Tag Archives: sex

How to Visit Family & Have Vacation Sex this Holiday Season

Now that we are approaching the holiday season a lot of folks have planned to visit extended family to celebrate Thanksgiving, Mawlid-al-Nabi, Chanukah, Christmas, and New Year’s. As a couples and sex therapist, my associate therapists and I continually hear common themes and concerns among our CLS clients regarding upcoming plans and their sexual lives.

In a recent report by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 48.3 percent of families with heterosexual couples, both husband and wife were employed.  While the remaining American families may have a parent that is child rearing or unemployed, most couples in our Center (including those couples without children, those that identify as LGBTQ, and those that have consensual non-monogamous relationships) report feeling exhausted by long hours, demanding bosses, and a lot less time for self-care than in that past few years.  Most workers have limits on the number of vacation days they’re allowed to take in a calendar year so saving these days for going home for the holidays with the fam can take a good bite out of that bank of person time off .

The essential questions my associate therapists and I often hear from couples in our offices at CLS is:

“How can we have a real vacation during a visit to our families for the holidays?” 

They are asking essentially: are the two terms literally an oxymoron when combined?
Here are a few common questions partners have posed in recent sessions leading up to anticipated Thanksgiving and Christmas visits to family on their valuable vacation days off work and my responses:

Why do we have to do what everyone else in your family does for every minute of the day? 

Set up a dinner with each other before your travel date to specifically discuss what kind of rhythm each day could have, what parents or relatives may expect of each of you, and what each partner is hoping to get out of the vacation/visit. Then brainstorm compromises around taking time away from the whole group at less peak events (going for a drive after post-Thanksgiving breakfast, scheduling a couples massage Christmas Day afternoon in lieu of watching a movie with everyone else).  Lastly once you come up with a plan, make sure the partner whose family is being visited tells their family what to expect a week or more before the holiday with specific details so that they have time to get used to it.

Credit: Deposit Photos

I don’t want to stay up late drinking since I want to use my vacation to exercise every morning but how can I do that without getting flack?

Many families have a tradition of heavy drinking during these holidays.  For relatives who are either less into partying or actually in sober recovery, family holidays can be really challenging.  Some people are trying to eat healthier by staying away from high caloric food and having lots of alcohol and high sugar foods around can be a high pressure situation.  For those whose ideal vacation is to maintain or catch up on an exercise regimen, the ongoing lounging on the couch and watching football or movies can prove to feel like pressure to join in.  Will you get a guilt trip from a parent or continual ribbing by siblings for going to bed earlier than the rest of the family or joining the breakfast crowd an hour later due to your morning run/yoga/cycling session?  Once you tell your family you’ll be following a particular rhythm over your break, let them know you’re looking forward to spending time with them and perhaps invite them to a class or run with you so that you have an ally in that domain and start a new tradition.

How do we prepare and protect our partner when it comes to touchy topics? 

Many partners feel like they either have full permission to express what they want with their in-laws while some feel like they have to walk around on eggshells for fear of stepping on a sensitive topic and blowing a landmine that explodes.  For example, a boyfriend expressed his openness about a friend’s decision not to have children during a family meal at his girlfriend’s parents’ home last Thanksgiving.  His girlfriend’s mother blanched and immediately excused herself from the table while his girlfriend shot him an accusatory look.

The mood turned into a frigid stone silence and the boyfriend was wondering what he had done wrong.  When they returned to their room, the girlfriend began blaming him for being so emotionally clueless regarding bringing up the topic of children since her mother had always expressed her desire for grandchildren and the idea of not having grandchildren depressed her.  He became defensive and argued that he was clueless because she hadn’t given him any clues!

I invite the partner whose relatives are being visited to act as an emissary and to prepare their partner by setting boundaries on subjects that might be hot topics and to be an ally to their partner when discussing issues and/or plans each day. This is the way partners can care for their mates and relationship while also keeping the peace with their family of origin culture.

How do we help our partners or spouses feel like this time is also made special for them? 

Credit: Deposit Photos

Plan to take some time as a couple away from the larger family unit to have some fun. This could include a visit to a local site, a hike at a nearby park or a grabbing a pint at a favorite pub.  One couple decided to go out dancing at a club they used to frequent as a teenager after their parents headed off to bed one night, another partner booked a couples massage Friday afternoon while the rest of the family went Black Friday shopping assuring their relatives they’d be back to help prepare a family dinner.

 

How can we have sex when we’re sleeping in a guest room near the family room? 

Use this vacation/visit to add creativity to your sexual repertoire:

  • Create playful rules about noise and use blindfolds and tape to limit sight and sound to enhance sex play.
  • Plan to give one another sensual massages with oil from a warm wax candle as a fun way to create outercourse or foreplay while the rest of the family go to sleep, then you have options for what comes next.
  • Stay home while the rest of the family go out for a pickup football game and have a quickie in the shower.

Wishing you a restful, emotionally and sexually satisfying holiday season with your lover and your families.  Happy Holidays!

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

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

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

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

Vulnerability and Sex 

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

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

Men and Comfort, an oxymoron?

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

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

Meaning of Sex and Death Anxiety

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

Death Anxiety and The Lack of Living Fully

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

Ask for Comfort without Shame

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

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

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

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

WHY?

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

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

HOW?

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

Kirra Cheers, The LIST

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

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

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

CONSENT

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

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

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

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

TRANSFORMATION

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

Kirra Cheers

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

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

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

INTENTION

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

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

Kirra Cheers’ The LIST

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

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.

 

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.

Latest Blog: Engagements & Weddings: 5 Topics to Cover

Dissatisfied wedding couple

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

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

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

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

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

Young couple finding out results of pregnancy test at home

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

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

2. What do you consider cheating?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Depositphotos_11881176_l

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

5. Plan business meetings to discuss finances

coin couple

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