The Hazards of Binary Thinking…….

I  recently attended a conference on sexuality and gender with presenters whose scholarship, professional practice, and presentation styles were so rich and meaningful that I walked away with a mind full of new and enriched content.  But, the binary thinking that we all fall prey to when it comes to sex and gender was a conference focal point that I can’t stop thinking about.  This is in part because I tussle with this every day in my midwifery practice and am struggling to find ways to push against its force and hazards. 

Customarily, an ultrasound is scheduled at almost 5 months of pregnancy to view and asses the fetus’ most life-supporting structures: brain, heart, lungs, stomach, kidneys, spine, and placenta - the stuff that makes us well when it’s working and unwell when it isn’t. When I mention this, most patients say something like: Oh, that’s the ultrasound you do so you can tell the sex of the baby, right?  Wrong.  It is the ultra sound we do to see if the baby’s anatomy looks normal or if there is a big problem we should be alerted to in advance.  Despite my explanations and emphasis on this and my telling them that ultrasounds can be incorrect and/orthat the fetus may not be in a position that makes determining its sex possible,  parents will persist;  they ask when the scan will be repeated if the sex can’t be determined. Before their baby is able to sustain itself outside the womb expectant mothers and families have already determined aspects of selfhood based solely on their child’s genitals.  

I had my own attachments to what my baby would be during pregnancy and for this reason I asked not to know its sex beforehand or at delivery.  For about 15 minutes after birth, my newborn was completely sex and gender free. I wanted my mother’s love to solidify in that moment based solely on the baby being human, healthy, and mine. I sensed this was critically important but I couldn’t fully explain why.  

What the conference speakers clarified for me so many years later is just how mutable identity can be at any time in life. Boy or girl, Straight or Gay, able or disabled, strong or frail, beautiful or homely. None of these are necessarily fixed nor should they be defined by anyone other than the individual themselves. 

As a midwife, I am doing my best to remind people of what’s most important: human, healthy, safe in loving arms – the welcoming of a new member of the family.  I can feel the burn of this uphill climb, but I know it’s entirely worth it. 

E. Resh

If Sex is boring, maybe you are too…….

 

Clients 50 and older who come to me for sexuality counselingwith a chief complaint of decreased libido have often concluded before they arrive that their disinterest in sex is likely due to sexual ennui. This is especially the case if they’ve been in a long-term relationship. The assumption that the longer couples are together the more likely their sex life will be to lose its spark and appeal is a common misconception. In my way of thinking, when a person leads with: I have no interest in sex with my partner the first things I want to know are: Have you ever really enjoyed sex with him/her and, how have you changed as individuals and as a couple in the time you’ve been together? 

A report of boring sex in the present is unlikely related to the longevity of the couple if great sex had been a part of their past. When I hear that someone is bored by their long-time mate it alerts me to look for signs and symptoms of stagnation in less obvious places, like the individuals themselves and/or the quality of their lives. Couples who have had good sexual chemistry from the get-go and maintain it over years are often individuals who embrace life’s challenges with more curiosity and resilience than fear and rigidity. When faced with disappointments and limitations they look for the lessons to be learned and are able to adapt by developing new and creative coping mechanisms. This is especially important as people age together. Those who still enjoy their sexual relationship tend to manage well with the duality of that was then and this is now. They don’t fall prey to melancholic revisiting of the past at the expense of experiencing joy in the present. And, when couples are sexually satisfied, occurrence rates are less likely to become an insurmountable sticking point.  

The New Year is a great time for reflection.  If there is no siren song emanating from your boudoir, read this eblast over a few times and ask yourself these questions: What else am I feeling bored with and how have we both managed with life’s challenges?  

If you need help finding the answers remember, I do house calls, work by phone and on SKYPE.

E. Resh, copyright, 2016

  

Erotic Fantasies are Great Fuel

March 12, 2017

1. Erotic Fantasies are Great Fuel

I often counsel people who begin their sessions with the following statement: “I have never told anyone about this before.” Then, sheepishly and with reticence they disclose an erotic fantasy, finishing with a wince indicative of anticipatory terror over my response. The guilt and embarrassment that surrounds these disclosures relates to their desperate longing to understand “Where does this come from and why do I have it?” People worry terribly about what their fantasies might reveal about them and their real-life longings. This becomes clearer as the fantasy is spoken out loud and their anxiety mounts. I watch them bracing themselves for a response from me that confirms their greatest fear; they’re fantasy makes them a sexual pervert and will land them in a world of trouble.

My take on sexual fantasies is pretty straight-forward and uncomplicated; more power to you if you have them and they enhance your satisfaction. Fantasies are not the same as actions, which I find myself reminding people of all the time. This is where the glitch is. People feel and fear that having the fantasy in the first place somehow commits them to eventual, real-time activity even in the absence of any drive or desire for true-to-life experience. This is a bit like worrying that you’re at high-risk for committing a homicide when, after someone really pisses you off, you say: “I am going to kill him!” 

When someone’s erotic fantasy is markedly in conflict with their outward identity or self-perception their distress over it becomes proportional to the mismatch between the two.  For example, the ardent feminist who attends “Take Back the Night” rallies and tells me she fantasizes about a burly longshoreman “kind-of raping me” can’t easily admit this without feeling like something is very wrong or that she’s not a real feminist.  Or, how about the man whose hottest fantasies are about sex with another man and a women but has no real, in-the-flesh desire for a same-sex partner? One fantasy that haunts both man and women often is when they imagine themselves having sex with another person while having great sex with their partner - who they actually want to be with. This can cause immeasurable distress until I speak the ultimate word of absolution: N-O-R-M-A-L!

I am convinced the reason so many of us struggle with our erotic imaginings is because we don’t have honest, detailed conversations with anyone about sex so we have absolutely no idea of what’s going on in other’s people’s minds. With nothing to compare our own fantasies to, it’s no surprise we scare ourselves half to death. Sadly, by the time many people end up in my office they’ve succeeded in torturing themselves with worry over fantasies they happen to share with large portions of the population and which reflect nothing more than an amalgam of historical influences mixed with great imagination.  For anyone reading this who can relate to what I am writing, I encourage you –first and foremost – to stay calm! Chances are good that whatever your fantasy is, it’s more normal than you think.  And don’t spend too much time trying to figure out where your fantasies come from and why.  As long as you’re not coercing someone in real-life or committing a crime, enjoy yourself and stop throwing your sexual satisfaction under-the-bus.  Remember, it’s a fantasy, not a contract for real life action.

 

2. Good Sex is Worth Waiting For

The number one complaint of women that I see for sexuality counseling is that they have no libido – zip, gone, disappeared. They tell me they’d rather do just about anything else than have sex; bake 100 cupcakes at midnight, shovel snow, or do laundry. Contrary to what many of us assume, this happens to women of all ages and levels of love, attachment, and attraction to their partners. This is not just a problem for the post-menopausal set who feels as though their mojo went out the window and their hot flashes took its place.  But, this is not always an actual absence of libido.  A woman’s lack of being turned-on physically is not necessarily reflective of a lack of desire for sex but a misunderstanding of how she gets turned on in the first place. With no owner’s manual to refer to and in the face of rampant sexual illiteracy, how could any woman be expected to know how their actual turn-on mechanism works? 

A woman’s brain has a smaller area than a man’s’ that controls sex drive and action. This are has also been predominantly shaped by estrogen, not testosterone. These two differences demand we finesse and lure our physical sensations of desire out of hiding every time we look for them.

Women often initiate sex from a longing for intimacy versus blatant, undeniable sensations of physical desire. Men, on the other hand, are slaves to the beat of the figurative sexual Tom-Tom and have the neuro-anatomy and chemistry to let their erections steer the ship.  Few women are aware – never mind sympathetic - to this and falsely label men’s sex drive as a primitive, uncontrolled, and offensive objectification of them – oh contraire!  In my opinion, men are the lucky ones.  Meanwhile, women are searching for a propulsive force only to give up the ship entirely when they can’t find one within moments of initiating some kind-of sex play.  In the absence of a physical sensation of arousal beyond a minute or so, women throw in the towel and head towards the laundry, lunches, or emails instead of hanging in-there and coaxing their arousal to surface.  Yet again, we mistake our lack of sensation for an overall lack of interest. 

Many women need 5-20 minutes of warm-up time before they start to feel the unmistakable sensation of being tuned-on.  And it is possible that these sensations may never occur.  Having been in this position myself, I have stayed in the moment just to see what happens.  It’s not so bad. Having sex when your head says: “give it a go” but your body says:  ”what, are you kidding, now?”  is kind-of like exercising when you’d rather be watching television. Most people who are conscience about their health go out and hike and end up being glad they did, even if the hike they took wasn’t their best. I have decided sex isn’t so different.  So what if your sexual experience was a C-? There are no sex police who will arrest you nor will you be fired from your relationship. Welcome to the Likert scale of human sexual experience. On a scale of 1-5, you either strongly agree that your sex was great or strongly disagree. You win some, you lose some. The stakes don’t need to be so high and the only people who have control over this are the people who have sex with one another.

Take the pressure off yourself and your partner. Sexual experiences fall on a continuum –some are hotter than others.  It’s really that simple. 

 

3. Sex and Death Have Something in Common

Having an appreciation for gallows humor coupled with the recent experience of helping two family members die in hospice care, I naturally stumbled upon a relationship between talking about death and talking about sex. Grave and sullen voices whisper feelings and facts - both good and bad - in hushed and secretive tones when discussing either topic.  People speak as though they’re disclosing something unlawful or horrific when they say something about either subject.  Statements like: “I think she’ll die soon, given how bad her color is” or “I really love the new sex toys I just bought!” become akin to something unlawful or horrific like: “I’m counter-fitting twenties in my basement” or “I know it’s hard to believe but I love dealing crystal meth. at the elementary school.” How is it that two of the most natural events in people’s lives are two we find most difficult to discuss? 

Discussions about death and dying are rough terrain, to be sure. The obvious sorrows are complex and weighty.  But last I knew, sex was one of the nicer things in life so why the tones of covert operations? Folks who come to see me to discuss sexual longings, problems, or the desire to make good sex better tend to drop their voices at least one octave when they recite the specifics. I feel as if they’re worried about being marked like Hester Prynne should they reveal the truth. Why the hesitancy to have earnest conversations in a normal tone of voice? 

In order to talk about anything with confidence and fluency you need a basic vocabulary and plenty of practice. I suspect that the language of sex is not unlike any other foreign language acquisition process: people speak in hush, grim tones because they are under-confident and have no sense of certainty that they’ll say things the “right “way.  And, they’ve never been given the opportunity to practice. Let’s face it, how many families consider human sexuality an appropriate topic for dinner table conversation? Maybe if the kids bring up sex ed. in school, the parents might deign to discuss human reproductive biology.  But that has nothing to do with lust, arousal, orgasm, or desire.  This is where and when the seeds of muteness are sown, or not. Of course most parents have no fluency themselves so it’s hard for them to be helpful.

I say, practice in your mirror. Come up with your most difficult vocabulary list of sex words and phrases – masturbation, anal sex, oral sex, nipples, BDSM – and practice saying them in your mirror in a normal tone of voice.  No whispering allowed. Lastly, try adding a lilt. When you tell yourself:  “I L-O-V-E having my hands tied above my head!”  say it with happiness, not as though you’re headed to the guillotine, unless, of course this is part of your fantasy, too. This will surely increase your chances of getting more of what you want out of your experiences because you’ll be more likely to ask for it.

As for dying, I urge you not to be fearful or reticent about this either. None of us leave here alive and we only die once.  Take the necessary measures to ensure you will have no regrets when you say farewell to the one(s) you love.