA would have betrayed his wife since he was a gentleman and a consummate family man. People talk about his high standards of discipline, intelligence and leadership and are in awe that a man who was presented as so upstanding could be unfaithful to his wife.

There are a few questions this story presents. One is whether he was unfaithful to the country and whether a private situation like infidelity warrants this much public attention. There was some speculation that he could have compromised sensitive private documents. There is also little known law called the Uniform Code of Military Justice (link is external) that he broke which states that it is illegal and punishable by court martial and/or revocation of one’s pension if a service person has an affair while in service. Although this law is not enforced very frequently it illustrates that military personal are held to a higher standard than non-military folks.

There are also the speculations that he quit his post as head of CIA because he was avoiding having to testify in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee on the Bengahzi attacks thus avoiding the embarrassment and shame of discovery that Petraeus could have prevented the lives lost there.

But I don’t think this is why he quit and I don’t think this is why it’s getting so much attention. I think there may be other personal secrets that he wants to prevent the public from knowing because it would hurt his family further. For example, this may not be the first time he’s had an affair but in fact, the first time it was discovered. There are those spouses in the military (link is external) who believe that their partners are more at risk for affairs due to the many months spent away from home, the stresses of the military and the alcohol abuse which is more prevalent in the military. Perhaps he had been able to keep previous affairs private or perhaps he had a non-monogamy agreement with his wife about which the public will never know.

In addition, for a man like Petraeus who is an expert at keeping highly sensitive information secret, the exposure of the affair may have been just as, if not more embarrassing to him as the fact that he had been cheating. How good could he be with secrets if his own were leaked because of his lover’s jealousy. Does it show him as a man who could not maintain control? I think he quit because he is a perfectionist who could not respect himself for the exposure of a common weakness. The revelation has robbed him of the respect and honor he feels should be expressed by the CIA Director in every area of his life.

However, I think the media frenzy going on has a lot to do with the Greek tragedy-type narrative that features taboo sex, a powerful person brought down by his own flaw. That’s all. Americans love the soap opera story line of affairs, and the schaudenfreude feeling of enjoyment watching someone else’s train wreck, not theirs.

The tragic hero in this latest version (like John Edwards and Bill Clinton before him) is a successful general who had reached the pinnacle of success in his field yet was tempted by a woman with whom he was in close contact. As in those other stories the “other” woman was attractive and ostensibly lavished much praise and adoration on Petraeus which can be a huge erotic trigger for many men. It’s not that this affair was so shocking but that in fact so expected. The twist in this story is that his lover was also married and highlights the point that it is not just men who have affairs although that is more of what we hear about in the media.

That is not to say I condone breaking a contract of monogamy. I just think it’s unrealistic to hold some men or women to a higher standard of fidelity than the rest of us. In fact, this rendition of infidelity should be presented differently in the media. It should be another warning that each person who agrees to a monogamous relationship needs to be more conscious of the situations in which they put themselves. The affair also brings to light the question of sexuality in long term marriages and whether partners begin to take one another for granted or avoid sexual contact for long periods of time without an agreement. However, Americans have a very difficult time discussing their sexual needs or accepting sexual differences so the subject of sex very often becomes the white elephant in the room.

In this case, when Petraeus was spending so much one on one time with a woman to whom he was sexually attracted he should have been more honest with himself that he was in hot water. This was his first warning sign to keep a formal physical distance. When he then discovered that he and Paula Broadwell had so much in common and that she showed such acute interest in his life it must have made him feel rejuvenated and more virile. At this point he would have become more aware of his body’s signals, his imagination’s erotic fantasies. If he had been more conscious of these warning signs he would have had to realize that he’s human just like everyone else and made every effort to call off the agreement to be interviewed by her for the biography. Unfortunately, he ignored these signs and perhaps believed his own press. He believed he was Superman Gentleman, the superhero who could resist his own sexual urges for a seemingly willing and eager lover. Or he had become entitled enough to think that he could have an affair and believed he was intelligent enough to keep it hidden.

What You Can Learn From ‘The Sessions’

The lessons of sexual discovery in this film are key for everyone’s sex esteem.

The new movie The Sessions tells the true story of poet Mark O’Brien who lost the use of his body’s muscles in childhood as a result of Polio. The movie is based on the essay “On Seeing a Sex Surrogate” which Mark wrote in 1990 about his experience of seeing a sex surrogate at the age of 36 to learn about sexuality with a partner for the first time in his life. Due to the requirement of spending all but a few hours a day in a contraption called an iron lung, Mark had been isolated from peers from the age of 6 through adolescence and robbed of the common experience young adults have of experimenting with sexual relationships thereby learning what they like and don’t like from different experiences. It’s not until his mid-twenties when he attended the University of Berkeley where he studied journalism that he even gets to develop his social skills.

The lessons learned from this film offers the audience a critical opportunity to contemplate the ways in which most people in American society are robbed of a positive accurate sexual education. I have seen non-disabled clients over the years who have felt the same fear, self-loathing and frustration about their own particular sexual desires as Mark did. Similar to Mark, these are people who were well-educated, intelligent, and successful in their livelihoods but had either been taught negative things about sexuality by parents, teachers and spiritual leaders or had been raised in a vacuum of no information at all. This led them to believe as Mark did, that their desires were perverted and/or sinful. He wrote: “The attitude I absorbed was not so much that polite people never thought about sex, but that no one did. I didn’t know anyone outside my family, so this code affected me strongly, convincing me that people should emulate the wholesome asexuality of Barbie and Ken, that we should behave as though we had no ‘down there’s’ down there.”

Many of my clients are filled with misconceptions, myths, and extreme shame about the erotic desires and physical arousal that are part of most people’s sexual response cycle. Whether they have been brought up in a religious faith that forbids any romantic contact before marriage like practicing Muslims, traditional Indians (or Indian-Americans), or Orthodox Jews, or clients who had families that made negative comments about sex as they were growing up, these clients all struggle to find a way to integrate their belief systems with their erotic desires and or behaviors.

It is my role as a therapist to ask the right questions to find out what a client’s goals are regarding their sex life and to determine what emotional, psychological and physical impediments need to be addressed and by whom. I am respectful of a client or a couple’s desire to adhere to their religious traditions while offering them basic information that will allow them to begin to decide for themselves what they want in their sexual life.

Mark struggled with his Catholic faith and his family upbringing as he contemplated seeing a sex surrogate writing: “What would my parents think? What would God think?” Mark O’Brien had fallen in love with people in his life (including a caretaker and a fellow student at University of Berkeley) but his feelings had not been reciprocated and he felt the opportunities to give and get sexual pleasure within a marriage seemed few as he couldn’t even get a date. He consulted with both his therapist, another therapist who specialized in sex therapy and a Catholic priest to help him come to the decision to work with a sex surrogate. All these counselors gave Mark their perspective and useful information without putting pressure on him one way or another.

What people can learn from this film is that the many people who grow up feeling ashamed of their sexual thoughts have few people to whom they can go to who are willing and able to tell them the facts as well as process the feelings that can go along with sex. Instead, misinformed lessons are learned through the romanticized Hollywood romantic-comedies in which the amount of time it takes for a woman to get thoroughly turned on is reduced to some short period of making out before the clothes are ripped off. The hot passionate scenes abound in American films in which safer sex is never discussed before sex, men never stop to put on a condom and women climax with delight without any foreplay and through intercourse alone.

And more recently, there is the modeling for teens and young men of partner-sex based solely on the viewing of porn which is a format created solely for erotic entertainment and fantasy. Porn has little realistic information to offer young men in terms of how mutual sexual relationships should be negotiated, the wide variety of women’s sexual desires and response cycle and the visual modeling of how partners can be both givers and receivers of pleasure. Porn does not illustrate the way in which feelings of love might be integrated into a sexual union. And porn, like the movies never exhibits a man losing his erection and the many reactions he might experience and receive from a partner in that situation.

After getting his priest’s blessing, Mark learns that his body can be a source of immense playful, sensual pleasure and that he can give pleasure to a woman through his sessions with Cheryl, a sexual surrogate whom he hires to teach him about sexuality. Through body awareness exercises he finds out what types of touch he enjoys, what tickles and which ones are annoying. He asks Cheryl in a direct way whether she enjoys having her ear licked and she answers no but that some women might and supports him in his asking. Verbal discussions and non-verbal total body touching are critical skills to develop as part of anyone’s sexual repertoire.

When he eventually learns how to have intercourse he finds out that all the sensual play beforehand and after intercourse can be part of a tremendously moving and sensual experience, and is an important part of a person’s life. Mark also comes to feel entitled to express that part of him. He writes: “Another lesson learned: sex is a part of ordinary living, not an activity reserved for gods, goddesses, and rock stars. I realized that it could become a part of my life if I fought against my self-hatred and pessimism.” Important lessons indeed.

How To Bring Vacation Sex Back Home

couple in hammockOne of the common questions couples ask me when they come in for sex therapy is:”Why can’t we have the same kind of sex during the year that we tend to have when we go away?”

It’s a great question and the within the answer lies many ingredients to a healthier, more satisfying sex life among monogamous couples.

Vacations are planned to give couples adventure, relaxation or a combination of both.  If they are family vacations, one of the purposes is have unstructured time with the kids away from the regular schedule of school, homework and after school classes.  I was recently interviewed for an article on this topic by fashionwire.com  Most long-term couples suffer from boredom, lack of time, and fatigue as they try to balance the stresses of work life, household responsibilities and their roles as parents if they have children.  Most parents are facing this task as their children go back to school this month.

Part of the excitement of a vacation is in the planning. One thinks about all the different elements one wants as part of their vacation experience.  Things like,  great beaches,  a historic castle or delicious cuisine can whet the vacationers’ appetite’s before even setting foot in an airport or in a car.  Sex is no different.  If one gave a bit more time to planning a sensual and sexual experience with the ingredients that stimulate one’s erotic triggers each partner could look forward with anticipation to the experience.  One partner could put together a playlist of sexy sultry music to put on before a date.  Another partner could tidy up the bedroom and lay a soft plush coverlet on the bed to bring about a tactile change to the experience.  Whether it’s what you bring in to eat,  massage oil to slather on your lover’s body, or a sexy piece of lingerie to where, all these details planned ahead add to the erotic experience.

Another element of  vacations is more time to rest.  According to the Center for Disease Control 30% of Americans are not getting the amount of sleep they need.  I would add that those folks who still have jobs are probably working longer hours since the recession began as companies have not been hiring new employees and they are making up for the slack of laid off colleagues.  When couples go on vacation they commonly take time to either sleep later in the morning and/or take naps during the day.  So how do you get more sleep when you return home?

Just as you would book a babysitter or ask a family member to watch your kids while you go out for a date.  You can ask whoever is caring for your children to take the kids out while you and your partner book a 3 hour time to sleep as well as perhaps have some intimate time without the worry that a little one will be knocking on your door,  barging in, or that an argument will occur while you’re in your bedroom.  This allows the bedroom to become a haven again of rest, peace and yes, sex.

Happy Fall, and remember to plan and take some ”nap dates” with your honey real soon.

What Do Mothers Secretly Want for Mother’s Day?

Best Mother’s Day ever!

As a sex and couples’ therapist for the past 20 years, I frequently see couples who are looking to increase the frequency and/or quality of sex in their lives. I also lead groups for long-married women to teach them about Sex Esteem, the confidence and empowerment program I’ve created that can lead to increased desire in monogamous relationships. Perhaps the frequency of sex which these couples or women are having has gradually dwindled to once a month, or once every four months or perhaps it’s just that the once every week is not enough for them or their partners. They also complain about the quality of the sex which has become routine, robotic or frankly, boring. Many of these couples have children and are in the throes of active child rearing. I add the word active because this type of involved parenting sometimes viewed as “helicopter parenting” is much more emotionally and physically demanding in our generation than in previous generations.

Perhaps this active involvement in their children’s lives is due to a commitment to a‘re-do’ of their own childhood that may have lacked in emotional closeness or connection. Another reason may be due to the anxiety parents are currently feeling regarding their children’s eventual college applications and career opportunities in this unstable economy. Add to this mix the fact that more women are in the workplace than in previous generations so that both the parents’ work life and the children’s school/extra-curricular life become heavily scheduled during the week and on weekends. So who bears the burden of seeing to the many details of family life so that all these goals can be met? Some of the moms who I treat in therapy are working full-time or part-time jobs outside the home but are still responsible for more of the housework and more of the executive planning. While there have been many studies researching the housework gap between married couples, I haven’t been able to find a study that inquires about all the executive functioning that is utilized to: plan a birthday party, order invitations, remind the kids to send thank-you notes, make a shopping list for Easter, order new soccer shoes in time for the playoff game, call another parent to arrange for a carpool, etc. For the moms who are working full time as homemakers their job includes meeting with teachers and/or volunteering for the PTA in addition to the myriad of details, chores and responsibilities of home life.

The wives/mothers in the couples I see complain of a lack of desire, they guiltily admit to “putting sex on the back burner”, “the bottom of their list”, feeling like “it’s the last thing on their mind”. Many of their husbands wonder what happened to the hot sexy vibrant woman they were dating before marriage or kids came along. They themselves miss the freedom and fun they felt in their twenties. Due to the tremendous amount of testosterone that men produce naturally, their ability to switch channels from putting out the light in their kids’ bedrooms to feeling frisky and reaching out to grab their wife’s derriere as she does the dishes does not take much transition time. In addition, he usually is not thinking about the 10 family/life chores still on his wife’s mind to take care of before she gives herself permission to collapse into bed. Wives need a lot more time to switch hats from the role of dependable, patient mommy to insatiable, hot, horny lover.

So what do you think these moms want for Mother’s Day? They want a day or two off, thank you very much!! Most moms would feel too guilty to say this because “good moms” in their minds should want to be with their kids on Mother’s Day, right? They would want to be woken from their much needed sleep (when was the last time they slept in till 10?) to eat a high-calorie breakfast sitting in bed (while their inner goddess is dying to get to a yoga class), and spend the day going to the zoo (for the umpteenth time) while oohing and ahhing over the necklace she received from the kids. Of course moms want to show their appreciation for gifts and kind efforts however, what my clients do articulate to me is that they want to be taken AWAY from their homes, so they can get all those to-do lists out of their consciousness and focus on their own needs for a change.

The recent SNL Mother’s Day skit expressed what most moms secretly want. They really want to spend a night or two in a hotel or spa (knowing their kids are well-cared for at home) alone where they can catch up on their much-deprived sleep, take a long bubble bath, have someone massage their whole body with lavender oil (who’s not pressuring her for intercourse), eat a meal that is healthy, luscious and frankly far from “kid friendly” without interruption and get a pedicure. After a day or two of this, she then might be ready for someone to slowly and gradually flirt with her, tell her how sexy and irresistible she looks, light a bunch of candles, turn on an iPod with the sexy music playlist already created, and then have someone touch her sensitively and sensuously while being seduced and surprised emotionally and physically. Just like Christian Grey would do in Fifty Shades of Grey . If this someone could be her husband or her partner instead of a fantasy figure, she has gotten EXACTLY what she wanted and deserved for the BEST MOTHER’S DAY EVER! So moms, ask for what you really want, and dads, give her what she’s longing for. More help on this in the next blog.

Fifty Shades of Grey Unplugged; Why the BDSM Sex Scenes in the Book is Turning up the Heat in Bedrooms and Raising Some Eyebrows

Fifty Shades of Grey

With the recent buzz being created by EL James’ book Fifty Shades of Grey, I felt compelled to discuss the elements of the relationship described in the book as well as disband myths that have recently come up in the media regarding BDSM type relationships.  The definition of BDSM describes a relationship in which people take on a role of Dominant or a Submissive and may involve some type of restriction (Bondage) and the setting of rules by the Dom which if not followed properly by the Submissive he/she will be punished through some sort of  discipline.  People who participate in BDSM come from a variety of ethnicities, sexual orientations, ages and social classes

The Dom is in a position of power and authority and the Sub is in a position of helplessness and vulnerability in many capacities.  These relationships are consensual and the submissive has code words to let the Dom know if he/she has had enough.  Therefore, the myth that the Sub is actually being abused and in danger of being hurt is not true at all in a true D/S relationship because the Submissive has all the power to stop a ‘scene’ by using the code word.  The draw for people involved in the BDSM scene is multi-layered and varied but coincide with the desire to experience a non-Vanilla type of sensual, sexual erotic experience that occurs outside of the normal rational mind.  When Ana first experiences this type of experience she is surprised by her erotic response which is immediate and highly charged despite her intellectual mind telling her she shouldn’t be getting turned on.

Many people when they first hear about Bondage-Discipline and Sadomasochistic relationships think that there must be something pathologically wrong with the person(s) administering or receiving the pain, humiliation or restrictions which can be involved in this type of dynamic.  However, couples involved in this type of relationship only come in for therapy when there are issues outside their sexual relationship that need help, or because one of them is not adhering to the detailed contract which was set up at the beginning of their relationship.  Like the heroine Anastasia in Fifty Shades of Grey, she is asked to read over a list of activities to see which are hard limits (meaning activities she would never want to do under any circumstances) and soft limits (meaning activities that she might consider trying) and sign a contract.

Britney Spears and Rihanna singing S and M

People in this type of relationship describe it at times as an orientation the way other people might say they’re gay or Lesbian in that they need certain threats or actions of pain or restrictions to make them feel turned on erotically.  Many people do not want or give pain but rather another type of sensation that can cause the partners to get a type of “high” that other people might get finishing an Iron Man.  It can put people in a type of trance-like state that lifts them out of their ordinary experience.  For many people the actual act of intercourse or touching one another is not part of the experience and yet one or both partners are brought to orgasm through the anticipation, rule setting and/or restrictions put into place.  One of my clients who was involved in this type of relationship acted as a Dom and her male partner was not allowed to touch her in any way except perhaps to stroke her boots as she set up restrictions for him.

In the press recently, it has been suggested that the book is reflecting a change in society somehow and that because women have broken the ‘glass ceiling’ in their careers they are more likely longing for a place in which they can relinquish control.   I would argue that these types of relationships have been around a long time and that the gender of the Dom and sub has been inhabited by both sexes. The most famous example of a man taking on the masochist role might be in the novella Venus in Furs written by Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch in 1879 was based on his own experiences as a sub to his mistress Baroness Fanny Pistor. In this relationship he begged to be treated as a slave and that she wears fur while subjugating him.  The term Masochism was named for him by the Austrian psychiatrist Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing in 1886 due to Sacher-Mosoch’s writings on the subject.  A modern interpretation of this novel entitled Venus in Fur is being performed currently on Broadway in which the characters are introduced as an actress who is auditioning for a director for the play based on the original novella by Sacher- Masoch.

The subject of this book should not be viewed through a social-political lens since it lies in a realm that is purely psychological, emotional and sensual.  It is an adult form of playacting that many people would rather just keep in their fantasies.  Therefore, just because the book has become a hit in the suburbs, does not mean that all these female readers want to enact these roles.  Some may and some may not, but you have to open up the topic in order to find out.

As I say to male clients sitting in my consulting office, the fantasy of being so irresistible to a man that he cannot control his desire is the ultimate libido cocktail for most women.

That involves creative pursuing that builds anticipation psychological engagement.  There is in fact a multi-billion dollar industry of romance novels that are filled with bad boy heroes and desired heroines that succumb to the alpha-type hero.  Just as men watch their porn online, there are many women who go to websites in which laypeople share their erotica stories for others to read.  A portion of these stories contain stories of BDSM.  It is not weird, it is not pathological, it is a flavor of erotica, just as chocolate (and vanilla) are flavors of ice cream.

BDSM: Fifty Shades of Grey Unplugged

Turning up the heat in bedrooms and raising some eyebrows.

With the recent buzz being created by EL James’ book “Fifty Shades of Grey,” (link is external) I felt compelled to discuss the elements of the relationship described in the book as well as dispel myths that have recently come up in the media regarding BDSM type relationships. The definition of BDSM (link is external) describes a relationship in which people take on a role of Dominant or a Submissive and may involve some type of restriction (Bondage) and the setting of rules by the Dom which if not followed properly by the Submissive he/she will be punished through some sort of discipline. People who participate in BDSM come from a variety of ethnicities, sexual orientations, ages and social classes

The Dom is in a position of power and authority and the Sub is in a position of helplessness and vulnerability in many capacities. These relationships are consensual and the submissive has code words to let the Dom know if he/she has had enough. Therefore, the myth that the Sub is actually being abused and in danger of being hurt is not true at all in a true D/S relationship because the Submissive has all the power to stop a ‘scene’ by using the code word. The draw for people involved in the BDSM scene is multi-layered and varied but coincide with the desire to experience a non-Vanilla type of sensual, sexual erotic experience that occurs outside of the normal rational mind. When Ana first experiences this type of experience she is surprised by her erotic response which is immediate and highly charged despite her intellectual mind telling her she shouldn’t be getting turned on.

Many people when they first hear about Bondage-Discipline and Sadomasochistic relationships think that there must be something pathologically wrong with the person(s) administering or receiving the pain, humiliation or restrictions which can be involved in this type of dynamic. However, couples involved in this type of relationship only come in for therapy when there are issues outside their sexual relationship that need help, or because one of them is not adhering to the detailed contract which was set up at the beginning of their relationship. Like the heroine Anastasia in Fifty Shades of Grey, she is asked to read over a list of activities to see which are hard limits (meaning activities she would never want to do under any circumstances) and soft limits (meaning activities that she might consider trying) and sign a contract.

People in this type of relationship describe it at times as an orientation the way other people might say they’re gay or Lesbian in that they need certain threats or actions of pain or restrictions to make them feel turned on erotically. Many people do not want or give pain but rather another type of sensation that can cause the partners to get a type of “high” that other people might get finishing an Iron Man. It can put people in a type of trance-like state that lifts them out of their ordinary experience. For many people the actual act of intercourse or touching one another is not part of the experience and yet one or both partners are brought to orgasm through the anticipation, rule setting and/or restrictions put into place. One of my clients who was involved in this type of relationship acted as a Dom and her male partner was not allowed to touch her in any way except perhaps to stroke her boots as she set up restrictions for him.

In the press recently, it has been suggested that the book is reflecting a change in society somehow and that because women have broken the ‘glass ceiling’ in their careers they are more likely longing for a place in which they can relinquish control. I would argue that these types of relationships have been around a long time and that the gender of the Dom and sub has been inhabited by both sexes. The most famous example of a man taking on the masochist role might be in the novella Venus in Furs (link is external) written by Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch in 1879 was based on his own experiences as a sub to his mistress Baroness Fanny Pistor. In this relationship he begged to be treated as a slave and that she wears fur while subjugating him. The term Masochism was named for him by the Austrian psychiatrist Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing (link is external) in 1886 due to Sacher-Mosoch’s writings on the subject. A modern interpretation of this novel entitled Venus in Fur (link is external) by David Ives is being performed currently on Broadway in fact which illustrates the longevity of the erotic power the D/S dynamic.

The subject of this book should not be viewed through a socio-political lens since it lies in a realm that is beyond in a psychological, emotional and sensual world. It is an adult form of play that many people would rather just keep in their fantasies. Therefore, just because the book has become a hit in the suburbs (link is external), does not mean that all these female readers want to enact these roles. Some may and some may not, but you have to open up the topic with yourself and your partner in order to find out what you might want to try.

As I say to male clients sitting in my consulting office, the fantasy of being so irresistible to a man that he cannot control his desire is the ultimate libido cocktail for most women. This involves creative pursuing by one partner in order to build anticipation and psychological engagement. There is in fact a multi-billion dollar industry of romance novels (link is external) that are filled with bad boy heroes and desired heroines that succumb to the alpha-type hero. Just as men watch their porn online, there are many women who go to websites in which laypeople share their erotica stories for others to read. A portion of these stories contain stories of BDSM. It is not weird, it is not pathological, it is a flavor of erotica, just as chocolate (and vanilla) are flavors of ice cream.

5 Thoughts on Valentine’s Day to Boost Your Sex Esteem

bubble bath

Although I know many people roll their eyes when it comes to Valentine’s Day with comments like: “It’s a holiday greeting card companies invented”, “Restaurants charge double on that night and we’re still expected to cough up the money”, “Why do we have to buy something, can’t we make giftsg or do something easy and still make it meaningful?”, “I’d rather just stay home, order in and watch a good film, why all the pressure?”, I still think it is an American cultural phenom that one can nod to, and utilize to up their Sex Esteem which is the term I use for one’s sexual and sensual confidence. With that lens here are 5 relatively easy things to do to warm yourself or someone else this Valentine’s Day.

1.  Think about what makes you really excited, passionate or relaxed and do it with a person who can share it with you.  If that means taking a bubble bath, going to your favorite restaurant, or buying a new dress in a fun shade ask your friend(s) or partner to share the day/evening with you.

2.  Express your love to those that brighten your life each and every day.

3.  Give of yourself to someone who needs it through a message, volunteering, or bringing a meal to a homeless person.

4.  Attend to some sensual needs like eating a favorite food, washing yourself with peppermint soap, getting a foot massage, or listening to music that reverberates in your soul, dancing in your living room.

dancing in living room

5.   Focus on what you can do on this day, not on what you can’t.

Each day can be a gift if you let yourself receive it .  Give yourself the gift of Sex Esteem.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

Planning a Single’s Valentine’s Day Tailor-Made for Boosting Your Mood

 beer with friends

Valentine’s Day much like Christmas, is celebrated with a big bang in American culture and can be experienced with as much dismay, frustration and downright loneliness when you are a single person.

There are store windows dripping hearts, florists with red roses front and center, and food shops displaying chocolate in every possible manner.

For some people who are newly single or have been divorced for some time and are not in a romantic relationship they may see this holiday as nothing more than a marketing ploy by plump up sales in the post Christmas shopping season and decide to stay home and ignore the whole thing.

One of the origin stories of Valentine’s Day date back to the Romans and a sacred rite involving a sacrifice with the purpose of increasing fertility in the community.

For those single people who still long to become parents in a committed relationship, this holiday can be even more challenging.  As someone said to me recently: ” I still want children but it’s not as if you’re going to discuss that when you first start dating someone new “.  I encourage my clients to find out who the person is sitting across from them first and let them see the best parts of them before jumping to the topic of parenthood.

However,  while most people would interpret fertility literally as the ability to become pregnant, I see it as a symbol for creativity.  People who keep their creative juices flowing do so by finding and pursuing things and people who they find exciting.  When I counsel newly single people I encourage them to find the activities about which they feel most passionate or excited and gather people they care about the most to celebrate the holiday.  Whether that’s going to a poetry slam downtown or a science trivia game at the bar in Brooklyn, grab another pal or two and try something you know you love or go to a new environment completely.  Decide to try a new type of yoga and write out your goals for next year’s Valentine’s Day.  This might include looking into online dating sites that seem to jive with your style.  A new one that is fun and innovative is called howaboutwe and allows people to put out ideas of what they’d like to do on a date that brings in cultural, culinary or athletic experiences into the mix. 

Creativity is born when you do something that has not be done before in exactly the same way.  So although Monet painted his beloved Water Lillies dozens of times, each painting was a new and beautiful investigation of the same subject.  If I play Words with Friends or Charades again and again it is still a fun experience because the different people involved change the sense of play.

Words with Friends

It’s this energy that will most likely attract someone to you because it’s the energy of growth.  What I did one year is plan a pot-luck party for my girlfriends (didn’t cost a fortune because everyone contributed) on an evening around Valentine’s Day (didn’t interfere with those that did have partners/husbands) and asked them to dress up in a V-Day theme (made it like a Halloween party which got everyone anticipating the fun). I then asked a local dance teacher to teach us some belly dance moves (I had never tried this before) and asked a DJ friend to bring in some great dance music to play ( the dancing put everyone in a great mood).

spinning

So this Valentine’s Day, find 3 things you love to do and plan to do one or all of them in the days around Valentine’s Day with some good friends or check out new happenings around your community that would change up your usual  routine and might even challenge you artistically (see a play, film, music group you wouldn’t ordinarily see), physically (do a hike, spin class, or dance class) or emotionally (start up a conversation with someone at your local coffee shop or bar).  It will help you feel more alive, less lonely and more energized in your life.

Finally, giving thanks for what we do have in addition to helping those people that could use our help is always an important ingredient to feeling better.  Have a Creative V-Day!

What is Real Choice? Roe v Wade Still Affects All Families 39 Years Later

On this 39th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision I think about all the expectations, decisions and conflicts with which couples and individuals face in their lives and how a pregnancy can change many of these issues.  I have counselled many women and men when faced with a decision about a potential or confirmed pregnancy they, their partner or teen is facing.  Whether it’s an unplanned pregnancy that ensues between a man and a woman after a few months of volatile dating,  a pregnancy that occurs when a committed couple is struggling financially to support the 3 children they already have, or a pregnancy that is an outcome of a date rape of a 16 year old daughter. 

In all of these cases, the decision to go ahead with the pregnancy affects many people in the family and may cause many ripples of stress that the family system may or may not be able to withstand.  In some cases, if the stress of beginning or continuing the pregnancy is too overwhelming a woman needs to come to terms with the meaning the pregnancy has for her, what the loss of the pregnancy will mean to her personally if she chooses to end the pregnancy and whether she knows it or not, she will need to mourn that loss.  All of these are difficult and at times very complex decisions. 

As the states’ and federal courts continue to challenge Roe v Wade since it was first passed by chipping away at the various aspects of the law (whether it be the money needed to pay for the abortion, the time she is required to wait between having counselling and getting the procedure,  or the access to Plan B without a prescription if she is under 17), I shudder to think of the clock turning back to a time when women died of back alley abortions.  I feel grateful to have had so many opportunities afforded to me by the hard work, persistance and at times physical harm and death of my elders who fought the hard battles since the seventies so that I could make clear, safe and optimal decisions regarding my education, career and the timing of a family. 

 Sarah Weddington and Sari Cooper

This year I presented at the annual conference of American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists and was fortunate to hear Sarah Weddington speak about her jouney as an activist, lawyer, and politician.  In her book “ A Question of Choice” about her experience leading up to her arguing the Roe v Wade argument in the Supreme Court, I was humbled by the amount of grass roots organizing that was needed in order to challenge laws in state and federal courts across the country.  It has inspired me to dedicate more efforts to ensure that my generation and those that follow will maintain the right to privacy, freedom to choose and control over their bodies.  As Weddington herself says:  “…women’s issues are part of a big wheel, and reproductive rights are only one part of a larger consciousness — if you can’t decide this for yourself, you can never have control over the rest of your life. “  Get involved, start talking with your friends, relatives, co-workers, volunteer for Naral or Planned Parenthood.  The time is now.   Happy Anniversary Roe, Sarah and all those people who worked and continue to work for rights of all women. 

Money, Sex and Honesty: Still The Three Hottest Topics in American Politics and in Relationships

AffairsWith the latest challenges among the Republican candidates focused on Mitt Romney’s tax returns and Newt Gingrich’s adultery the spotlight highlights the three main issues that still trigger the American psyche and bring clients into my private practice office for treatment.  Yet the third topic is somewhat inferred and is almost the elephant in the room, and no I’m not referring to the GOP’s symbol here.  I’m talking about the secret issues that no one wants to address head on.

Honesty is what challenges these candidates, leaving Romney sputtering on a podium when asked if he’ll reveal his tax returns.  He is unsure of what voters might think of his posturing as an every day Joe when he talks about getting pink slips when in fact he has made a lot of money and uses the tax laws to gain the most out  of his profits.  While he tries to present as an honest man, he comes off as both insecure, cagey and arrogant at times regarding his financial success.  What is he trying to hide other than his success for which he states he is unapologetic.

When couples come in to my office to say they are having communication problems, I am struck by all the expectations they had before their wedding including: financial, sexual, and sexual boundaries.   Couples believe they have implicit understandings with one another through non-verbal agreements and trust that their love for one another will get them through any disagreements in the future.

For example, when both people are working full-time before marriage and neither of them discuss their expectations if children come along, a lot of resentment, guilt and frustration can arise.  Perhaps a wife expects to slow her career down a bit or stop working outside the home all together to be a full-time homemaker and her husband expected her to continue bringing in the same amount of income.  I encourage couples who are thinking of moving in together or getting married to hammer out expectations and the realistic consequences of choices which might include seeing a financial planner so they are on the same page regarding what their lifestyle would look like and how their spending habits might need to change.

The other hot issue highlighted by the ABC interview with Gingrich’s second wife Marianne is the statement that Gingrich asked her for an open marriage after he had been having an affair with Calista for six years.  I want to talk about the terms being bandied around here.  First of all, an open marriage is one in which both participants discuss the option of allowing other partners into their lives.  It is done ethically and responsibly before another relationship is entered into.

It is a complex system to create and uphold and usually there are many rules  set up beforehand to deal with issues of jealousy,  attachment limitations (for example are the lovers outside to remain secondary to the primary relationship, are they to be seen outside the primary home, are they to remain secret from the children), and  sexual limits (use of protection, testing for STDs, sexual behaviors that should not be shared with an outside partner, etc.).  There are couples who create these types of contracts in what is termed the Polamory community. Polyamory is about loving other people including your partner as a lifestyle that you have chosen with your partner. Polyamory is distinct from people who swing, which is more about a couple knowingly having sex outside their primary relationship and quite often is done together.

For the record, Gingrich was already keeping an outside love and sexual relationship secret from his wife with Calista Gingrich at the time, so in essence if perhaps he did ask for an open marriage, it was his last ditch effort at trying to come out looking like a stand-up honest, open guy rather than a man who wanted his cake and eating it too. He was also a man who already had a track record of cheating on wives while preaching family values in public.  According to an interview with his former wife who challenged what he was doing by having an affair in his private life versus the moral code he was publicly advocating, he responded: “It doesn’t matter what I do. People need to hear what I have to say.  There’s no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn’t matter what I live”.   This is the voice of someone who is so narcissistic (that is, self-involved) that he sees himself as a chosen messenger while ignoring the feelings of anyone else around him. In other words, he believes his own press.  If he wanted to be more “open” about his desires you would think that he and Marianne having begun their relationship as an affair might have reason to discuss future boundaries before they decided to wed.  Perhaps they did and he broke those rule anyway.


These possible threats or changes in feelings arise within marriages and as a couples therapist I recommend couples create a Sexual Prenup™ in which they discuss what each of them expect sexually, how they differ, what compromises they might be open to, and what they consider cheating or infidelity. However, many couples who have discrepant sexual desires, or have different interests sexually have a difficult time discussing what their expectations are once they are wed. They are afraid of hurting their partner’s feelings or fearful they will lose the person they love entirely.  Avoiding these issues might lead to a lifetime of sexual frustration, secret sexual relationships outside the marriage or other consequences.  It is helpful to seek a therapist who can provide a safe space within which these feelings can be explored.

I also see couples after one partner discovers her/his partner has cheated and there are understandably high emotions all around and much recovery work to be done.  In this day and age one partner watching porn might be considered cheating, while another partner holding hands and flirting at a bar with a stranger would not be.  The agreement a couple makes to allow sexual contact with an outside person if one spouse is not interested or able to have sex might be put in the contract with the provision that protection be used and no pregnancies could ensue.

Although individuals grow and change during their marriage and people can’t see into the future, there are so many feelings that people have at the outset of a relationship that are known and never addressed that by at least talking about the white elephant or elephants in the room beforehand through the creation of a Sexual Prenup ™, a couple could set a tone of honesty and understanding that could help them manage issues before and during their marriage.