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

 

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.

 

Who does this serve, really?

 

I  trained with Betty Martin in 2018/2019. 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 Weinstein 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.

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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.

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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.

 

I 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. I 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 I emphasise connection, rather than performance.

 

If you think I 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 frequent 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  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 or online for a coffee and chat, so we can both 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.

“Our desire for connection is tangled up in a culture of sexuality”

-David Jay, The Asexual Visibility and Education Network

 

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 sexual 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.

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. Often, it’s not helpful to make a strict demarcation between ‘sexual’ and ‘non-sexual’. The real question should be “Is this pleasurable?”

Sexual attraction, whilst claiming to be natural, 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? And what if our generally accepted definition of sexuality is too narrow?

There is a set of related metaphors for sexual attraction and sexuality that are very powerful, because they’re 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 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, adapted as necessary for LGBTQ+ people, but that’s not the only sexual perspectives. There are at least two other kinds.

One other type of sexuality is absorption. 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  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, what you imagine you should be feeling, 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 like everyone else. Because nobody is.

If you’re interested in exploring further, you can contact me here

You can read more about my work here

 

If you’re interested in reading further about Asexuality, ‘The Invisible Orientation’ by Julie Sondra Decker is a good place to start, along with the website at the top of the article.

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!

Cuddle Party

How did you lose your virginity? What was it like?

I lost mine to a nice woman in HR at the 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. For women on the other side, the experience can often be distinctly disheartening.

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 somatic sex therapist. 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 helping 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.

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According to the NHS website “it’s not fully understood why the condition (vaginismus) happens. Factors can include: thinking the vagina is too small, negative sexual thoughts, previous sexual abuse or unwelcome telepathic interference from The Evil Fish Of Planet Thargon”.

Ok, I made that last one up, but really: what’s the matter with these people? Isn’t it obvious why it happens: the vagina has had unwelcome or painful experiences, and doesn’t want to have any more.

And it’s not just women.  Sometimes gay men have a similar response with their anus, and for the same reason. The body wants to protect itself.

And once that urge to protect against touch is there, is it really the best approach to talk about it?  Surely it’s obvious: if the body is responding to bad experience, the best way out is to give it a good experience.

What would that look like?

In my work with women and men, what I’ve noticed is that if there’s been unwelcome touch to a part of the body, the vagina say, then touch won’t be felt there at all, it will just be numb. Then, there will be a feeling of physical discomfort, burning, for example.  And after that, there will be an emotional response, often a feeling of irritation. Sometimes the order is different.

Once all of these feelings have been given voice, the body can then experience something different. But the residue of the bad experiences has to come out first.  This will only happen when the touch is loving, respectful and responsive to the body.  And there needs to be full trust and full dialogue between the giver and the receiver.

The work is slow, but it is very heartful.

The most important thing is to create a process where the body can move from feeling powerless, tense and fearfully anticipating what’s about to happen to one where it is relaxed, present focused, empowered and able to feel what it feels.

And it isn’t just unwelcome touch from another that’s been experienced. Often, that unwelcome touch can come from ourselves, and our ideas of what our bodies should be doing and feeling. In my experience, people often think that their genitals should feel arousal in response to touch, and if they don’t, or don’t feel enough, the touch needs to be stronger and faster. And that sets up a vicious cycle, where we never quite get where we want to go. The solution to this isn’t to get the body aroused, but to get the body relaxed, and from there, arousal will naturally follow. It doesn’t need to be forced.

We can’t just jump from numbness to pleasure and arousal.  We have to re-experience with our body and with our whole being, what caused the trauma in the first place, but in a space which gives the receiver power, autonomy and direction, and which is lovingly relational.  We do not need to dwell in the pain.  With loving support it is possible to release the effects of the past and move on.

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In the Woody Allan film ‘Manhattan’, a female character says “I finally had an orgasm, and my doctor told me it was the wrong kind”

The joke derives from Freud’s idea that clitoral orgasms were immature and masculine, and that the mature woman should confine herself to vaginal orgasms.

Why Freud felt entitled to pontificate about woman’s genitals without being the possessor of any is far from clear. But many men since have felt a similar entitlement.

Strong similarities

Fortunately, we’ve moved on, specifically, we’re much clearer on the structure of the nervous system. And that clarity enables us to see strong similarities between male and female experiences of orgasm.

The clitoral orgasm is connected to the pudendal nerve. How can a man know what that’s like? Easy. The glands of the penis are connected to the same nerve.

The vaginal, or g spot orgasm is connected to the pelvic nerve. This is the same nerve that connects to the deep structure of the penis.

The cervix orgasm is connected to the hypogastric nerve. Both this nerve and the pudendal nerve are connected to the male prostate.

Lastly, the enigmatic Vagus nerve is connected to the uterus orgasm. In men, researchers aren’t yet sure, but I discovered it by accident during my sexological bodywork training when one of my colleagues located it as part of the pelvic floor, near the root of the penis. The sensation was felt in the head, like stimulation of the prostate, but at the side of the head. Corresponding with the vagus nerve’s upper positioning, rather than the middle of the head.

The similarity between male and female orgasmic experience has been overlooked, I think, for two reasons. One is the confusion between male ejaculation and male orgasm, which are actually distinct. But the main one is the insulting disinterest that the medical profession has historically had to women’s bodies and women’s pleasure.

 

Seeing these strong similarities will, I hope be a way of enabling all of us, women and men, to understand our common human inheritance of pleasure.

If you’re interested in exploring further, you can contact me here

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One of my friends is an acupuncturist, and she told me that increasing numbers of women – overbusy women – were coming to her with fertility issues.  One way she treats these women is to increase their receptivity and their heart connection.  She imagined that couples trying to have a baby thought of intercourse as a means to an end, a necessity, rather than in terms of pleasure and connection. She thought if I could work with these type of clients, they could re-learn to receive, to feel, to experience, and not be so caught up in the goal of conception. And that would help them conceive, because this approach had been successful for her clients.

Another friend is a student midwife. She wanted to write a dissertation about sexual arousal while giving birth, but found that the literature is silent on it. It’s as if the two are in entirely separate categories.

A third friend is a physiotherapist working in the NHS. Her speciality is working with women who have problems with their pelvic floor. She can touch the women, obviously, but is absolutely forbidden to talk about pleasure. ‘Healing’ and ‘Pleasure’ are considered completely separate.

This division and ‘scientific’ approach is all very weird, because pleasure, anatomy, conception and birth are all intimately connected.

Why?

Because pleasure is the proof of our bodies – of ourselves – working properly. Pain, or numbness, is what happens when there’s something wrong. It’s simple.

The erectile tissue in the vagina that becomes engorged during sexual pleasure has a double function. It protects the vagina during intercourse, and it protects the vagina when the baby’s coming out. It’s the same engorgement, so you’d think it would be the same pleasure response. And some women do say that giving birth is the most erotic experience they’ve ever had. And that’s in a society which completely disconnects the two.

It often seems to be the case that women who have difficulties in conceiving are often quite driven, high achieving type A personalities who find it hard to relax and pleasurably receive, and for whom sex can often be a frustrating experience. And in their self pleasure, they are likely to use a vibrator, possibly on the highest setting. In other words, they have a habitual tension, which is overcome by the greater, pleasurable sensation of the vibrator, and the temporary release.

I believe that this habitual tension is a major inhibitor to becoming pregnant. It’s nothing to do with the mechanics, a lot of the time. Despite this, couples spend a fortune on fertility treatment, which generally doesn’t work.

So if a key to pregnancy is becoming more relaxed, how do you go about it?

There are two options.

The first is to receive bodywork from me. The purpose of this is to relax the body back into its natural, pleasurable state, which, I believe, will make conception easier.

The second option, either if you don’t like the idea of intimate bodywork, or if you’re nowhere near Glasgow, is to consult me by video call with your partner. I can then, adapting the more general work I do with couples, give you exercises to carry out together in your own time which will foster pleasure, connection and receptivity. We then meet  afterwards to review and adjust these exercises, and add new ones. Sessions are an hour, and the process will take between 5 and 10 sessions.

It doesn’t seem a big leap to suggest that pleasure, far from being a side effect is, thankfully, central to our functioning.  But if we’re stressed and our body is tense, which is where most of us habitually are, then we won’t feel this normal natural bodily pleasure, and our functioning will be impaired.. That stress and tension can be attended to, relatively easily and inexpensively, and when it is, your natural capacity for easy bodily pleasure can be restored. And pleasure makes it easier for our bodies to work as they should. Which includes you becoming pregnant.

you can contact me here