How can we work with sexual issues by Zoom/Skype? Surely it’s essential to at least have the option of working with the body?

I certainly thought this, and had steadfastly set myself against working online until shortly before the present health emergency. By pure coincidence, a potential client approached me through my website in late January. He explained that coming to see me straight away was just too big an ask for him, and would I be willing to have a couple of sessions on Skype, which he hoped would establish enough connection and safety for him to then move to in person sessions?

I wasn’t keen. Since leaving the therapy world, and embracing working with sexuality, I had thought of myself primarily as a bodyworker, working primarily through touch rather than words.

As time went on, I gradually modified my view.

I discovered that what was essential to make positive change happen wasn’t what was done in a session, but what the client felt. And particularly, that it was an absolute prerequisite that the client felt safe, listened to and in warm compassionate connection. For almost all clients, this was the foundation for any bodywork, and often it would take a number of sessions to get there. Of course, some clients don’t want bodywork. They just want the chance to talk. Others want guidance on how to broaden their sexual range, or to feel more confident in asking for what they want, amongst other things, which need not involve touch at all.

Anyway, I agreed to work in this way, as the first step, with this client, as otherwise we wouldn’t work together at all, and to my surprise, it has been surprisingly easy working online.

The sessions are shorter: one hour instead of two, and more frequent, usually weekly, so there is a clearer continuity between sessions.

So, what sort of issues can be addressed in this way? Well, if you have a look at my questionnaire, which you can access on the website via Contact > links and resources > EBL questionnaire, you’ll find it asks quite a lot of distinct questions, and you might speculate how we could work online with these. I’ll write separately about working online with couples, but I think it’s fair to say that for individuals, it breaks down into

Talking. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of this. While some therapists such as my good friend Jo Russell, are fantastic with sexual issues, a lot of therapists feel uncomfortable and out of their depth, which often has the unfortunate effect of unintentionally shaming the client. Yet, we need to talk, to be heard, and to be constructively engaged with.

Changing our Patterns. A lot of people feel stuck. So, for example, they might have quite monotonous and repetitive ways to pleasure themselves, but have no idea how to change. And likewise, with their partners and lovers. That’s exactly the kind of thing I can help with.

Learning New Ways of Relating. I have extensive experience of working with people so they can become able to ask for what they want, not endure what they don’t want, and become much clearer in their thinking about consent, so they can ask and answer “Who is this for?”

Learning New Perspectives on Sexuality. I work with, amongst other tools, the Wheel of Sexuality, which is a brilliant way to think freshly about the whole varied terrain of sexuality, to give you some ideas about what you might like to experiment with.

The other thing about working online is that my client was right: it’s an easier ask. You don’t leave your home. You retain control. It’s safe. Of course, safety is my sine qua non, but you can’t know this until we meet, so if that’s your only option, maybe we never do.

Except, now you can.

If you want to explore the possibility of working with me online, I invite you to contact me to arrange a free thirty minute call, where we can chat things through, and you can make a decision whether or not to go ahead. You can email me at johnwebberfraser@gmail.com, or text me on 07545707751.

We’re all stuck in our homes for quite a wee while. Isn’t this an ideal time to set a part of you free?

Shame is endemic in our society, yet nobody talks about it. Which is strange, because it is the silent killer of sexual love. The heart isn’t cut to pieces in battle. It unknowingly dies, like a sleeping person in a room gradually filling with carbon monoxide.

 

Shame reveals – and hence conceals – itself differently. For each person, and for each gender. 

 

With due regard for generalisation, for heterosexual men, it works something like

 

  • you won’t be able to get an erection. You’re useless
  • Ok, you’ve got an erection, but you’ll lose it. You’re useless.
  • Ok, you won’t lose it but you’ll come too quickly. You’re useless
  • Anyway, she’s not had an orgasm, or at least not the one you were looking for, so you’re completely useless, saddo

 

And because it’s shameful, it can’t be talked about. So if you’re a woman, trying to make sense of this behaviour, you might think your partner is selfish, inconsiderate, disconnected and performance focused.

 

Shame explains something weird about male behaviour: it’s really important that you like the sex, but if you helpfully propose something to make it better, generally, he doesn’t want to know. Why? Shame again. Change is a confession of past uselessness, which is hard to bear.

 

As a woman, how does shame affect you? Well, you might think that you’re to blame if there’s any erection issues, because you’re not sufficiently attractive, or arousing, or sexy, hence there’s something wrong with you, or you didn’t have an orgasm, or at least, not the right kind of orgasm, which means there’s something wrong with you, and so on. Shame again, but slightly different in its location.

 

A person, finding the shame hard to bear, might attempt to displace it onto their partner, through blame. Silence, shame, blame. They don’t come bearing weapons, but they don’t have to.

 

Between the sexes, shame is intractable if we don’t understand that both genders have it, but in slightly different positions, meaning that the shame of each gender is invisible to the other, unless we communicate.

 

Shame is kept in place by the false notion that sex is about performance rather than about connection, but it’s difficult to be inoculated against it whilst we have such an impoverished idea of what heterosexual sex is, namely that it’s about intercourse leading to orgasm.

 

So, a first step is to broaden our idea. In my recent blog ‘ Sexual Empathy’, I gave an example of another form of sexual encounter which wasn’t orgasmic, but was connecting and heartfully intimate, not just sensation based, but deeply feeling. And part of my work is to elaborate and expand upon The Wheel Of Sexuality taught to me by my tantra teacher Hilly Spenceley in such a way that it cumulatively engages all our erotic and connecting potential. My intention is to initially develop this with individuals and couples and then, perhaps later this year, start to offer it in a workshop format. Watch this space.

 

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 a hunger.  It’s something that you do, not a central part of who you are.  We overemphasise the body and underestimate feeling and connection.  We give the body only provisional value: if the body looks great and ‘performs’ well, then great, otherwise, not so much.

And 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?

The emotions that most pervade a society tend to operate in the shadows. For our society, envy and jealousy are pervasive yet unacknowledged.  But the most insidious emotion is shame.  Shame is an assault on the integrity of the self.

It’s peculiarly crippling, far worse than guilt. Guilt is the belief that you’ve done something wrong. Shame is the belief that you are something wrong, or broken.

In my work, we come across sexual shame a lot.

For men, the shame is often associated with performance.  Men who lose an erection, or can’t get one, often suffer crippling shame. And they can’t talk about it with their partner, because that’s shameful. And they avoid any intimacy which might lead to an expectation that they “perform”, mortally wounding the intimacy necessary to sustain a relationship. It’s like a vortex.

For women, it’s often expressed in a sense of not being ‘normal’, either physically abnormal, viewing their bodies, and very often their genitals as ugly or performatively abnormal, not being able to orgasm with a partner “like everyone else”.

One of my Gestalt teachers said that the only cure for shame is courage. It impressed me tremendously at the time but it’s only half true.  You need to have courage to see the shame and name it, and decide to do something about it.  You need to have courage to see people like me.

But what cures shame isn’t courage: it’s connection.

Shame is like the amputation of our adult self. We feel helpless and isolated.

So the way to address it is to build a relationship of trust, warmth and connection, and that’s what I try and do in my work.  And that relationship is both between me and the client, and also within the client, reuniting body and mind and reclaiming the autonomy and dignity of the body.

So, for instance, if I’m working with a man suffering from erectile dysfunction, I don’t focus on a technical fix, rather, I explore the alienated perspective he might have of his body: the idea that his body is like a machine which isn’t working properly, rather than that he is his body, and I try to bring him back to himself through connecting and compassionate Bodywork .

Or, if I’m working with a woman with a belief that her body is broken, or worthless, or ugly, I use Bodywork to restore attention to what is actually being felt, the richness of actual experience, rather than some idea of how things ought to be.

Shame comes in myriad forms, but it always involves a suppression of the rich life and multifaceted experience of the body.  My work is to restore that, and thus to restore the dignity and beauty of the person.

When we talk about premature ejaculation, we’re really talking about several different issues, and it’s helpful to distinguish them.

 

The first is a euphemism for unsatisfactory sex, particularly for the woman. The man just comes too early. But what is it that is really premature, the ejaculation or the intercourse?

 

Because culturally we’re so fixated on intercourse ( the giveaway being that we regard everything else as foreplay, the warm up act for the main event), men will frequently initiate intercourse before the woman is ready. Women, understandably, are likely to find this selfish. But it’s important to be aware of men’s anxiety around their erection.  They are very frequently worried that their erection will suddenly go away.  This would, they think, expose them to shame and ridicule. So, they have to ‘use it before they lose it’.

 

One of our friends did a social history film about sex. The film is about 30 years old now.  She got a group of older people to talk about their early experiences of sex.  One of the participants, a man, said that it would never have occurred to him that woman got pleasure from sex. He paused and said “I would have thought that orgasm was a kind of beer”.  There was then a long pause, and his face got sadder and sadder, thinking of all the waste.

 

We’re not suffering from the results of patriarchy in this way anymore, thankfully. But instead of making our focus a lot wider than the act of  intercourse, we’ve simply added an insistence that men should be able to control when they ejaculate.  And then it is shameful for a man if he can’t do this. Where are we to find intimacy, connection and pleasure in this jailhouse of expectations?

 

Oftentimes, men look for technical solutions, so they can go on and on, like Sting!  But the solution is embodiment and connection, not a technical fix.

 

We work by reconnecting men to their bodies, by resensitising them, and by providing a safe space where these issues can be talked about, free of shame. We teach men about breathing, about how to be more aware of rising levels of excitement, and how to bring those energies down.  So rather than experiencing a sudden spike and it’s all over, you can reach a plateau and then continue. But the most important thing is that we emphasise connection, rather than performance.

 

If you think we can help you, please get in touch.

One thing that affects Sexual confidence for couples is that a surprising amount of people have only had sex with one person: their present or former partner.

 

I sometimes get couples coming to me who have had a long relationship, but somewhere along the way, one of them loses interest in sex. Or, somehow, the sex has become perfunctory, or repetitive, or unsatisfying.

 

The nightmare couple, for me, comes in two versions.

 

The first is where the partner who has lost interest  and isn’t interested in enquiring why, or doing anything about it. They are there reluctantly, to humour or placate the other partner. I am probably their second stop, after Relate, which won’t have worked either.

 

The second, but less often nightmare couple is where one partner wants us to change their partner, without countenancing any change for themselves. So, someone might want me to magically make their partner desire them. Good luck with that.

 

I can’t work with either of these type of couples. They would be much better seeing me separately. That way, they can reclaim their sense of themselves as a feeling, sexual being, distinct from the relationship. Often, the pressure of the relationship, and the weight of familiarity leaves people feeling a bit disembodied.

 

The couples I can work with are people who are brave enough to look at their own behaviour, their way of relating, their expectations and their assumptions. Sometimes, I might think it better to refer them to a therapist I know and trust, for example, where one person doesn’t want to have sex because they’re resentful about something else in the relationship.

 

But very often there isn’t that. It’s just that the fire, mysteriously, seems to have gone out.

 

Familiarity is often the enemy of desire. What I mean by that is that couples often get into a way of having sex, and that way gradually becomes more and more impoverished, until it stops working altogether. It isn’t helped by us thinking that Sex is all about having an orgasm, rather than being an opportunity to connect, feel and experience, within which orgasms may happen.

 

So one of the ways I can help is by shaking things up a little. Identify who initiates, and change that. Experiment with different modes of sexuality. If one is always the do-er, change that. If one never asks for what they want, change that. Introduce The Wheel Of Sexuality, to give people more options to experiment with. And always, focus on embodiment, connection and communication.

 

We can get very fixed around sexuality. Imagine you had to start and end every conversation with a joke, wouldn’t you get tired of that? Wouldn’t you see that there were loads of great conversations going unspoken?

 

If you want to work with me , I’ll usually meet up with you in a public place for a coffee and chat, to see if we’re a good fit. If we are, then I’ll design with you a bespoke programme of sessions to take you in the direction most satisfying for you. If you feel a bit stuck, and you both want to do something about it, please get in touch.

When I reflect on what I remember about my lovers, I very rarely remember the sex.  Certainly with some of them there wasn’t much to be memorable about and this is a view with which they would certainly concur!  But even when there was a strong sexual compatibility, my memory goes in a different direction.

 

For example, I will remember lying in bed with someone who I certainly had great sex with, but what I remember isn’t the sex, but her sitting up beforehand, taking her makeup off, and me looking at the curve at the small of her back, and feeling very happy and contented.  And the other memories are of a similar nature.  Not about acts, but about feelings, particularly feeling that I was loved and accepted.

 

I think a lot of men are over focused on sex, because it evokes those feelings in them.  As it were, they find their heart through their cock.

 

And, if women don’t understand this, they will feel oppressed and annoyed by their man’s singular focus on sex.

 

Likewise, because men have the need to be loved and accepted, this can easily curdle into an idea that it’s the job of the man to be a ‘good’ lover.  And this degenerates further into an idea that men should be technically proficient.  This results in behaviour which can drive women crazy, and not in a good way.  It’s like the guy is touching you, looking at you to see the effect of the touch, like he’s trying to get his car to start or something. It’s the opposite of intimacy, but it comes about through a desire to be loved and accepted.

 

And it is exactly that which drives couples apart.

 

So what can be done?

 

The single biggest change would be to switch the focus from Yang to Yin. Yang touch is purposeful and goal directed.  It wants to get you aroused and have an orgasm.  It is about will and intention. It is very prominent in our society.

 

Yin touch is different.  It is very present focused, and the emphasis is on presence, awareness and connection.  It isn’t trying to bring about anything.  Yet, something always happens.  Not in a ‘faster, faster, louder louder’ sort of way, but it always does.

 

I remember a client reflecting back on our session, saying that I had “very advanced techniques”.  But actually, I didn’t.  But what I did have was a completely loving, focused, present moment awareness of him, trying as best I could to be in dialogue with his body, not to force it to go to a preordained destination.

 

If you have a Bodywork session with Karen or me, yin focus is generally where we’re coming from.  You can begin to see how liberating and enlivening that is for your body, and you can then apply that to your life and to your relationships.

 

Do you know this story?  Life has been a bit frantic recently and it feels like its time to give your relationship a boost.  You find some precious time that you can both get together and you make that special little effort.  Perhaps it’s clean sheets or a candle or some special music.  Time is ticking away as you sort out the details but finally there you both are, in the same place, at the same time, with the same intention to really enjoy your intimacy.

 

As you snuggle down together your expectations are high and you have no intention of being interrupted by the phone ringing or anything else.  You reach out to meet each other but something’s wrong.  One or other of you is not really feeling it.  What to do now?  Try to relax?  Ask for something different?  Or grit your teeth and ‘give’ your partner a good time assuming that they won’t notice that you aren’t really all there?

 

This situation occurs for many of us with alarming frequency.  And it can feel not only disappointing but also like our sexual chemistry with our partner is being lost.  But often this may not be the cause for alarm that it feels like at the time.  It’s worth remembering a simple truth that many of us already know: the body remembers.

The Body Remembers

 

Our bodies respond like children do to appreciation and gratitude from our selves as well as our partners.  The body also lives very much in the moment.  So in this moment there may be tension arising and wanting to be released from things that have happened earlier in the day.  Or there may have been times when this body has been touched in ways that irritate or distress it.  Now something in the present touch is recalling that previous distress and those feelings are rising to the surface right now.  Don’t worry this is normal.

 

What a luxury it is when we can share what is coming up for us without blaming our partner but just say what is true right now.  Or even just acknowledge that something needs to change in how we are interacting together to allow this body to relax.

 

When I am unexpectedly prickly and uncomfortable with my partner it has been great learning for me to trust my body and allow myself to be given the space to soften.  I really appreciate hime for the generosity of just being accepted as I am in that moment.  Perhaps our intention that evening needs to change but the intimacy that we give each other by acknowledging our true feelings is priceless.  It builds the basis for deeper loving when we allow these challenging emotions and sensations to be valid.  And by accepting these feelings something changes between us leaving us free to really respond to each other.

 

A remarkably high number of women claim to have low sexual desire. The figures vary, but it’s anywhere between one third and two thirds.

 

When a figure is this high, does the problem lie with the thing itself, or how we think about it?

 

The standard model of sexual desire -along with much else – derives from masters and Johnston. That model is desire, leading to arousal, leading to sexual activity. We feel sexual desire, we become aroused, and we then act that out.

 

And when a man and a woman first get together, it seems to be like that for both of them. But, as the relationship matures, the woman often feels there’s something wrong: she rarely feels sexual desire anymore. And if she doesn’t feel it, she doesn’t want to do it. And that becomes a problem for both parties.

 

Rethinking desire

 

But is the real problem how we think about desire?

 

Rosemary Basson certainly believes that to be so. She’s the Director of Sexual Medicine at the University of British Columbia, and in her view, the problem is that the standard model is wrong.

 

In her model, desire is the result of arousal, not the cause. The sexual cycle starts off from choice, not from desire. A woman experiencing emotional intimacy, but who is sexually neutral, is receptive to sexual stimuli. She allows it, or looks for it. This stimuli is then processed in the limbic system of the brain. If the emotional response to the stimuli is negative – you don’t feel close, you’ve just had a row, you feel terrible about yourself – you won’t feel sexually aroused, even if bodily it appears that you are. If your response is positive, you feel arousal, desire follows, and away you go.

 

How does this match up with your experience?

 

According to the NHS website “it’s not fully understood why the condition (vaginismus) happens. Factors can include: thinking the vagina is too small, negative sexual thoughts, previous sexual abuse or unwelcome telepathic interference from The Evil Fish Of Planet Thargon”.

 

Ok, I made that last one up, but really: what’s the matter with these people? Isn’t it obvious why it happens: the vagina has had unwelcome or painful experiences, and doesn’t want to have any more.

 

And it’s not just women.  Sometimes gay men have a similar response with their anus, and for the same reason. The body wants to protect itself.

 

And once that urge to protect against touch is there, is it really the best approach to talk about it?  Surely it’s obvious: if the body is responding to bad experience, the best way out is to give it a good experience.

 

What would that look like?

 

In my work with women and men, what I’ve noticed is that if there’s been unwelcome touch to a part of the body, the vagina say, then touch won’t be felt there at all, it wil just be numb. Then, there will be a feeling of physical discomfort, burning, for example.  And after that, there will be an emotional response, often a feeling of irritation. Sometimes the order is different.

 

Once all of these feelings have been given voice, the body can then experience something different. But the residue of the bad experiences has to come out first.  This will only happen when the touch is loving, respectful and responsive to the body.  And there needs to be full trust and full dialogue between the giver and the receiver.

 

The work is very slow, but it is very heartful.

 

We can’t just jump from numbness to pleasure.  We have to re-experience with our body and with our whole being, what caused the trauma in the first place, but in a space which gives the receiver power, autonomy and direction, and which is lovingly relational.  We do not need to dwell in the pain.  With loving support it is possible to release the effects of the past and move on.