As Valentine’s Day approaches, I am enthralled again by the many ways people love, lust and languish in their sexual lives. This holiday is not just for the newly fallen-in-love or just engaged. No, it is celebrated by older, younger, married, living together, living apart, heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and polyamorous lovers. As a sex therapist who hears many stories of desire, conquest, and loss, I never tire of contemplating the various ways in which people create relationships or systems to get their needs met. As someone who loves the arts, I immerse myself in the imaginations of artists to discover many truths that could help me in my work as a sex and couples therapist. I decided to review some of the peak experiences I’ve had at the movies these past couple of months to reveal some aspects of sexuality that play out among couples at the different stages of loving.
I spent some time watching the first two films of Richard Linklater’s trio titled “Before Sunrise” and “ Before Sunset” (made nine years apart with the same actors) before I watched his latest installment, “Before Midnight”. The brief outline of the story, (without offering too many spoilers) revolve around the meeting of a French girl and American boy on a train who decide to spend one day together before parting. The second film has them meeting nine years later after they have matured, created new partnerships and they continue their initial spark for discussing all that is beautiful, messed up and hopeful in life. In this most recent film the characters Jesse and Celine are married and are on vacation with their young children in Greece. Unlike the first stages of lust and love, we see a couple ripened over time so that the membrane of young infatuation is torn open to view their longings, fears and frustrations expressed in a variety of conversations not only with one another but with others.
Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Midnight
When couples have been together for years, there are the fears that one is not enough for the other along with the sense that their lives might not be as full as they had originally imagined. Especially for couples who are raising children, the lure of spontaneous sex seems a far-off memory and the routines upon which children need to depend, bog down the erotic escapes once treasured by the very same couple.
How can one create novel experiences, discuss new desires and needs when there’s barely time to catch up about who’s cooking dinner. I counsel couples to dig in and do the work of erotic discovery while creating play time to explore new and old games, talk about their feelings around their work, getting older, new and old dreams they have yet to achieve and take a break from discussing who emptied the dishwasher last, what the kids will do on their vacation from school, etc. The focus in Before Midnight is on the ever streaming dialogue, like a stream-of-conscious poem pondering long term love’s challenges and the ever present Look out for my next blog which will look at another film.
This month I want to discuss how partners can talk to one another about what their true sexual desires are when it breaks the code promoted in the popular culture of true love? In our popular American movies, novels, magazines and television shows the individuals who are in love are portrayed declaring to one another: “You are the most beautiful and most important person in the world to me”. And while there may be chemistry and sexual connection early on in a relationship, the chemicals that are pulsing through one’s body during the first 18 months to 2 years of a relationship begin to decrease as the relationship enters the phase of building a life together. So the question is what happens to the erotic and sexual desires that may either not have been discussed, experimented with, or developed over the next years of the relationship?
In the new upcoming play “The Goddess” produced by The Looking Glass Theater the playwrights explore the non-monogamous relationship of a married couple and how they navigate the rules, issues, and boundary crossings that ensue along the way. I have been asked to lead several talk backs after the performances on October 17th @ 7:30 pm, October 27th @ 3 PM and October 31st Halloween evening performance. To receive a discount on the tickets, use the code Cooper when you buy your tickets. Please come and bring your friends to learn how one couple redesigned their marriage and discuss the issues and questions you have about the alternative choices they made.
Showtime’s new series Masters of Sex about the world renowned sex researchers Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson, Virginia Johnson states in the first episode: “Women often think that sex and love are the same thing, but they don’t have to be, they don’t even have to go together”. And while this was a revolutionary idea during this period of the late 1950s in the white middle class culture of the time, there are still many who share these beliefs in our country today. So much so that the discussion of one’s erotic tastes and interests may never come up when a heterosexual couple date and decide to marry. After the initial stage of limerance (that period of the first 2 years) has quieted down, the influx of obsessive thoughts, anxiety over the loss of that special person, higher desire for that person gradually fades to the background. In other words, the feeling of being “head over heels in love”.
What then comes to the foreground is the thought that we know everything there is to know about our partner. Included in this perceived knowledge is the sensitivities, old wounds, and non-verbalized boundaries around what can or cannot be expressed. So if one person has always wanted to try anal sex, or handcuffs or include a third person in the sexual relationship, he or she usually feels like the opening for that conversation is no longer available to them.
How can one say to one’s life partner that while you love them deeply you still want to explore sexuality with others? That is a hard conversation to have especially if you’ve agreed to a monogamous relationship way back when? The partner might feel devastated personally, feeling they are no longer attractive to their partner, they are no longer cherished as a special one. In our mainstream culture we are led to believe that to be in love with someone, one has to forsake all others and that you would want to forsake all others. This is inherent in most marriage vows. While there might be the understanding that your partner will be attracted to other people, the choice one makes each time one doesn’t pursue that attraction into action is a show of love, respect and fidelity. I agree that this is the way one remain faithful to one’s spouse and it is a choice one practices each and every day.
Although I believe commitment to monogamy should be a daily practice I don’t see it as a gag order not to discuss what sexual innovations or improvements partners want out of their relationship. Why? Because we are human beings who change each day, grow as we go through different experiences and hopefully understand ourselves and the world better as we learn and grow through those experiences. While that may mean that each day you each choose to remain sexually monogamous, or have a similar sexual routine, or have sex the same day(s) of the week, it may also mean that you have to discuss these choices a few times a year or once a year to see if it still holds true for your partner. These are not easy conversations to have because partners’ don’t want to feel rejected or hurt nor do they want to tell their partner they aren’t satisfied sexually.
As a sex therapist I coach couples on a daily basis who are bravely forging ahead to carve out new understandings around their individual and joint sexuality with their partners.
I recently went to a celebration honoring Erica Jong, the author of Fear of Flying, a book that broke barriers in 1973 because it unveiled the raw, uncensored sexual thoughts, desires and actions of a white, educated married woman. It became a sensation because before this time white educated women were seen to have little desire or education around their own sexuality and were viewed as objects for men to lust after not as adventurers who wanted to pursue what they found erotic or sexy.
Erica Jong created a novel whose ideas appealed to the masses in the same way Masters and Johnson’s research had done for the field of science and sex therapy. The prevailing term “zipless fuck” represented the sexual encounter about which the main character Isabel Wing continually fantasizes. The “zipless fuck” is an encounter with a sexual partner that is solely focused on lust and chemistry. One will know very little details about the partner because the focus will be about the sexual connection. Similar to the modern hook-up, the “zipless fuck” was a novelty when it was introduced and continues to be a lightning rod for writers exploring what women want sexually in a post-feminist society. Many individual clients of mine many years just having hook-ups that when they meet someone with whom they want to develop a more emotionally connected relationship, don’t have the communication and sometimes sexual skill to establish it.
So are these just fantasies that coupled individuals have in their imaginations but when faced with the opportunity to try the act doesn’t live up to expectations, similar to what occurs in Fear of Flying? Or can a couple negotiate new boundaries around sex and love that include other people in their bedroom or outside of the home with a don’t ask/don’t tell policy? What if one of the partners falls in love with an outside partner while just playing? Can people be so disciplined that they don’t develop feelings for another person which might threaten the stability of a marriage, a home with children, or a partnered couple? That is what some of my clients discuss when they process the idea of going out of the relationship with consent from one another. What about bringing other lovers that become part of the loving family as some people do with Polyamory? In another Showtime series Polyamory: Married & Dating, we see different couples and groups navigate the complex feelings and boundaries that need to be discussed if one is going to bring other lovers into established relationships.
Most people do not have the confidence and communication skills to express their changed desires effectively to their partners, whether it’s to add to the repetoire of sexual activities with one another or to invite others to play with them. Some of the clients I work with instead stepped out on their fidelity agreement hoping that they could have their needs satisfied outside the home without upsetting their own and their partnership’s applecart of complex feelings by renegotiating their contract. We have certainly seen many examples of infidelity over the years with politicians, celebrities and actors that wreak havoc on their partners, children, constituents, and business partners.
After working with couples and individuals for over 20 years at various points in their relationships (dating, pre-marital, trying to get pregnant, with small children, and retirement) my belief is that no one in a love relationship gets away with hiding their fantasies, thoughts, desires and unrest forever. At some point the truths are revealed and I encourage people to share them in a safe, respectful way so that wives, husbands, partners and children are not faced with the heartbreaking debris upon discovering a betrayal. This choosing and contracting is not for the faint of heart, it requires courage and love to stay in the conversation. I also don’t believe that open relationships or polyamory relationships are the right way to go by any means. What I want to emphasize is the importance of keeping the practice of discussing one’s desires a regular event. That the conscious choosing of the boundaries is a regular practice that occurs without malice, criticism or disdain but one that may be painful but also incredibly healing.
Hope you can make it to see “The Goddess” produced by The Looking Glass Theater on the days of my talkback to continue the conversation.
If you’re a daughter and a mother to a daughter you sometimes feel you’re getting the same messages in stereo from both sides of the generational divide. These messages can sometimes be the most cutting, hurtful and critical messages which can leave moms feeling depressed, lonely, under-appreciated and exhausted.
This Mother’s Day I want to send a shout out to all those moms who are working so hard to raise daughters to be self-confident, ethical, technologically and street-wise while providing their own mothers with the emotional, psychological, physical and financial support as they get on in years. The percentage of mothers working full-time is now up to 74% and 66% work either full-time or part-time. Many women feel like they need to be perfect in all areas of their life. Since this is an impossible task they constantly left feeling less than. Unfortunately, there is still the pervading myth that moms need to still provide a home-cooked meal each night, arrange play dates for their youngsters, check up on their child’s Instagram and Facebook statuses and then plan all the thousands of details that go into running a household week-in and week-out to be considered a “good mother”.
So many mothers end up feeling guilty if they are not doing what their stay-at-home mother did for them when they were growing up with their own children while they’re holding down a full-time job. In my office each week I hear from mothers and wives who feel like failures if they can’t cook up a Betty Crocker-style birthday party with a homemade birthday cake and creative gifts to hand out to the children in their loot bags as they walk out. Trying to live up to the Mom Myth of being the “super-mom” who does everything perfectly causes moms to feel more depressed than those women who reject that notion.
Now if you’re one of those moms who happens to be trying your best to balance work outside the home, home-making, parenting and marriage, you know the challenges you face in terms of trying to find time to check off all the items on your list. Most women feel more anxious about trying to push ahead at work or feel worried to “lean in” at their job outside the home as Sheryl Sandberg discussed in her most recent book, for fear of it requiring more time away from their families. I hear working mothers discuss how fatigued and stressed they feel because they’re trying to give to everyone else but leave very little time to re-nourish their bodies and spirits. They talk about how their libido has left them and they feel badly for their spouses who are more interested in sex than they are.
Many of these same women discuss how guilty they feel when they listen to their own mothers who may give advice on how to run a more elegant, efficient or frugal household. When visiting their mom, one of my clients might hear that her children are acting out of control and then be given tips on how she should really discipline them more effectively. What these moms and you might be experiencing are feelings of inadequacy and self-criticism that may at times overwhelm you. Since most mothers of past generations did not have to balance a job, a household, e-mail, texting and technology policing responsibilities themselves, they are not attuned to the overwhelming informational overload of today’s mom.
Then, on the other side of the generational bridge today’s mom may be berated, wined at or ignored by a tween or teen daughter who is not satisfied with her clothes, or the meal that her mom cooked while her daughter sits on the couch texting or posting on Instagram or Snapchat with her friends and rolling her eyes if her mother attempts to ask a question about how her life is doing or ask her to help out with the household chores. Yes, some of these exchanges are as old as time itself when girls become teens but I do feel the technology provides more fuel to the fire and frankly, cell phones are this generation of teen’s new drug of choice in my opinion.
Even if your daughter hasn’t hit her tweens or teens yet, there are a myriad of online games that need to be monitored so that private information is not given in error. So the new job title for a parent is that of techonology cop! And yes, one needs to keep up with learning and monitoring every new app that comes up in order to educate your daughter on the consequences of sending a text or posting an image while perhaps learning how to follow their movements through new monitoring apps.
Moms in the middle have my utmost empathy because they were sold a bill of goods fantasizing that their moms and daughters would understand them better than their spouses or sons would, due to the simple fact of having the same gender. Even mothers in that stage of early childhood when your daughter runs up to you as you walk in the door of her daycare or nursery program with a huge hug and kiss, the manual chores required can be physically fatiguing. Moms give, they plan, they remind, they cajole, they comfort and they empathize. What most moms are not good at though is asking for help because they think others will see it as a chink in their perfect mom armor. They have difficulty demanding that their spouse contribute an equal 50% to the household chores. They also feel like they could not possibly let their mothers know how demanding their day-to-day lives truly are for fear of appearing like a failure.
What I’d like to say to you moms out there is that this is really a new age and the old parent manuals do not always apply. So for this Mother’s Day I encourage you as I do to my own clients to:
· get over believing in the Mom Myth, you’re not perfect (nor is anyone else) and you’re on the frontier of re-defining what a good mom is on your own terms.
· make a list of all the homemaking jobs you do (including planning, calling for doctor’s appointments, calling or e-mailing for playdates), have your partner or spouse do the same and sit down to divide up the chores in a more equitable way.
· Make one on one dates with each of your children doing something simple like a walk in the park, watching a movie or playing a game so you and they feel like they can reconnect.
· Have a few talks with your mother to explain all the hats you are wearing and let her know in direct actionable behaviors how she could be most helpful while letting her know that giving advice when it’s not asked for can be experienced as critical. Let her know that you are carving out new territory as a 21st century parent.
· create a weekly time that’s just about your own nourishment, whether it’s having coffee with a girlfriend, going to a yoga class or reading a book.
· make a date time with your spouse/partner to keep your libido engaged.
Happy Mother’s Day to you. Please share this with your friends and let them know they can receive my monthly blogs if they ask to be put on my mailing list. Please like my Facebook page and/or follow my Twitter account @asksaricooper.
One of the common questions couples ask me when they come in for sex therapy is:”Why can’t we have the same kind of sex during the year that we tend to have when we go away?”
It’s a great question and the within the answer lies many ingredients to a healthier, more satisfying sex life among monogamous couples.
Vacations are planned to give couples adventure, relaxation or a combination of both. If they are family vacations, one of the purposes is have unstructured time with the kids away from the regular schedule of school, homework and after school classes. I was recently interviewed for an article on this topic by fashionwire.com Most long-term couples suffer from boredom, lack of time, and fatigue as they try to balance the stresses of work life, household responsibilities and their roles as parents if they have children. Most parents are facing this task as their children go back to school this month.
Part of the excitement of a vacation is in the planning. One thinks about all the different elements one wants as part of their vacation experience. Things like, great beaches, a historic castle or delicious cuisine can whet the vacationers’ appetite’s before even setting foot in an airport or in a car. Sex is no different. If one gave a bit more time to planning a sensual and sexual experience with the ingredients that stimulate one’s erotic triggers each partner could look forward with anticipation to the experience. One partner could put together a playlist of sexy sultry music to put on before a date. Another partner could tidy up the bedroom and lay a soft plush coverlet on the bed to bring about a tactile change to the experience. Whether it’s what you bring in to eat, massage oil to slather on your lover’s body, or a sexy piece of lingerie to where, all these details planned ahead add to the erotic experience.
Another element of vacations is more time to rest. According to the Center for Disease Control 30% of Americans are not getting the amount of sleep they need. I would add that those folks who still have jobs are probably working longer hours since the recession began as companies have not been hiring new employees and they are making up for the slack of laid off colleagues. When couples go on vacation they commonly take time to either sleep later in the morning and/or take naps during the day. So how do you get more sleep when you return home?
Just as you would book a babysitter or ask a family member to watch your kids while you go out for a date. You can ask whoever is caring for your children to take the kids out while you and your partner book a 3 hour time to sleep as well as perhaps have some intimate time without the worry that a little one will be knocking on your door, barging in, or that an argument will occur while you’re in your bedroom. This allows the bedroom to become a haven again of rest, peace and yes, sex.
Happy Fall, and remember to plan and take some ”nap dates” with your honey real soon.
As a sex and couples’ therapist I frequently see couples who are looking to increase the frequency and/or quality of sex in their lives. I also lead groups for long-married women to teach them about Sex Esteem, the confidence and empowerment program I’ve created that can lead to increased desire in monogamous relationships. Perhaps the frequency of sex which these couples or women are having has gradually dwindled to once a month or once every 4 months or perhaps it’s just that the once every week is not enough for them or their partners. They also complain about the quality of the sex which has become routine, robotic or frankly, boring.
Many of these couples have children and are in the throes of active child rearing. I add the word active because this type of involved parenting sometimes viewed as “helicopter parenting” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helicopter_parent is much more emotionally and physically demanding in our generation than in previous generations.
Perhaps this active involvement is due to a commitment to a ‘re-do’ of their own childhood that may have lacked in emotional closeness or connection. Another reason may be due to the anxiety parents are currently feeling regarding their children’s eventual college applications and career opportunities in this unstable economy. Add to this mix the fact that more women are in the workplace than in previous generations so that both the parents’ work life and the children’s school/extra-curricular life become heavily scheduled during the week and on weekends. So who bears the burden of seeing to the many details of family life so that all these goals can be met?
Some of the moms who I treat in therapy are working full-time or part-time jobs outside the home but are still responsible for more of the housework http://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=111458 and more of the executive planning. While there have been many studies researching the housework gap between married couples I haven’t been able to find a study that inquires about all the executive functioning http://www.minddisorders.com/Del-Fi/Executive-function.html#b that is utilized to: plan a birthday party, order invitations, remind the kids to send thank-you notes, make a shopping list for Easter, order new soccer shoes in time for the game, call another parent to arrange for a carpool, etc. For the moms who are working full time as homemakers their job includes meeting with teachers and/or volunteering for the PTA.
The wives/mothers in the couples I see complain of a lack of desire, they guiltily admit to “putting sex on the back burner”, “the bottom of their list”, feeling like “it’s the last thing on their mind”. Many of their husbands wonder what happened to the hot sexy vibrant woman they were dating before marriage or kids came along. They themselves miss the freedom and fun they felt in their twenties. Due to the tremendous amount of testosterone that men produce naturally, their ability to switch channels from putting out the light in their kids’ bedrooms to feeling frisky and reaching out to grab their wife’s derriere as she does the dishes does not take much transition time. In addition, he usually is not thinking about the 10 family/life chores still on his wife’s mind to take care of before she gives herself permission to collapse into bed. Wives need a lot more time to switch hats from the role of dependable, patient mommy to insatiable, hot, horny lover.
So what do you think these moms want for Mother’s Day? They want a day or two off, thank you very much!! Most moms would feel too guilty to say this because “good moms” in their minds should want to be with their kids on Mother’s Day, right? They would want to be woken from their much needed sleep (when was the last time they slept in till 10?) to eat a high-calorie breakfast in bed (while their inner goddess is dying to get to a yoga class), and spend the day going to the zoo (for the umpteenth time) while oohing and ahhing over the necklace she received from the kids. Of course moms want to show their appreciation for gifts and kind efforts however, what my clients do articulate to me is that they want to be taken AWAY from their homes, so they can get all those to-do lists out of their consciousness and focus on their own needs.
The recent SNL Mother’s Day skit expressed what most moms secretly want. http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/amazon-mothers-day-ad/1400037 They really want to spend a night or two in a hotel or spa (knowing their kids are well-cared for at home) alone where they can catch up on their much-deprived sleep, take a long bubble bath, have someone massage their whole body with lavender oil (who’s not pressuring her for intercourse), eat a meal that is healthy, luscious and frankly far from “kid friendly” without interruption and get a pedicure. After a day or two of this, she then might be ready for someone to slowly and gradually flirt with her, tell her how sexy and irresistible she looks, light a bunch of candles, turn on an i-pod with the sexy music playlist already created, and then have someone touch her sensitively and sensuously while being seduced and surprised emotionally and physically. Just like Christian Grey would do in Fifty Shades of Grey http://www.eljamesauthor.com/books/fifty-shades-of-grey. If this someone could be her husband or her partner instead of a fantasy figure, she has gotten EXACTLY what she wanted and deserved for the BEST MOTHER’S DAY EVER! So moms, ask for what you really want, and dads, give her what she’s longing for. More help on this in the next blog.
With the recent buzz being created by EL James’ book Fifty Shades of Grey, I felt compelled to discuss the elements of the relationship described in the book as well as disband myths that have recently come up in the media regarding BDSM type relationships. The definition of BDSM describes a relationship in which people take on a role of Dominant or a Submissive and may involve some type of restriction (Bondage) and the setting of rules by the Dom which if not followed properly by the Submissive he/she will be punished through some sort of discipline. People who participate in BDSM come from a variety of ethnicities, sexual orientations, ages and social classes
The Dom is in a position of power and authority and the Sub is in a position of helplessness and vulnerability in many capacities. These relationships are consensual and the submissive has code words to let the Dom know if he/she has had enough. Therefore, the myth that the Sub is actually being abused and in danger of being hurt is not true at all in a true D/S relationship because the Submissive has all the power to stop a ‘scene’ by using the code word. The draw for people involved in the BDSM scene is multi-layered and varied but coincide with the desire to experience a non-Vanilla type of sensual, sexual erotic experience that occurs outside of the normal rational mind. When Ana first experiences this type of experience she is surprised by her erotic response which is immediate and highly charged despite her intellectual mind telling her she shouldn’t be getting turned on.
Many people when they first hear about Bondage-Discipline and Sadomasochistic relationships think that there must be something pathologically wrong with the person(s) administering or receiving the pain, humiliation or restrictions which can be involved in this type of dynamic. However, couples involved in this type of relationship only come in for therapy when there are issues outside their sexual relationship that need help, or because one of them is not adhering to the detailed contract which was set up at the beginning of their relationship. Like the heroine Anastasia in Fifty Shades of Grey, she is asked to read over a list of activities to see which are hard limits (meaning activities she would never want to do under any circumstances) and soft limits (meaning activities that she might consider trying) and sign a contract.
People in this type of relationship describe it at times as an orientation the way other people might say they’re gay or Lesbian in that they need certain threats or actions of pain or restrictions to make them feel turned on erotically. Many people do not want or give pain but rather another type of sensation that can cause the partners to get a type of “high” that other people might get finishing an Iron Man. It can put people in a type of trance-like state that lifts them out of their ordinary experience. For many people the actual act of intercourse or touching one another is not part of the experience and yet one or both partners are brought to orgasm through the anticipation, rule setting and/or restrictions put into place. One of my clients who was involved in this type of relationship acted as a Dom and her male partner was not allowed to touch her in any way except perhaps to stroke her boots as she set up restrictions for him.
In the press recently, it has been suggested that the book is reflecting a change in society somehow and that because women have broken the ‘glass ceiling’ in their careers they are more likely longing for a place in which they can relinquish control. I would argue that these types of relationships have been around a long time and that the gender of the Dom and sub has been inhabited by both sexes. The most famous example of a man taking on the masochist role might be in the novella Venus in Furs written by Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch in 1879 was based on his own experiences as a sub to his mistress Baroness Fanny Pistor. In this relationship he begged to be treated as a slave and that she wears fur while subjugating him. The term Masochism was named for him by the Austrian psychiatrist Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing in 1886 due to Sacher-Mosoch’s writings on the subject. A modern interpretation of this novel entitled Venus in Fur is being performed currently on Broadway in which the characters are introduced as an actress who is auditioning for a director for the play based on the original novella by Sacher- Masoch.
The subject of this book should not be viewed through a social-political lens since it lies in a realm that is purely psychological, emotional and sensual. It is an adult form of playacting that many people would rather just keep in their fantasies. Therefore, just because the book has become a hit in the suburbs, does not mean that all these female readers want to enact these roles. Some may and some may not, but you have to open up the topic in order to find out.
As I say to male clients sitting in my consulting office, the fantasy of being so irresistible to a man that he cannot control his desire is the ultimate libido cocktail for most women.
That involves creative pursuing that builds anticipation psychological engagement. There is in fact a multi-billion dollar industry of romance novels that are filled with bad boy heroes and desired heroines that succumb to the alpha-type hero. Just as men watch their porn online, there are many women who go to websites in which laypeople share their erotica stories for others to read. A portion of these stories contain stories of BDSM. It is not weird, it is not pathological, it is a flavor of erotica, just as chocolate (and vanilla) are flavors of ice cream.
Although I know many people roll their eyes when it comes to Valentine’s Day with comments like: “It’s a holiday greeting card companies invented”, “Restaurants charge double on that night and we’re still expected to cough up the money”, “Why do we have to buy something, can’t we make giftsg or do something easy and still make it meaningful?”, “I’d rather just stay home, order in and watch a good film, why all the pressure?”, I still think it is an American cultural phenom that one can nod to, and utilize to up their Sex Esteem which is the term I use for one’s sexual and sensual confidence. With that lens here are 5 relatively easy things to do to warm yourself or someone else this Valentine’s Day.
1. Think about what makes you really excited, passionate or relaxed and do it with a person who can share it with you. If that means taking a bubble bath, going to your favorite restaurant, or buying a new dress in a fun shade ask your friend(s) or partner to share the day/evening with you.
2. Express your love to those that brighten your life each and every day.
3. Give of yourself to someone who needs it through a message, volunteering, or bringing a meal to a homeless person.
4. Attend to some sensual needs like eating a favorite food, washing yourself with peppermint soap, getting a foot massage, or listening to music that reverberates in your soul, dancing in your living room.
5. Focus on what you can do on this day, not on what you can’t.
Each day can be a gift if you let yourself receive it . Give yourself the gift of Sex Esteem. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Valentine’s Day much like Christmas, is celebrated with a big bang in American culture and can be experienced with as much dismay, frustration and downright loneliness when you are a single person.
There are store windows dripping hearts, florists with red roses front and center, and food shops displaying chocolate in every possible manner.
For some people who are newly single or have been divorced for some time and are not in a romantic relationship they may see this holiday as nothing more than a marketing ploy by plump up sales in the post Christmas shopping season and decide to stay home and ignore the whole thing.
One of the origin stories of Valentine’s Day date back to the Romans and a sacred rite involving a sacrifice with the purpose of increasing fertility in the community.
For those single people who still long to become parents in a committed relationship, this holiday can be even more challenging. As someone said to me recently: ” I still want children but it’s not as if you’re going to discuss that when you first start dating someone new “. I encourage my clients to find out who the person is sitting across from them first and let them see the best parts of them before jumping to the topic of parenthood.
However, while most people would interpret fertility literally as the ability to become pregnant, I see it as a symbol for creativity. People who keep their creative juices flowing do so by finding and pursuing things and people who they find exciting. When I counsel newly single people I encourage them to find the activities about which they feel most passionate or excited and gather people they care about the most to celebrate the holiday. Whether that’s going to a poetry slam downtown or a science trivia game at the bar in Brooklyn, grab another pal or two and try something you know you love or go to a new environment completely. Decide to try a new type of yoga and write out your goals for next year’s Valentine’s Day. This might include looking into online dating sites that seem to jive with your style. A new one that is fun and innovative is called howaboutwe and allows people to put out ideas of what they’d like to do on a date that brings in cultural, culinary or athletic experiences into the mix.
Creativity is born when you do something that has not be done before in exactly the same way. So although Monet painted his beloved Water Lillies dozens of times, each painting was a new and beautiful investigation of the same subject. If I play Words with Friends or Charades again and again it is still a fun experience because the different people involved change the sense of play.
It’s this energy that will most likely attract someone to you because it’s the energy of growth. What I did one year is plan a pot-luck party for my girlfriends (didn’t cost a fortune because everyone contributed) on an evening around Valentine’s Day (didn’t interfere with those that did have partners/husbands) and asked them to dress up in a V-Day theme (made it like a Halloween party which got everyone anticipating the fun). I then asked a local dance teacher to teach us some belly dance moves (I had never tried this before) and asked a DJ friend to bring in some great dance music to play ( the dancing put everyone in a great mood).
So this Valentine’s Day, find 3 things you love to do and plan to do one or all of them in the days around Valentine’s Day with some good friends or check out new happenings around your community that would change up your usual routine and might even challenge you artistically (see a play, film, music group you wouldn’t ordinarily see), physically (do a hike, spin class, or dance class) or emotionally (start up a conversation with someone at your local coffee shop or bar). It will help you feel more alive, less lonely and more energized in your life.
Finally, giving thanks for what we do have in addition to helping those people that could use our help is always an important ingredient to feeling better. Have a Creative V-Day!
On this 39th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision I think about all the expectations, decisions and conflicts with which couples and individuals face in their lives and how a pregnancy can change many of these issues. I have counselled many women and men when faced with a decision about a potential or confirmed pregnancy they, their partner or teen is facing. Whether it’s an unplanned pregnancy that ensues between a man and a woman after a few months of volatile dating, a pregnancy that occurs when a committed couple is struggling financially to support the 3 children they already have, or a pregnancy that is an outcome of a date rape of a 16 year old daughter.
In all of these cases, the decision to go ahead with the pregnancy affects many people in the family and may cause many ripples of stress that the family system may or may not be able to withstand. In some cases, if the stress of beginning or continuing the pregnancy is too overwhelming a woman needs to come to terms with the meaning the pregnancy has for her, what the loss of the pregnancy will mean to her personally if she chooses to end the pregnancy and whether she knows it or not, she will need to mourn that loss. All of these are difficult and at times very complex decisions.
As the states’ and federal courts continue to challenge Roe v Wade since it was first passed by chipping away at the various aspects of the law (whether it be the money needed to pay for the abortion, the time she is required to wait between having counselling and getting the procedure, or the access to Plan B without a prescription if she is under 17), I shudder to think of the clock turning back to a time when women died of back alley abortions. I feel grateful to have had so many opportunities afforded to me by the hard work, persistance and at times physical harm and death of my elders who fought the hard battles since the seventies so that I could make clear, safe and optimal decisions regarding my education, career and the timing of a family.
This year I presented at the annual conference of American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists and was fortunate to hear Sarah Weddington speak about her jouney as an activist, lawyer, and politician. In her book “ A Question of Choice” about her experience leading up to her arguing the Roe v Wade argument in the Supreme Court, I was humbled by the amount of grass roots organizing that was needed in order to challenge laws in state and federal courts across the country. It has inspired me to dedicate more efforts to ensure that my generation and those that follow will maintain the right to privacy, freedom to choose and control over their bodies. As Weddington herself says: “…women’s issues are part of a big wheel, and reproductive rights are only one part of a larger consciousness — if you can’t decide this for yourself, you can never have control over the rest of your life. “ Get involved, start talking with your friends, relatives, co-workers, volunteer for Naral or Planned Parenthood. The time is now. Happy Anniversary Roe, Sarah and all those people who worked and continue to work for rights of all women.
With the latest challenges among the Republican candidates focused on Mitt Romney’s tax returns and Newt Gingrich’s adultery the spotlight highlights the three main issues that still trigger the American psyche and bring clients into my private practice office for treatment. Yet the third topic is somewhat inferred and is almost the elephant in the room, and no I’m not referring to the GOP’s symbol here. I’m talking about the secret issues that no one wants to address head on.
Honesty is what challenges these candidates, leaving Romney sputtering on a podium when asked if he’ll reveal his tax returns. He is unsure of what voters might think of his posturing as an every day Joe when he talks about getting pink slips when in fact he has made a lot of money and uses the tax laws to gain the most out of his profits. While he tries to present as an honest man, he comes off as both insecure, cagey and arrogant at times regarding his financial success. What is he trying to hide other than his success for which he states he is unapologetic.
When couples come in to my office to say they are having communication problems, I am struck by all the expectations they had before their wedding including: financial, sexual, and sexual boundaries. Couples believe they have implicit understandings with one another through non-verbal agreements and trust that their love for one another will get them through any disagreements in the future.
For example, when both people are working full-time before marriage and neither of them discuss their expectations if children come along, a lot of resentment, guilt and frustration can arise. Perhaps a wife expects to slow her career down a bit or stop working outside the home all together to be a full-time homemaker and her husband expected her to continue bringing in the same amount of income. I encourage couples who are thinking of moving in together or getting married to hammer out expectations and the realistic consequences of choices which might include seeing a financial planner so they are on the same page regarding what their lifestyle would look like and how their spending habits might need to change.
The other hot issue highlighted by the ABC interview with Gingrich’s second wife Marianne is the statement that Gingrich asked her for an open marriage after he had been having an affair with Calista for six years. I want to talk about the terms being bandied around here. First of all, an open marriage is one in which both participants discuss the option of allowing other partners into their lives. It is done ethically and responsibly before another relationship is entered into.
It is a complex system to create and uphold and usually there are many rules set up beforehand to deal with issues of jealousy, attachment limitations (for example are the lovers outside to remain secondary to the primary relationship, are they to be seen outside the primary home, are they to remain secret from the children), and sexual limits (use of protection, testing for STDs, sexual behaviors that should not be shared with an outside partner, etc.). There are couples who create these types of contracts in what is termed the Polamory community. Polyamory is about loving other people including your partner as a lifestyle that you have chosen with your partner. Polyamory is distinct from people who swing, which is more about a couple knowingly having sex outside their primary relationship and quite often is done together.
For the record, Gingrich was already keeping an outside love and sexual relationship secret from his wife with Calista Gingrich at the time, so in essence if perhaps he did ask for an open marriage, it was his last ditch effort at trying to come out looking like a stand-up honest, open guy rather than a man who wanted his cake and eating it too. He was also a man who already had a track record of cheating on wives while preaching family values in public. According to an interview with his former wife who challenged what he was doing by having an affair in his private life versus the moral code he was publicly advocating, he responded: “It doesn’t matter what I do. People need to hear what I have to say. There’s no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn’t matter what I live”. This is the voice of someone who is so narcissistic (that is, self-involved) that he sees himself as a chosen messenger while ignoring the feelings of anyone else around him. In other words, he believes his own press. If he wanted to be more “open” about his desires you would think that he and Marianne having begun their relationship as an affair might have reason to discuss future boundaries before they decided to wed. Perhaps they did and he broke those rule anyway.
These possible threats or changes in feelings arise within marriages and as a couples therapist I recommend couples create a Sexual Prenup™ in which they discuss what each of them expect sexually, how they differ, what compromises they might be open to, and what they consider cheating or infidelity. However, many couples who have discrepant sexual desires, or have different interests sexually have a difficult time discussing what their expectations are once they are wed. They are afraid of hurting their partner’s feelings or fearful they will lose the person they love entirely. Avoiding these issues might lead to a lifetime of sexual frustration, secret sexual relationships outside the marriage or other consequences. It is helpful to seek a therapist who can provide a safe space within which these feelings can be explored.
I also see couples after one partner discovers her/his partner has cheated and there are understandably high emotions all around and much recovery work to be done. In this day and age one partner watching porn might be considered cheating, while another partner holding hands and flirting at a bar with a stranger would not be. The agreement a couple makes to allow sexual contact with an outside person if one spouse is not interested or able to have sex might be put in the contract with the provision that protection be used and no pregnancies could ensue.
Although individuals grow and change during their marriage and people can’t see into the future, there are so many feelings that people have at the outset of a relationship that are known and never addressed that by at least talking about the white elephant or elephants in the room beforehand through the creation of a Sexual Prenup ™, a couple could set a tone of honesty and understanding that could help them manage issues before and during their marriage.