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 we’ve all 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, the 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, obscuring 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, 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, but rediscovering and expressing our innate wholeness. I help people to do this in three ways: Embodiment through bodywork, Communication and Expansion.
When people think of bodywork in this context, their idea is often quite sexual. They are likely to think 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 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 a client so that the touch is agreed and has clear boundaries, follows the curiosity and interest of the client and is an expression of pleasurable sovereignty and self determination.
Communication is essential, but for most of us, problematic. So the second aspect of my work is how we learn to say what we want, what we don’t want, and to be clear in any moment of engagement who this is for. This effects all of us, but is a particular issue for couples. Many couples get into a habitual position where each feels that they are doing something for the other. We need to learn how to take, how to ask for what we want, how to authentically give, how to allow, all from a wholehearted position of consent.
And building on embodiment and communication, the third leg of my work is expansion. We have a very limited, functional, performance 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 body or orgasm focused perspective which leaves one or both partners feeling emotionally dissatisfied, which would really benefit from a more emotional and spiritual tantra influenced direction. Or there might be an anxious focus on performance, in which case engaging with Play is really beneficial.
When I work with a client, 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 want to explore connection. All of that is perfect, because whilst my work is hopefully pleasurable and life enhancing, it’s primarily relational: we suffer because we’ve been done-to, we heal and grow by experiencing done-together.