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.

This might sound to you like nothing to do with sex therapy or sex counselling. But if it strikes a chord with you, why not get in touch with me, in whichever way feels right.

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 post covid.

 

 

 

 

 

If one person feels something, that’s a personal issue. If a lot of people feel the same thing, that isn’t just personal; it says something about society too. The problem of sexual inexperience falls into this category.

We live in a hyper sexualised society, but a large number of us seem to have no or minimal sex, or have very unsatisfactory sex.

What’s going on?

Well, one factor is that we tend to view sexuality in terms of recreation, and of performance. It’s something that you do, not a central part of who you are.  We overemphasise the body and underestimate feeling and connection, partly because we often think of desire as a hunger. Like a hunger for food.  And we give the body only provisional value: if the body looks great and ‘performs’ well, then great, otherwise, not so much.

This Tinder-ising doesn’t work for a lot of people. But because the model is so dominant, they think there’s something wrong with them, rather than something wrong or incomplete with the model.

So, I get young women coming to me whose boyfriends have a very pornified idea of what love making should be, and they blame themselves for being inadequate. Other people can’t seem to get started, and don’t know how to.  It’s as if everyone else is speaking a language they don’t understand.

It’s really widespread, but silent, like a secret epidemic of shame.

I don’t do surrogacy work.  It can be very valuable, but often it operates within the dominant model of doing, rather than feeling, being and connection.  It’s those latter qualities I want to bring out when working with clients who have issues of sexual confidence and sexual inexperience, because it seems to me that inexperience is in some sense a choice -perhaps an unconscious one – not to participate in this dominant mode of low-feeling, high action performative sex.

So my starting point is not somehow to reconcile the client to getting out there and get with it.  It is to start with an open enquiry into what the body and the heart feels and wants. Starting from that place, we then ask what wishes, sensations and worlds can come into being.

My perspective is that feelings of perceived sexual inadequacy or inexperience are best addressed not by fixing the body, but by opening and connecting the heart.  Everything positive flows from that.

You can make an analogy with conversation. As a society, we tend to think that the point of sex is orgasm.  But suppose we imagined that the point of talking was to make jokes.  Well, no doubt that would work for some people. And those people, doubtless, would accuse others of having a low humour drive, or being unskilled at punchlines.

It’s a ridiculous analogy, isn’t it?  But is it really?  Sexuality, like communication, involves the whole, unique, feeling person.  The range of expression is endless. It’s not something simple and straightforward, like appetite. Although, of course, it does involve hunger.  But hunger for what?

More prosaically, a lot of people feel that they are unskilled at sex. They don’t know how to do what they think they should do. For example, a lot of women lack confidence when it comes to touching a man’s genitals, so they tend to follow what they’ve learned from porn, or from friends, who have probably learned from porn. And so, they will touch a man’s penis rather like a plumber would approach a blocked drain: fast vigorous, anxious to get the job done as soon as possible. But where can you learn how to touch differently? Well, from me, for one.

I don’t view it as just learning a technical skill, but as a way to get more confidence, and through that, finding a way of having more satisfying sex. So sometimes, in my work with a client, as a starting point I may work with them to acquire more skills, because that’s part of having more choice. If we’re under confident, we’ll either just do the same thing over and over, or we’ll be done to. And if that’s so, our society’s awful fixation on intercourse as the whole point of heterosexual sex becomes even narrower and more unsatisfactory. Being equipped with skills gives you the confidence which makes it possible to break out of this straightjacket, particularly if you are also equipped with a sense of what sex might look like from a tantric or kink or energetic perspective, for example.

 

Cuddle Party

First ever ‘cuddle party’ comes to Glasgow
By Rohese Devereux Taylor

The Herald
1st February 2020

Physical contact is good for us. Studies have shown it can ease pain, lift depression and strengthen our immune systems.

Conversely, a lack of touch can lead to developmental issues in infants and elevated levels of stress hormones.

This, at least in part, is what motivated sex therapists John Fraser and Stella Sonnenbaum to bring the first ever so-called “cuddle party” to Glasgow.

The unconventional event is an invitation for men and women to explore their boundaries, build confidence and experience intimacy with no expectations – perhaps a hard-sell in a part of Scotland not known for its overly tactile culture.

Therapist Mr Fraser, who specialises in working with individuals and couples on issues around sexuality, relating and intimacy, said: “I think it’s needed [in Glasgow] because I don’t think people know that they are touch-deprived. We just live in a very touch-deprived society. It’s just awful.

“You see people after they’ve had lots of touch and they’re really peaceful, content and happy and they lose the jaggedness that lots of people have.”

As a lawyer for more than 30 years before retiring last May to focus on his therapy work, Mr Fraser dealt with countless acrimonious divorces and saw first-hand the effects of touch and affection deprivation.

He said: “One of the things cuddle parties try and do is break the unfortunate connection that people have got with affectionate touch and sexual touch, with the consequence that people are simultaneously over-sexualised and touch deprived.”

As adults, who do we get touch from, he asks, especially without demand. One cuddle party-goer who was only ever touched when her husband wanted physical intimacy and received no affectionate contact was “essentially starved of touch”.

Mr Fraser said: “Coming to the cuddle parties enabled her to experience affectionate, consensual touch with no sexual agenda.”

A hug that lasts for 20 seconds releases the hormone oxytocin, known as the cuddle or love hormone, which can lower blood pressure, slow heart rates and improve mood.

Researchers have found that the same areas of the brain that respond positively to gentle touch also help to develop a sense of body ownership, or what Mr Fraser calls “embodiment”, the sense of inhabiting one’s own body and setting healthy boundaries.

The first cuddle party was held in 2004 in the United States and soon migrated to British shores where the y started with regular events in London, facilitated by Ms Sonnenbaum.

She said: “A cuddle party is a way to ask for and receive loving touch in a safe non-sexual setting. This helps with finding out about our own touch preferences and communicating about them effectively without fear of being judged or rejected.

“We practise saying both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ confidently to each other. Strong personal boundaries and the ability to say ‘no’ are the prerequisite for letting people come close to us – or else this wouldn’t feel safe.”

She added: “With the rise of one-person households in big cities people don’t get a lot of touch which is non-sexual and my suspicion is that people have casual sex just to satisfy their skin hunger.”

The party, held at the Centre for Contemporary Arts tomorrow, begins with participants sharing their expectations and concerns. Ms Sonnenbaum then lays down the rules: touch is always consensual and non sexual; people remain fully clothed; the group breaks up into smaller groups to practice their asking and their yeses and nos.

Mr Fraser said: “People have said things like, ‘this is my worst nightmare’. But it’s only touch that you wish to receive – if you don’t want to get hugged by somebody, you don’t get hugged by them.

“This is the opposite of being indiscriminately touched by other people. It’s reprogramming people and it’s empowering people.”

Consent is vital and never more so than in the post #MeToo era when even consensual physical intimacy can be shadowed by fears of accusation and abuse.

Mr Fraser said: “The traditional idea of consent is a bit like an army besieging a castle and the people inside surrender and open the doors and then the army can come in and do whatever they like. You agree to something and then you’ve got to just accept whatever follows. Our idea of consent is entirely different – it’s based on enthusiastic consent in the moment.”

The importance of being able to say no to touch of any kind can’t be underestimated, said Mr Fraser. He added: “If a person can’t say no then they and the person in contact with them are both fundamentally unsafe. You have to have clarity because it’s only if you have a no that your yes means something.”

EveryBody Loves Cuddle Party Workshop, CCA Glasgow, Sunday February 2, 2pm-5pm.

 

How should we touch another? When I was a kid in the late sixties, watching Man From Uncle on the telly, the bit I liked best was Napoleon Solo going into an innocent looking basement shop in New York. He would casually press a few buttons on the back wall and then a door in the wall would open, revealing a completely different world.

Men are encouraged to believe that women’s sexuality is like that wall. All they need to do is find out where the buttons are, and they can be Napoleon Solo too.

So, they’re eagerly receptive for material that will enable them to make a woman ejaculate, or find their g spot, or their third gate.

I say they’re mistaken. Why?

Four reasons:

First, Touch which is future orientated isn’t good touch. If I’m touching you to produce an effect, you’re going to know that. If you sense me thinking “is she there yet?”, you won’t be able to relax. In fact, you may feel somewhat irritated. You may feel somewhat done to.

Second, there isn’t a secret inner world. Our eroticism is completely available to us, and those who love us. It isn’t hidden at all. There aren’t silos of pleasure in an otherwise numb world. The world of the body is completely alive. All of it.

Third, good touch is heartful, not technical. When people tell me they don’t know how they want to be touched, that arises from the deficient notion that touching is just something my body does to your body. But that’s not so. I touch you with my heart, through my body. If we can include the palette of emotions, touch is never repetitive, because it’s always expressing ourselves at this moment.

Look how animals are, how comfortable and easily affectionate they are with each other. Yes, we’re different because we have tools and artifacts and self consciousness, but our intimate connection with all beings remains. And those species developments needn’t determine our nature. When we’re assembling a watch we need to be technical. When we’re expressing ourselves, we don’t.

And lastly, we don’t want to be manipulated. We want to be adored. Lusted after. Be the ravished summer orchard for the hungry hordes. All that stuff:

simple

 

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?