About a month ago, a friend circulated an article about married people having affairs.  The article was a bit Radio Times, but buried in it was a very questionable assertion dressed up as indisputable fact: women’s libido goes down significantly after menopause.

 

Why do so many people believe this?  It’s possible that we make an unconscious link between fertility and libido, but I think it’s a false inference drawn from something which is true.

 

The bit that’s true is that women have less lubrication after menopause.  That might make the vulva feel less luscious and more brittle. It may make intercourse uncomfortable.

 

But none of that means that desire decreases.

 

Imagine that men, when they reached a certain age – fifty, say – found that their lips became drier than before, and kissing became painful. I don’t imagine an idea would grow up that men would go off kissing after 50. We’d see it as a problem of lubrication. Someone would make a lot of money inventing a lip balm for men.

 

And it’s like that for women too. But here’s the thing: if your vulva feels less comfortable than before, wouldn’t you like something to help with that? And not just during intercourse.

 

Vaginal dryness after menopause is caused by the body producing less oestrogen.  Lubricant is usual recommended, but the focus is too much on intercourse, and on the vagina alone, rather than the whole vulva.  The focus needs to be more on making the whole area feel great.

 

A lot of women post menopause experience the skin quality of their labia change.  It’s as if the lips become drier and more fragile, and the whole area can feel itchy and irritable, particularly to the touch.  And this is an issue that goes way beyond sex.  If you feel uncomfortable and awkward there, how are you going to feel relaxed and sexy?

 

Rather than focusing on lubrication during sex, how can we make all of the vulva plump and juicy?

Help is now at hand. The remedy is [cue trumpets]:

Castor Oil

 

Indeed. It’s a wonderfully rich, lubricious oil.  Just warm and apply liberally.  So why don’t we hear more about it.  Well, apart from women’s comfort and pleasure being a matter of little importance throughout most of recorded history, nobody stands to make money from it, because nobody owns it.  Like aspirin.  So nobody has a monetary incentive to encourage its use.

 

But we have an incentive.  Love.

 

One of the often reported symptoms that women experience after menopause is vaginal dryness, caused by the body producing less oestrogen.  The recommendation is that lubricant is used, but the focus is too much on intercourse, and on the vagina alone, rather than the whole vulva.  The focus needs to be more on making the whole area feel great.

 

A lot of women post menopause experience the skin quality of their labia change.  It’s as if the lips become drier and more fragile, and the whole area can feel itchy and irritable, particularly to the touch.  And this is an issue that goes way beyond sex.  If you feel uncomfortable and awkward there, how are you going to feel relaxed and sexy?

 

Rather than focusing on lubrication during sex, how can we make all of the vulva plump and juicy?

 

In our experience, regular massage with warm castor oil is the best thing.  The oil really soaks into the skin, plumping it up and reviving it, enabling it to welcome touch, rather than find it an irritant. And the warm lubricious heat relaxes and opens the whole area.

 

We generally do this as part of a more general massage, waking up and re-sensualising the body, and it fits into our general philosophy: the quickest way to feel differently is through pleasure, and the quickest way for your body to feel different is through bodily pleasure.  Try it.

I have a client who’s been coming to see me for about a year.  When we started working together, he seemed to be carrying a lot of shock in his body.  If I touched a particular part of him; his belly, for example, it seemed to set off quite violent shaking.  As we continued working, this gradually got less.  He seemed able to be much more present in his body, and able to tell me where he would like me to touch him, and how he would like to be touched.

 

When we had our checking in after a recent session, he told me that while he’d enjoyed our sessions a lot, he’d enjoyed that one a lot less. He had an odd sense of being touched, and not knowing if he liked it or not, and feeling a bit strange.  Nonetheless, he remained able to direct me to where he wanted me to touch him.

 

Rightly or wrongly, I thought this was a pivotal moment in our work together. I surmised that the shock in his body when he came to me was because he had lost his power to choose.  He hadn’t been able to say no to contact, or to determine what that contact would be, and in consequence, had become dissociated from his body.  His body then held onto the memory of the undesired contact in the form of shock.  Because our work was safe and collaborative, his body had felt it could go back to that point, that fork in the road, where you either exercise sovereignty over your own body, or disassociate.  This time he could choose to take the other fork in the road by exercising his autonomy in directing how and where he wanted to be touched.

 

I think this shows the absolute centrality of consent in healing the body from past trauma. Consent is being able to choose but that choice is based on what you feel, not what you think you ought to do, or allow someone to do to you.  Because we are not telepathic, that means we need to be able to communicate what we want to the other person.  Consent isn’t a once and for all thing.  You’re always in choice, because consenting is always in the present moment.  You can always change your mind.

 

I hope that as part of the MeToo campaign, we can re-think our understanding of what consent is.  Too often, there’s an idea that it’s like inviting an army into your castle.  Once you lift up the drawbridge, you’ve somehow agreed to everything that can happen after that.  But, apart from narcissists and psychopaths, that doesn’t work for anybody.

 

The whole body dissociation that my client experienced is one response to unwanted touch, but there’s also a more specific form.  Sometimes part of the body just goes numb, or becomes painful, or closed off.  If the person is unable to protest the lack of consent, the body will. Except that once the body does protest in this way it will continue doing it, unless the original transgression is processed somehow.

 

How do we do we process the original transgression?  Through consensual touch, through dialogue, through giving voice to the feelings which come up.  Sometimes, underneath the numbness, a physical discomfort emerges.  Then with that discomfort an emotion, often anger or irritation, arises. After this that body part seems to reintegrate with the rest of the body and rejoin the whole body in feeling and responsiveness. The critical thing is the active, moment to moment consent.  It changes everything.

If you ask a heterosexual man what bad sex is, he’s likely to say it’s when sex is boring. He’s unlikely to say, for instance, that bad sex is painful sex, or unwanted sex, or humiliating sex.

 

Yet, that is often women’s experience.

 

At least ten women friends have sent me an article by Lili Loofbourow, ‘The female price of male pleasure’, which goes into this in considerable, painful detail. You can find the article here ( www.theweek.com > articles > female-price-male-pleasure )

 

One of the points the article makes is that we frequently still have a bizarre idea of what consent means. It doesn’t appear mean active, enthusiastic participation. Rather, it seems to be everything short of determined refusal. Oh, Sir Jasper!

 

Who does this serve really?

 

I am doing brilliant new training later this year with Betty Martin. She’s most famous for inventing The Wheel Of Consent, and it’s particularly helpful as we try to negotiate a more fulfilling, satisfying notion of sex, leaving behind a Harvey Weistein entitlement without falling into a new Puritanism.

 

Her work is vital for these times, but consider this: how easily can you answer these questions:

 

What would you like to do to me?

What would you like me to do to you?

 

Simple questions, aren’t they? But very difficult to answer. Maybe I feel that I couldn’t ask for something unless I knew you were going to enjoy it. Maybe I couldn’t ask for something unless I knew you secretly wanted to give it to me, and you’d be thrilled to do so. The questions can get really tangled up with not knowing what we want, wanting to please our partner: myriad questions.

 

But unless we can actually answer these questions, we’re always going to have bad sex, because clear communication is impossible. We’re always thinking of the other person, and are resentful they don’t seem to be thinking of us, or if they are, they’re pretty clueless. It’s a real mess.

 

So, we can’t really separate sex, bad or otherwise, from more general issues of power, autonomy and communication. And you want to address that, don’t you? Me too.

Ages ago, before the internet, I had an affair with a woman who liked porn. We’d have sex, and while I was recuperating, we’d watch some of her porn. The only one I remember was one involving a vacuum salesman and a housewife. You can imagine. I can’t say it did much for me.

Years later, Karen and I were in Las Vegas, at a bizarre French themed establishment. There was a huge screen in our bedroom playing non stop porn. It was incredibly repetitive, just lots of shagging in various positions. I vaguely hoped they might speed it up a bit and play the theme music from The Benny Hill Show, for variety. I found it marginally less erotic than the Goverment’s economic policy.

When I was doing my Sexological Bodywork training, I spoke to one of the other participants about porn. I said that I needed to have a bit of a story and some characterisation. She said she’d fast forward through that to get to the shagging, which was all she was interested in. To each their own, but it did make me think that gender stereotypes about porn are rather patronising.

People often say that there’s no porn for women, but the more general point is why is the general standard so terrible? Is it because 100 years ago people got excited by the transgressive, and pornographers since then have just kept serving up the Old Fayre?

As it happens, there is now quite a bit for the discerning female customer. For instance, www.feministpornguide.com is a brilliant site, taking aim both against terrible mainstream porn and terrible mainstream feminist puritans, like Andrea Dworkin and Catherine McKinnon, who equate porn with patriarchy.

If you were interested, you could also have a wee look at www.erikalust.com and www.frolicme.com

When Karen and I were at that funny hotel in Vegas we attended – not as participants – the Porn Awards. It was like the Oscars, but more sincere. Somebody who had been awarded awarded Miss Rear Entry 2007 or something would tearfully clutch her award and say “ I’ve taken a lot of cock for this!” And everyone would cheer and applaud. Then they sung the national anthem. Very American all round. But again, all the material was as erotic as old socks.

Annie Sprinkle said “ The solution to bad porn isn’t no porn, it’s better porn.” She’s right. Happy exploring.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

It’s estimated that 1% of the population is asexual. ‘Asexuality’ is defined as the absence of sexual attraction to other people. How can a Somatic sex therapist help?

 

Firstly, by recognising that asexuality is a specific, legitimate orientation. It doesn’t mean that the asexual person is traumatised, or confused, or incomplete. Each of us is entitled to define our own identity.

 

Within that acceptance, which is counter to so many of the lazy assumptions of society, exploration can take place, free from the expectations of other people, and all the performative expectations of society.

 

Second, being asexual doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t have sexual feelings. You may have, or you may not. Bodywork is a brilliant way to clarify and explore this, without pressure, and in an open spirit of acceptance, respect and enquiry.

 

Sexual attraction is a social construct. As the song goes: “One enchanted evening, you may see a stranger. You may see a stranger, across a crowded room. And somehow you know. You know even then..”

 

But what if we never have?  We might imagine we’re not sexual beings.  But what if we’re mistaken?

 

There is a set of related metaphors for sexual attraction and sexuality that is very powerful, because it’s never challenged.  It’s the idea that sexuality is like a hunger or [to mix it a bit] like a pressure cooker, or like a compulsion.  But -again – what if you’ve never felt like that?  Does that mean – heaven forfend – that you’re not ‘normal’?

 

Our society privileges relational sexuality, and reserves the winner’s plinth for romantic love,which in turn is thought of as centred on sexual intercourse and orgasm, but that’s not the only sexuality. There are at least two other kinds.

 

One other type of sexuality is trance. We are just very focused on what we are feeling. It isn’t relational, even if what we are feeling is brought about by touch from another. In a way, it’s our original sexuality, before we get attached to “what does this mean?” and “what am I supposed to do?”

 

Another type of sexuality is role play. The classic example is BDSM, where a lot of the activity doesn’t appear sexual at all, although it clearly is, but, really, it can be anything.

 

In the safe, boundaried and loving space provided by a Somatic sex therapist, these things can be tried out. You can get away from the need to conform to what you understand you should be, and explore the full field of who you are. And it’s really important to have that opportunity, free from the pressure and expectation of having to be ‘normal’

 

If you’re interested in reading further about Asexuality, ‘The Invisible Orientation’ by Julie Sondra Decker is a good place to start.

One of the clients I found most challenging when I started as a sex coach was a delightful young woman with cerebral palsy.  Let’s call her Rachel.

 

The challenge was threefold.

 

Firstly, there was a change in the normal way of setting up the contract.  I was contacted not by her, but by one of her carers, who sent me an email, as Rachel couldn’t type.  We set up a telephone call with the three of us (I’d normally have met up for a preliminary chat, but Rachel lived in Bolton, and I only visit the NW sporadically), and most of the conversation was with the carer, as Rachel seemed shy.

 

So, that was very unusual.  Normally the contact is just with the client, and it felt weird to have another person involved.

 

Second, because I try my best to be scrupulous about what I offer and what we agree to do each session, I really prefer to meet.  If that isn’t possible, I send a very detailed email outlining what we have discussed and agreed to do in the session.  But here, my correspondent wasn’t my client but her carer, so I was concerned that I would be going into a session without clear agreement.  What if her carer was doing something of her own bat, or was in some other way not acting in good faith?

 

And third, I was painfully aware that I hadn’t worked with a person with disabilities before, and I wouldn’t really know the extent of her disability until we met for our session.

 

In all of this, I was aware that I was reflecting some of the discomfort that our culture has with sex and disability.  The assumptions, often completely unconscious, that we have, include:

 

  • the unexamined idea that people with disabilities don’t have the same sexual needs as the rest of us

 

  • then the related idea that, somehow, the disabled are like children, and so, by extension, anyone like myself seeking to address their sexual needs is akin to a pedophile

 

  • and the strong idea that sexual matters should be private, and natural

 

Having at least some awareness of this reactivity, I tried to keep at the forefront of my mind, that I needed to see the person, not the disability.

 

Rachel had never had a sexual experience with a man, and this is what she wanted to explore.  The people around her were overwhelmingly female. She had a lot of experience of being ‘done to’ but none of receiving pleasure collaboratively and in dialogue.  So I decided that was where we would start.

 

I would have preferred if she had been able to make specific requests for our session, but as she didn’t – or, more probably, couldn’t.  So I structured the session by asking her permission each step of the way.  “Can I touch your face?”  “What does that touch feel like?”  “How could it be better?”  “This is what firmer/softer/slower/faster feels like, which do you prefer?”, and so on.  Sometimes, particularly for women, this dialogue can be annoying, as it can take them out of their felt experience, but here it felt absolutely the right thing to do.

 

It was necessarily slow, and in that slowness, a confident sexual person could gradually emerge.

 

It was a lovely session.

 

Where to go for sex and disability support

 

Rachel contacted me through a colleague in Liverpool who works with the Outsiders Trust (www.outsiders.org.uk).  They do wonderful work for people with disabilities. They offer a Facebook Clubhouse, local meet-ups and lunches, group chats and a Sex and Disability Helpline.  They also offer access to a wide range of therapists and workers in the sexual field.  More power to them!

I lost my virginity to a nice woman at an office party when I was 25.  I was working in a huge antiquated office, like the House Of Usher. I worked up in an eyrie. She worked down in the basement with people who rarely saw the sun (it was Glasgow; few of us did). When I first saw her, I was holding a brass door handle, and my first idle thought was that someone must have wired it up as a practical joke, as I felt what I assumed was an electric shock.  Completely out of character, I took her by the hand and led her to one of the partner’s rooms, where we did the deed on an uncomfortable nylon carpet.

 

I suppose a lot of men have had similar experiences. It just comes as such a relief. You don’t assess the quality of the sex, you’re just glad to say to yourself you’re normal. Although in my case that would have been a bit of a stretch.

 

The funny thing was, that didn’t open up a path for me of carefree sexuality. I don’t think I had sex again for another 5 years, and this lingering sense of there being something wrong eventually took me into therapy when I was 29. The therapy itself didn’t do much, but suddenly, a year or so into the therapy, I suddenly started having sex with a lot of people, I assume to give me something to talk to my therapist about, who had significant shortcomings as a conversationalist.

 

Much later in my life, I became a sex coach and Bodyworker, and one of the reasons for this was that I didn’t want people to go through the many years of confusion and unhappiness I did. There isn’t much we can do about many aspects of the human condition: we get ill, we die, the people we love die, horrible things happen for no reason, but we can do something about sexual unhappiness. The tragedy is, we don’t know we can. But we can.

 

I started with my virginity recollection, firstly because I’m aware that many people’s reaction to the sex they’ve had is “Is that all there is?”. And also, that many of us have an anxiety or shame around sexuality which may stop us having any encounters at all.

 

I particularly want to work with people like that, because in healing them I also feel that I’m healing myself: my younger, frightened self.

 

And second, because the idea of “losing your virginity” has a particularly masculine perspective. I wonder if it might be more helpful to think of the significant, inaugural thing as being not the particular configuration of our body with another, but rather, the quality of what we feel.

 

Redefining the experience of ‘losing my virginity’

 

So: a modest proposal. Let’s re-define losing one’s virginity as having a significant body feeling in the presence of another. It may well be an orgasm, but it needn’t be. I may then have lost my virginity with the ‘electric shock’. You in a different way. So we’re all like a million spots of light in a dark erotic sky. And fuck normal.

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Rethinking desire

 

But is the real problem how we think about desire?

 

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

 

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

 

How does this match up with your experience?