Tag Archives: Sex Esteem™

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.

How to Fall in Love & Have Great Sex

Mandy Len Catron recently published her book: How to fall in Love with Anyone: A Memoir in Essays, which explored the ingredients of closer intimacy. The book is based on her popular NY Times piece “To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This”, where she reenacted the famous social experiment by psychologist Arthur Aron, “The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness: A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings”,  In the original psychological study, pairs of strangers spent 45 mins asking a series of 36 increasingly deep and personal questions in a lab setting. The purpose was to see if a sense of intimacy could be established in a relatively short amount of time. When Mandy Len Catron completed the questionnaire, she ended up forming a romantic relationship with a casual acquaintance.

Why did the 36 questions work so well for Catron personally and for many of the original study’s participants? I commented on this article when it first appeared on CBS This Morning  but would like to expand on my observations here. The questionnaire starts off with seemingly innocuous inquiries, for example asking people to describe a perfect day scenario. Soon enough, the tone shifts to asking more serious questions such as best and worst life memories and views about death and mortality. Toward the end of the experiment, people are asked to share what they honestly feel about their partner and what they would like their partner to know if they wish to become close with them. After all the questions are answered, both participants then stare in each other’s eyes for about four minutes in silence. With each question, each participant is slowly becoming more vulnerable, exposing parts of themselves about which they feel embarrassed or anxious. These are aspects of oneself rarely shared with an acquaintance, let alone a complete stranger. As researcher Brene Brown has expressed: “Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think”. And for those moments when one is finally truly seen, the desire to merge with them sexually may be activated as a further way to retain this emotional union.

In Catron’s original article she admits she was in a bar and drinking bar while undertaking this experiment. As an aside, many shy or introverted folks commonly use alcohol or recreational drugs as a social lubricant.

Unfortunately it may lead folks to a sense of false intimacy and potentially a consensual sexual experience that both people regret the next day. While I am not writing about non-consensual assault or rape here, I am clarifying that even with consensual sex under slight influence, the element of intimacy can be shrouded or missing.

 

Why This Works:

There are also some biological reasons as to why the study works in bringing people feeling closer. For example, research has shown that when people speak with direct eye gaze the listener is more likely to trust the speaker compared to a speaker looking elsewhere.

The ancient practice of Tantra includes eye-gazing as a method to encourage more relaxation and connection. Many partners find their breathing becomes aligned when gazing at one another’s eyes. In fact, our first instincts as babies is to look into our caretaker’s (parent’s) face for comfort and this is our way of calming our system and finding confidence in our world.

In a recent study out of the Kinsey Institute, researchers found that “over 50% of respondents ages 18-24 indicated that their most recent sexual partner was a casual or dating partner.” but they also found that “for all other age groups, the majority of study participants indicated that their most recent sexual partner was a relationship partner”. Even more fascinating, “men whose most recent sexual encounter was with a relationship partner reported greater arousal, greater pleasure, fewer problems with erectile function, orgasm, and less pain during the event than men whose last sexual encounter was with a non-relationship partner” . In another study,  the researchers stated: “Men and women both were likely to report sexual satisfaction if they also reported frequent kissing and cuddling, sexual caressing by the partner, higher sexual functioning, and if they had sex more frequently.”

And for middle-aged men who reported having had more casual sex partners in their lifetime, they also reported less sexual satisfaction leading one to consider how deeper connections if combined with what I have coined as Sex Esteem® can lead to better discussions on what one desires, how one wants to grow in their sexual connection, and perhaps an emotional comfort that increases frequency.

This data illustrates that for many people, romance combined with sexual intimacy is an important recipe for sexual and relationship satisfaction for men and women (most of this research was based on heterosexual relationships). Does this mean that fulfilling sex cannot or should not occur outside a romantic relationship? Does it tell us that casual dating, sex with outside partners in a non-monogamous lifestyle or friends with benefits will not fulfill a person sexually? My answer is that it reports that for most straight folks, intimacy enhances their sexual pleasure AND that perhaps for some people sex without emotional intimacy is also pleasurable.

The clients we see at Center for Love and Sex range from monogamous couples who are so intimate it restrains their courage to request their desires, or couples who are locked in power struggles, bitter arguing or cold avoidance due to unresolved conflict so their sex life has been put on a shelf. We see people who are working on maintaining trust and intimacy in their primary relationship while openly exploring more sexually oriented partnerships outside the relationship.

Although American media frequently sets up a premise of casual sex as a titillating option in many movies, however the conceit quickly falls apart as the main characters “fall in love” by the end of the story. One can see examples of these situations in films like: Friends with Benefits, No Strings Attached or About Last Night. There is too often a one-size-fits-all script in terms of love and romance in Hollywood in which casual sex is shown to be too frail, less acceptable or not a true goal by the heroine or hero as the case may be.  As a sex therapist I help clients discover what level of intimacy they’re looking for whether they’re single, married, or in a long-term relationship (whether it’s monogamous or contracted as non-monogamous). Some people rush into casual sexual agreements so quickly that they don’t spend time anticipating what feelings might get stirred up, or how to set up boundaries so that each partner doesn’t have ulterior or unconscious desires for a more romantic relationship. We use the therapy or coaching sessions to help people make realistic decisions given the type of person they are and what they’re looking for at this time in their lives.

Catron mentions another reason to her experiment’s success, which is the experience of love as an action as opposed to something that merely happens to someone externally . According to her, both she and her partner came to the experiment open and willing to take the steps to meeting someone new and falling in love. In addition, the study itself asked a series of questions that many long-term couples do not routinely ask one another, such as the last time a person cried alone or with another person. These types of questions may be considered too vulnerable even for couples who have been together for years. So I recommend learning to take the leap to connect deeply with vulnerability to someone through practicing vulnerability on a regular basis. Whether they’re your long-term partner, your spouse or someone you’ve recently began to see., the feeling of freedom and connection could be equally important to your emotional bond and increased sexual pleasure.

 

Embrace Sexual Liberty This July After the Fireworks

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

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

 the quality or state of being free:

a :  the power to do as one pleases

b :  freedom from physical restraint

c :  freedom from arbitrary or despotic control

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

e :  the power of choice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Feel Too Awkward to Tell Your Tinder Dating Story? You Could Use some Sex Esteem®

It’s wedding season, and I felt fortunate to attend a wedding of a man and woman who had met on Tinder. Each person that got up to make a speech at the rehearsal dinner and at the wedding mentioned this detail in their toast to the bride and groom. It made me feel surprised and yet rejoiced that this particular couple felt no embarrassment nor any discomfort that they had met up (a few years back now) on what was then known as more of a hook-up app. They did not feel repentant, naughty or shady about their initial desire to meet someone for some playful fun.

However as a sex therapist, I treat single people who are dating, newish couples and long-term committed couples, and several clients have discussed their feeling awkward when their friends or family ask how they met their new significant other. Does it seem better at that very minute to conjure up a romantic or at the very least a quirky, serendipitous story rather than admitting that you matched with a click or a swipe?
Not only have over 15% of US adults used online dating sites or dating apps, but the numbers of users and success stories increases each year for all ages.

Girl texting on the phone in a restaurantSince 2013, the number of 18 to 24 year olds on these sites has almost tripled, while it has doubled for Americans between 55 and 64 . So, if meeting online is so common these days, why can it sometimes be uncomfortable for some people to admit how they met?

The media in our culture still encourages fairy tale romances, seen in so many romcoms or series in which a young man sweeps a young woman off her feet, or a woman just has to look at another woman at a party and they fall in love (or lust as the case may be) instantly. In a show like Transparent, or Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce , two characters make eye contact from across the room and know they have to have each other . But we know that this isn’t the only way people meet. Perhaps swiping right or clicking ‘like’ is’ the new fairytale romance that we are just waiting to see in movies and television. When over one third of singles have used a website or app to meet others, it is time to rethink our idea of romantic introductions

Despite online dating’s popularity, there is some stigma around it. A recent study found that 23% of adults agree that “people who use online dating sites are desperate” . Although this percentage has decreased since 2005, ideas like this are discouraging for those who already fear the judgement from others as they reveal their true story of how they met.Male and female legs during a date As a therapist who often sees single clients who are dating, I often hear people express embarrassment when they start seeing someone and their parents or friends start asking more questions about where they met. The exception to this pattern are gay couples who are more comfortable with meeting men on apps like Grindr for a hookup which may or may not lead to a relationship.

When I inquire further, I discover they think people will think the relationship is not a “real” one and that it doesn’t have much hope for a long-term union because it started online. There is also the belief that others will judge them for shopping for hookups and trying to dress it up as a “date” when they’re speaking of it. People often believe that they should be embarrassed about having some relationships which are more about a sexual connection than an emotional/romantic union. These thoughts and feelings reflect more on American society, and religious/cultural beliefs than it does about human sexuality and the interest people have to have casual sex without a monogamous contract. If the understanding is clear and transparent, and both parties are sober and consensual and hopefully have discussed safer sex precautions, it is their prerogative on how they meet and connect with a partner.

Online dating app conceptHowever, when a couple meet on an app and then have the relationship develop into a long-term committed relationship, I encourage them to accept the relationship’s origin with pride and encourage them to explore more deeply the reasons behind their reluctance to share including internalized shame, anxiety of being shunned or criticized and the worry their relationship will not be respected.

I let them know that over 54 million people are utilizing sites like Match.com, EHarmony, and apps like Hinge and Bumble, and that many other like them are sharing their modern day love stories. In so doing they are changing the way the public may see the ‘hookup’ apps such as Tinder and like my friends who married earlier this summer,  beginning to embrace the potential beauty and power of online dating.

A recent heterosexual couple who came in to address their flagging sex life told me: “Her parents would die if they knew she found me on Tinder” and “ My parents won’t take our engagement seriously if they knew how we met and they’re helping to pay for the wedding”. If you are nervous to answer when someone asks you how you met, I am empathic since you are part of a generation of innovators who still have to explain Instagram and Snapchat to your parents. My advice to you is to use your Sex Esteem®, which is the combination of Couple in love kissing laughing having funCuriosity+Confidence+Clarity+Communication+Creativity.  I explored the idea of their shame in sharing their story is partly the same shame that was contributing to the less frequent sex in their relationship.

In addition to therapy, my practice provides Sex Esteem® classes and coaching which empowers people to tell others about the origins of their relationship without fear or shame. (There are some cultures in which the knowledge pre-marital and/or gay sex could have grave consequences so I help clients make well-thought out decisions when it comes to sharing this information). They also empower people to articulate the sex they desire from their partner in clear, calm way that allows for a partner to hear without defensiveness or hurt.

BLD022897 If you tell a listener in a confident and authentic manner what allowed the two of you to become more serious after initially being attracted to their physical appearance it is not different than your relative seeing a person they were attracted to at a disco or at a friend’s party. Relating it to situations of their generation that may have seemed illicit or less “serious” by their parents allows them to identify with the erotic and emotional feelings that are centuries old. Rather than focusing on the fact that you met online, tell a story about the moment you knew this connection had legs to become a committed relationship.

Man on smart phone - young business man in airportThe focus does not have to be about your online profile or how many people you swiped through to find her (unless you want it to be!). Instead, talk about the first time you laughed together, the reason why you were embarrassingly late to dinner, or how you hit it off when you both ordered the salad without the olives.

I invite you to become empowered. You met online because you took the initiative to find someone right for you who has similar interests, passions, and hobbies. You knew what you wanted in someone, and you went out and found the right person. Who says you have to wait for destiny? You found them. Own and celebrate your Sex Esteem®!

 

Millennials and Valentine’s Day

couple in hotel room

These days millennials are getting involved in serious relationships later and less often. With the rise of social media, dating apps, and increased gender equality, millennials are less likely to follow the romantic scripts that we see in other generations and popular media. Many often stray away from labels and are less eager for exclusivity; they are more accepting of nontraditional relationships with a free flow structure. Relationships vary amongst the 18 to 34 year olds, falling anywhere along a continuum of relational descriptions: casual hookups, friends-with-benefits, monogamous dating, non-monogamous couple, couple living together (either with a monogamy agreement or a non-monogamy agreement), or legal monogamous/non-monogamous marriage. So, how do millennials celebrate Valentine’s Day? The answer may surprise you.woman with red hearts over her eyes

According to the latest statistics, millennials are expected to spend an average of $290 each this Valentine’s Day. That is almost $100 more than the average expected cost of the holiday amongst other generations. Despite 58% of millennials believing that the holiday is overrated, 56% of them have plans to celebrate. They’re not just spending money, they also have other plans. According to a recent study, 73% percent of young Americans plan on having sex this February 14th.

Champagne glasses and rose petals for celebrating Valentines Day, on dark background
Champagne glasses and rose petals for celebrating Valentines Day, on dark background
What I have found in my work as a sex therapist and sex coach is that one partner may have it in his/her mind that certain sexual activities will be part of the Valentine’s Day date while the other may not. And they’ve never alluded to the difference in their expectations. Not smart. It’s better for one’s relationship and V-Day date to give a heads up to your date (or if you’re in a triad, dates) about what kind of sexual scenario you’re hoping to have to see if you’re on the same page. Don’t expect alcohol to do your seduction for you because you may regret it, or not remember it in the morning. Too much alcohol may also cause a boundary crossing that is actually illegal (while several of my clients have been in this situation in the past, they do not label it as rape, although it technically is since they let their partner know they did not want to have intercourse and the partner drunkenly penetrated them or did another behavior that was not agreed to). I will discuss this in an upcoming blog.

Back to millennials and their generous outlay of cash on V-Day, what is that about? Could it be that younger adults are trying to impress their partners with fancier, more extravagant dinners and flowers? couple celebrating Valentine's Day with fancy dinner
Another explanation might be that this generation generally finds the holiday less romantic than others and chooses to spread the love amongst friends, family and coworkers as well. It is seen as a day of love for all of the important people in their lives, not just a romantic partner. They may not buy into the love in the holiday, but they do love buying gifts for everyone. In fact, the average 25-36 year old spends over $40 on their pet for the holiday.

Millennials have been brought up with the internet as part of their everyday life and with it the ease with which to purchase all sorts of things. In fact, the research reveals that a millennial “not only highly values experiences, but they are increasingly spending time and money on them”, rather than the traditional gift or object. So perhaps a Valentine’s Day trip to the beach over a pair of pearl earrings feels a lot more inviting and ultimately erotic. romantic couple on the beach I think it’s important to note that while V-Day has a lot of hype and commercialism built into it, it’s also a time where lovers spend energy planning, anticipating and savoring the day. These are all important keys to attaining and retaining Sex Esteem® throughout a long-term relationship. Many long term couples do not spend the time and effort when planning dates or fun adventures to keep their erotic energy stoked.
Group of Friends Singles Awareness Day

In addition to V-Day, the newish Singles Awareness Day offers those millennials without a partner to spread the love and feel joyous as well. Similar to China’s uber commercial Singles Day, the holiday gives single men and women a day to practice self love, enjoy the day with friends, rather than wallowing in the media driven “single life pity”. Some spend the day treating themselves with a mani-pedi, and others grab a group of friends and go out. Either way, millennials have made the holiday into something enjoyable for all involved.

My advice to those of you who are heading out for the night on either Valentine’s Day or Singles Awareness Day, is to think about the love you’re hoping to express and receive and plan accordingly. Let the other(s) know what you want to do, what you want to spend, and how much you want to drink. Think about your sexual menu and decide the limits you’d like to set (and yes, even for those that have a very long sexual menu, there are always some things they do NOT want to do) or establish a safe word. Have a fun, safe Valentine’s Day with those you have chosen to share some love! And think about how you want to bring these sexual ideas into the rest of the 364 days of your year. Smiling couple>

Sex Esteem® Holiday Tips for Feeling Sexy

Multi Generation Family Celebrating ThanksgivingThe holiday season is meant to be joyful and merry, but it often comes with a whole lot of stress and anxiety for Americans. I am lucky in that Thanksgiving is chosen holiday for me given that I was born in Canada and never celebrated any type of Thanksgiving until I moved to the U.S. So that history that others have with their childhood Thanksgivings and both the positive and the negative associations people have with them is not something I have. However, I am keenly aware how this holiday and the holiday season that follows next month stir up many people’s anxiety pot. Over the years I’ve helped clients in my private practice and coaching clients online to prepare before and process after the holiday. Holiday stress ends up affecting people in many ways, including their eating habits, how the food intake then affects their body image, and very frequently impacting their sex lives. Their Sex Esteem® can become impacted by the way they feel inside their body and how they focus on how they are perceived by others.

woman tired of diet restrictions deciding to eat healthy food or sweet cookies When it is time to reunite with family members, people often find themselves sinking back into the family patterns from childhood which may include misunderstanding, resentments and dysfunction they hoped would be left behind years ago. With family members reuniting, quizzing each other on their jobs, significant others, and recent accomplishments, it is far too easy to forget that this time of year is meant to be a time to rejoice and relax.

Eating disorders are more than twice as prevalent as they were 40 years ago, affecting up to 30 million Americans today (20 million women and 10 million men). When people are under stress from the marathon of holiday events they attend, they tend to miss out on much-needed sleep, which may lead to emotional eating. Depositphotos_1022974_s-2015With appetizers, dinners, desserts and wine as center pieces, it is easy to get sucked into a holiday “diet”, leaving you even more stressed and self conscious than before. It is far too common to then feel heavier and weighed down, especially as the temperatures sink outside.

Messages and pictures from the media often influence and perpetuate body dissatisfaction and self-criticism. Americans watch, on average, three hours of television each day with commercials and shows containing subconscious as well as conscious messages that to convey an ideal of beauty and virility Female characters on TV, commercials and in films are unrealistically thin, busty, and curved in the right places, failing to represent what women truly look like. Photographs of models’ and actresses’ bodies are edited to make their breasts look bigger, waists smaller, and skin more flawless. Research has found a link between exposure to the thin ideal and unrealistic body types in the media to body dissatisfaction and disordered eating among women. In other words, the more women are exposed to the unrealistic body and beauty expectations of women through TV, ads, and other media, the worse they feel about themselves and the more likely they are to have unhealthy eating habits. In the end, women are left feeling self conscious and unhappy with their bodies.

Woman looking at self in mirrorIn my practice, I have found that women who are self-conscious about their bodies are also unable to thoroughly enjoy sex with their partner, at times avoiding sexual encounters. The focus is taken away from feeling pleasure in their bodies as they ruminate over what they perceive as faults, or insufficiencies while in the act of sex. Research has shown that low body image and weight concern affect women’s sex drive. When women feel worse about their bodies, they are less sexually active and less able to become sexually aroused.

Cheering upIncreased drinking, combined with an inadequate amount of sleep, can all add up to feeling down, or a euphoric feeling that leads to eating more than one needs to be physically satiated. When one feels over-stuffed one has much less energy for sexual intimacy (which under good circumstances can feel pleasurable). I’m providing a warning to all you holiday revelers to resist the urge to alienate yourself from true holiday pleasure in your body, mind and heart which can result in feeling less sexual and most likely more isolated.

What can you do to feel healthier, sexier, and more active? Want to retain and build on the Sex Esteem® you have been growing through reading my blog? I urge you to be mindful of your relationship with stress and food at this time of year. It is important to be aware of your emotions and how you may be attempting to numb them by throwing a huge pile of stuffing and pumpkin pie on your plate. I invite you to think about your erotic self and how your inner mind wants to keep you feeling vital, passionate and connected. What are my holiday tips this year?

Depositphotos_56552229_s-2015Begin the day by doing some sort of movement to get you in touch with your body, whether it’s some simple stretches, a walk or run outside, or a trip to the gym or a yoga class if that’s your thing.
Cheerful multi generation family playing football in the park Perhaps organizing a family tag football game will give you some running, some playing and some fun time with the extended family or friends before sitting down to the meal.

If you are feeling stressed with particular people at the gather, like your Uncle Tim and Aunt Lisa, focus on others with whom you connect more; like 8 year old cousin Brittany who wants to play house with you. If the tension becomes high for you, excuse yourself to take a little break outside to get some fresh air and breath deeply for 5 minutes. If you are working on goals to eat more healthily fill a smaller plate and resist the urges (your own and others’) to take seconds or thirds to satisfy an emotional need. Instead enjoy the flavors of the food by eating more slowly and mindfully.

In my new webshow Sex Esteem® on Youtube I discuss the power our senses have in our ability to turn ourselves on. For some the smells of pumpkin pie become a trigger for sex while others seek out the texture and flavors of homemade creamed spinach, mashed sweet potatoes, and turkey with a bit of gravy on the side. Think about what aspects of the holiday contain erotic triggers for you. If you aren’t cooking and are trying to keep to a healthier regimen, volunteer to bring along some healthy side like sauteed green beans or roasted asparagus.

christmas dinner table
If you are in a relationship It is important to prepare for the holidays by telling your partner about what concerns you have about the relatives you’ll be visiting, the menu and your personal food and alcohol goals and ask him/her to support you during the celebration. Check in with him/her before the meal and throughout to be in connection with each other. Discuss how much alcohol you plan to drink and how comfortable you feel at the table. If you’re both on the same page, having a buddy sticking to a plan is a great way to enjoy eachother and the holiday even more.

Initiate hugs and touching with your beloved sporadically throughout the day so that you are giving and receiving support, love, and connection. By creating an intimate plan with your partner, you are making sure that you will look after each other and know what to expect throughout the day. BLD055516

Communicate ahead of time to find pockets of time you might have time (and privacy) for some sensual fun. It will keep one another grounded and connected in what may feel like a maelstrom of activity outside the bedroom. If you are single, try to sit next to the person with whom you feel closest. Be of service to those you love by helping out with the preparation of the food and or table. Giving hugs provides closeness to both those you hug and yourself.
Intimate lovers embrace

Do not rush, and take time to savor every positive moment. The holidays are a time to reflect on your company, health, and positive relationships. Remind yourself what you are grateful for and what you love about yourself. Take a deep breathe and appreciate all that you have around you. Avoid overstressing and try to check back into what makes you happy. Remember that your emotional and sensual peace is much more significant than the size of your waist.

Addyi Passed by FDA; Will it Help Low Libido?

This past August, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first prescription drug designed to increase women’s sexual drive. Addyi (rhymes with Daddy, don’t ask me how they come up with these names), developed by Sprout Pharmaceuticals, has been dubbed the “Female Viagra.” However, unlike Viagra used primarily by men to help them with their erections and other PDE5 inhibitors which allow more blood flow to a penis, this medication works on the brain. Another important difference is that Viagra (and the medications for a man’s Erectile Dysfunction) is taken as needed and works pretty rapidly whereas Addyi is taken every day, much like an anti-depressant and one may not see improvement until 4 weeks have passed.

Addyi is being hailed as the first of its kind to treat the root of the issue formerly known as Hypo Sexual Desire Disorder (or HSDD), now called Female Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder (FSIAD) in the new DSM 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual)
in pre-menopausal women. The new DSM 5 merged the experience of not feeling frisky or interested with the experience of not being able to get physically aroused.
sad_woman_420jpg-420x0
HSDD is characterized by low sexual desire that causes marked distress or interpersonal difficulty and is not due to a co-existing medical or psychiatric condition, problems within the relationship, or the effects of a medication or other drug substance. HSDD is acquired when it develops in a patient who previously had no problems with sexual desire. HSDD is generalized when it occurs regardless of the type of sexual activity, the situation or the sexual partner. (www.fda.gov)

Originally developed as an antidepressant, Addyi works on the neurotransmitters in the brain to increase desire. While it is without question that the FDA and pharmaceutical companies often discriminate towards women in drug development and manufacturing, before women across the United States can truly claim victory, there remain strong concerns that this miracle pill (dubbed the little pink pill as a marketing ploy to resonate with the little blue pill that is Viagra) might actually bring more harm than good.
pinkpill One of the biggest concerns surrounding Addyi is whether the drug actually does what it claims. Approval for Addyi (when it was called Flibanserin) was actually previously rejected by the FDA twice – in 2010 and 2013 – for many reasons, including lack of effectiveness.

Even in the most recent studies, women taking Addyi only saw just one more sexually satisfying event (SSE) per month than those participants just taking the placebo. What my clients come in discussing is the loss of their intrinsic desire (or what some would call horniness, a physical tingling that alert them to their desire, an erotic fantasy or awareness that one is turned on) versus receptive desire (prompted by flirting, a fun date, or an intimate connection for example). Some in my field are not clear whether the Addyi study really were able to tell the difference in these types of issues by looking mainly at SSEs.

Moreover, many women do not realize the power their erotic mind has in boosting their drive and they do not understand that intrinsic physiologic triggers wear off naturally over time – which is why many in my field are asking whether we know enough about women’s desire to a) called it a medical pathology in the first place and b) offer them a medication versus educating women on other ways to increase their desire through other means? Considering that there was a high placebo effect in the study confirms my belief that some women need more education on how to enhance their erotic triggers besides intrinsic biological triggers.

In addition to the minimal evidence that the medication provides any substantial benefit to a woman’s sexual desire, I also share others concerns surrounding the side effects of this medication. As I mentioned above, the FDA previously rejected Addyi and another reason for those rejections were due to the high risk of side effects. First, there are the common side effects which including fainting, drowsiness, nausea, dizziness, and low blood pressure. While these are common for many other medications, women taking Addyi are also heavily counselled to abstain entirely from alcohol while on this medication because of the increased risk of severe hypotension and syncope due to the interaction between Addyi and alcohol.

The FDA felt so strongly about these side effects that each Addyi box will contain strong labeling highlighting these risks. Moreover, any doctor wishing to prescribe Addyi and any pharmacist that sells this medication must complete an online training course. It seems unrealistic to ask women – who may use alcohol as a means to relax prior to a sexual encounter – to abstain from alcohol and experience strong side effects from a pill that might only minimally increase their sexual arousal.

Finally, it also remains unclear that insurance companies will even cover Addyi. Some argue it would be equivalent to a monthly dose of traditional Viagra which is approximately $400, not an affordable medication for most folks. This means that even for a patient who does experience increased libido with no side effects, cost might continue to be a barrier. But pharmaceuticals are big business and when Sprout Pharmaceuticals was acquired by Valeant for $1 billion dollars, it was clear they were investing for a huge long-term gain on investment. You have probably heard about Valeant as recently as this past week, since it has reportedly raised the price on its brand name medications an average of 66% this past year.

While I am hopeful now that the FDA are taking women’s medical issues more seriously, and that they are interested in helping women who indeed have HSDD, I think we have to help women strengthen their Sex Esteem® by
a) figuring out if their low desire fits the criteria for the diagnosis of FSIAD
b) continuing to educate women on the many-layered causes for lower desire over long-term relationships
c) help them make an educated decision whether they need a medication.
d) ensure that they aren’t going to use alcohol when on the medication.

Latest Blog: Engagements & Weddings: 5 Topics to Cover

Dissatisfied wedding couple

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

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

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

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

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

Young couple finding out results of pregnancy test at home

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

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

2. What do you consider cheating?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Plan business meetings to discuss finances

coin couple

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