How to connect…

In June, I completed the oral defense of my doctoral dissertation on “A Conceptual Model for the Physical, Mental and Emotional Factors that Define the Human Male and Female Sexual Response Cycles”.  That’s quite a mouthful— but, in essence, it’s about the similarities and the differences in how men and women experience sex.

I chose that dissertation topic because I can’t think of a better way to describe the things that enable us humans to richly experience our sexuality, nor can I think of a better way to spotlight the things that can go out of whack with our sexuality.  There is a pattern to sex, though with lots of room for personal variation.  That’s one of the big reasons that sex can appear so mysterious:  what works well between one couple at a particular time may not work well between other people, or even for the same people at a different time.

At this point, I have easily over a thousand hours of training in sexological and coaching matters, delivered by preeminent sexologists and coaches.  I’m in a position to provide my clients with much-needed sexual education, and to debunk the widespread misunderstanding and misrepresentation of how sex and intimacy work.  Doing this is my passion; I can think of few things as personally satisfying as helping someone discover and then embrace their true sexuality.   I consider such opportunities a true privilege.

Knowing how valuable and needed this knowledge is, I’m a little puzzled and bemused at how challenging it has been to build my client-base.  Sure, sex is a challenging topic to discuss, and intimacy is perhaps even more so.  Our culture is pretty sex-negative, and sex is a taboo topic.  Still, I’m sure that many women intuitively understand and gravitate to my “loving softly” approach to lovemaking and intimacy.  Fewer men might resonate with this approach, at least till they think about it a little. What I’ve found is that almost all of the members of my “Loving Softly” online Meet-up group are, in fact, guys.  I need to re-think my perspective!

I look forward to serving more clients in the near future, both individuals and couples, as well as through my group seminars.  I expect to deliver a lot of value, and I know I’ll learn a lot in the process.  To build engagement, I’m also adding a user forum to this website, so that we can identify and discuss the things that matter most to my site visitors.  I sincerely invite you to participate.  By all means take advantage of what I have to offer you!

What Do You Mean, “Sexology”???

You may have heard the term “sexology” or “sexologist”, and wondered what these mean— and whether they’re legit!  Well, they are indeed.  Sexology is the scientific study of human sexuality, in all of its breadth and complexity.  It is an interdisciplinary field that taps knowledge gleaned through medicine, the life sciences, social sciences such as sociology and anthropology, psychology, and numerous other disciplines.

Why would anyone put all that thought and effort into a subject that’s so hush-hush and “unspeakable” in social circles?  Well, for starters, because sex is fundamental to our existence as human beings; it is, in effect, our “life-energy”.  It’s good to seek understanding of any force that exerts that kind of influence in our life.

In any society, sex, procreation and pleasure are topics that are the focus of much attention.  Because these are centrally important themes, governments, churches and other organizations seek to control and channel these forces by establishing “mores” that reflect the moral views of that society.  In our Western Judeo-Christian dominated societies, sexuality is viewed with suspicion, and as a powerful and inherently negative force that must be kept in check by reason.  Sex is undeniably powerful— but it certainly need not be presumed to be negative, and thus in need of repression.  Letting fear guide our attitudes toward sexuality can lead us to “throw the baby out with the bath-water”, damping the joy and good that healthy sexuality can bring into our life.

Sexologists see sex as a natural facet of humanity that must be accepted as such.  Sexologists avoid making moral judgments about sex; like any other human activity, sex can be a source of either good or bad, depending on how it is exercised and experienced.  By helping people understand that their sexuality is an inherent part of who they are, and in helping them to understand how sex affects their body, mind and emotions, sexologists give people a powerful tool for responsibly managing their life.  Personal knowledge is personal power— and we’re all better off, if we have what it takes to make informed personal choices!

Professional sexologists can help their clients in several different ways:

  • Sex therapists are typically psychologists or psychiatrists who also have sexological training.  Such therapists work with their clients to diagnose sexual dysfunctions, and they do so by pursuing a deep understanding of the client’s past, as the basis for prescribing corrective actions or behavior changes.  Sex therapists are licensed professionals.
  • Social workers who have sexological training can focus on delivering sexual education, or on helping a client address sexual dysfunction, or both.  Social workers come from diverse disciplines, and utilize differing approaches; however, they share the common goal of seeking to improve the quality of life for individuals, couples and larger groups.  Social workers are licensed professionals.
  • Sex coaches come from diverse backgrounds, but they share a deep knowledge of sexology with the use of coaching techniques as their method of engagement with a client.  Sex coaches address not only sexual dysfunction, but also a client’s desire for enhancement of their sex life and intimate relationships.  Sex coaching is an emerging profession, and the training of such coaches can vary widely.  Reputable sex coaches have certification from an established and properly accredited training institution.

These three kinds of sexological workers engage with their clients in rather different ways:

  • Therapists work as experts who assess a client and offer prescriptions; they observe and diagnose the client’s possible issues from “outside”, gathering information from the client but not engaging with the client as a peer.
  • Social workers also work as expert assessors of and consultants to a client.  Like therapists, social workers do not link with the client in a peer-to-peer relationship; they observe the client and his/her interactions from “outside”, and then recommend behavior and attitude changes that can enhance the  client’s life.
  • In contrast with these first two categories of sexological workers, sex coaches rely on establishing a peer-to-peer connection with a client, in order to act as an expert advisor and an objective “mirror” for the client.  In a sex coaching relationship, the coach provides tools and powerful guiding questions, but it is the client who sets the course of the coaching work, and who also does the work necessary for advancement.  A sex coach is not in any sense “above” or “apart from” the client.

Now that you know what sexologists are, think about how they might fit into your own life.  Would you like a more sensual, sexually fulfilling and intimate life?  Would you like to better understand yourself, so that you can make better personal decisions for yourself?  Would you benefit from having a caring and knowledgeable partner to help you make responsible relationship decisions that can enhance your pleasure and satisfaction in life, without inappropriate guilt or shame?  If so, consider reaching out to a qualified sexologist for help.  You might find that to be one of the best decisions you’ve ever made!

Spooning to Nirvana

I recently came across an interesting and thought-provoking article online.  The article reported on findings of a strong correlation between a couple’s overall level of happiness, and their preference for sleeping very close together.

Of course, there are perfectly contented couples who need to have “personal space” in order to sleep comfortably.  Personally, though, I was not surprised to read about these findings.  My wife and I sleep in various creatively-intertwined poses— a state that we call contentedly “inter-twingled”.  We may settle into our own individual side-by-side spaces, after a while; but we almost always start off lovingly in each other’s arms (and legs).

In that intimate space, we take the time to unwind, and to share the day’s highlights with one another.  For us, this is the most “real” and valued time of each day.  (My wife Penny is convinced that we should start a “cuddle institute”— indeed, we have recently read about at least a few entrepreneurial ladies who are apparently doing very well by offering (non-sexual) cuddle-time to their clients.  Again not too surprising, since we live in such a hands-off, touch-starved society…

There  is something primal and elemental about being in close proximity to someone you love.  It goes far beyond that sexual, and deep into the territory of the intimate.  As I noted in an earlier post, we humans are neurologically “wired” for touch, as are our primate cousins.  Warm and accepting touch conveys caring, acceptance and safety, in a way that no words can remotely approach.

Sleeping in close proximity is especially satisfying for couples who sleep naked. The electric frisson of skin-on-skin absolutely conveys a flow of energy between partners.  Such intimate connection allows each partner to both give and receive marvelous sensations, through gentle brushes of hands or limbs, or the whisper of warm breath, or the reassuring murmur of a loved one’s peaceful heartbeat.  Skin-on-skin contact is the foundation of sensual touch (and a possible though not necessary gateway to sexual sparks).

In our culture (as in many others), people walk around surrounded by an inviolable “bubble” of personal space.  That perhaps gives one a sense of control and safety— I’m not sure I understand the underlying psychology, though I too value having some space, and I get uncomfortable in jam-packed conditions.  Still, with those who are important to me, I welcome physical contact.  That can range from a casual brush of a hand, through warm and open eye-contact, and on into the myriad forms that sensual, sexual intimate touch takes.  I find all such touch to be deeply satisfying and validating, and I know that my partners equally value it.

Sleeping in cozy conjunction has a lot to offer.  Give it a try, if it isn’t part of your usual routine.  It can work wonders to reinforce links of caring, as one of the many ways in which caring partners can reach out to one another.  Sleep tight!


Essential Simplicity

I was recently reading yet another article on what it takes to succeed in a marriage, and the article proposed ten or twelve necessary attributes of such marriages.  All of the individual bits and pieces made sense— and yet there seemed to be a lack of overall coherence and synergy between the proposed “success factors”.

After some reflection, it occurred to me that there was a set of three earmarks of success in a committed relationship (whether a marriage or less traditional forms of intimate relationship).  Each of these underpins a sort of essential simplicity in relationships.

First, it’s important to bring a well-established sense of self into a relationship.  In our society, self-“full”-ness is often equated with self-ish-ness. It’s not somehow wrong or petty to know and take proper care of oneself; quite the contrary, it’s crucial to do so. Without self-knowledge, self-acceptance, self-love and self-caring— all “s”-words— we lack richness to bring to a relationship.  Education and reflection can help put us in touch with what is truly important to us— and thus, with what we should not compromise in entering a relationship.  Carving out a fair share of time and resources for ourselves is necessary to properly valuing ourselves.  Even in an intimate relationship, it’s crucial to retain one’s individuality.  Partners can derive great satisfaction from sharing a life together, but “fusing” into one pseudo-entity denies the reality that we always remain individuals.

A second contributor to successful intimate relationships is found in stability.  Life deals wild-cards, and facing too many unpredictable or uncontrollable factors can be very stressful.  Ongoing high stress is an enemy to relationships.  Pursuing a good job— one that provides for a rich and varied life, without commandeering all of one’s time or imposing an unsustainable stress-level— provides needed stability in one’s life.  For a new couple, postponing child-bearing can also provide needed stability, while the partners get to know each other well and adjust to each other.

In seeking stability, it’s important to avoid stasis, that soul-killing sameness that can make both a relationship and life overall lose its sweetness over time.  We humans are constantly tugged by the opposing gravitational fields of predictability and the safety of sameness on the one hand, and of the excitement and promise of novelty, on the other. (Esther Perel has written an excellent description of this conflict, in her TED talk on “The secret to desire in a long-term relationship“.)

A third key contributor to lasting intimate relationships is a willingness to invest in the relationship.  This is an area in which the self-knowledge that two partners bring to the relationship can allow them to share the core beliefs and values that are important to them.  Fundamental differences at that level can fracture the relationship.  As another dimension of mutual “investment”, partners can take genuine interest in one another, validating each other in the process.  Caring for one another, by showing tenderness, gentleness and acceptance, is likewise very validating and reassuring.  Working at communicating well with one another is yet another form of investment in a relationship.  Good communication promotes mutual understanding.  Taking time to share both the large and the small things in life is an investment in a relationship.  Fighting fairly is also a communication skill that “deposits” into the relationship “account”.  That skill promotes the fair and constructive resolution of the differences that inevitably arise between partners, while minimizing the creation of resentment and other emotional “scar tissue”.

As seems to be true of many or most good things in life, intimate relationship is simultaneously challenging and rewarding at a soul-deep level.  The art of intimate relationship is something that one can work at throughout a lifetime; it’s essential to happiness, though deceptively simple in appearance.

The Healing Power of Touch

I had an especially rough day today— one of those days when you rue having crawled out of a nice warm bed, and into the icy clutches of this sometimes-hard world.  As I lick my wounds at home, nursed by a purring cat and a steaming mug of coffee, I find myself reflecting on the curative powers of touch: sex, yes— but also sensual pleasures, and the warmth of an intimate embrace.

There is something deep in the human psyche that absolutely requires touch.  It’s physical, as well as psychological, as is evidenced by the developmental damage done to under-attended young primates, as well as the “failure to thrive” syndrome suffered by some infants during the last century.  The need for touch cannot be ignored.

As someone who holds a holistic view of sex, I believe that satisfying touch is available through many expressions other than intercourse— wonderful as that can be.  A gentle, caring brush across your partner’s cheek, a tender and attentive massage to relieve cramped and aching shoulders, a kiss that conveys healing acceptance and caring— these are all examples of the breadth of curative touch.

In our American society, touch is often positioned and used as a means to an end: as a prelude to “real” sex (i.e. intercourse), or as a way to disarm someone and win favor.  Too often, we’re led to believe that caring touch is just a ticket to the “main event” of sex.  I think that perspective is especially prevalent among men.  Such a belief can keep us from some of the most enjoyable aspects of connecting with a partner (or with ourselves).

It’s good to take a deep breath, smell the perfume of Spring blossoms on the air, look around and truly register all the beauty that surrounds us— and just be grateful to be alive.  That can make us more appreciative of the special people in our life, and it can make us much more appealing to them.  Once that connection is made, touch each other to show your appreciation and love.  It’s great to be connected!