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.

 

One of the more difficult things in our intimate lives is to change our lover’s behaviour. If we say something negative (“ I don’t like it when you do x”), the response is often negative. If we say something positive (“ I’d like it if you did x”), then often the response is negative too.

 

What’s going on?

 

Part of it is the insidious influence of shame. We’re expected to know what to do and how to be, so any criticism undermines that, which in turn produces a defensive, unhelpful response.

 

So what can be done?

 

Well, in the spirit of giving, I’d like to give you an exercise to try. I’ll describe the exercise first, then the thinking behind it.

 

The Exercise

 

Find a time where you don’t have time constraints, you won’t be interrupted and you’re both fresh and relaxed. Pick some nice relaxing music you both like. Warm up the room. Warm up some coconut oil and some castor oil.

 

Start by sitting opposite one another, eye gazing. When you feel that you have established a steady, tranquil, loving connection, ask your partner to lie down on their belly. Have various pillows and cushions to hand to make them comfortable.

 

Start with your hand on the back of your partner’s heart, then start massaging their shoulders, back, bottom and upper thighs with the coconut oil. Put your heart in your hands and touch intuitively. Spend quite a long time doing this. Gradually focus more on the bottom, and then on the area around the anus. Use castor oil for that area.Go very slowly and gently.

 

Adjust your partner’s position so that they are lying more on their side, and one of their knees is up. In particular, adjust your partner’s head so you can make comfortable eye contact with each other. Have one of your arms on the side of your partner’s body in such a position that they can comfortably place their hand on your arm. Ask your partner to have particular awareness of their middle finger, as that is how you will be communicating as the exercise develops. Explain that you will try to touch them in as close a way as you can to how their finger is touching you, and have a signal for pause ( one tap, say) and stop (say, two taps). 

 

With your own middle finger ( wearing a glove) touch the opening of the anus. From this point, pay equal attention to

  • the quality of the eye connection between you and your partner
  • What you are feeling with your finger, with regard to receptivity and resistance
  • What you are feeling on your arm from your partner’s middle finger

 

Don’t do anything unless all three are in alignment. Go extremely slowly. IF you feel invited in, enter very slowly and gradually, always responding to what you feel from moment to moment. 

 

When you finish the exercise, cover over your partner and lie in contact next to them, gradually separating. 

 

( I’m deliberately not giving specific strokes, as people almost invariably treat these as prescriptive, rather than as examples)

 

The Purpose

 

It doesn’t have to be the anus. I just chose that because it’s universal.

 

The point of the exercise is primarily to develop empathetic connectivity, the sense that you are empowered and are choosing what touch you receive, rather than being done to. And that you matter. The eye contact is crucial, because it means YOU are being touched, not just ‘the body’. It should feel very tender and feeling, quite tearful possibly.

 

If your partner can experience this, then that can become part of their repertoire. And then, sexuality becomes a matter of connectivity, rather than performance. 

 

In other words, you can change your partner best, not by giving them instructions, but by broadening and deepening their sense of possibilities.

 

If you remember the principles, you’re absolutely free to vary the specifics as much as you like.

 

Try it.

 

It’s one of the truisms of sexuality that women’s sexuality is elusive, and men’s is obvious. It’s obvious, because -presumably – an erection is conspicuously obvious. It’s obvious, because the point of an erection – surely –  is to ejaculate. So it’s ‘blindingly obvious’ that men’s sexuality is about ejaculation. And so from there, we imagine the penis to be in a somewhat detached relationship from the rest of the body, stuck on at the pubic bone like volatile plasticine, with the scrotum underneath, and made up of two parts:the glands or the head, where the action is, and the visible rest of it, which doesn’t seem to do or feel much.

 

Almost all of this isn’t true. Did you know, for instance, that one third of the penis isn’t visible? it isn’t hidden away in some mysterious place, it’s plainly there, but nobody talks about it. Specifically, it runs down the centre of the scrotum underneath the skin and attaches to the pelvic floor, and it’s very sensitive. But, it seems, nobody talks about it  because of the assumptions I’ve just detailed. Prior to tumescence, you can’t really feel it, and after tumescence, well, the circus has headed north.

 

Why does this matter?

 

If our focus is on (mistaken) anatomy rather than what we feel, we are much more inclined to dichotomise men and women’s experience. Or we are likely to seize upon mistaken analogies, thinking, for example, of the clitoris as being like the penis, rather than thinking of both as each being part of a much larger whole, which enables us to understand both sets of genital systems as being remarkably similar. Not in terms of appearance obviously, which is trivial, but in terms of what they can experience, because the nerve connections – what makes us feel what we feel – are essentially the same.

 

We are also in our assumptions very likely to think of male sexuality in binary terms: there’s either an exuberant tumescence or there isn’t, whereas if we expand the area of pleasure then we also – crucially – expand the palette of pleasure, which in turn integrates our sexuality both with our feelings, and also with the rest of our lives. The body is full of feeling: it’s not like a machine which is either turned on or off, there is a whole spectrum of feeling sensation. If men can be engaged with prostate pleasure, that obviously helps, because they can experience something happening to them internally, but without an expansion of pleasure into the whole area between the glands and the prostate, the man is like an anaesthetised person, who feels sensation in his head and his feet, but everywhere in between is numb.

 

 I’ll write more about this, but would strongly recommend a brilliant book by R. Louis Schultz “Out In The Open – The Complete Male Pelvis”

 

(This is an article I wrote for my tanta teacher, Hilly Spenceley Of Shakti Tantra. She pioneered Women only tantra, branching out into mixed work and, more recently, work with Couples. She is the most influential of all my teachers. Although I tend not to use the word Tantra to describe my own work, partly because the term has been so misused, I really believe it to be a great path of liberation from the fragmentation that is characteristic of modern life. You can find out more about her work at www.shaktitantra.co.uk)

Frequently with couples, the sex between them has stopped, or has become radically unsatisfactory, and neither partner really knows why. The problem is twofold. Firstly, the couple tend to have a clear idea of what sex should be like. You could call it The Hollywood Model. In this model of sex, each is urgently passionate for the other, so much so that they tear each other’s clothes off, with scant regard for fabric longevity, have some very perfunctory foreplay, then get down to business, and in no time at all simultaneously and noisily orgasm. Whilst having sex, they are very engaged with each other.

That’s the first problem: there’s an ideal of what sex should be like, and you’re naturally disappointed and frustrated if it isn’t like that for you. The second is the focus on orgasm. Couples tend to speak about this in terms of what “works”. If it promotes orgasm, it’s good, if it doesn’t, not so much. But over time, the sex gradually narrows, like a play where the characters, one by one, disappear, until you get to the point where it’s just perfunctory. And then it vanishes entirely.So, it isn’t just a restrictive view about what sexuality is like. It’s an increasingly restrictive view about what THEIR sexuality is like.

How can we think of sex in a different way? Donald Mosher, an American researcher, came up with the idea that we have three different sexual modes. What I’ve called The Hollywood Model is his second mode, Partner Engagement, but there’s two others: Trance and Play. Trance is where you’re very caught up in your own experience. Your partner might be doing something delicious to you, and you are having an exquisite time, but it’s very internal. It’s as if you are having a delicious meal. You don’t want to tell the waiter every five minutes what a great time you’re having, as that detracts from the experience. Except, because The Hollywood Model is what we think sex is, we often feel guilty and selfish when we’re in this mode, and feel that we’re taking up too much time. And we feel we have to reassure our partner, even although that takes away from our experience. The other state is Play. BDSM – particularly power games – are the classic exemplars, but it really includes all behaviour where the couple are acting a part. For instance, where they pretend to be strangers, picking each other up in a bar. Or one of them is a Naughty Doctor. For example.

In remedial work with couples in a non-tantra setting, it’s helpful to focus on these two other states – and primarily on Trance to begin with – so that the couple can broaden out an idea of sex which was largely restricted to Partner Engagement in the first place, and fatally constricted further by the singleminded focus on the boa constrictor of orgasm.

How does this all relate to tantra? It relates very much, because all three of these aspects come together in co-created, ceremonial space which is, essentially, what tantra is.

In tantra, we see ourselves and our partner as aspects of the Divine. In a sense, that’s clearly in the Play mode, but let’s be clear: it is the capacity to play which quintessentially makes us human. It isn’t something trivial, it is our essence. Play, like Love, completes and vivifies us. And that’s what ceremony understands. In my other identity as a zen teacher, I misunderstood ceremony for 25 years. I thought it was symbolic activity. It took me that long to understand that I was mistaken, that ceremony is the direct entranceway to the crucible of the Present.

Because we are with our partner, we are also in the Partner Engagement mode, but in a different, broader, more profound sense. We are with our partner as an aspect of divine creation made flesh, not with an overfamiliar body with an ill functioning orgasm switch. That’s a crucial distinction. And because we are in moment to moment contact with what we feel, in a world entirely different from the dysfunctional sexual capitalism that is our usual home, we are also in the Trance state, but reconfigured not as something ‘internal’ or ‘subjective’, but as an aspect of total human experience, channeled through this body.

In this way, the couple can learn a way of being together which is much broader, which has much more feeling, and which has much more connection to everything. Rather than a Puritan focus on performance, we are opened up to our creative and expressive capacities as instruments of the divine. And that changes everything.

I talked to my Zen Group the other week about the language we use when we talk about the body. In that context, I noted that in ordinary language, we tend to use the word “body” to refer to the body below the neck, and the word “head” to refer to the neck (along some unspecified boundary) and above. And we identify ourselves with our ‘head’ rather than our ‘body’, viewing the body as a vehicle, or, better, a recalcitrant servant, who refuses to do what he’s told.

Until our body breaks down due to ill health or age, or both, the part of the body for which our servant is maximally unco-operative is usually our genitals, who resolutely won’t do what we wish them to do.

And so you come and see someone like me. But here’s the kicker: it’s not physical. Of course, we can teach you things which are helpful. If you’re a man, we can help you with premature ejaculation. If you’re a woman, we can help you with genital numbness. We can help with lots of things.

But just as a therapist can do something about your neurosis but can’t teach you spontaneity and joy, an approach solely based on the body – as we normally conceive it -has significant limitations.

In my experience, I can work with a client and get them into an orgasmic state quite easily, but something is still missing. What is that something?

An example: Quite early on, I remember working with a woman and during the session, she became very orgasmic. After a while, this became too much for her, and she asked me to stop. She then just rested on the massage table. I understood that what was needed was for me to lie on the table with her, holding her. When we were talking after the session, she said “What was that amazing technique you were using?I felt so much?” I thought she was referring to the bodywork part of her session, but she corrected me and said, no, it was afterwards, when we were both lying on the table.

This is the amazing ‘technique’: connection, heartfulness, love.

Another time, I was working with a very sexually active man, who couldn’t get erect other than by progressively greater physical stimulus. A lot of people are like that. They touch themselves accidentally as children and get aroused, but over time the effect fades, so the touch has to be harder, faster, stronger, and eventually, it only gets you part of the way, and then, not at all.

I touched this man’s genitals as I would have touched a wounded person, forced into servitude and injured and hurt by that: touching with respect, enquiry, tenderness.

Each part of us is all of us.

Bear this in mind when you next read an article in The Daily Mail about vaginal massage, or you read about techniques on how to be a better lover: it isn’t that it’s wrong, or not useful, but it’s incomplete.

Imagine you own a string of fitness studios. Things aren’t going well. You’re on the verge of bankruptcy. In desperation, you sack your advertising agency and look for a new one. Someone recommends a new agency with an unusual name: The Tourette’s Agency. You go to see them. There’s a lot of swearing going on in their offices, because it’s cutting edge. You speak to the head guy, who tells you he’ll save your business with a winning message, and to come back in a week.

A week later you go back. There’s still a lot of swearing, but in different languages this time. The guy proudly produces the message. This is what it says:

“ Come to our gym right now if you don’t want to have a heart attack, you fat bastard”

Absurd, isn’t it? But in a slightly more subtle way, workshops for couples take exactly the same approach. They tell you that you can recapture the magic. They tell you that with their help you can relight the fire.

Except, what do you think? What I would think is: “If I go to this, everyone will know that my fire has gone out. My magic has left the building”. Would you go? I don’t think so.

When my dear friend and sex coach Alison Pilling set up her business, she called it Sex School For Grownups. It’s a witty name, but it expresses a truth. Nobody teaches us how to be good at sex and intimacy, particularly within long term relationships. And that lets couples down. Then they get blamed if they divorce. But the blame lies elsewhere, with a society that blithely assumes that sex is “natural”, whatever that means, and if things aren’t going well for you, you’re to blame.

In our work, we don’t peddle nonsense about rediscovering the magic or “spicing up your sex life.’ We start from a position that everyone is trying their best, and it’s part of human nature to get stuck, to have an incomplete understanding, to experience difficulty in knowing, far less saying, what we want. So what we do is to provide different perspectives.

What would it be like if you extended your sense of what’s possible? What if you were given some tips about communication? What would it be like if you were given exercises where each of you could explore different aspects of yourselves? What would it be like if you consciously decided in any intimate encounter who was giving and who was receiving? What if you could take it in turns to initiate and be led. What if the responsibility for pleasure was shared equally between two human beings and you had a greater sense of hat that might encompass?

Alison and I love and respect couples, and we want to support them, to help them flourish, not condemn them as broken and then claim to fix them.

In our Glasgow workshop recently, we were so happy to work with three couples who really cared for each other. We just gave them things they could try, like giving a wonderful singer new songs. And to watch these couples trying these things out was wonderful for us. The energy they showed was exactly the same as meditators: present, embodied, connected, loving. It takes courage to try new things, to adopt unconventional ways of seeing and to step off a sex conveyor belt based on little more than old expectations and hearsay.

We really want to keep working together. We plan various ways. One way is to take a small number of couples, no more than four or five, away to somewhere nice for a couple of days, and share what we know, giving the couple plenty of time to relax, to experiment, to converse with us, to make that cable which connects one heart to the other stronger, not by fixing the fractures, but by increasing the strands.

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.

 

So for me, the critical question with a client is: how can I help them relax?

 

Well firstly, 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. 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 have a very specific perspective on bodywork. 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.

 

(Transcript of my talk at the CCA, Glasgow, 23/11/19, as part of The Glasgow Sex Lectures)

 

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.