Cuddle Party

What is intimacy coaching?

When people come to a sexuality professional, the general sense is that something will be done to them. They’ll experience more, or experience something different, or expand their knowledge and expertise, as in:

“I’ll experience something new”

or

“I’ll learn something new”

In this scenario, the sexuality professional is the expert, like a doctor, who’ll work out what’s wrong, and fix it. Fix you.

Intimacy coaching is different. It has similarities with surrogacy. The similarity is slightly hidden, because when we think of surrogacy, we generally think of it in terms of sexual intercourse: the idea that people who have a fear of intercourse can overcome it through having sex with a surrogate.

My experience of surrogacy was different. When I was working in London in 2015 with the great Sue Newsome, we would work together with a client. She would take the role of the therapist, and I would take the role of the body, the surrogate. All that was required of me was to be physically available and emotionally honest.

I never had sex with the client, who tended to be of two kinds.

In the first, the [female] client would often have a lot of sex, but would find it unsatisfactory and superficial, because it was normally drink or drug fuelled, and lacked intimacy and emotional connection.

In the second, the client might be having sex or not, but the fundamental issue was a lack of confidence.

Both types of client found intimacy problematic. Eye gazing was difficult for them. Likewise embracing.

It seemed that the first kind of client used substances as a kind of bridge to move from ordinary experience to sexual experience. The problem with that was that the relaxation and connection engendered in the body -which would naturally lead to arousal, in its own time – through simple intimacy was missing, which meant that when it got sexual, the body, and the heartful, loving self within the body, got left behind, rendering the whole experience repetitive and superficial.

And for the second kind of client, they found intimacy difficult because they regarded it as the entree to something – sex – where they felt inept and unconfident. This person thought of sex as being like a skill, or like a language everyone else knew but her.

When I started working independently, I forgot all about this. I thought of myself as a bodyworker, working with people on the massage table, enabling them to feel safe and relaxed sufficiently to experience sexual pleasure, perhaps for the first time in their lives.

However, I found I had some clients who, in response to touch, not matter how slow and safe I went, seemed to become more disconnected from their bodies. In experimenting with ways out of this, I gradually came back into connection with surrogacy.

I found that by coming into relational contact with the client, allowing them to embrace or be in contact with me, or having them experimenting with how they wanted to be touched, or how they wanted to dance with me, changed everything.

The intimacy opened up a space for desire. Relational desire, where it wasn’t what you were having done to you, or what you were doing to someone else, but what you were feeling, and what you were feeling together with the other person, me. Feeling with.

I call this work intimacy coaching. There are boundaries to it. I don’t have sex with a client. And that boundary is helpful, because it removes the idea that intimacy has an end point. Which leaves the client open to experiment with what they want in the present moment.

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In the space of less than one lifetime, as a society, we have gone from not thinking about the clitoris at all to focusing on it as the main organ of female pleasure, and we have changed our sense of it from just being the glands, where the pleasure is most intense, to being a detailed, largely internal structure. You can see a helpful diagram here

This is obviously a very welcome development, and goes some way towards redressing the shameful neglect of female sexuality which has characterised most of our history.

The enhancement of female pleasure is unequivocally a wonderful thing, but seeing the clitoris in this way – as simply an organ of pleasure – maintains a way of looking at our sexuality – female and male – which often has the effect of splitting off our sexuality from the rest of us,  excluding a fundamental sense of ourselves as a joyful, feeling totality, intimately connected to an alive and responsive world.

And, viewing a part of us as simply “an organ of pleasure” is, I think, quite a male perspective. And if something is an organ of pleasure, shouldn’t it always welcome touch and be responsive to it? And if it doesn’t, does that mean that there’s something wrong with the touch, something wrong with the “organ”, or something wrong with its owner?

Added to that, there is a double problem with “viewing”.

The French thinker and psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan famously talked about The Mirror Stage. The idea was that as infants, our consciousness is originally purely embodied. We don’t have a picture of ourselves. However, when the infant sees an actual or imagined reflection of themselves, they say “That’s Me!”. This creates a split, which is [in Lacan’s view, not mine] never healed, between our sense of ourselves ‘from the inside’, as it were, and our image of ourselves, a view ‘from the outside’. Frequently, the image is the more dominant part. You can observe this all the time. You ask someone to do something with their left hand, for example, and they will frequently look at their hand, as if the visual brings the body into existence.

I think this split shows up in  sexuality, with all genders, but that women are particularly exposed to it because of the additional issue of the male gaze, the historical portrayal of woman from the outside, what they look like.

And this double problem is made worse by the largely internal nature of women’s sexuality.

I don’t want to generalise, but amongst many of the women I have worked with, the familiar way of regarding sexuality as body  and arousal focused – racing up the mountain – isn’t wrong, but incomplete. It doesn’t work very well for them, and they tend to blame themselves for it. They think there’s something wrong with them.

What I’ve found is that a different kind of  sexuality is helpful to them, and it often has the following characteristics:

  • it isn’t orgasm focused
  • it’s as if time slows right down
  • there is a sense of deepening and enlivening, rather than travel towards a destination
  • it’s holistic: the body, the imagination, memory and feeling are all included.

Another way of describing it is Chthonic. Imagine two people on the surface of a world. The first  thinks the world is two dimensional, surface only. This person would think in terms of travel, of getting somewhere. A Hero’s Journey, you could say.The second person is different. This person can sense depth beneath them. By just being there, being present, the depth of the world opens up. And with that depth, a whole world of feeling, so all the tremors and movements of this world aren’t willed by this person, but experienced. The two experiences are totally different, aren’t they?

I don’t want to replace one orthodoxy with another. But I would like to encourage the idea that your sexuality is your sexuality. It is unique. The task is to find it, rather than try to bend it to fit a model which isn’t natural for you. I’d like to help you to do that.

You can read my related post ‘The Myth of Female Sexual Dysfunction’ here

You can contact me here

You can read more of my articles here

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I do sex therapy work on the telephone in two distinct ways.

The first is for people to whom working in person, or online, just seems too risky, but speaking by telephone, even as a start, is possible.

The people whom I want to work with the most are people who have a significant block around sexuality, which fundamentally effects their happiness and their desire to leave a meaningful, connected life. And so, it’s important for me that I provide the widest possible entrance way into my work, because you are the person I’m doing this work for.

The second way I discovered by accident. I realised that it was much easier to establish intimacy and connection by telephone, compared to online, because there wasn’t that strange distancing effect that you sometimes get when you see the image of another, and are aware of them seeing your image. Paradoxically, not having those images meant it was much easier to engender deep states of relaxation and embodiment, within which healing can occur.

So for example, if I am working with someone who has significant issues of negative body image, or is quite disconnected from the body, if there is just our respective voices, and the your somatic experience, it becomes much easier to move into a non visual, felt space, which makes it possible to start experiencing the body in a different way: far less judgmental, more relaxed, more aware, more pleasurable. And this becomes a virtuous circle. Once you have a sense of the breath and the felt and experienced body, something happens. It is as if we normally experience our body, and our sexuality, as a frozen landscape. All we can see is ice. So we imagine that what sexuality is about is getting from one place to another place. But embodied awareness is like a melting of this ice, so we can gradually feel more of the landscape of our body just where we are. And it’s progressive. We come to feel the different textures and contours, and working with the embodied breath, we gradually feel the depth of the body, all the different levels, all the different energies.  This is wonderful medicine for disembodiment and body judgment. It’s true sexual healing.

If this strikes a chord with you, why not get in touch with me, in whichever way feels right.

You can read more about my approach here

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John Fraser, Somatic Sex Therapist and Sexological Bodyworker, Glasgow

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[ for information about the structure  of a sex therapy session, see here ]

[for information on the possible contents  of a sex therapy session, see here ]

 

 

How do people like myself work with clients who have sexual issues?

It’s an important point, because until it’s clarified, many people who would benefit from working with a sexuality professional are unlikely to seriously consider it.

My guess is that most people can’t imagine the ways of working with a somatic sex therapist like me: is it talking? Are they naked? Will I be touching them intimately? Am I teaching them how to touch their own, or their partner’s genitals? Will it be safe?   

All of these things may happen, but apart from the first (and the last – safety is my number one concern), they aren’t a major part of my work. To understand why that is so, I need to explain my perspective.

The more I work with clients, the more I am confirmed in my belief that most people are in a state of chronic tension, which is a major obstacle to them feeling the moment to moment, pleasurable aliveness of their bodies.

 

This chronic tension leaves them, unsurprisingly, with a limited, tension based view of sexuality: it’s about the genitals, it’s about performance and it’s about release. Somehow being able to temporarily ignore the chronic and general habitual tension through tension-based sexual activity, later discharged through orgasm, leading to an all too fleeting sense of relaxation and release.

In contrast, I believe that sexuality is all about relaxation, not tension. It’s not about fixing anything. It’s coming to understand how we block our own aliveness. When we relax, we can feel the pleasurable, responsive aliveness of the body, and when we can feel that, then more identifiably sexual feelings arise naturally.

 Although bodywork is only part of my work, I’d like to focus on it here to illustrate how I can help the client feel relaxed and empowered, but also because I think that false ideas about it are the main obstacle to people contacting a sexuality professional.

 

There are two ways I empower the client.

 

First, through agency and choice. When I do Bodywork with a client, I ask them where they want to be touched. I tell them they can wear as much or as little clothing as they wish. I explain I am happy to touch them over their clothes, or over a blanket, or under a blanket. If the client is sensitive about their body being seen, I am happy to work with my eyes closed, or the lights off, or wearing an eye mask. They are always in control, at all times. They can stop or modify the contact at any time.

 

The point is: you choose. That’s vitally important. Unless the client is empowered, we can’t go anywhere.

 

Second, I make it clear that I am in responsive service to the client. They decide where the touch is to go, and how that touch should be. We maintain a dialogue. We’re connected.

 

Here’s the thing: when clients feel relaxed and embodied and connected, very often, to their surprise, sexual feelings arise. They are both relaxed and aroused, which feels unusual at first, but which, after a while, is wonderful.

 

Sometimes, the client will have experienced trauma, which makes touch quite problematic, or it may be problematic for other reasons. In those cases, I encourage the client to freely experiment with me to find a way forward. One client found being touched while she was lying down quite triggering, so we experimented with other forms of touch: embracing at her request, dancing, and other relationally focused forms which proved empowering and enlivening for her.

 

And with the bulk of clients, there isn’t genital touch at all. It’s true that some clients wish to explore genital sensation, but most don’t feel it’s necessary, because they understand that what was really necessary was getting back in touch with their bodies. And once they did, the problems disappeared.

 

 I don’t touch the body. I touch the person, through the body. Each part is the whole. And, I don’t believe the body to be passive. I believe that wherever the body is touched, that part enters into a sort of unfolding dialogue with the touch, gradually uncovering layers: layers of tension and relaxation, layers of emotion, layers of memory. And because I believe this, I expect this. And so, it can happen.

 

So, working with me isn’t about me fixing you, but about you changing your perspective, and becoming more embodied.

 

Embodiment, Agency, Connection: it changes everything.

[For a full list of my articles click here ]

[ To contact me, click here

If you’re interested in this field and want to work in person, but aren’t in Scotland and want someone local – I do work on Zoom, and also do bespoke multiple sessions over several days for those happy to travel to Glasgow – see my extensive Links Page here

 

(Transcript of my talk at the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow, 23/11/2019, as part of The Glasgow Sex Lectures, for the video, see the Home Page of this website)

 

I have an unusual background for someone working in the field of sexuality: I was a divorce lawyer for more than 30 years. My office was about 800 yards from here.

 

In Scotland, you need to give a reason to get a divorce. You either need to have been living apart for a minimum period, or there needs to be behavioural grounds; essentially adultery or unreasonable behaviour: violence, drunkenness, general craziness. So we’d always need to establish that before going on to arguing about the house, or the money, or the children.

 

Once we had our reason for the breakdown, we didn’t need to enquire further.

 

But it became clear to me after a while that the behaviour we said caused the marriage to break down was – generally speaking – not the cause, but the consequence. The marriage had already broken down, due to something else.

 

And that something else was, almost always, the collapse in sexual intimacy between the partners. It was as if a mass of termites had eaten away the heart of the building, leaving the structure standing, but empty. And when one of the partners slammed the door on the way out, the whole structure collapsed. And often, with the other partner left inside, in turn collapsing into depression, alcoholism, loneliness.

 

Sometimes, rather than come to a divorce lawyer like me, the couple would seek marriage guidance counselling, or therapy. The main organisation in this field is Relate. What happens there?

 

Well, the clue is in the name. Although not explicitly stated, there is an assumption that if there are sexual issues in a relationship, then the cause of that must be something else, because sex is a natural urge, like hunger. Natural, and physical. So, you identify and resolve the non sexual issues in the relationship which are the cause, and sex will resume.

 

They will give you exercises in sensate focus, where you are encouraged to do non sexual but intimate things together, like massage. This may work sometimes, but often it doesn’t, because generally held notions of what sex is, and what it’s for, aren’t challenged.

 

This idea of sex being natural is often attached to a wistful nostalgia: how do you rekindle the flame? How do you get the magic back? 

 

That’s suspicious, because in  that regard, our intimate relationships are an anomaly. We don’t, for instance, wish long lasting friendships to become like they were when we first met.

 

I need to say this plainly: We’re wrong.

 

 Sex isn’t a natural urge, whatever that means, and our ideas about what sex is aren’t natural either. They are highly artificial and tightly constricted, almost as if the purpose is to cause the maximum amount of unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

 

Psychotherapists aren’t allowed to touch their clients. But there is an emerging field of professionally trained people where touch is central, and one of the disciplines in that field is Sexological Bodywork, in which I trained in 2015, along with two of the other speakers tonight.

 

I first got involved in the field of sexuality in 2004, with the great tantra teacher Hilly Spenceley, the founder of Shakti Tantra and worked with a number of the tantra and sexuality schools in this country: Quodoushka, The Human Awareness Institute and others, so by the time I trained in Sexological Bodywork, I had a lot of knowledge and experience.

 

 But what I didn’t have was an overarching perspective, and specifically one which enabled me to work with couples, until I came across Donald  Mosher.

 

Mosher’s idea is simple but revolutionary: our normal understanding of sex is only one of three modes of sex. He calls these three modes Trance, Partner Engagement and Play.

 

What we generally think of as sex is the second one, Partner Engagement. It’s what I describe as Hollywood Sex: the partners are very engaged with each other, The sex is very connecting, orgasm is the goal, simultaneous orgasm the ideal. That’s what people think good sex is. Except, they’re not getting it. Everyone else is getting steak and chips, and they’re just getting a pie. The same pie, on the same plate. No wonder they want to tuck into someone else.

 

Consider the other two:

 

Trance is where you’re really absorbed in your own experience. The world drops away. Time disappears. You are totally relaxed and present. Except, if you think that sex is The Hollywood Model, you’ll think you’re being selfish. You’ll think you’re taking too much time. You’ll think you have to keep showing your appreciation. You’re thinking what you need to give in return. If you’re the giver and you don’t understand Trance, you’ll think your partner is bored.

 

Play is as it suggests: it’s role play, BDSM, power play, fantasy.

 

Hollywood Sex is like a romantic meal in a friendly restaurant. Trance is like a meal for connoisseurs: you want to savour the foie gras, not reassure the anxious waiter about the great service. Play is a custard pie fight. In costume.

 

Taking Mosher’s idea transformed my work with couples. I now understood that I could best work with couples in three interacting ways: embodiment, communication and variety.

 

Embodiment is the most important. Each partner needs to regain a sense of themselves as a sovereign sexual being. Often, the soft animal of the body is pinned beneath the concrete block of expectation and its twin, resentment. So I work with the body to reawaken and to free it, so the person can understand their range and capacity for pleasure and sensation.

 

And what I also do is to expand the sense of what is possible. When people say that they don’t know what they want, or they don’t want anything, that often means they don’t know what’s possible. They think it’s choosing between being touched in a particular way. But our body isn’t just the body of our flesh: it’s also the body of our dreams, of our memories, of our associations. So, I also encourage people to expand into these realms by asking

 

I would like you to touch me like….. you were saying goodbye to me

I would like you to touch me as if….. you were an angel, incarnated in a human body for the first time.

 

Understanding their own pleasure palette, I then teach the partners how to communicate, primarily using Betty Martin’s Wheel Of Consent. Michael, one of the other speakers tonight and I both did her Inaugural Practitioner Training, and he will speak on The Wheel in his talk, so I don’t need to speak about it here.

 

The third is Variety, the antidote to boredom and repetition.  Quodoushka, one of the tantra schools I mentioned earlier, has a concept called The Wheel Of Sexuality. The Wheel is like a compass.

 

 Each point of the compass marks a different region of sexuality. So, for instance, South is Innocence, West is Body, North is Agreement and East is Spirit. And there are the midpoints too. So NE is energetic practices, NW is power, SW is risk and SE is normal Sex. Normal for you.

 

And combining this with Mosher enables me to create an almost endless series of embodied exercises personal to the couple, which expand their ideas of what sex can be, redresses imbalances and, most importantly, gets them away from an unbalanced focus on intercourse and orgasm. 

 

For better or worse, we have built our society on the foundation of enduring sexual love. But we do little or nothing to nurture that, and the price is paid in diminished, unhappy lives for the partners involved.

 

And also by their children, who carry it on, like a dark stain that can never be entirely washed off.

 

If we were to change this, then we need to agree that couples need to be supported in their sexuality. Not to wait until they are at daggers drawn, because it’s too late by then, but as part of their ongoing relation and expansion. The way out of mediocre sex, which morphs to bad sex then no sex isn’t to freshen up the punchline, but to expand the language. It isn’t to burn down the restaurant and dine elsewhere. It isn’t even to replace the chef. It’s to learn how to cook yourself and your partner into something delicious, and always new. Bon appetit. 

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My approach to sex therapy is unusual, and  counter intuitive to our culture’s usual assumptions about sexuality. I don’t start with the assumption that there’s something ‘not working’ with your body or your capacity for intimacy.

My starting assumption, and the basis for all my work, is that our bodies are intrinsically pleasurable. We all – or almost all – come into the world with that capacity. However, most of us don’t experience our bodies in that way. Why?

First, because many of us have experienced unwelcome or uninvited touch, touch we don’t like, touch that we’ve not asked for, touch that might be shocking to us, and so on. In consequence, our body becomes tense and vigilant, always anticipating what might happen next. Because of this it is -we are – unable to relax into the present moment.

Second, we have lots of ideas lying on top of this capacity for pleasure, like a lump of concrete, hiding and repressing it. Ideas about what sex should be like, what we should be feeling, how we should relate and suchlike. All these ideas are very tied in to the wider idea of sex as performance, so we are always assessing what we’re feeling against what we imagine we should be feeling. Except, if you focus on what isn’t there and why it isn’t there, present focused relaxed awareness is impossible.

And what makes all this even worse is the dominant idea of sex as arousal, going from neutral, turned off, to turned on, the body like a machine with an on/off button, rather than understanding that arousal arises out of pleasurable, present focused relaxation, connection and receptivity.

Because of all this, we require to rediscover this capacity for pleasure. How?

We rediscover our capacity for pleasure not by fixing ourselves, like you would repair a machine so it works again, but by rediscovering and expressing our innate feelingness and wholeness. I help you to do this in three ways: Communication, Embodiment and Expansion, and I work with you in three modes: in person, online or by telephone.

Communication is essential, but for most of us, problematic. So the first aspect of my work is how you learn to say what you want, what you don’t want, and to be clear in any moment of engagement with another who this is for. We need to learn to know what we want, how to ask for it, how to authentically give, how to allow, all from a wholehearted position of consent which is focused in the here and now, not given once and then forgotten.

Next, embodiment. When we think of embodiment in the context of sexuality, people are likely to think of  tantric massage, of genital massage, of high states of arousal and so on. But for me, that’s the wrong way round. The issue is how we can release our bodies from all the tension and self consciousness and vigilance which is habitually carried. And given that quite a lot of that tension might have been created by unwelcome or inept sexual touch in the past, intimate touch almost never the place to start. But my focus isn’t so much the where of the touch, but the how. That is, how can I work with you so that the touch is agreed and has clear boundaries, follows your curiosity and interest, is an expression of your pleasurable sovereignty and self determination, and results in you feeling more?

A large part of my embodiment work doesn’t involve my touching you at all. In my telephone sessions, for example, I focus on establishing a sense of deep relaxation and connectivity, and from there moving to explore a deepening experiential sense of your body. Many people just have a picture – frequently a negative picture – of what their body looks like, but don’t have a very developed sense of what their body feels like. I find that through a combination of breathwork, self touch, visualisation and guidance, people can develop a much more profound and deeper sense of themselves and their bodies, which leads to a change in how sexuality is viewed from being something that you do – the idea of sex as performance – to part of your essence, who you are. So your sexual activity, with yourself or with others, isn’t seen primarily as performance but as self expression and authentic connection.

Other people might have fallen into quite a limited and repetitive pattern of self pleasure, and want help to broaden that. Others  are terribly lacking in confidence, and just need information and guidance.

And building on embodiment and communication, the third leg of my work is expansion. We have a very limited, functional, performance and orgasm focused way of looking at sex. There are many areas of sexuality, which give rise to very varied experience. Often, people are locked into quite a limited and repetitive sexuality, and so part of my work is opening that out. For example, there may be a very functional or orgasm-as-goal perspective, which leaves one or both partners feeling emotionally dissatisfied, and which would really benefit from a more emotional or spiritual input. Or there might be an anxious focus on performance, in which case engaging with Play is really beneficial. Or there might be a lack of self confidence, the idea that you can’t take the lead because you don’t know anything, in which case I can teach you skills, such as how to touch another intimately.

When I work with you, I will work with these three frames of reference, but the how of what we do in a session is very flexible. Some people are very focused on experiencing through the body. Other people appreciate ideas for expansive exercises they can do at home, for themselves, or with their partner. Some people want to talk. Some people find the best way to connect with their body is through visualisation and related practices, rather than touch. Some people want to explore connection. Some people want all of these things. That’s all fantastic. No two sessions will look the same, and my work with each person is uniquely tailored for that person. No one gets the same recipe, because the recipe is co-created: we get a sense of where you are and where you want to go, I give you options, we discuss what we do, and you choose, and we keep doing that, so the work is relational rather than remedial.

Obviously, some people just want to be ‘fixed’, and if that’s so, then my work probably isn’t for them. But if this perspective chimes with you, I invite you to get in touch with me for a chat, to see if you’d like us to work together. I describe myself as a sex therapist, because I feel that’s the most accurate way of describing what I do, but my work could be equally well described as sex counselling or sex coaching.

I work online and by telephone as well as in person here in Glasgow, and there are very good transport links, particularly from Edinburgh and other parts of Central Scotland for those who want in person work. If you’d like to work with me, but aren’t within easy immediate reach of Glasgow – say you’re in London or Manchester – you have the option of a bespoke weekend intensive here. Alternately, for other practitioners, check out my Links Page

You can read more articles here

 

 

 

 

 

One of the conspicuous disadvantages to our society’s peculiarly limited belief that heterosexual sex is – other than appetisers- orgasm focused intercourse is that it frequently places women in a double bind.

 

That bind is something like:

 

“ He always wants to enter me before I’m ready. Knowing that means I can’t relax, because I know that anything else we’re doing, no matter if I like it or not, is a warmup for intercourse. And once that starts, I can’t relax into the experience, because I’m always monitoring myself to see if I’m going to orgasm, because if I don’t, he’ll be disappointed, and I’ll be frustrated”

 

And even in self pleasuring, those ideas come into play, because they’re so pervasive. So, you might be having a nice experience, get aroused, have a clitoral orgasm, then be disappointed when your vagina is resistant, or unresponsive, and think there might be something wrong with you.

 

The upshot is that the vagina is often thought of in negative terms:

 

  • It’s resistant
  • It’s not experiencing what it should be experiencing
  • Touch there is uncomfortable rather than joyful
  • There is  something wrong with me

 

Everyone gangs up against the vagina. It’s like a door that won’t open properly, or a surly, unco-operative underling : if only it would do what it’s supposed to do!

 

Underling? Well, ok…What about changing “it” to “she”:

 

“If only she’d do what she’s supposed to do!”

 

Which leads to

 

“ If only she’d want to do what she’s supposed to do!”

 

Then, perhaps to

 

“ What does she want to do?”

 

Which changes everything. If you stop thinking of your vagina as a ‘something’ which, inexplicably, isn’t working as it should, to thinking of her as a person, that changes everything. Why?

 

Because it makes touch relational. It makes touch like a dialogue, or like a dance, rather than someone trying to get a machine to start, if only they could press the right button. And because it’s relational, it can bring up all the past experience of touch, the hurt and disappointment that might be a part of that,  to be expressed then let go.

 

We carry all our experience in our body. So, we are always expecting the next thing that we’re familiar with in our pattern of response. If that next thing isn’t welcome, then relaxed, responsive, present focused pleasure is impossible. So, what’s required is to recover our erotic sovereignty, so nothing happens which you don’t want, and nothing continues which you don’t like. Then you can relax into the present. That’s really what my work is about. And that’s what vaginal massage [sometimes called’yoni massage] should be about.

Intimate touch isn’t your body being touched, it’s you being touched, through your body. And then, all the distinctions fall away, because being touched anywhere is being touched everywhere.

you can read my related article, the chthonic clitoris here

you can read more of my articles here

you can contact me here

 

My friend Minnie Iris is a very talented artist. I have one of her pictures in my practice space. She is a trustee of  the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Trust.

In the words of their website:

“The term Body Dysmorphic Disorder [BDD] describes a disabling preoccupation with perceived defects or flaws in appearance. It can affect both men and women, and makes sufferers excessively self conscious. They tend to check their appearance repeatedly and try to camouflage or alter the defects they see, often undergoing needless cosmetic treatments. Onlookers are frequently perplexed because they can see nothing out of the ordinary, but BDD causes devastating distress and interferes substantially with the ability to function socially”

Minnie herself suffered from the condition. It started when she was 11, when she became fixated with creases in her neck. She believed she was ugly, but was able to function until she was 38, when her Mum died. At that point, her hair started to fall out because of the stress. She started to feel monstrous when she saw herself in the mirror. Then she started to have a lot of suicidal thoughts. Fortunately, she was able to access specialist therapy.

BDD is said to affect around 2% of the population in varying degrees. But if we take this as the extreme edge of a spectrum, who can honestly say that they don’t know at least one person who seems unreasonably negative about one or more aspects of their appearance?

When Michael Jackson’s father, Joe Jackson, died, in the obituaries we learnt that as a teenager, Michael was sensitive about his nose. And his Dad, deliberately mocked his nose. Hence all the surgical treatment as an adult, which transformed his beautiful  face into something weird and other worldly.

Often, something like this is at the root. A person perhaps has an accident and their appearance changes. Or, for a variety of reasons, they suddenly lose or gain weight. Or, like Minnie, they suffer bereavement or other loss.

But underneath the wide range of immediate causes, there’s a common mechanism. The mind -an idea ‘I am ugly’ – takes over the body. The person loses a realistic sense of their body because they lose their feeling connection with it.

My Swiss friend, Thea Rytz, was a pioneer in treating eating disorder sufferers somatically. She realised it was no use telling them that their ideas about themselves weren’t true, or getting them to look in the mirror, because it was so easy for the mind to distort. So, she would do things like get her patients to put bags of sand on themselves, so they could feel actual weight, and so the mind could recalibrate itself through being presented with the reality of the body, not a distorted picture of it.

It’s a major problem, a major, widespread cause for great unhappiness.

I am very well placed to work with body image, for several reasons:

– I meet you in love, respect and acceptance, countering the negativity. Just as Thea’s clients were brought back in connection with the physicality of their bodies through the weight of the sand, the feeling of loving, attentive, present focused touch which asks for nothing in return recalibrates the heart

– I support you in reconnecting with your body and freeing you from the tyranny of your mind and of unhelpful thinking. A lot of people seem to combine negative ideas of their body with quite a poor sense of how their body might be configured. If they are doing yoga, for instance, they might need to look in a mirror to check their position, rather than just being able to feel it. They might be unaware that their body is tense, or their muscles are working in a particular way.

– with your active participation, I support you in experiencing your body as a source of pleasure and empowerment. In my experience this is best done not by arousing the body, but by relaxing the body, making it feel safe again. That’s the crucial thing. Once the body is relaxed, it can start to feel pleasure again.

– I help you replace judgement with alive embodied presence.

Here’s Minnie’s picture: it’s beautiful, isn’t it?

You can read my related blog ‘Overcoming Negative Body Image here

You can get a full list of my blogs here

You can contact me here

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“Our desire for connection is tangled up in a culture of sexuality”

-David Jay, The Asexual Visibility and Education Network

 

It’s estimated that 1% of the population is asexual. ‘Asexuality’ is defined as the absence of sexual attraction to other people. How can a Somatic sex therapist help?

Firstly, by recognising that asexuality is a specific, legitimate orientation. It doesn’t mean that the asexual person is traumatised, or confused, or incomplete. Each of us is entitled to define our own sexual identity.

Within that acceptance, which is counter to so many of the lazy assumptions of society, exploration can take place, free from the expectations of other people, and all the performative expectations of society.

Being asexual doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t have sexual feelings. You may have, or you may not. Bodywork is a brilliant way to clarify and explore this, without pressure, and in an open spirit of acceptance, respect and enquiry. Often, it’s not helpful to make a strict demarcation between ‘sexual’ and ‘non-sexual’. The real question should be “Is this pleasurable?”

Sexual attraction, whilst claiming to be natural, is a social construct. As the song goes: “One enchanted evening, you may see a stranger. You may see a stranger, across a crowded room. And somehow you know. You know even then..”

But what if we never have?  We might imagine we’re not sexual beings.  But what if we’re mistaken? And what if our generally accepted definition of sexuality is too narrow?

There is a set of related metaphors for sexual attraction and sexuality that are very powerful, because they’re never challenged.  It’s the idea that sexuality is like a hunger or [to mix it a bit] like a pressure cooker, or like a compulsion.  But -again – what if you’ve never felt like that?  Does that mean that you’re not ‘normal’?

Our society privileges relational sexuality, and reserves the winner’s plinth for romantic love,which in turn is thought of as centred on sexual intercourse and orgasm, adapted as necessary for LGBTQ+ people, but that’s not the only sexual perspectives. There are at least two other kinds.

One other type of sexuality is absorption. We are just very focused on what we are feeling. It isn’t relational, even if what we are feeling is brought about by touch from another. In a way, it’s our original sexuality, before we get attached to “what does this mean?” and “what am I supposed to do?”

Another type of sexuality is  play. The classic example is BDSM, where a lot of the activity doesn’t appear sexual at all, although it clearly is, but, really, it can be anything.

In the safe, boundaried and loving space provided by a Somatic sex therapist, these things can be tried out. You can get away from the need to conform to what you understand you should be, what you imagine you should be feeling, and explore the full field of who you are. And it’s really important to have that opportunity, free from the pressure and expectation of having to be like everyone else. Because nobody is.

If you’re interested in exploring further, you can contact me here

You can read more about my work here

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If you’re interested in reading further about Asexuality, ‘The Invisible Orientation’ by Julie Sondra Decker is a good place to start, along with the website at the top of the article.

One of the clients I found most challenging when I started as a sex coach was a delightful young woman with cerebral palsy.  Let’s call her Rachel.

 

The challenge was threefold.

 

Firstly, there was a change in the normal way of setting up the contract.  I was contacted not by her, but by one of her carers, who sent me an email, as Rachel couldn’t type.  We set up a telephone call with the three of us (I’d normally have met up for a preliminary chat, but Rachel lived in Bolton, and I only visit the NW sporadically), and most of the conversation was with the carer, as Rachel seemed shy.

 

So, that was very unusual.  Normally the contact is just with the client, and it felt weird to have another person involved.

 

Second, because I try my best to be scrupulous about what I offer and what we agree to do each session, I really prefer to meet.  If that isn’t possible, I send a very detailed email outlining what we have discussed and agreed to do in the session.  But here, my correspondent wasn’t my client but her carer, so I was concerned that I would be going into a session without clear agreement.  What if her carer was doing something of her own bat, or was in some other way not acting in good faith?

 

And third, I was painfully aware that I hadn’t worked with a person with disabilities before, and I wouldn’t really know the extent of her disability until we met for our session.

 

In all of this, I was aware that I was reflecting some of the discomfort that our culture has with sex and disability.  The assumptions, often completely unconscious, that we have, include:

 

  • the unexamined idea that people with disabilities don’t have the same sexual needs as the rest of us

 

  • then the related idea that, somehow, the disabled are like children, and so, by extension, anyone like myself seeking to address their sexual needs is akin to a pedophile

 

  • and the strong idea that sexual matters should be private, and natural

 

Having at least some awareness of this reactivity, I tried to keep at the forefront of my mind, that I needed to see the person, not the disability.

 

Rachel had never had a sexual experience with a man, and this is what she wanted to explore.  The people around her were overwhelmingly female. She had a lot of experience of being ‘done to’ but none of receiving pleasure collaboratively and in dialogue.  So I decided that was where we would start.

 

I would have preferred if she had been able to make specific requests for our session, but as she didn’t – or, more probably, couldn’t.  So I structured the session by asking her permission each step of the way.  “Can I touch your face?”  “What does that touch feel like?”  “How could it be better?”  “This is what firmer/softer/slower/faster feels like, which do you prefer?”, and so on.  Sometimes, particularly for women, this dialogue can be annoying, as it can take them out of their felt experience, but here it felt absolutely the right thing to do.

 

It was necessarily slow, and in that slowness, a confident sexual person could gradually emerge.

 

It was a lovely session.

 

Where to go for sex and disability support

 

Rachel contacted me through a colleague in Liverpool who works with the Outsiders Trust (www.outsiders.org.uk).  They do wonderful work for people with disabilities. They offer a Facebook Clubhouse, local meet-ups and lunches, group chats and a Sex and Disability Helpline.  They also offer access to a wide range of therapists and workers in the sexual field.  More power to them!