What’s the Point of Pleasure?

It may seem a little odd to pose a question about what the purpose of pleasure is, what it’s “good for”.  To some, pleasure is one of those things in life that “just is”— it doesn’t have, or need, a purpose.  To others, pleasure is a reward for leading a wholesome life.

Biologically, pleasure orients us to pursue behaviors that are, in fact, in some way rewarding to us— physically, mentally or emotionally.  We’re “hard-wired” to assess certain experiences as pleasurable, and others as painful or aversive.  It’s easy to see the power of evolution (or, for some, the hand of god) behind the development of a sense of pleasure.

From a sexual perspective, pleasure obviously has a key role in incentivizing reproductive behaviors.  Sex is fun!  In many Western societies, procreation is the need that legitimizes sex, which is otherwise seen as dirty, debasing or dangerous.  It’s OK to enjoy the pleasures of sex, especially if you’re a guy (thanks to the strong patriarchal heritage of our society).  But what about sexual pleasure outside procreation?

Enjoying sex for pleasure doesn’t get nearly the same level of respect as does pleasure in the course of conception.  In fact, many Judeo-Christian religions have a deep distrust of sexual pleasure, seeing it as something “beneath” people’s basically pure spiritual nature— something that can steer people off-course, causing harm to individuals and to society.

To sexologists such as myself, such a stance just makes no sense.  Sex and its associated pleasure serve no “higher purpose”; as noted earlier, we’re simply “wired” to enjoy sex.  In recognizing that reality, though, it’s good to also note that sexual and other forms of pleasure can offer many clear-cut benefits.  Beyond the obvious “feel-good” attributes of good sexual experiences, mutually-satisfying and imaginative sexual experiences can reinforce the emotional connection between partners.  It’s hard to see why increased personal satisfaction and strengthened interpersonal relationships should be viewed as something in need of control or repression…

In our society, many forces link arms to actively discourage or repress sexual behaviors and sexual pleasure: churches, schools, government agencies, some businesses (e.g. insurance companies), and even the medical and psychiatric professions,  (For a real eye-opener, read “Sex, Sexual Pleasure, and Reproduction: Health Insurers Don’t Want You to Do Those Nasty Things“, by Hazel Glenn Beh, in the 1998 Volume 13 issue of the Wisconsin Women’a Law Journal.)  It’s interesting to think about why such forces should care about sex.  It seems unlikely that organizations would take the trouble to try to regulate sex, unless there was an agenda being served.

We all need to realize that healthy, consensual sex and pleasure are our birthright, and that it’s not OK for others to obstruct or undermine our rights.  Beyond the use of overt suppression, through legal or other means, emotions such as guilt and shame can also be used as tools to channel our behavior in directions deemed “acceptable” by others.  Awareness of these forces and their agenda is the first step toward our continued right to exercise our freedoms. Let’s embrace responsible pleasure, not fear or reject it!


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!

Baby Steps

Not surprisingly, launching a new coaching practice in an area that involves the “third-rail” topic of sexuality is challenging.  One of the big challenges is to figure out how best to connect with people who are receptive to thinking and talking about sensuality, sexuality and intimacy.  Where do those “fish swim”?  On some level, these are almost universal concerns— but in spite of their interest, many people are carrying too much “baggage” to be able to directly and productively engage their sexual side.

There’s a large sex-positive community in Portland (OR)— people who embrace their sexuality, many of whom are quite open-minded and experimental.  That is likely to be fertile terrain.  Delivering free talks in such a forum seems like a promising avenue to pursue, so I’m doing that.  Participating in the many sub-groups of that community is also promising…  both in person, and through online dialog.  As a step toward building community, I’ve also started a meeting group (the Loving Softly group on Meetup.com). Still looking for a private, comfortable and affordable meeting location for that group; it’s probably not the best for hosting at the local public library!

I’m greatly looking forward to getting past these tottering initial baby-steps, and on to interaction with a vigorous community.  It’ll be great to enjoy the company of fellow explorers, and to have regular opportunities to contribute my professional expertise!

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!