How can we touch better? When I was a kid in the late sixties, watching Man From Uncle on the telly, the bit I liked best was Napoleon Solo going into an innocent looking basement shop in New York. He would casually press a few buttons on the back wall and then a door in the wall would open, revealing a completely different world.

Men are encouraged to believe that women’s sexuality is like that wall. All they need to do is find out where the buttons are, and they can be Napoleon Solo too.

So, they’re eagerly receptive for material that will enable them to make a woman ejaculate, or find their g spot, or their third gate.

I say they’re mistaken. Why?

Four reasons:

First, Touch which is future orientated isn’t good touch. If I’m touching you to produce an effect, you’re going to know that. If you sense me thinking “is she there yet?”, you won’t be able to relax. In fact, you may feel somewhat irritated. You may feel somewhat done to.

Second, there isn’t a secret inner world. Our eroticism is completely available to us, and those who love us. It isn’t hidden at all. There aren’t silos of pleasure in an otherwise numb world. The world of the body is completely alive. All of it.

Third, good touch is heartful, not technical. When people tell me they don’t know how they want to be touched, that arises from the deficient notion that touching is just something my body does to your body. But that’s not so. I touch you with my heart, through my body. If we can include the palette of emotions, touch is never repetitive, because it’s always expressing ourselves at this moment.

Look how animals are, how comfortable and easily affectionate they are with each other. Yes, we’re different because we have tools and artifacts and self consciousness, but our intimate connection with all beings remains. And those species developments needn’t determine our nature. When we’re assembling a watch we need to be technical. When we’re expressing ourselves, we don’t.

And lastly, we don’t want to be manipulated. We want to be adored. Lusted after. Be the ravished summer orchard for the hungry hordes. All that stuff:

simple

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My friend Minnie Iris is a very talented artist. I have one of her pictures in my practice space. She is a trustee of  the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Trust.

In the words of their website:

“The term Body Dysmorphic Disorder [BDD] describes a disabling preoccupation with perceived defects or flaws in appearance. It can affect both men and women, and makes sufferers excessively self conscious. They tend to check their appearance repeatedly and try to camouflage or alter the defects they see, often undergoing needless cosmetic treatments. Onlookers are frequently perplexed because they can see nothing out of the ordinary, but BDD causes devastating distress and interferes substantially with the ability to function socially”

Minnie herself suffered from the condition. It started when she was 11, when she became fixated with creases in her neck. She believed she was ugly, but was able to function until she was 38, when her Mum died. At that point, her hair started to fall out because of the stress. She started to feel monstrous when she saw herself in the mirror. Then she started to have a lot of suicidal thoughts. Fortunately, she was able to access specialist therapy.

BDD is said to affect around 2% of the population in varying degrees. But if we take this as the extreme edge of a spectrum, who can honestly say that they don’t know at least one person who seems unreasonably negative about one or more aspects of their appearance?

When Michael Jackson’s father, Joe Jackson, died, in the obituaries we learnt that as a teenager, Michael was sensitive about his nose. And his Dad, deliberately mocked his nose. Hence all the surgical treatment as an adult, which transformed his beautiful  face into something weird and other worldly.

Often, something like this is at the root. A person perhaps has an accident and their appearance changes. Or, for a variety of reasons, they suddenly lose or gain weight. Or, like Minnie, they suffer bereavement or other loss.

But underneath the wide range of immediate causes, there’s a common mechanism. The mind -an idea ‘I am ugly’ – takes over the body. The person loses a realistic sense of their body because they lose their feeling connection with it.

My Swiss friend, Thea Rytz, was a pioneer in treating eating disorder sufferers somatically. She realised it was no use telling them that their ideas about themselves weren’t true, or getting them to look in the mirror, because it was so easy for the mind to distort. So, she would do things like get her patients to put bags of sand on themselves, so they could feel actual weight, and so the mind could recalibrate itself through being presented with the reality of the body, not a distorted picture of it.

It’s a major problem, a major, widespread cause for great unhappiness.

I am very well placed to work with body image, for several reasons:

– I meet you in love, respect and acceptance, countering the negativity. Just as Thea’s clients were brought back in connection with the physicality of their bodies through the weight of the sand, the feeling of loving, attentive, present focused touch which asks for nothing in return recalibrates the heart

– I support you in reconnecting with your body and freeing you from the tyranny of your mind and of unhelpful thinking. A lot of people seem to combine negative ideas of their body with quite a poor sense of how their body might be configured. If they are doing yoga, for instance, they might need to look in a mirror to check their position, rather than just being able to feel it. They might be unaware that their body is tense, or their muscles are working in a particular way.

– with your active participation, I support you in experiencing your body as a source of pleasure and empowerment. In my experience this is best done not by arousing the body, but by relaxing the body, making it feel safe again. That’s the crucial thing. Once the body is relaxed, it can start to feel pleasure again.

– I help you replace judgement with alive embodied presence.

Here’s Minnie’s picture: it’s beautiful, isn’t it?

You can read my related blog ‘Overcoming Negative Body Image here

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How do I know what I want when I always know what I ought to want?

John’s talk from the sex lectures series held in Manchester.

In Nick Roeg’s film ‘Insignificance’, there’s a great scene where Albert Einstein and Marilyn Munro are in bed together. It’s striking, because we don’t expect people like Einstein (geniuses who live in their head) to be any good at sex. They’re just good at thinking.

 

But here’s the thing: in sex, if nothing else, you are Einstein. Most of us are trying to figure everything out in our heads. Except, instead of thinking new things, we’re all thinking the same things, over and over. Things like, could I be doing better, is this working, what can I do differently and so on. But If you go with the idea of creating relaxing connected pleasure, whatever form it might take, you’ve got more of a chance of a surprisingly loving, appreciative, connected and sexy time.

 

Here are 7 tips to take yourself away from the anxiety of performance and simply be where you are:

 

  1. Connect to your breath. Breath is the best sex aid. You can use it to slow down and relax or speed it up to raise your arousal. Also notice if you hold your breath. Try to breathe deeply. Share breath with your lover: shared slow sexy breathing is very erotic and connected.
  2. Connect with your own body as well as your lover’s body. Notice the sensations all over your body. Where do you enjoy being touched? How do you like to be touched? Can you sense sensations on your thighs, collar bone, hips, back of the neck? Your skin is the biggest erogenous zone and the place you can take in the most pleasure. Learn to feel more. Be mindful and give attention to small gestures, feel textures and enjoy scents. Notice everything. Throw your attention wide open.
  3. Slow down. And slow down again. Slow your touch and your breath.
  4. Get more skilled at sensual touch. Slow stroking with the palms of your hands is better than grabby mindless touch. Slow scratching down a mans back, gentle nuzzling around a panty or bra line, gentle hair pulling, a gentle squeeze on a hip or slow finger tips on that sexy line between the bottom and backs of thighs…
  5. Learn how to gently ask for what you want and give appreciation ..please kiss my neck…mmmmm that feels good. We all like praise, be generous with it as it guides our lover with appreciation and helps us relax
  6. Learn how to connect with your own sexual energy instead of focusing on someone else’s. Taking your intention to being fluid in your hips and pelvis really helps in this, a bit of slow writhing or gentle grinding can be very sensual
  7. Eye gazing is beautiful. Before you begin take 10 mins to sit opposite each other and look into each others eyes. Without touching each other, simply through your eyes, connect as two humans who are going to embark on a shared intimate experience and really see each other with a loving gaze.

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How does sexual healing work?

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. It was an essential part of the process that there was no surprises. We agreed the boundaries of where I would touch him before we started, and it was a firm rule that we would not overstep these boundaries, even if he asked for that mid session. And, he remained in charge of where the touch was from moment to moment. All this was, in my view, essential in attending to his trauma.

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 it feeling a bit strange.  Nonetheless, despite this, he remained able to direct me to where he wanted me to touch him.

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 whether he was touched or not, and what that touch was earlier in his life.  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. Many women feel this with genital touch. It isn’t so much that there was a sexual assault -in some ways, that would be more straightforward – but that it didn’t seem possible to say no, because sexual touch was ‘what everyone did’.  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’d like to talk about possibly working together, you can contact me here]

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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

There are a lot of audio resources too. You could try literotica -the website isn’t well designed, but there’s a wealth of content, or Dipsea

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. Don’t be put off by all the crappy male focused stuff: there’s great porn out there, you just have to find it.

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.

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“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

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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.