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!

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.

What’s “Normal”?

One of the more frequent questions that sex coaches and other sexologists encounter from clients is “Am I normal?”   As it turns out, there’s more to this question than meets the eye.

In our society, most people receive detailed and rigid guidance as to how people should view their sexuality, and how they should practice it.  Children get this guidance from parents, from church organizations, from educators, and to some extent from their peers.  Kids are expected to “color” within these “lines”, and they incur strong correction from those in authority, if they choose to deviate from these prescriptions.

Perhaps more insidiously, these same authorities exert great influence in instilling specific attitudes about sex into children.  To compound the situation, outright gross misinformation about sex abounds; some such misinformation is the product of ignorance and lack of knowledge, while some is undoubtedly used as a “tool” to reinforce the sexual morals and beliefs preferred by the authorities.  All of these guiding influences effectively tell a child what they should consider “normal” sexuality.

This mental and emotional formation happens before a child is really able to exercise significant self-assessment and personal choice.  The sexual experimentation that children naturally indulge in provides some personally-acquired information about sex, but all too often that knowledge is freighted with a sense of wrongness that can promote feelings of guilt, shame and self-rejection.  Those “sex-negative” feelings then color all subsequent sexual and intimate interactions that an adult experiences.  Social messages (e.g. in the media) add to the confusion, with more misinformation and with artificially-created “ideals” of what a mature sexual life is like.

The reality is that individuals differ in their sexual orientation and in their preferences. Just as some people love cilantro while others are repelled by it, there is no one-size-fits-all set of sexual practices or perspectives that everyone should subscribe to.

One of the more difficult challenges for a sex coach is to help shed light on the sexual “programming” that a particular client has assimilated— so that the client can then make free and informed choices as to what is natural and “normal” for them.  In making those choices, though, the client can gain a sense of freedom, comfort and self-acceptance that they may never before have experienced.

There are, of course, some constraints on any form of legitimate sexual behavior:  it must be truly consensual, and it should not result in serious intentional harm to a partner, or to oneself.  Beyond that, the available sexual terrain is wide and varied.  It is perfectly “normal” to have curiosity about, say, BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism), such as that popularized in the 50 Shades of Gray trilogy of novels.  Those with a gay or lesbian sexual orientation have no less valid or meaningful relationships than do mainstream heterosexuals. Those who fail to credit and respect the sexual reality of others are likely acting out of captivity to their own rigid “programming”.  One may not feel the same desires and inclinations as another, but mutual respect is essential.

The more important question that we can ask ourselves is not “Am I normal?”, but rather “Do I know and accept my sexual self?”.  This is a question for which a good sex coach can provide invaluable help to a client.  As a sex coach, it brings me much personal satisfaction to accompany a client on this voyage of self-discovery and self-liberation.  I consider it a true privilege to be part of such important, life-changing work!


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!