The Shame of Sexual Abuse

Unfortunately, shame and sexual abuse go together. Shame goes to the core and can result in feelings of being broken or less than. I rarely see a client who has been sexually abused or raped who doesn’t feel some sense of personal shame for what happened. Whether they believe they could have prevented the sexual abuse or rape or not, there is still a deep sense that they are not as good as “everyone else“ that is, …those who have not experienced sexual abuse or rape. I think shame from sexual abuse or rape is reinforced by a number of factors.

First, our culture’s discomfort with talking about sex reinforces sexual abuse and rape victims’ keeping their assault a secret. In the US, media capitalizes on sex yet so much of our culture views it as a taboo that should not be talked about as adults, let alone with children. This makes sex and sexuality incredibly confusing for people, especially sexual victims. Not processing or talking about things makes them more mysterious and confusing. With sexual abuse or rape, keeping the abuse or rape a secret ultimately makes the victim feel smaller and disempowered and makes the crime and victimization seem bigger and scarier. Resulting in them feeling less likely to move past it. Talking about thoughts and feelings associated with sexual victimization and understanding that the thoughts and feelings are typical or normal are keys to moving past the shame of sexual abuse and rape.

The second factor that I think often reinforces shame associated with sexual abuse or rape, and is likely perpetuated by our secretive approach to the topic of sex, is the plethora of misinformation people have about sex, sexual abuse, and sexual satisfaction. False beliefs about what it means to be a victim/survivor of sexual abuse reinforces victims’ thoughts or feelings that they brought it on themselves or that there is something innately wrong with themselves that resulted in the abuse, attack, rape.

The other main factor that I think often reinforces shame associated with sexual abuse is the false belief that victims of child sexual abuse are likely to become abusers themselves. This is incorrect information that is likely created by the very perpetrators of sexual abuse and rape who are looking for sympathy and more lenient jail sentences. Statistically speaking this theory is what is shameful. Sure it is correct that some perpetrators were victims themselves. However, the mass majority of abusers are men and the mass majority of victims are women. You do the math. If you or someone you know is struggling with their shame of being sexually abused or raped, I encourage you to find a safe way to start processing it or encourage them to find a safe way to start processing it. Here are two books I recommend my clients read when we are working through shame and towards having healthy intimate sexual relationships:

Now go have sex.

Communication tools for couples

Are you a good listener? Do you think you communicate effectively? What would your partner say about your communication skills? How about when you are angry, sad, frustrated, or hurt?… Are you able to calm your emotions enough to LISTEN to the actual message and process what you heard or do you get flooded with feelings that make communicating impossible?

In couples counseling a common theme I find is that couples often get so overwhelmed (aka flooded) with emotions that they are unable to hear what their partner is saying.  How many times have you and your partner gotten into an argument about two totally different things? Also, sometimes when people tell us things we don’t want to hear, the message we take in gets filtered. Basically we filter the message into something that may or may not be accurate. Then, we allow our emotions to take control and rather than making sure we are clear on the message, we lash out at our partner with hurtful words or we don’t acknowledge the message that was communicated because we are so caught up defending ourselves. Or maybe when you start expressing your wants, needs, or feelings, it starts with “you…”. That sounds like the message is more about someone else than yourself. Does this sound familiar? If it does, then I highly recommend slowing down the way you communicate with your partner by using these communication tools for couples. If you are at the point where this isn’t helping then couples counseling can get you in the right direction so that you can effectively use tools like this.

I suggest using this BEFORE you get overwhelmed or flooded with emotions. First, try practicing this when communicating about a topic or issue that doesn’t typically get you and your partner flooded with angry or hurt feelings. Practice it when trying to decide about what to eat for dinner, making a purchase, or something that you know isn’t a source of contention between the two of you. It feels odd or robotic at first but with practice it is an amazing tool that has helped many of the couples that have come into my office for counseling.

Goal: Communicate what you are wanting, needing, or feeling. Focus on the SOLUTION you are hoping to reach NOT what is wrong with your partner.

Talker: Try to limit message to 2 sentences. Start with “I” statement.

“I want…” “I need…” “I feel…”

Example: “I want more affection, more hugging and kissing. I want to feel closer to you.”

Instead of: “You never hug or kiss me anymore. You never pay attention to me.”

Listener: Step 1: Paraphrase what was said & check for accuracy

“What I hear you saying is…”

Example: “What I hear you saying is that you want us to be more affectionate, like with more hugging and kissing.” Is that right? Is there more?

Step 2: Empathize

“That must make you feel….”

Example: “That must make you feel disconnected, maybe lonely, and sad that we aren’t as loving as we used to be.”

Step 3: Validate – this doesn’t have to mean you agree.

“If I were you/If that was me/If I were in your shoes/I agree, I feel/would feel …..”

Example: “I can see how you would feel that way since we haven’t had a lot of quality time together. I know this is something that is important to you so I will try to make it more of a priority.”

Then the couple can switch roles so that the listener can take the opportunity to express themselves. Sometimes one round is all that is needed because the talker just wants to be heard and when the listener doesn’t get or feel defensive it’s not about arguing a point, it’s just about getting wants/needs met or feelings heard and we can get that accomplished more easily/quickly using this method of communicating.

Now makeup and go have sex!


Igniting Your Sex Drive – Identifying Sexual Turn Ons

If I asked you what your turn ons were, would you know? If  I asked your sexual partner what your turn ons were, would they know? Do you know what turns on YOUR sexual partner? How about previous sexual partners? How aware are you of what impacts your sex drive? And to what extent have you communicated that to your partner? If you paused and were not sure of your answers to these questions, then below is an exercise for you. But first, when you think about TALKING ABOUT SEX, does it excite you or make you nervous? For many people the idea of telling their sex partners what they want is scary or a big turn off. I wonder where this idea comes from that we expect our sexual partners to read our minds and then are surprised or disappointed when they don’t. I theorize it comes from our culture and movies. We are taught not to talk about sex when growing up yet we are bombarded with sexual images every day. This certainly sends mixed messages about sex in our society. If you are craving pizza for dinner but don’t express that and your partner cooks burgers do you blame them for not knowing what you wanted?

If the idea of talking about sex with your partner makes you uncomfortable, you are not alone. Many of the people I come in contact with express the same thoughts and feelings. Unfortunately, unless you are lucky enough to have been partnered up with someone you share the same sexual style with in bed, talking about sexual likes, dislikes, turn ons, and turn offs, is essential to a satisfying sex life. Yes, it is disappointing to have to tell your partner what you want – because all those people in the movies never have to – their partners know exactly what gets them straight to orgasm – right? No you’re not in Hollywood, welcome to reality.

Communicating desires and expectations is a necessary component to getting our sexual needs met. While it might be disappointing initially to have to ask for what you want sexually, hopefully soon enough you will forget that you ever asked because you will be too focused on how great it feels! If you continue to be sexually frustrated and longing for something else – start communicating so you can make your sex life something you desire over something you dread. I encourage my clients to think about talking about turn ons and offs, sexual likes and dislikes, as foreplay with partners. To even write it down so that they can remember and refer to it when wanting to treat their partner on a sexual special occasion.

Turn ons & Turn offs exercise:

  1. Each partner lists out their turn ons and turn offs. Take some time and don’t try to get your list completed in one sitting. Do this on your own and try to limit turn offs to 1 turn off for every 5 turn ons. Stumped? What are some of your favorite sex scenes from movies or is there some erotica that you have watched that really got you hot? Why? Was one partner particularly confident or  aggressive? Was it the way one person undressed the other? Were there candles lit or was it in a place particularly erotic? Was it hurried or slow and passionate? Did the couple talk to one another or were they quiet?
  2. Once each person’s list is complete, they make a copy of it for their partner.
  3. Share your lists without judgment. Be open, present, and in a place of curiosity. If you have resentment, don’t allow your feelings from the past impact your ability to be present with your partner. If you are unclear on something – go ahead and ask questions but don’t share any judgments about your partner’s turn ons/offs. Don’t yuck their yum.

Now go have sex!


Our Biggest Sex Organ Is Between Our Ears

Yes, your biggest sex organ is your brain! Sex drive, sexual pleasure, and sexual satisfaction are more about what is between our ears than what is between our legs. However, our culture sees sex drive, sexual pleasure, and sexual dysfunction as being about our sexual parts – our genitals. The fact of the matter is that our sexual desires and dysfunctions are driven by our thoughts and what we do with our genitals will rarely change our sex drive or dysfunction unless we first change our thoughts. So if you or your partner are struggling with orgasm, maintaining erections, premature ejaculation, or staying present during sex keep reading.

In our culture sex is about breasts, hard erections, the right clitoral stimulation, or that perfect sexual position. Sure all of that is important too but until you get into the right head space, your body isn’t going to enjoy or be receptive to what is being offered by way of stimulation. Just look at the success of businesses that sell sex toys, sexual stimulants/arousal creams, and other sex related accessories. Now don’t get me wrong, these products can be fun, enhance sexual pleasure, and help to get some people in the mood or stay in the mood. The problem I see is that when we look to these sex accessories as a fix to a sexual problem it is like putting a band aid on a wound that needs stitches, it just makes it worse and it‘s likely to leave a scar. Yes, so many of my clients have scarred themselves by trying at home fixes for sexual problems and the increased insecurities, hopelessness, and sexual frustration it resulted in created a much bigger wound than the initial sexual difficulties.

So go get yourself into a sex positive head space, take a personal inventory and be honest with yourself about why you are having sex related difficulties, communicate with your partner, and go have some sex! Not sure how to do this? Keep reading my blog and I will give you tips for increasing your sexual comfort, your sexual desire, and having more open and direct communication with your sexual partner about your sexual likes, dislikes, turn-ons, and turn-offs.

Look for my blog later this week for step one of getting into a sex positive head space: clarifying how your thoughts are driving your sexual desires and satisfaction. I will give you some tools for taking your own sexual inventory.

Now…. Go have some sex!

I just can’t get in the mood….Sexual Desire is Complicated

Yes sexual desire is complicated. Are you saying to yourself, “I love my partner, I want to be sexual with my partner, I SHOULD be sexual with my partner but I just can’t get in the mood”? Are you lacking the motivation or desire to make the effort to initiate sex, enjoy sex, or even say yes to sex when your partner initiates? I say sexual desire is complicated because it is. If you are telling yourself these things but you are still not having sex it’s time to start asking yourself “What am I doing to fuel that desire and what is or isn’t happening with my partner in or out of bed that is impacting my  ability to get in the mood to have sex?”

Now of course your low libido could be caused by something physical, so of course, visit your ob/gyn or doctor to get yourself checked but in most cases it is usually our head that is driving our low libido . In most cases there are multiple reasons why a person can’t get in the mood… has low sexual desire or a low libido. Low sex drive is rarely caused by one factor, hence the need for sex therapy. In sex therapy we peel the layers of that sexual onion to determine the many factors that are contributing to sexual problems. Some common factors are difficulties in the relationship – resentment about old wounds and unresolved conflict, boredom with our sex life, problems with sexual performance, or a partner with a different sexual style than us. Sometimes it is our own interpersonal stuff like negative sexual schemas that we carry around about ourselves or our partners that may be related to sexiness or sexual behaviors; priorities not related to sex; or a lack of sexual awareness. Also, if you are not getting your basic needs met for your own personal wellness and are stressed or fatigued, then you may not have much energy left for having sex.

So, have I made my point clear yet? Sexual desire is complicated! And life is short, so go get some help!

Are you running on emotional empty?

Are you running on emotional empty? While I don’t like to minimize the work I do, sometimes therapy or counseling is pretty basic. Sometimes basic questions like “What are you doing to take care of yourself?” or “What fills up your emotional tank?” are all that are needed in therapy or counseling sessions with my clients. If you often find yourself in patterns of putting others before you or feeling so depressed or anxious that you lose sight of how to get your basic needs met, then it‘s time to slow down and take a personal assessment of what you need emotionally to feel like you are not running on empty.

Sometimes therapy or counseling is an outside party giving us permission to do what is necessary to fill up our emotional tanks. Whether it be a massage, social time with a friend, spiritual time, exercise, private time with a good book, talk with a therapist, or anything that relaxes us like sex.

Being a mom with a successful career I too experience the typical guilt feelings that drive me to an empty tank and when I am putting all my efforts towards my loved ones and not making efforts to do what I need to fill myself up, I know that not only do I suffer but my loved ones do as well.

I often share with my clients the analogy of the vehicle. When we don’t take care of our cars (gas, oil change, tune up, a good wax job;-))) they eventually breakdown. In this way, people are like cars. Without the proper fuel and tender loving care, we eventually breakdown; whether it be physical or emotional, something eventually gives. Of course everyone is different so it can show up as impatience, frustration, anger, resentment, anxiety, sadness, depression, and the list goes on.

So go do something today that fills up your emotional tank!

Could porn be causing your erectile dysfunction or intimacy problems?

Could porn be causing your erectile dysfunction or intimacy problems? With all the media coverage of porn addiction, you may be saying, “porn, what’s the big deal?” but if you or your partner has erectile dysfunction (difficulty getting or maintaining erections) or delayed orgasm you may want to read further. This recent article in the Huffington Post by Robert Weiss “Is Porn Destroying Your Relationship?”! really hits home in the sex therapy work I do. So many of my sex therapy clients and couples are struggling with intimacy … connecting sexually and one common factor that impacts their sexual success is the use of porn. Now don’t get me wrong, I have never had a problem with porn – it’s a great teaching tool. Unfortunately, the immediate sexual gratification that internet porn provides is problematic – it is definitely not the porn that I grew up with and I am becoming more and more concerned about the impact of porn because I am seeing it as a direct correlation with sexual functioning. Porn addiction has become a common term and whether you agree with it’s usage or not it I am finding that it is more and more common for me to see male clients who report regular porn use come in with Erectile Dysfunction or Delayed Orgasm. Also, their partners are feeling confused as to why he has lost interest in sex with them or why he is so disconnected when they are sexual.

It’s much easier to get our immediate needs met using porn because there isn’t a partner to please, impress, disappoint… you get the idea. The problem comes in when porn is used habitually as a way to avoid or to fulfill needs that could be met by other means. When porn usage becomes automatic I encourage the user to ask him/herself “What am I horny for?” or “What am I yearning for?” Are you bored, lonely, depressed, angry, horny? And are you using porn EVERY time you have this feeling or only occasionally?

Of course overcoming sexual problems are not usually as quick and easy as just eliminating porn usage. Often times there are communication gaps and sexual topics that the couple hasn’t felt comfortable discussing that lead one partner to ultimately just avoid communicating about or having sex with their partner and move towards sex with themselves. That is where sex therapy comes in. I help guide my clients through these difficult issues that they have been avoiding and work with them to communicate directly with one another about tough issues sometimes related to sex and sometimes unrelated.

The bottom line is our biggest sex organ is between our ears … our brain, and porn used regularly to avoid sex with our partner rather than enhance it is becoming more and more problematic. Maintaining a healthy and satisfying sex life takes work, it takes being vulnerable and sometimes being rejected, but like the saying goes “Nothing worth having comes easy.”

Now go have sex!

True Love or Co-dependency?

Is the book the Giving Tree about true love or co-dependency?
One of my many insightful clients brought up recently that the book “The Giving Tree” seems more about a person’s co-dependency with a partner who takes, is selfish, and never gives, than a beautiful friendship or loving partnership. So I had to open up that old book on my shelf and take another look at it from a therapist’s perspective. Wow, did I agree.

From my perspective, giving of oneself selflessly is not what love and friendship are about. I find that many of my clients are caught up in patterns of rescuing behaviors that result in their partners being dependent upon them. Ultimately they end up feeling resentful about their partner‘s lack of responsibility, neediness, or selfishness yet struggle to get out of their patterns of giving or pursuing. Sometimes this is the only kind of love we  know and this is where the work begins to decrease unhealthy enmeshed behaviors that result in resentment, dependency, and co-dependency. Increasing healthy differentiation and ultimately learning to soothe ourselves when our partners may appear to need us to save or protect them is essential to changing the relationship dynamics and eliminating our own tendency towards co-dependent behaviors.  As the old saying goes, “It takes two to tango” is relevant here. In order to change a relationship we ultimately need to change how we react to our partner’s behaviors and their patterns of relating.

According to Wikipedia “Codependency is defined as a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition (typically narcissism or drug addiction); and in broader terms, it refers to the dependence on the needs of, or control of, another. It also often involves placing a lower priority on one’s own needs, while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others.” I actually don’t think that the person one is co-dependent with has to be narcissistic or an addict; that sometimes, that person could just be enjoying receiving like the boy in the giving tree. When my clients get caught up in co-dependency or acting like a parent to a child in their adult relationships, I encourage them to consider what they are getting out of relating with their partner in this way. While there are many disadvantages to having a partner be dependent upon us there are advantages to this as well – it can feel pretty good to feel needed or to feel in control.  But when does this get confused with feeling loved? Without the support of an objective supporter, it may be hard to pull back and see how the dynamic maintains itself and how we continue to feel like the victim in our relationships.  If you find yourself experiencing these feelings repeatedly in your relationships it may be time to take a look inward… if you want to create something different.

Great Sex is NOT Like Baseball

A friend told me about this great talk on TED today by Al Vernacchio. It’s about how it’s better to look at sex like pizza than baseball.  To check it out, click here: “Sex Needs a New Metaphor”

I love this concept. He talks about how viewing sex like pizza gives us the opportunity to discuss with our partner how we would like it… the usual way?… half of what you want and half of what I want?… or if we would like to try something new.  The linear view of sex that so many people have …. first base, second, and so on, like baseball, creates performance focused sex rather than pleasure focused intimacy. When we have a more cyclical view of sex – that it ends when YOU say, not when the penis does or when one person orgasms – it becomes more pleasure focused, more flexible, more desirable, and more satisfying than being constricted to the box that linear focused sex puts us in. So check out this fun video …. and go get yourself some pizza!

Risks, Desires, & Long Term Relationships

I attended an Infidelity conference this weekend and between the conference and this article “Finding the Courage to Reveal a Fetish” I couldn’t help from wondering…. What are lovers holding back from their sexual partners and to what extent does this lead to infidelity and/or a lack of sexual desire? For many, the idea of telling your partner, wife, husband, girlfriend, or boyfriend what you REALLY want sexually is more taboo than the fantasies themselves. You seek greater intimacy and a more satisfying sex life yet something keeps you from revealing your whole self.  The potential rejection of your desires from the person from whom you seek comfort is often too painful to consider so you avoid risking, keep your partner at a safe distance, sustain the unsatisfying Saturday night sex, and seek your satisfaction in other safe activities. OR you push those desires down to a place where you eventually seek it elsewhere…with another partner. You have your cake and eat it too – you have the comfort at home and the risk, desire, mystique outside the home.  Yet, are you really having both? Those of us who study this work, sex therapy and couples therapy, would likely say no. Eventually, the secret likely erodes the true intimacy, desire, or love you and your partner have because you are taking away your partner’s ability to choose. To choose YOU whatever your desires, to choose alternatives to monogamy, to choose a lover for him/herself.  I wonder, when you take away choice in a relationship what happens to desire?

Erection Obsession

men with erectile dysfunctionOne of my clients coined this phrase and I just had to share it because I know many men AND women relate to this, often in silence. Whether you or your partner’s penis is too hard, too soft, lasts too long, or doesn’t last long enough, most won’t admit it – it’s a dirty little secret.  Words like erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, and delayed orgasm make this topic taboo. While many women openly struggle with orgasm –it seems that many men and women struggle with erection problems very privately, hence the obsession.  But that’s a Blog for another time. The topic I want to explore in this Blog is what drives erection obsession?  One idea is that much of our society seems to think in a linear fashion when it comes to sex.  Ask yourself this question, “When do you know when you and your partner are finished having sex?” Most of my clients tell me “When he comes of course.” That is, man gets an erection, he and his partner orgasm, the end.  So what happens when it doesn’t happen in precisely this fashion? …Erection obsession.

So what’s the solution? First, it’s important to make sure it’s not related to physical health.  After that, well, it depends.  A common solution is simply changing the way we think about sex, making love, screwing, doing “it”. That is, thinking about sex cyclically rather than linearly. Of course changing our thoughts isn’t simple but the idea certainly is. By starting with moving our perceptions from the movies to reality – specifically by moving away from the movie model of how sex looks towards what feels pleasurable and sexy, we open up a world of possibilities AND decrease our obsession with the erection.  By getting back to the basics of focusing on the pleasures of the entire sexual experience not just intercourse/the thrusting of the penis, we move away from linear thinking to more cyclical thinking. When we think about sex and intimacy in a cyclical fashion, sex doesn’t end just because the man or dominant partner comes,  it ends because we have had enough pleasure,  are tired,  are connected with our partner, or whatever. But not because we feel we didn’t have any other choice.  Yes, friends this not so novel an idea. I encourage you to allow sex to be more broad than what you see on TV, movies, and porn. So, have fun and enjoy.

Orgasm … just the period at the end of a sentence?

Someone shared this quote with me a while back when I was up to my usual antics – talking about sex. “An orgasm is just the period at the end of a sentence.” Sorry – I don’t know who the quote is from but if I remember correctly it was a porn star. Interesting. My friend mentioned the quote because I was concerned about the many women who have told me that they haven’t reached or rarely reach orgasm and how left out, frustrated, and ultimately ashamed they feel. I hear this from women at least once a month. Now granted – anyone who knows me professionally or personally, knows that I live to talk about sex so it isn’t surprising that I hear a lot of stories and venting about sex. This isn’t just a hobby for me it’s a calling.

Okay so back to the topic – Anorgasmia – also known as “a sexual difficulty involving the absence of orgasm in women.” is not uncommon – hence the official name. “5-10 percent of adult women in the U.S. have never experienced orgasm by any means of self or partner stimulation” (Spector & Carey, 1990). And an even more important statistic that every person and couple should know is that 70% of women never actually reach orgasm through penile-vaginal intercourse alone.

So do I agree that an orgasm is just the period at the end of a sentence? Well, as any good therapist would say, it depends. I think that when sex and intimacy are good, then the orgasm IS just the period at the end of a sentence. But then again, how many people are having the sex and intimacy they desire? I am not talking about the sex we see in movies. I am talking about the sex that real people experience in both new and old relationships.

So after talking to many women about this topic it’s clear that women who are having satisfying sex and regular orgasms often agree that orgasms are just a part of the satisfaction they experience. Pleasure and connection is the primary goal of their intimacy not necessarily having an orgasm. However, for the women who are not having satisfying sex, intimacy, or regular orgasms it can be incredibly important and at times all consuming in their intimate relationships. So, like I said, the importance of orgasm depends. It depends upon the person, the relationship, surrounding life issues, satisfaction or lack of satisfaction in the bedroom, and the list goes on.

Now don’t get me wrong – I AM FOR ORGASM and if you are not having orgasms I suggest you see a Sex Therapist. Having an orgasm is an incredible stress reliever and often comes in handy during writers block. What I am NOT for, is women feeling less than because they cannot reach the big “O”.

One last thought, this blog is not meant to minimize the struggles that women with Anorgasmia experience but to enlighten and normalize their feelings, enlighten those who are in relationships with women who are Anorgasmic, and encourage those struggling to seek help because this isn’t the end of the road for you.