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.

And part of that is getting more confidence. How do you take the intiative? How can you open things out, so it’s not just the same boring journey, just a bit slower?

I don’t view my work as just learning  technical skills, so you can “make love like a porn star”, 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.

you can read my articles here

you can contact me here

 

One of the conspicuous disadvantages to our society’s peculiarly limited belief 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 I’ll be frustrated”

 

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 you stop thinking of your 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.

 

We carry all our experience in our body. So, we are always expecting the next thing that we’re familiar with in our pattern of response. If that next thing isn’t welcome, then relaxed, responsive, present focused pleasure is impossible. So, what’s required is to recover our erotic sovereignty, so nothing happens which you don’t want, and nothing continues which you don’t like. Then you can relax into the present. That’s really what my work is about. And that’s what vaginal massage [sometimes called’yoni massage] should be about.

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.

you can read my related article, the chthonic clitoris here

you can read more of my articles here

you can contact me here

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Rethinking desire

 

But is the real problem how we think about desire?

 

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

 

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

 

You can read my related post ‘The Myth of Female Sexual Dysfunction’ here

You can read more of my articles here

You can contact me here

 

 

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 is 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. And that’s priceless.

 

 

 

Cuddle Party

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

The Herald
1st February 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 the following abusive dialogue which a man has with himself:

 

  • I won’t be able to get an erection. I’m useless
  • I’ve got an erection, but I’ll lose it. I’m useless.
  • Maybe I won’t lose it but I’ll come too quickly. I’m useless
  • Anyway, she’s not had an orgasm, or at least not the one she’s supposed to have, so I’m completely useless

 

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, rushed, disconnected and performance focused.

 

Shame explains something weird about women’s experience of male behaviour: it’s really important for him that as a woman 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 admission 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. Shame doesn’t come bearing weapons, but cuts you to pieces regardless.

 

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.

A particularly tragic form is shame is when an older man, in what may have been and continues to be a very long and loving relationship, starts to have erectile difficulties. He will tend to avoid intimacy with his partner through a fear that it will lead to an expectation of sex, in which he will be unable to ‘perform’. But he can’t say this, because to do so would be shameful, and so the couple gradually drift apart, no-one saying anything.

A first step is to broaden our idea. In my work I gave couples examples of other forms of sexual encounter which aren’t necessarily orgasmic, but are connecting and heartfully intimate, not just sensation based, but deeply feeling. A large part of my work is to elaborate and expand upon our sexuality in such a way that it cumulatively engages all our erotic and connecting potential, and gets us off the treadmill of performance, and frees us from the burden of shame. 

One of my teachers said that the only cure for shame is courage. But it isn’t true. The only cure for shame is connection. But it takes courage to make that possible. I’m here to help. You can contact me here