Category Archives: Discussing Sexual Issues

Review: An Intimate Life: Sex, Love and My Journey as a Surrogate Partner

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Hey sex fans!

I have another swell sex-positive book to tell you about today. Anyone who frequents this site will already be familiar with my dear friend and esteemed colleague, Cheryl Cohen Greene. If ya don’t believe me type her name into the search function in the sidebar to your right and PRESTO!

Not only will you find the fabulous two-part SEX WISDOM podcast we did together, (Part 1 is HERE! And Part 1 is HERE!) you will find a posting about the movie The Sessions. You’ve seen it right? It’s the award-winning film staring John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, and William H. Macy. It’s the story of a man in an iron lung who wishes to lose his virginity.  He contacts a professional surrogate partner with the help of his therapist and priest. Ms. Hunt plays Cheryl, the surrogate partner in the movie

Cheryl also contributed a chapter on sex and intimacy concerns for sick, elder and dying people for my book, The Amateur’s Guide To Death And Dying.

With all that as a preface, I now offer you Cheryl’s own story: An Intimate Life: Sex, Love, and My Journey as a Surrogate Partner. The first thing I want to say is this book is it’s not a clinical or technical tome. It is an easily accessible memoir. And that, to my mind, is what makes it so fascinating.

She writes in the Introduction:An Intimate Life

I started this work in 1973, and my journey to it spans our society’s sexual revolution and my own. I grew up in the ‘40s and ‘50s, a time when sex education was—to put it mildly— lacking. As I educated myself, I found that most of what I had been taught about sex was distorted or wrong. The lessons came from the playground, the church, and the media. My parents could barely talk about sex, much less inform me about it.

What follows is a candid and often funny look into the personal and professional life of a woman on the cutting edge of our culture’s movement toward sexual wellbeing.

Cheryl comes out of her conservative Catholic upbringing and her often tortured family dynamics with what one would expect—her own sexual awakenings as well as the conspiracy of ignorance and repression that wanted to stifle it. This is a common story, the story of so many of us.

Starting when I was around ten, I masturbated and brought myself to orgasm nearly every night. … If my nights began with anxiety, my days began with guilt. I became convinced that every earache, every toothache, every injury was God punishing me. … I couldn’t escape his gaze or his wrath. Sometimes I imagined my guardian angel looked away in disgust as I touched myself and rocked back and forth in my bed.

The miracle here is that this troubled tween would blossom into the remarkable sexologist she is today.

rsz_1greenecherylSome of the chapters in her book describe one or another of her hands on therapeutic encounters as a surrogate partner, but equally important and compelling are the chapters that describe Cheryl’s own sexual struggles as she moved to adulthood and beyond. Cheryl’s acceptance of her own sexuality enables her to build a career out of helping others do the very same thing.

Everyone has a right to satisfying, loving sex, and, in my experience, that most often flows from strong communication, self-respect, and a willingness to explore.

Despite the frank discussion of sexual topics within the book, there is no prurience or sensationalism. For the most part, Cheryl’s clients are regular people, mostly men, who have pretty ordinary problems—erection and/or ejaculation concerns, dating difficulties, as well as self-esteem, guilt and shame issues. Cheryl helps each of her clients with the efficiency and confidence of the world-class sex educator she is. Most of her interaction involves her supplying her clients with some much-needed information, dispelling myths, and giving them permission to experiment. As she says;

I continue to be amazed at how solid education delivered without judgment can eradicate much of the guilt and shame that turns life in the bedroom into a struggle instead of a pleasure.

Her most famous client, Mark O’Brien, the 36-six-year-old man who had spent most of his life in an iron lung after contracting polio at age 6, was the author of How I Became a Human Being: A Disabled Man’s Quest for Independence, in which he writes about his experience with Cheryl. This, of course, was adapted into a film, The Sessions, which I mentioned above. For her part, Cheryl delivers a most poignant remembrance of Mark early in her book.

I explained Sensual Touch to Mark. Although he was paralyzed, he still had sensation all over his body, so he would feel my hands moving up and down. … I encouraged him to try and recognize four common reactions: feeling neutral, feeling nurtured, feeling sensual and feeling sexual.

An Intimate Life chronicles Cheryl’s life-long interest in human sexuality. Her life and sometimes-turbulent loves are on display, but in the most considerate fashion. She teaches by example. She’s even able to speak with great compassion of her time living with and through cancer.

As I inch toward seventy, I appreciate more and more how much I have to be grateful for and how fortunate I’ve been. I was lucky to find a wonderful career and to be surrounded by so many smart, adventurous, caring people. My personal sexual revolution auspiciously paralleled our culture’s, and in many ways was made possible by it. I am eternally grateful to the pioneers, rebels, and dreamers who made our society a little safer for women who embrace their sexuality.

There is so much I loved about this book, but mostly it’s the humanity I found in abundance. Cheryl’sdr.-cheryl-cohen-greene enlightened soul shines brightly from every page. Her no nonsense approach to all things sexual is an inspiration. And her perseverance to bring surrogate partner therapy into the mainstream is laudable.

…what separates surrogates from prostitutes is significant. When people have difficulties grasping [that], I turn to my beloved and late friend Steven Brown’s cooking analogy that I’ve so often relied on to help me through that question: Seeing a prostitute is like going to a restaurant. Seeing a surrogate is like going to culinary school.

Finally, An Intimate Life is the culmination of Cheryl’s life as a sex educator, her surrogate partner therapy practice being just part of that mission. I highly recommend you read this book. You will, I assure you, come away from it as I have, a better person—enriched, informed, as well as entertained.

Cheryl, thank you for being in my life and being such an abiding inspiration. Thank you too for this marvelous book; now you can be in the lives of so many others who need you so that you can inspire them along their way.

Be sure to visit Cheryl on her site HERE!

What’s a mother to do?

What we have here is an exchange I had with a woman and while I don’t know anything about her, not even her name, I can make some inferences. If I had to guess, she’s in her 40’s. She’s married and has kids.

You must talk to a lot of women in your practice and hear from a lot of women through your advice site. What would you say are the main sexual concerns of women over the age of 40?

Research shows that approximately 40% of women experience sexual problems. But a 2008 study out of Harvard suggests that only a few — 12% — are concerned enough with these issues to do anything about them. I find that not only surprising, but shocking! That suggests to me that sexual wellbeing is not a high priority for a good number of women.  What a bummer!sexual-Frustration

Low libido, diminished arousal, difficulties with orgasm, pain with sex or body image concerns all play a part. A lot of this is directly connected with having an ineffectual partner. I mean, I’d give up sex too if I was consistently frustrated and unfulfilled. But what about masturbation? Are sexually frustrated women seeing to their own needs through self-pleasuring? I don’t see any hard data, you should pardon the pun, on that topic.

We hear a lot about the horny dad and the tired mom, but what do you do if the “roles” are reversed – and dad is tired and mom is horny?

Curiously enough, I hear from way more men these days, who are exhausted, depressed or overweight and who have little or no libido, than I hear from women with the same problems. Sign of the times? You betcha!

But don’t sink to the lowest common denominator. Here’s one of my most popular tutorials, Sex Play — Tips and Techniques.

How can parents find common “ground” when it comes to when they might have sex (as in day of the week or time of day)? Does it always involve compromise? Can our internal clocks ever synch up?

Synching up schedules my not always be the solution. If we wait for that to happen, we could die waiting. The answer might be finding a middle ground. “I may not be up for full on fucking at the moment, but I’ll give you a fantastic hand-job.” Or “I can’t seem to get it up right now, but hand me your vibrator and I’ll send you to heaven!” I’m a huge proponent of mutual masturbation.

Another suggestion might be something like The MoodSign. We reviewed this very clever gismo awhile back. In fact, it was among our Best Products List for 2013. Check it out and see if something like this would help.

If parents are interested in kinking it up, what are some simple, not too scary ways to introduce it into the relationship?

Keep it safe and consensual. Always have a safeword. I developed a workshop called; The Gospel of Kink. I’ve also conveniently packaged this workshop into a workbook with the same title. You can find the book HERE!

GOK small cover

Both the workshop and book are designed to help people, like you, develop the skills they need to effectively communicate with one another and improve their problem solving skills. The workshop and book, as the title suggests, are specifically geared toward folks in kinky, BDSM, and alt-culture relationships, but even vanilla couples will find what I present very helpful.

Bondage games are always fun. And you don’t need anything beyond what you already have in your closets — silk scarves, belts, shoe strings, etc.

Nipple clamps, playing with sensations like ice cubes and hot wax, hair pulling, making use of blindfolds and gags

Discipline/Spanking is always fun too — a ruler, a hairbrush, a wooden spoon, a belt, rubber bands. See my tutorial: Spank Me, Daddy.

Role play is always a delight. Don’t forget about phone sex.

There are tons of instructional videos at Dr Dick’s How To Video Library.

I always suggest that couples read erotica aloud to each other. That never fails to get one’s motor purring.

I’d also love to talk with you about the taboo of sex, particularly with the parenting set, and how parents, moms, and dads, can work to break stereotypes without feeling like a sexual “deviant.”

Really? What would be so wrong about being a deviant?

Good luck

I Can’t Get No Satisfaction

Name: Trey
Gender: Male
Age: 24
Location: Charleston, SC
I’m a good looking guy. At least that’s what people tell me. I’m educated, have a good job, have a great sense of humor, and I’m also bi. I thought that being attracted to both women and men would increase the likelihood of me finding the sexual satisfaction I so desperately want and need.

I’m not afraid of commitment, but I can’t seem to get beyond casual hook ups and affairs that last only a few months. The sex is a hit or miss kind of thing, but even when the sex is great, I always seem to hit a wall. I can’t seem to get to the next level.

The New Year is upon us and I don’t want to remain stuck in this holding pattern. What am I missing? Any advice for someone like me?

Thanks for the timely question, Trey. And Happy New Year to you.

i'd totally fuck youYou bring up two very important skill sets — satisfying sex and relationship building. Despite the myths perpetuated by the popular culture, the two are not necessarily interdependent. Sexual satisfaction is one thing, and it can be achieved through traditional relationship models or not. Successful primary relationships can and often do depend on the sexual satisfaction of the partners, but not always. And given the diversity of intimate interests people have, it’s no wonder some come away from the experience frustrated and disappointed. Think of it as a combination lock. All the tumblers need to align for the lock to open.

The secret, it seems to me, is to discover precisely what it is you are looking for and deciding precisely what it is you are willing to expend getting what you want.

And I hope that your bisexuality has lead you to embrace more relationship models than what is traditionally handed us as the be all and end all—heterosexual monogamy. There is so much more out there.foreplay

That being said, I do have some generic thoughts about sexual satisfaction that are applicable to whatever relationship model you choose. Great sex is dependent on mutuality, even in a casual hook up. Be sure your partner knows he or she is loved, appreciated, or in terms of the casual hook up, respected.

If the connection you have with another has legs, so to speak, you will soon discover that either you or your partner has a stronger libido than does the other. That’s pretty common. Deal with this immediately, like adults. Don’t wait for your relationship to go broken. It’s just too easy to walk away from something that is floundering instead of investing the effort it would take to right it. Does that sound familiar? I wouldn’t be surprised if it does. Accommodations and compromise are always necessary in seeking the common good. And by that I don’t mean sinking to the lowest common denominator.  People come to compromise and accommodation through effective communication. If you don’t know how to do that, your relationship, of whatever stripe, is doomed.

female body as art 2Passion is not a dirty word, nor is sexual expression a sin. If you or a partner has religious scruples about enjoying you own body or that of your partner you’re headed for trouble. And remember, boredom in the bedroom is a recipe for disaster.

You should be well versed in self-pleasuring. In fact, the more you know about your body and the mysteries of your sexual response cycle the smoother things will go in partnered sex. Nowadays there is absolutely no need for anyone to come to partnered sex uninformed about sex in general and his or her sexuality in particular.

Like I said, mutuality is the key. And since we all evolve sexually, partners need to grow right along with each other. Make your sex play an adventure. Never hesitate to check in with one another to see how the pleasure thing is going. What’s worked last time is not necessarily gonna work next time.

Spontaneity is always a real good thing. Both partners need to take responsibility for seeing that their intimacy needs are being met. Sometimes that will involve fucking like bunnies, other times it will mean vegging-out in front of the boob-tube with a fist full of Häagen-Dazs.

Again, communication is key! Openness and honesty about one’s most secret sexual fantasies and desires is essential. Can’t trust your partner with your secrets? That’s never a good sign. Take responsibility for your own sexuality. Ask for what you need, but don’t neglect caring for yourself.

Seek your partner’s pleasure before your own. This is particularly important for a man.

If you are too busy to celebrate your sexuality with your partner, you are indeed too fuckin’ busy. Prioritize your life with your partner at its center.

nipple rubThere’s a fundamental difference between making love and fucking. Both have their place in a healthy sex life. And there ought also be room for solitary sex too. Everyone in entitled to privacy and private time, especially in a relationship.  If your job, or career, or whatever else interests you is more important than your relationship don’t expect that relationship to last.

Be creative in your sexual expression; toys, fantasies, role-playing, they’re all good. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Attend to making your sex play spaces fit the mood — romantic to down and dirty. One size does not fit all, if you catch my drift.

Stay in shape (and there’s not just one shape), get plenty of exercise, and keep yourself interesting and attractive to your partner. Pay attention to your personal hygiene. No one wants to bump someone with a smelly body or bad breath.

Make sure your partner is fully aroused before full-on fucking. And remember sex is way more than the old in an out. Finally, have a sense of humor about the whole damn thing; it will help take the edge off.

Good luck

Open Hearts, Open Minds, And Open Relationships

Name: Deborah
Gender: female
Age: 36
Location: Rome
I like your site very much. Thank you for some much honesty. I have a question; do open relationships really work?

Well gee, thanks for your kind words, darlin’; I appreciate it.

To your question about open relationships, I guess that depends on the maturity level of the people considering opening their sexually exclusive relationship. And how much work they are willing to put forward to communicate with one another through all the details that such a decision entails.open relationship

That being said, there are a few things us sex researchers know for sure. In most cultures, people claim to practice sexual exclusivity, which is commonly referred to as monogamy. Although I think that’s a misnomer. Monogamy literally means having one union, which, as we all know, tells us nothing about sexual expression of either or both partners.

Lifetime sexual exclusivity (being sexually involved with only one person for one’s entire life) is rare. Serial sexual exclusivity (having a series of exclusive relationships over one’s life) is much more common. And despite knowing that we humans do not mate for life, we continue to presume that sexual exclusivity, or monogamy is the only legitimate kind of coupling.

This, unfortunately, leads to our culture’s obsession with cheating — that is, having sex with someone outside of a monogamous relationship. And frankly, what I know about humans, human relationships, and human sexuality; I can say for certain that fidelity is not necessarily a genital issue. One can indeed be faithful to someone else and still have the freedom to express him/herself sexually with others. It happens all the time. In these cases, fidelity is to the relationship and the agreements, parameters, and boundaries mutually agreed upon by the partners. Which get me back to my opening comment about the need for communication. Of course, it’s much easier to presume that everyone in a relationship is working under the same rubric, but that kind of presumption is a fool’s paradise.

polyamory1Another shortcoming of setting up sexual exclusivity, or monogamy as the only legitimate kind of coupling is that it diminishes all the other types of relationships that flourish albeit in a more covert sort of way. And here I’m talking about an array of open relationship models and polyamory. The fact that we don’t hear a lot about these non-traditional relationships shouldn’t suggest to you, or anyone, that they don’t exist or that they aren’t practical or practiced my a lot of people. They are! It just means that most people in non-traditional relationships know not to go public in a society that would denigrate them for their lifestyle choices. That’s how things are here in the good old US of A; and I’ll wager it’s also true for you Italians. Am I right, or am I right?

Open relationships and polyamorous relationships work because the people in them adhere to some basic tenets about how to conduct themselves.

First among them is the notion that these alternative relationships must be chosen; they can’t be mandated. If one or another of the persons considering an open or poly relationship is being pressured to go along with the flow, or is fearful that he/she will be alone if he/she doesn’t comply with the will of the other(s), that kind of duress is not gonna work.

Each person in the relationship needs to take responsibility for the choices he/she is making. If you’re not up for the task, or if this kind of arrangement is not compatible with your personality type, don’t attempt to override that. You will only jeopardize the relationship for the other(s) involved. However if the idea appeals to you, give it your best shot. I can guarantee it will be a learning experience. Just remember, exploring something and having it carved in stone are two very different things.

Second, communication is key. The more complex the relationship structure the greater the need for open lines of communication. Know your boundaries and express them clearly. Ask questions; never assume you know something when you don’t. If you will allow me some shameless self-promotion, I’d like to direct your attention to my latest book, The Gospel Of Kink — A Modern Guide To Asking For What You Want And Getting What You Ask For. It’s a communication and relationship-building workshop, for folks in nontraditional relationships, in workbook form. I think you will find it most enlightening. GOK small cover

Third, know yourself! You must be able to deal with your emotions, particularly jealousy, in an up-front, adult way. This is often much easier said than done. If you need to be the center of attention just so you can feel good about yourself, or you have serious territorial issues — this is mine, this is mine, and this is mine! Alternative relationships are probably not for you.

Know what keeps you even keel in terms of what you need and what you are able to give. There has got to be a healthy tension between these two things. If you’re the kind who gives too much and resents not being rewarded for your gifts, stay away from alternative relationships. Or if you are so needy that you can’t stand it when someone else is enjoying his/her time in the sun; open or poly relationships are decidedly not for you.

You should also know that alternative relationships, of whatever stripe, are, for the most part, on the fringes of what society will accept. And some are outright taboo. This doesn’t mean you will have to slug it out on your own, in a vacuum of support. On the contrary, you will no doubt find that the people who are living contrary to the expectations of the popular culture are often a whole lot more generous with their support and compassion then those following all the rules.

You will find that your support system will shift from more traditional sources like family, church, and community to alternative sources like clubs and social groupings of other like-minded individuals as yourself. A common mistake made by those in non-traditional relationships is to take their problems and issues to their traditional support systems. This rarely works because the traditional support system will inevitably blame the non-traditional relationship setup for the problem. This is not true, of course, but how would those in traditional relationships know otherwise.

I always suggest that those in non-traditional relationships bring their issues to their non-traditional support system. Here you are less likely to encounter judgments about your life choices and more help with overcoming the problems at hand.

Good luck

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We’ve Only Just Begun…

Name: Donna
Gender: Female
Age: 18
Location: Salt Lake City.
I’m turning to you for help, because I don’t have anyone else to ask. My boyfriend, who is 19, and I are very much in love. We plan to marry next year. But we both want to start having sex now. We are both virgins and we think we need help overcoming the natural obstacles, if you know what I mean.

Gee, I’m not sure I know what you mean by natural obstacles. Are you talking about physical things? Emotional things? Maybe you just need a little tutorial on how to get started. I’ll try to at least touch upon all these things, but first I want to thank you for entrusting me with your concerns. I’m sorry to hear that you don’t have others in your community to approach. I guess that says a lot about the family values and community standards where you live.

teen_sexuality.jpgI have lots to say about beginning a sexual life with another person. Curiously enough the information I am about to share is applicable to both women and men and it applies to any and all sexual orientations. That’s the beautiful part of human sexuality. There is so much common ground. In fact, there is way more that we have in common than what separates us.

Ok, so here goes. Be yourselves. Let your natural feeling of affection for one another lead you. Always use a condom (This applies to penis/vagina and/or anal sex.) Be gentle; be curious; seek your partner’s pleasure before your own; and most importantly, have a sense of humor about the whole damned thing.

Just about everyone who is sexually inexperienced will also lack sexual confidence. It can be nerve-wracking not being sure what to do to satisfy your partner. Sometimes this nervousness is contagious. Your anxiety can make your partner anxious. The surefire way to get around this is to not pretend you know what the fuck you’re doing, if ya don’t. The best way to find out what to do is to ask your partner what he/she likes and how she/he likes it. If they don’t know or can’t tell you, then you can find out together with some sex play. And I do mean play, not work.1sexual_response_cycle_male

This is where our natural sexual curiosity comes in. And we all have that to one degree or another. Sexual confidence comes from knowing. Curiosity will bring you knowledge.

There will be no room for curiosity if the only thing on your mind is the old in an out. That’s why I suggest you put off full-on fucking till you get the lay of the land, so to speak. Besides, there are lots and lots of ways to pleasure yourself and your partner that doesn’t involve intercourse.

Like I said, sexual confidence comes with understanding the mysteries of our sexual response cycle. Each one of us is different and the differences are most pronounced between the sexes. If you haven’t discovered at least the fundamentals of your own response cycle through masturbation; then you’re really not really ready to gift yourself to another person just yet.

female sexual response cycleYa see, the more you know about your body; how it works; where your pleasure centers are; the kind of stimulation you need and want to come to full arousal; the more information you’ll have to pass on to your partner. Even if your partner is more experienced than you, he/she will still need to get to know the intricacies of your individual response cycle.

Sexual confidence stems from being able to please your partner. When you know what you are doing you project an air of self-assurance. This is not the same thing as cockiness, mind you, although that might be a very fun attribute to have too.

The best lovers look to pleasure their partners before they expect to be pleasured. Delaying your own pleasure, particularly if you’re a guy, so that you can provide multiple orgasms to your partner will reap great pleasurable rewards for you when it’s your turn. Besides, giving pleasure is often as pleasurable as being pleasured.

Sexual confidence translates into sexual assertiveness. Each partner should take equal responsibility for initiating sex. Trust me, this is not merely a man’s role. And sexual assertiveness translates into sexual creativity. If you’re timid about trying new things, you’re gonna short-circuit a whole lot of pleasure.black teens

Learn to ask for what you want and how you want it. Communication is key to a healthy and vibrant sex life. Never underestimate the your partner’s ability to develop and grow sexually. Check in with your partner on a regular basis. Don’t assume you know what turns him/her on today, just because it turned her/his crank the other day.

Feelings of sexual inadequacy, discomfort with your body, anxiety about your skills will destroy your sex life. If you are plagued with any of these things get help with them before your bring them to a sexual partnership.

sexual confidenceSexual confidence comes down to knowing yourself and being able to communicate your likes and wants to your partner. If you’re simply gonna be passive about your pleasure, you’ll wind up getting only what is dished out to you. And for many women, that is woefully insufficient. Don’t expect your partner to know any more about pleasuring you than you do, even if she/he has had more partners then you.

Allow yourselves the time or space you need to feed your intimacy needs. If you expect to discover sexuality with your partner in the backseat of a car, you’re gonna cum up short. Passion and spontaneity is great, but what I’m talking about is different from that. Think of it as learning to walk before you run.

Being a terrific lover is dependent on know-how. Skill comes through practice. So practice, practice, practice! Keep it fun. When it stops being play and starts being work, put it aside for another day.

Good luck

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