Positive sexual experience can be a great way to feel gratitude for one’s own body. Unfortunately, many people’s negative body image interferes with their ability to be truly present with themselves and inhibits their pleasure. Dr. Emily Nagoski identifies some concrete practices to build self-love at the end of her TED Talk: Confidence and Joy are the Keys to a Great Sex Life. Over the last couple weeks, I have been reading her book Come as You Are.
I returned from another week of sex education. I took courses titled the Exceptional Sex Therapist (3 days); Resolving Trauma Through Somatic Experiencing, and Sexuality & Culture. Surprisingly, my favorite course was Introduction to Tantra. Before this course I thought Tanta was having sex for 24 hours at a time, which seemed kind of like a waste of time, honestly. I learned, instead, that tantra is a way of experiencing the eroticism in everyday life, sometimes without any specifically sexual encounters. Tantra is welcoming inter-connection while maintaining a primary connection with oneself. Eroticism bigger than sex—sensory and intellectual pleasure of many types and more of an attitude than particular events. Since March 17th, I keep going back to the 8 Principles of Tantra so I will briefly describe them here.
- Everything is an Experiment: Beginners mind, openness to experience, observation, willingness to gather data
- As Within, so Without: what happens in the world affects our individual experience; we need to prioritize and reset our bodies; we can offer our balance to the world
- Tapas and Spanda: in a concrete visual form, these are the eyes in the yin and yang that reflect the healthy healthy “masculine” energy within “feminine” energy and the healthy “feminine” energy within “masculine” energy. The tapas is about patient, non-attached willpower and the spanda is about a sense of wonderment, thrill, and joy.
- Inner Marriage: the healthy interconnection of dual, or contrasting energies within oneself. A well-integrated person is able to be consistently present in the world.
- Multiple Realms of Consciousness: everyday waking consciousness, mythical consciousness (symbols, projections), magical consciousness (big energy, transformation), and integral consciousness (all levels of consciousness simultaneous)
- Ascending and Descending Currents: chakras
- Transformational Healing Power of Pleasure: this may be my favorite principle–that pleasure can heal! As a trauma therapist and human being, I know that people can get stuck in trauma, vigilance, and guardedness. True pleasure is the opposite! True pleasure can restore our bodies and clear our minds. While sometimes pleasure can invite trauma processing (for example, someone can remember a painful event while laying on the beach) it also provides a welcome, stabilizing context for healing. It’s important to differentiate impulse and addictions from pleasure.
- Love: love, like pleasure, heals. It also connects people and connects humans to their surroundings.
I took a recent training with Yudit Maros called “Brief, Solution-Oriented Trauma Resolution.” This training specifically focused on troubling sensations in the body that may periodically resurface after the trauma. The BSOTR protocol helps a client attend to and correct the aftershock disturbances in the nervous system and one’s negative self-identity. Here are the most basic steps:
First, the therapist helps the client identify and practice a resource state called grounding. I can guide you through a visualization exercise that depersonalizes the pain and provides more comforting imagery, which tends to regulate the nervous system. We identify and develop comfortable imagery that helps you reset. Then, I ask you to scan your life history for anything that feels pleasurable and safe. We detail key components of the experience and you practice re-experiencing the positive experience and people. Later, we scan your life history again for an unpleasant or traumatic experience. I interview about what you would have preferred to experience. Then, I facilitate your current, grounded self attending to and taking care of your younger, distressed self through a series of self-care invitations, visualizations, and self-dialogue. When it appears that you have been a loving guide to your younger self and you have nothing left unattended about the chosen difficult experience, I invite you back to the here and now of the therapy room.
If you are interested in experiencing this BSOTR process or have any questions, please let me know.
I took a webinar with Brene Brown called Shame Shields. Dr. Brown is mostly known for her research on shame, worthiness, and healthy vulnerability. Her research reveals these core tenants about shame:
- We all have it
- No one wants to talk about it
- The less you talk about it, the more you have it
- Moving away — Avoiding, leaving the room, spacing out, daydreaming, distraction
- Moving towards — Hyper-appeasing, over-flattery, buttering up, sucking up
- Moving against — Attacking other people, inducing shame in other people
I enjoyed reading Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. It’s a collection of case studies, from technology entrepreneurs to social justice advocates, where creative-thinking overcomes status quo obstacles. It’s hard to be an Original without feeling isolated at times, so the stories and sociology research in this book are a welcome companion. The book also gives examples and tools for facilitating more Original leadership and cultures.
I took a webinar with John Gottman of the Gottman Institute called “The Science of Trust.” Perhaps Gottman is most famous for his “four horsemen of the apocalypse” theory–that contempt, stonewalling, criticism, and defensiveness poison intimate relationships–and that the long-term success of a partnership can be calculated according to the frequency of these problematic dynamics. This particular webinar about trust explored active, healthy alternatives to repair interpersonal wounds.
Essentially, cognitively-based repairs (appeals to reason, logic, and problem-solving) aren’t as effective within intimate relationships as emotionally-based repairs. For example, empathy, self-disclosure, and investing extra attention/participation into the partnership all work at the emotional level. Emotional interventions help relax someone in distress, thereby encouraging them to make any decisions outside of duress. Within an intimate relationship, logic and “fixing” other’s problems can be experienced as dismissive, shallow, or intrusive.
Many people are not taught intimacy skills–it’s not a formal study in primary school. Some of us learn from family and community role models–other people don’t have this access or experience.
After an interpersonal or developmental trauma, a person is likely to experience hypervigilance–fight/flight responses–and/or avoidance–flight/freeze responses, even within more moderate conflicts. Effective conflict resolution within a healthy relationship requires active participation, deliberation, and transparency from all involved parties. Often, a partner can facilitate a step down the scale of hypervigilance. Gottman and others use the acronym ATTUNE to describe this stance in more detail: awareness, turning towards, tolerance, understanding, non-defensive responding, and empathy. For a great video on empathy, click here: Brene Brown on Empathy.
Does this mean everything has to be hearts, puppies, and sunshine? NO! If people interrupt their conflict or trauma processing, something like the Zeigarnik Effect is likely to happen–people will remember (often at inopportune times) experiences they haven’t ATTUNED to in a healthy relationship. If we haven’t ATTUNED to a partner’s distress, we are most likely telling a negative fictional story about our partner’s abilities.
People who avoid relational conflict have a tendency toward infidelity and and other betrayals, which likely create more (internal) conflict and avoidance. People who address conflict also practice relaxation and co-construct viable creative solutions, over time, with additional input & information.
My education, development, and contribution to the sex therapy and the broader mental health fields continue. Some recent forms of my expansion include:
- listening to the Esther Perel podcast, “Where Shall we Begin?” Esther Perel is one of the most prominent modern sex therapists. Her podcast includes extended audio clips from her real sex therapy meetings. It’s incredibly relevant and inspiring.
- a week-long Internal Family Systems training. Although I decided not to continue part II of this course, it gave me an opportunity to further discern my core assumptions and therapeutic skills. I am grateful for the understanding & commitments I developed from this exploration.
- defining the concept of “Sexual Deviance” with other mental health professionals. We explored several case studies to identify best practices for therapeutic conceptualization and treatment.
- reading Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. You can expect a future book report on this blog!
Summer semester is over. It’s always fun teaching Theories & Methods of Sexual Counseling–and a lot of work on top of a full client load. I work late hours during the summer–but getting to know the students is worth it! UMKC graduates plenty of competent, inspiring Counseling students. These interactions give me great hope and faith for the Counseling profession. Most of my work in private practice is one-on-one or with couples. It’s something special to see 20+ Counseling students apply themselves to clinical case examples.
Every year I squeeze additional information into the course. This year we fit in brief discussions of Intersex clients and Sex with Spinal Cord Injuries. We also expanded our conceptualization of “Sex Addiction” into Out-of-Control Sexual Behavior treatment.
I’ve organized extra time in my schedule each week for proactive research & development! Stay tuned!
I attended a sexual health annual conference. Of course it was a good time! Here’s what I studied:
- Combating Sexual Misconduct in our Schools
- Bringing Perimenopause into the Light
- Sexual Education & Ethical Decision-Making
- Coping with Jealousy
- Strategies of Human Mating
- Envisioning Sexual Health
- The Art of Brief Sexual Assessment
- Black & Sexual with a Disability
- Transgender Hormone Referral Letters
- Interdisciplinary Approach to Sexual Pain
I’ve immersed myself in several continuing education experiences over the last several months. Some highlights:
- Treatment of Borderline, Narcissistic, and Histrionic Personality disorders with Daniel J. Fox
- The 6th Annual Sexuality Conference at KU Med
- Genital Pain: Pelvic Floor Function & Health with Foundation Concepts Physical Therapy (for cooperative physical & mental health treatment of genital pain)