In ‘The Full Monty’, the hapless character, played by Tom Wilkinson, has a row with his exasperated wife. He’s been buying her garden gnomes for decades, because when he gave her the first one, he thought that she liked them, when she was just being polite. Eventually she just snaps, and, enraged, tells him that she’s never liked them.

Bad sex is like that, but worse.

My female clients will often say things like

he thinks it’s my problem that I don’t orgasm during sex, that there’s something wrong with me, and I need to get myself fixed

I tell him that I’d like touch which is slower and softer, but it doesn’t seem to make any difference, he just keeps doing what works for him

Their partners aren’t psychopaths. They are not indifferent to their partners lack of pleasure, but they often seem to behave as if they are.

Why is that?

For one, we’re all fed an idea of sex that is quite male: it’s like running up the orgasm hill. And if your sexuality seems like that, then there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with you. And if your partner doesn’t like that as much as you, then she must have a low libido, or be inhibited, or not like sex. Nothing to do with you. It’s all to do with female sexual dysfunction. But I say that’s a myth.

One of the most heartbreaking things to hear is how, for some women, they have had so few joyful sexual experiences, and they cling onto these in their memory, like jewels.

It’s totally false that women don’t like sex, or that they don’t like sex as much as men. They just don’t like bad sex.

Who would?

How do you get out of the trap?

The most important thing you can do is to discover your own sexual identity and have confidence in it, particularly when that identity diverges from what you’re told it should be. I have devised a way of working where through attention to the breath and body, it gradually becomes clear what your own unique sexual landscape is. And often, what characterises that landscape isn’t the rocket whoosh of sex [which might well blow up on the launchpad], but something else: something which is of the whole body and has depth, delicious slowness and relaxing into pleasure. It’s as if time slows right down, and everything becomes vivid and alive.

If you know what your sexual landscape is, you have the possibility of communicating that, and so are more likely to get what you need. You might need some help with the art of communication. I can help with that.

The next thing we can do is increase confidence. Often a major obstacle to that is the fear of sexual inexperience. I can help with that too.

Next, we can start to think of male and female bodies in a different way. I talk about this with regard to male bodies here

That opens up the possibility of having a much wider range of sexual practices, and hence a much wider range of feelings. Boredom and repetition is such a large part of most people’s experience of sex. It needn’t be.

And lastly, we can get a sense of the various dimensions of sex. I formulate that as the ‘Compass of Sexuality’, where I stake out 8 dimensions: Agreement, Play, Body, Risk, Innocence, Love, Tantra and Energetic Practices. In my work with Couples, I will take them through each of these areas, to address the imbalances and limitations that might be there, but they are of tremendous value to anyone, whether in a relationship or not.

To fix bad sex, we need to understand that it isn’t you that needs to be fixed, it’s an idea of sex that doesn’t work for you.

If you’d like to explore this further, please contact me.

 

 

 

 

 

Education. Every Body Loves, Cupped hands gathering water

In my work, I often come across women who have a very negative body image.

Some will endlessly inspect their faces for lines, or other imperfections. Others are convinced they are fat, and obsessively monitor themselves.

Very few women seem entirely happy with their bodies.

Why is that?

One obvious culprit is patriarchy. Women, unlike men, have historically been judged by what they look like, rather than what they are. But if it were just that, why does the problem seem to be getting worse, and why, to an increasing extent, is it also effecting men, particularly young men?

The UK Parliamentary Women and Equalities Committee conducted a survey into body image in July 2020. Almost 8,000 people responded. You can read the report here

Of the adults surveyed, only 16% felt positive about their body image. 21% felt neutral. A worryingly high 48% felt negative about their body image, and even more worryingly, 13% felt very negative. The results weren’t broken down by gender.

The problem seems to be getting worse.

The blame is being placed squarely on social media.

59% of people under 18 felt that images on social media were extremely influential on their body image [negatively, we imagine], compared to 26% of people over 18.

What to do?

In approaching the problem of negative body image, we regularly hear a number of proposals, most of which usually focus on having more representative and realistic portrayals of women’s bodies.

And in dealing with people who have an unrealistic idea of their own bodies – thinking they are repulsively fat, for instance, when they are neither – we tend to think that for some reason they are viewing their body incorrectly, like they’re wearing Fat Specs or something, so we just need to correct them, and reassure them that they’re beautiful.

But they don’t believe us

What is striking with people who have a negative body image is how dominant the visual sense of themselves is – the view from the outside – and how little they have a felt  sense: what it feels like to be them, in their body – the view from the inside.

So for instance, when I was working with a client on this issue, she was almost entirely unable to report body sensation, which she kept re-interpreting from an external vantage point. It was as if she couldn’t stop looking at her body from the outside, and making a negative assessment. She couldn’t say what she felt in her thighs, for example, but she could say that they were fat.

There are two ways out of this.

When I can work in person with a client, I can give them loving, attentive touch, obviously only to the extent. One client only felt able to let me touch her left hand, for example. The extent doesn’t matter. What does matter is attentive, present focused touch with no goal. That seems to soothe the body, and enable it to just feel what its feeling, which drops, temporarily and intermittently at first, the incessant voice of harsh judgement.

If I am working remotely with a client, I try to get them into a very relaxed state,  then focus on the experience of the breath in their body,  going on to developing a non judgmental awareness of the different parts of their body, sometimes using movement, sometimes using self touch, and sometimes using visualisation.

I have found that working in this way does seem to reduce the constant voice of negative judgment, which opens up a space to gradually experience more of what you’re feeling rather than what you’re looking like, which gradually rebalances our sense of ourself from appearance to embodiment.

If this approach sounds as if it might be helpful, why not contact me for a chat?

You can read my related post on body dysmorphia here

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

In my intake questionnaire, one of the questions I ask is whether there’s a difference between the experience of orgasm [or lack of it] in partnered sex and solo sex.

A frequent response from women seems to be that they have no problem reaching orgasm when they masturbate, but that partnered sex is often problematic. Understandably, this produces patterns of disappointment, frustration and resentment, but also something more fundamental: these women think that there’s something wrong with them, or even that they’re “broken”.

It isn’t that they don’t experience arousal in partnered sex, rather that the arousal is experienced as incomplete, partial and unsatisfying. There is often the sense of hitting a glass ceiling during arousal, making orgasm frustratingly near, but unattainable.

Often this pattern plays out in a belief that is takes “too long” to reach orgasm, a belief that isn’t made easier by a perception that their partners are impatient or tired with the “length of time this is taking”, as if it some kind of chore, or that orgasm is a kind of performance to send the audience home happy.

Because there’s an underlying belief that sexuality is arousal, and that arousal comes from stimulating the body – stimulating the genitals – the temptation is to think that more stimulation – harder, faster – is the solution, and even though it’s uncomfortable, that uncomfortableness should be broken through.

Does any of this sound familiar?

I think there’s a risk that we keep making the same error in a slightly different form. We can move the focus from penetration to the g spot, or from the vagina to the clitoris, but throughout, there’s the underlying assumption that all that’s needed to get to orgasm is bodily stimulation, and if that doesn’t work, there’s something wrong: with the stimulation, or with the person.

But what if the assumption is wrong? And wrong in a particularly harmful way, namely that it works well enough for a while, until it doesn’t, with the inevitable conclusion “What’s wrong with me?”

I say the assumption is false. It assumes that the body in its natural state is neutral, but with stimulation can become pleasurable. My view is that the body is naturally pleasurable, and sexuality is a integral part of that, but most of us don’t feel that way because our bodies are habitually stressed, particularly with regard to our sexuality. So, the real issue is to deal with the stress, re-discover the inherent pleasure of the body, and to witness, enjoy and express the sexuality which naturally flows from that.

Our society’s normal route is to create enjoyable stress [arousal] to overcome habitual stress, to get to orgasm experiencing a temporary release from the habitual stress. That’s why we need more and more arousal to get to the same place: why people when self pleasuring go from soft slow touch to faster stronger touch, then repeat the process with vibrators, until that doesn’t work either.

But why is the stress there in the first place? There’s a number of causes:

-we think of sex in terms of performance and comparison

we separate our sexuality from the rest of us: our feelings, our imagination, our playfulness, our relatedness

– we are overfocused on the body

-rather than being with the actual experience, we are focused on where we are going and what we should be experiencing

-we lose connection: between our sexuality and the rest of us, and between ourselves and the other

In my opinion, attending to ‘Dysfunction’ means attending to the cramped and restrictive notions about sexuality which society gives us through embodied, heartful, relational work. It’s not ‘fixing’ something, it is a release from the idea that the body is something to be ‘fixed’

If this makes sense to you and you’d like to explore it further, why not consider a chat with me on Zoom? The link is here

You can read more of my articles here

 

 

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

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 sex therapist like me: is it talking? Are they naked? Will I be touching their genitals? 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: they 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.

[You can read more about my approach 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. 

 

Sex Therapy Online: the benefits

 

How can we work with sexual issues remotely? 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 or by phone until shortly before the present health emergency. By pure coincidence, a potential client [let’s call her Robin] approached me through my website in late January 2020. Although she lived locally, she explained that coming to see me straight away was just too big an ask for her, and would I be willing to have a couple of sessions on Zoom, which she hoped would establish enough connection and safety for her to then move to in person sessions?

I wasn’t keen. When I left the therapy world, and embraced working with sexuality, I  thought of myself primarily as a bodyworker, working mainly through touch rather than words. That touch needed to be agreed, boundaried and safe of course, but touch was, I thought, my metier.

As time went on, and as I accumulated invaluable experience with actual clients, I gradually modified this 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 specifically, how the client felt different. And particularly, that it was an absolute prerequisite for meaningful change 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 didn’t want bodywork. They just wanted the chance to talk, to communicate. Others wanted guidance on how to broaden their sexual range, or to feel more confident in asking for what they want, which didn’t  need to involve touch at all.

 

Anyway, returning to Robin, I agreed to work in the way she asked, as the first step. Lockdown followed several weeks afterwards, which compelled us to keep working online. To my surprise, it was  surprisingly beneficial working in this way, and so I adapted my work for Zoom, working out ways of working with both individuals and couples.

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 John > 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 break this down to individuals and couples.

Working  with Individuals

Talking and Communication. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of this. We need to talk, to be heard, and to be constructively engaged with. Sometimes, when people talk to me about sexual issues, they haven’t  talked to anyone about them before.

Embodiment through somatic visualisation. One of the things I love doing is to work with a client to get them into a relaxed receptive state, then getting them to experience their body in a much more pleasurable, deeper way, using imagery, memory and association, as well as somatic and breath awareness,  which changes both how they feel about themselves and how they can relate to others. This works best with the cameras switched off.

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. I can help with masturbation coaching, and I can also significantly widen a client’s repertoire, both physical and emotional, so they can get off the treadmill of unsatisfying sexual engagement.

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 multiple ways of approaching and thinking about sexuality which is a brilliant way to think freshly about and explore the whole varied terrain, to give you some ideas about what you might like to experiment with. So, for example, exploring tantric ideas of sexuality, exploring role play and fantasy, working with trance like states, and so on.

Learning new skills. A lot of people are very lacking in confidence about their sexual techniques or relating with a partner. I can help with that.

Sometimes people ask  if they will have to do awkward or embarrassing things on screen. You don’t. If I give exercises, I will give instructions, and you do them in your own time, privately.

Working  with Couples

My online work with couples combines two things: the belief that there are distinct and equally legitimate modes of human sexuality, and what I’ve come to call The Compass of Sexuality, which is my fancy term for categorising all the multifarious ways we view sex.

I meet with the couple online for an initial chat to see if we might be a good fit, and if they want to go ahead, and if I think I can help.

If they want to go ahead, I ask them both to fill in a detailed questionnaire, and then I speak to each of them separately, to get a sense of where the imbalances and issues in the relationship might be, and how these might be progressively resolved.

I then give them a couple of exercises to do in their own time, and meet with them a week later [20 minutes individually, and 20 together] to find out how they got on, correct any misunderstandings, attend to any mishaps, vary the exercises as appropriate, and give them further exercises.

I’ve found this works very well. Things which they might not have thought of before, or thought too risky, become much easier when they are done as part of an ongoing, open enquiry. Because I’m prescribing the exercises, there’s much less chance of shame or judgement. Any hiccups can be blamed on me, and they don’t stop the couple moving forward.

People often find online work easier. You don’t leave your home. You retain control. It’s more convenient. It’s patently safe. You can be anywhere: all you need is a computer and the English language.

If you’d like to chat with me to see if any of these ways of working are for you, please get in touch.

[You can read more about my approach to working with couples here

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.

You can read more about my approach here

 

 

 

 

 

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.