These are the most common issues with couples that I’ve come across in my work:

-one or both have lost interest in sex
-The sex is boring, limited and repetitive
-Communication is poor
-There’s too much focus on intercourse (or an equivalent) and orgasm
-Emotional connection has deteriorated

All these issues can be worked with online.

Here’s my approach. It is unique, cost effective and doesn’t take ages:

I have an initial short online conversation with you – which is free – to see if we want to work together.

I then send each of you a detailed questionnaire to be filled in separately, without conferring or sharing.

I then have a separate online consultation with each of you to go over your questionnaire and get further details. This enables me to get a sense both of where the problems in the relationship might be, and the opportunities for growth and pleasure.

All three of us then meet online and, based on what I’ve ingathered from you I give you some starting exercises to do and report back, and in subsequent sessions ( if we decide to have them) we fine tune these, and add further exercises, so you gradually overcome the issues which effect almost all couples, but also re-imagine sexuality from many perspectives: playful, heartful, tantric, body based and others, greatly increasing your sense of what’s possible

All the sessions are just talking. You don’t have to do anything weird or embarrassing in them. You do the exercises privately, and just share later with me in as much detail as you feel comfortable with.

This is my perspective:

There’s quite a fixed idea of how good sex should be. Elsewhere, I’ve called it “ The Hollywood Model”. Both of you are very engaged and involved with each other. The focus is on intercourse and orgasm, which should be noisy and simultaneous. There’s nothing wrong with this idea, but it’s limited. And that limitation is the cause of many problems.

The revolutionary idea of Donald Mosher -which I use in my system – is that there are three sexual styles, which he calls Trance, Partner Engagement and Play. The Hollywood Model is the second one, but it often doesn’t fit our actual nature, or doesn’t fit all our needs.

Poor communication and boredom both follow from the limited ‘Hollywood Sex’ model. If you think the be-all and end-all of sex is orgasm through intercourse, then you’re just going to focus on that. And if it isn’t working, it must mean that there’s something wrong with you, that your technique is faulty, or similar problem focused nonsense, which isn’t helpful.

As sexual beings we need variety. Variety in what we can feel with our bodies, and what we feel in our hearts and our imagination. And we won’t necessarily get our needs met by doing much the same thing with lots of different people. So, I combine Mosher with a way of re-imagining sexuality called The Wheel of Sexuality, which broadens our usual ideas of sexuality into 8 broad areas: Agreement/Communication, Energetic Practices/Tantra, Ritual, The Heart, Innocence, Risk, Body and Fantasy/Play

Embodiment. Communication. Variety: that’s my perspective.

If this chimes for you, just get in touch with me, and we’ll arrange a free Zoom call to explore if you want to work with me.

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?

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

 

That bind is something like:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Which leads to

 

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

 

Then, perhaps to

 

“ What does she want to do?”

 

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

 

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

 

From my perspective, we carry all our experience in our body. So, the body is always expecting the next thing that it’s used to. If that next thing isn’t welcome, then relaxed, responsive, present focused pleasure is impossible. So, what’s required is to recover the sovereignty of the body, so nothing happens which you don’t want, and nothing continues which you don’t like. Then the body can relax into the present. That’s really what my work is about. So, intimate touch isn’t your body being touched, it’s you being touched, through your body. And then, all the distinctions fall away, because being touched anywhere is being touched everywhere.

 

Rachel and I ran our second Pilot Erotic Fantasy Workshop in Glasgow on 22/23 February, with a hand picked group of volunteers, who have provided lots of very helpful feedback. It’s clear that we’re definitely onto something, but we need to build more modelling into the workshop, and more steps. We’ll now do this, and aim to go public with the work in the Summer, leading to a two day residential early next year.

I’ll be writing a lot about this, but I thought it might be interesting for you, right at the start, to see our manifesto: why we think this work is important.

So here goes.

Our culture’s common belief is that our sexuality exists in two apparent forms: the interior and the relational.

To the interior belongs sexual fantasy; the stories or images that we find exciting or arousing, often deriving from experiences in our childhood. Sometimes, these are stories, images, words or sensed experiences that we masturbate to, and sometimes not. The common belief is that these fantasies reside internally within us, that they are private, and often we feel uncomfortable about them. Because they are internal, the erotic charge which they contain can’t be shared or understood by other people. Even if we don’t feel uncomfortable, our fantasies often rigidify and contract over time, becoming boring and repetitive. (In that, there’s a similarity with a tired relationship, where the couple gradually narrow down “what works”. Until nothing does)

To the relational belongs the belief that our erotic sense can only be brought out by a person or persons who we find attractive.

Both these beliefs are mistaken.

Why is this important?

People are often troubled by their sexual fantasies. They are disturbed by the narratives, which are rarely vanilla, often dark and in conflict with the sort of person they feel they are, and what they should find arousing. Gaining an insight into their fantasies, understanding they are not freaks or weirdos, and sharing their fantasies with others is a tremendous antidote to shame and a feeling of separateness.

We believe that the world of sexuality is overfocused on the body, and the belief that’s where eroticism is exclusively found. But for many people, particularly women, engaging in quasi sexual acts with strangers in Sex Clubs, or getting naked and touching and being touched by other people at a Tantra Workshop has a limited appeal. These people -most of us- are erotically disenfranchised. We want to make a larger sense of sexuality: embodied, present, communicable, fluid, joyful, available to everyone.

There is a prevailing idea that eroticism is a kind of chemical reaction with a special person, that it’s something – if we’re lucky – that we DO, rather than an intrinsic and permanent part of who we ARE. So most of us have a persistent sense of incompleteness, of inadequacy, of missing out. Through this work, people can rediscover their own erotic sovereignty.

Cuddle Party

When I started to advertise Glasgow’s first Cuddle Party at the start of this month on social media, what amazed me was the response. I naively thought that the event would be uncontroversial.

 

But uniquely, people with whom I had no connection shared the posts, even though they often did so with comments like “being hugged by strangers is my worst nightmare”. Not one but two Glasgow Herald journalists got in touch with us. One of their leading journalists, Rohese Devereux Taylor, wrote a half page article on the event, which was beautifully objective and fair. (there’s a link to the article on the Home Page of my website www.loveandsexcoaching.co.uk ). Radio Scotland interviewed us, and again, were fair and enquiring, rather than the sensationalism we were apprehensive about (and familiar with). 

 

The readers of the Evening Times were cordially flabbergasted at our effrontery. Reader Betty McCormick opined “Omg, what is coming to Glasgow next?”. Reader Fergus Thomson was of the view “ the lunatics have taken over the asylum”.

 

I had no idea cuddling was so radical.

 

We eventually sold 25 tickets, and there were 30 of us gathered in The Clubroom, a beautiful dance space, within the CCA on a wet Sunday afternoon on 2 February. My dear friend Stella Sonnenbaum, who has been running these events in London monthly for the past five years, facilitated the event, and I assisted her.

 

We started with a sharing circle, where we all took turns to say our names, what had brought us here, what we hoped to get out of it, and any anxieties which we had. Other than me, none of the participants had been to a Cuddle Party before.

 

After that, we went over the rules of Cuddle Party. There are 12 of them, but the essentials are that the participants stay clothed, there is no sexual touch and we only accept touch if we actively want it.

 

We then got into groups of three, where we took turns to  practice asking for how we would like to touch, or to be touched. In the first round, our partners would give us a No, in the second round they would give us a Yes (nothing happening in either case), and in the third round, when we asked, our partners would give an authentic Yes or No. It is a great opportunity to practice saying Yes and No, to experience hearing Yes and No, and not to be crushed by feelings of compliance, resentment, embarrassment or shame. As the great Betty Martin says, if you can’t say No, your Yes isn’t worth anything.

 

After that was the free section, where each of us could ask for the touch we wanted. When I looked around after my experience with my group of three, I was surprised to find that everyone else appeared to have scarpered to the refreshment area next door. After a little while however, people started coming back in, interacting with each other. What was so beautiful to see was how tenderly feeling it all was. Some people were spooning in groups of three or four, some people were hugging, and there was a tangible feeling of gentleness, connection and warmth in the room.

 

The last part of the workshop was the Cuddle pile. This is what is depicted in the photograph. One person lies down in the middle of the room, then the rest of us lie in connection with that person, and each other, and we’re then still for 5 minutes or so. It’s wonderful!

 

And that was it. We got lovely feedback. One participant later said:

 

“I had a wonderful time at the cuddle party at CCA, thanks to you and Stella, it was such a great experience, felt really safe and well facilitated and actually such a space for exploration and growth in a lot of ways I think”. 

 

Due to the response, Stella recommended that I arrange another Cuddle Workshop as soon as possible, and I have: it’s on Sunday 15 March 2-5pm at In The Moment Yoga Studio, 72 Berkeley Street, Glasgow G3 7SD. I’ll facilitate it. The cost is the same as before, £14, and payment is in advance. Places are limited, so if you’re interested, please contact me. You can email me through the website, or at johnwebberfraser@gmail.com, or text me on 07545707751.

 

Be part of something new. And radical, apparently.

 

Cuddle Party

The Herald article by Rohese Devereux Taylor, 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.

Twice a week, on my way to the zen dojo, I walk through Glasgow University and past a plaque commemorating Adam Smith, the father of capitalism, who was a professor there.

 

Adam Smith had a theory about the origin of money. He said that prior to money, people would rely on barter. Say that I’m a fisherman and you’re a farmer. I’d give you, say, two fish for a lump of bacon. That was the exchange rate. There’d be some other deal with the baker and the candlestick maker. But the problem with the barter system was that it was cumbersome. So, some bright spark invented money.

 

The thing is, the theory is entirely untrue. When anthropologists looked at ‘primitive’ societies who didn’t have money, they worked on mutuality, not barter. If I caught a lot of fish, I’d give you some. When you slaughtered some pigs, you’d give me some bacon. It wouldn’t work of course if one of us was a freeloader, but that didn’t seem to happen.

 

I thought of this in connection with our language of sexuality, which seems to operate as a kind of barter. I ‘give’ you x, then you ‘give’ me y. If I receive x from you, I feel the obligation to give you something back. It’s as if our sexuality to reduced to Christmas time at the Miser Twins’ house, where each twin gives the other £5. Miserable.

 

The language of phoney giving is ubiquitous. The most rapacious and greedy people talk about ‘giving something back’, or about their ‘legacy’, as if they’re the Hapsburg Empire or something.

 

People imagine zen is like that too. You put in the hard yards of meditation, and in due course you’re rewarded with enlightenment.

 

Miserable. Miserable. If we monetise our souls, we will be folded up into nothingness.

 

Here is a modest suggestion: I believe that what makes us truly happy is the opportunity to be the best version of ourselves. So, when we have the chance to give, and we can give wholeheartedly, we should be grateful for that because, for that moment at least, we are the person we want to be.

 

And applying that to sex, instead of being resentful and dissatisfied and constantly calculating what we’re owed, we can be grateful for the chance, at this moment, not to be a crimped, calculating person, but a great person, and so, we can give, not in the expectation of reward, but in gratitude at being let out of the cage of calculation. And we can freely receive knowing that whatever connection we create is enough of a gift in any given moment, our body our attention, our willingness to break free ….(please continue/adapt. I felt it needed a balance)

 

I say something like this to my zen group: that the purpose of practice isn’t to feel enlightened, but to feel grateful. Mind you, it’s always been a small group.

 

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.

 

The First Cuddle Party was held 16 years ago in America, and since then, it has spread around the World. And now, at last, it is about to come to Glasgow, on Sunday 2 February, 2-5pm at the CCA, facilitated by Stella Anna Sonnenbaum, who has been running these events monthly in London for the past five years.

 

Cuddle Party is a non sexual, clothed event, part workshop, part social gathering, that offers participants an opportunity to experience personal exploration and connection with like minded individuals, in a relaxed, friendly environment that teaches and models personal boundaries, and where a safe and warm atmosphere is maintained at all times. At Cuddle Parties, everyone is encouraged to engage in communication and touch, in a non threatening, share affirming format.

 

The event begins with a Sharing Circle, where everyone is introduced to the “rules of cuddling”. For example, that you don’t have to cuddle anyone, and you must ask permission and receive a verbal “Yes” before you touch anyone.

 

There are then some exercises to teach communication and boundary skills in a fun and light hearted way, and then a free form part, where you can relax, chat, share consensual touch, cuddle, snack, or just hang out.

 

It is a lovely way to receive lots of consensual touch, to learn how to ask for what you want, and to practice saying Yes and No, and having this respected.

 

There is lots more information on Stella’s website, including interviews, newspaper articles and suchlike

 https://stellawithlove.com/cuddle-party/ https://stellawithlove.com/cuddle-party

which has articles on the slider at the bottom.

 

If you have any queries, please just contact me, either by email (johnwebberfraser@gmail.com) or text 07545707751

 

Tickets are on sale through the CCA http://www.cca-glasgow.com/programme/everybody-loves-cuddle-party-workshop

 

Early booking is recommended, as we have already had a lot of interest.

According to the NHS website, 1 in 6 women are affected by chronic pelvic pain. That’s an extraordinary statistic. A lot of the time, doctors can identify the cause. But that still leaves many many cases of unexplained, long term pain. And, you start to realise that quite a lot of ‘diagnoses’ are nothing of the sort: they’re just a description of how the patient is suffering, with no properly identified cause, and no effective treatment.

 

Why isn’t this a national scandal?

 

What, if anything, can people like me do to help?

 

From my perspective, pain is a form of communication: it has an intelligence. This is obviously true when there is a clear cause of the pain. If I have a pain in my foot, I’m alerted to the possibility of something bad, a shard of glass being there, for example, and so can take steps to remove it. I imagine that’s uncontroversial.

 

But also, if the body is experiencing something it doesn’t like, it will communicate that in a number of ways. If, for instance, someone is acting sexually towards me, and I don’t like it, I will experience a number of emotions: fear, anger, disgust. But I may not be able to express these emotions, or expressing them may be ineffective, because of the situation. Perhaps the abuser is more powerful than me. So what does the body do then? Well, it might simply become numb. Or it might develop a pain response. So if, for instance, I don’t want to have sex with my partner but can’t say so, and feel I ought to want it, it might be the intelligent, albeit unconscious, choice to manifest pain. Then what I don’t want might not happen, and I won’t get blamed, or feel guilty.

 

Whether or not you think it absurd, it has been my actual experience in Bodywork that unexplained body pain is often layered. There is the pain, as it were, on the surface. But underneath that is very often something else, almost always a disagreeable emotion. And associated with that emotion is a story. And once all of that comes out, the pain sometimes goes away. But even if it doesn’t, the relationship with the pain changes. The sufferer sees that it’s like an intelligence, rather than a brute punisher. And that helps to restore autonomy and enquiry.

 

‘Anhedonia’ is the inability to feel pleasure. And I think that many of us have it, in the sense both that we lack a sense of ease and joy in our simple embodiment, and also that our ability to feel sexual joy – the sensation, the expression, the connection with another – is seriously compromised.

 

And, it is particularly present with people who feel chronic pain. The dial is set between neutral and painful. So, with Bodywork, if we can also find pleasure in the body, that again changes our sense of ourselves. We’re not a malfunctioning machine, but a human being, capable of feeling a whole range of things, good and bad. That restores our soul to us.

 

And, it seems this can be addressed in a receptive way – the client lying on the massage table and receiving agreed touch – but also, in a relational way. In my work, I find it helpful to designate three ways in which I work with the client. Two of these ways are familiar; Talking and Bodywork, but the third area I think is very important, particularly with clients who have suffered trauma or have difficulties engaging  with another. I call it the Experimental. Essentially, this is a mode where the client and I co-create relational exercises which emphasise connection, agency and self empowerment. I’ll write about this tripartite structure separately, but for present purposes, the Experimental mode puts the client in a more active – and activated – position.

 

So, we breathe and move vitality and choice back into the body, and with that, the possibility of pleasure experienced as dynamic and chosen, rather than the more simple receptivity of touch on the massage table. And again, that restores our soul to us. Why? Because we aren’t experiencing pleasure as something outside which is given to us, but something arising within us, in all its inarticulate intelligence.

 

Physical and emotional pleasure is a fundamental aspect of our dignity and joy as human beings. We all deserve – at least sometimes – to feel happy and brave and open and delighted. Although I’m a Sex Therapist, my work isn’t really about sex as such. It’s about attending to the obstacles we experience to happiness, joy and fulfilment. Chronic, unexplained pain is one of these obstacles. Let me see if I can help you.