Category Archives: Effective Communication

6 things a sex therapist wishes you knew

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It’s not always just about sex

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Communication is essential in almost every aspect of our lives. But these days it can seem as though we’re more interested in social media than connecting with those we’re most intimate with. The 2014 British Sex Survey showed a shocking 61% of respondents said that it’s possible to maintain a happy relationship or marriage without sex. Whether you believe this or not, new research has emerged that shows just how important sex is for a relationship. According to lead author, Lindsey L. Hicks, more sex is associated with a happier marriage, regardless of what people say:

“We found that the frequency with which couples have sex has no influence on whether or not they report being happy with their relationship, but their sexual frequency does influence their more spontaneous, automatic, gut-level feelings about their partners,”

We spoke to Stefan Walters, Psychological Therapist at Harley Therapy London, to find out the role sex can play within a relationship and the attitude we should all be taking towards it. Here’s what he wishes we all knew:

1. It’s good to talk about sex!

Lots of clients still feel like opening up about their sex lives is a real taboo, and that sexual thoughts should be kept private and hidden away. But the truth is that sex is a huge part of who we are – it plays a vital role in determining our identities, and in shaping the relationships we choose throughout our lives – so it’s good to talk about it, and there’s nothing shameful or degrading about doing so. You might not think that your sexual thoughts are relevant to certain other issues in your life, but sometimes sharing these inner desires can really shine a light on something else that’s seemingly unconnected.

2. …but don’t JUST talk about sex

Sex is often the symptom, not the cause. Lots of people come to therapy looking to resolve a sexual issue, and often there’s a temptation to focus on that issue and not talk about anything else. But as you explore around the problem, you tend to find that what’s being played out in the bedroom is often related to other thoughts and feelings. Even something as innocuous as moving house or changing job can have an unexpected impact on libido, as attention and energy levels are focused elsewhere. So it’s really important to get the full picture of what’s going on.

3. There’s nothing you could say that would surprise your therapist

People go to therapy for all kinds of sexual issues. This might be a question of their own orientation, making sense of a certain fetish, or exploring some kind of dysfunction which they feel is preventing them from having the sex life they truly desire. No matter how embarrassed you might feel about a certain sex-related issue, your therapist won’t judge you for it, and will remain calm and impartial as you explore the problem. Sexual issues are very common reasons for people to seek therapy, so your therapist has most likely heard it all before; and however filthy or unusual you might think your kink is, someone else has probably already shared it.

4. The biggest sexual organ is the brain

People spend so much time focusing on genitals, but often forget about the brain. Sex is a deeply psychological process, and one person’s turn ons can be another’s turn offs. This is because we all get aroused by different sensory stimuli, and have a different set of positive and negative associations for all kinds of situations and events; often relating back to previous experiences. You can have a lot of fun with your body, but truly great sex needs to involve the brain as well. After all, it’s the brain that gets flooded with a magical cocktail of chemicals – dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins – at the point of orgasm, to produce an almost trance-like experience

There’s no single definition of a good sex life

5. Sex means different things to different people, at different times

There’s no single definition of a good sex life. Sexuality is fluid, and needs and desires can change drastically from person to person, and even day to day. For example, at the start of a relationship sex is usually about pleasure and passion, but over time it can become more about intimacy and connection, and then if a couple decide to have children it can suddenly become quite outcome-focused. Sometimes people struggle to cope with these transitions, or may find that their own needs don’t match with their partners’, and this is why talking about sex is so important in relationships.

6. Don’t put it off

If you do have a sex-related worry or concern, it’s best to talk about it as soon as possible. If you don’t feel comfortable discussing it with a family member or a friend or partner, then seek out a good therapist to explore the issue with you. The longer you wait, the more it becomes likely that you build the issue up in your head, or start to complicate it even further. It’s always best to tackle issues, rather than to let them fester or be ignored. More than ever, people are talking openly about their sexual orientations and desires, so there’s no need to deal with your worries alone. Everyone deserves to feel sexually fulfilled, and that includes you.

Complete Article HERE!

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Why Embracing Your Sexuality (Fetishes & All) Makes You A More Attractive Partner

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Growing into our sexual selves is a lifelong process, like growing up in general. But because we don’t have a lot of language for our sexual lives, we somehow erroneously expect that sex is something we are born knowing how to do. Like any other physical and emotional skill, our sexual capacity to both give and receive pleasure increases with education and practice.

We begin waking up to our emerging erotic consciousness in our early adolescence. This awakening process is mostly subconscious, as our maturing brain connects the powerful arousal mechanism to historic and unresolved painful events and relationships. Like our fingerprints, or the subtle distinctions in our sense of smell—what turns us on sexually is largely outside of our control and often contradicts the way we view ourselves outside of the bedroom.

With that in mind, it’s no wonder that the first and often the most persistent issue for most of us on our sexual journey is reconciling our interests with our sense of what is “normal.” Quite often, sexual discovery tests the boundaries of normalcy. Our sexual selves are the unique, wild streak in us that cannot be contained and whose full pleasure potential cannot be achieved if we try to rein it in.

“Most people are mirrors, reflecting the moods and emotions of the times; few are windows, bringing light to bear on the dark corners where troubles fester. The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” —Sydney Harris

Instead of healthy dialogue and reliable information about what it means to become and embrace who we are sexually, our curiosity and confusion about emerging sexuality are often met with archaic teachings, generational discomfort from those we trust, misinformation from our peers, and a complex cultural obsession.

The majority of us never have the opportunity to adequately explore the questions that arise from our earliest adolescent erotic awakening. Maturing beyond our initial discomfort requires education, and real sexual education is hard to come by.

For many young people, low-grade anxiety prevents them from engaging in any real conversations, whether with a friend, doctor, or even their partners about their fears and the obstacles they face sexually. Often, even the more progressive will turn their sexual concerns into a joke, laughing at their discomfort and communicating either that sexual concerns are not to be taken seriously or at least not to be discussed seriously.

What we suppress becomes more powerful. Suppressing our sexual nature only exacerbates our preoccupation with it. Asking honest questions about our sexual selves and being able to get reliable information allows us to use sexual privacy in healthy ways. Studies show that the kids who are given the most sexual education are often the last ones to engage sexually. They don’t need to learn about it by doing it—their theoretical learning allows them to make healthy choices about when and with whom they want to do it.

People who have come to terms with this essential aspect of their being are happier and more satisfied in every other aspect of their life as well.

Likewise, adults who move beyond their adolescent sexual anxiety through education gain not only the courage to take ownership of their erotic preferences but also the skills to engage in sexual behavior that is consistently pleasurable. Sexually mature adults are not waiting for someone else to make them feel sexy or give them permission to explore the range of their sexual function.

Taking full responsibility for their own sexual needs allows them to also be truly responsive to the sexual needs of others, which makes them attractive partners that tend to stay partnered. Aspiring to sexual maturity evokes a host of other essential skills for life—sexually mature adults tend to also be emotionally intelligent and capable of dealing with life changes.

Our sexual selves are often perceived as a locked box of bizarre fantasies and out-of-control impulses toward carnal pleasure. While it’s true that a mature sex life employs these tools for pleasure, working at our sexual evolution is more like developing core strength. Because our erotic identity is so central to who we are, people who have come to terms with this essential aspect of their being are happier and more satisfied in every other aspect of their life as well.

Complete Article HERE!

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Four of the biggest relationship mistakes people make

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Relate counsellors have revealed how to prevent a relationship from turning sour 

By Kashmira Gander

From trawling Tinder to enduring bad date after bad date, finding a partner can be a painstaking process. But the effort that goes into tracking down someone compatible can feel insignificant when compared with what is needed to keep that partnership going.

As the weeks, months and years wind on, not only staving off boredom but building trust and supporting each other when life throws up unexpected hurdles are paramount to the health of a relationship.

Forgot that, and you risk turning a person you loved and lusted after into a glorified roommate or someone you despise. To uncover the most common yet avoidable mistakes that people make, we turned to counsellors at the relationship charity Relate.

Firstly, sex isn’t as big an issue as one might imagine, the counsellors suggest. “Sex is a great pleasure of relationships and a very healing pleasure,” says Barbara Bloomfield. “But, if neither partner is particularly bothered about sex, a compassionate, non-sexual relationship can be really enjoyable too.”

Fundamentally, communication is the most important part of a relationship. And if a couple has agreed that sex isn’t a priority, then there is no reason their pairing shouldn’t work out.

“In a healthy relationship you both agree on what is right for you both,” says Relate counsellor, Gurpreet Singh. “Mismatched expectations, on the other hand, can lead to resentment and cause problems in the relationship,” he adds.

“The danger is when couples avoid each other to avoid sex and a distance grows,” chimes Dee Holmes.

And while communicating may seem like an obvious piece of advice, it’s something that many of us struggle to understand – otherwise the lack of it wouldn’t cause so many break-up.

Talking and listening in equal proportions, advises Singh, is just one aspect of this process. “Do this openly and honestly with a view to connect rather than pass information,” he adds.

Not only that, but the timing of a conversation is almost as important as having it at all, suggests Martin Burrow, a senior practice consultant.

“Talking after the event, not before it” is a poor way of behaving that people too often slip into, he adds.

Similarly, “imagining their partner thinks in the same way they do” is another easily avoided issue, according to Bloomfield.

“It takes a lot of effort to understand that your partner had a different set of parents with different values and he or she constructs their world very differently to your own,” she says.

The exact words a person uses, adds Barbara Honey, senior practice consultant, are as key as the message a person is trying to get across.

“Begin complaints with ‘I feel…’ rather than ‘you are…’ which results in conflict,” she says.

Bloomfield points to her own relationship to highlight that counsellors aren’t infallible, either. She admits that, after being with her partner for 35 years, they have “time-honoured ways of winding each other up”. But she adds that learning the other person’s triggers and avoiding them is a simply way of preventing conflict.

Barbara Honey Relate chimes that – however scary it may sound – talking about expectations before committing to a relationship in the first place is the simplest way to prevent heartbreak.

She adds that the most important lesson she has learned from her own relationship is that “you can’t change someone else – only yourself.”

Something as simple as who does the hoovering can, therefore, be a marker of the health of a relationship. Bloomfield adds that regarding doing the dishes and hoovering up as “labour” that needs to be divided up can show a level of respect that should trickle into all parts of a relationship.

She adds: “It makes a big difference to feeling that the two of you are a team.”

Complete Article HERE!

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36 Questions That Make Strangers Fall In Love

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“One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure.” – Aron, Melinat, Aron, Vallone, & Bator (1997)

By Justin J. Lehmiller

In order to develop a close, intimate relationship with someone else, you need to be willing to open up to that person—to let your defenses down and become emotionally vulnerable. As you may have found in your own personal experience, this process sometimes takes a very long time to unfold. However, research suggests that it doesn’t necessarily have to.

In fact, scientists have found that it’s possible to generate a significant degree of closeness between strangers in as little as 45 minutes by asking a series of 36 questions. These questions are divided into three sets that escalate the degree of self-disclosure required as time progresses.

These questions allow people to become “fast friends,” but they also have the potential to lay the groundwork for romantic attraction.

To get a better sense of how this works, check out the video below from our friends over at ASAP Science. The full list of questions appears beneath the video.

Want to learn more? Check out the original study here.

 

Set I:

1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest? 

2. Would you like to be famous? In what way? 

3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?

4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you? 

5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?

6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?

7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?

8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.

9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?

11. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.

12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

Set II: 

13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?

14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?

15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life? 

16. What do you value most in a friendship? 

17. What is your most treasured memory? 

18. What is your most terrible memory? 

19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?

20. What does friendship mean to you?

21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?

22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.

23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?

24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?

Set III: 

25. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling … ” 

26. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share … “

27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.

28. Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.

29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.

30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?

31. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.

32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about? 

33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet? 

34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?

35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?

36. Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.

Complete Article HERE!

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Coming down from the high:

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What I learned about mental health from BDSM

By Jen Chan

Not too long ago, I took my first step into the world of kink. I was a baby gay coming to terms with my borderline personality disorder (BDP) diagnosis, looking for any and every label that could help alleviate the lack of self-identity that comprises my BPD.

I knew I was queer. I knew I identified as femme. But I didn’t know if I was a dominant (top), a submissive (bottom), or a pillow princess; I didn’t even know if I was kinky.

So I tried to find out.

I began to notice a pattern. The sheer rush of euphoria and affection created a high I felt each time I “topped” my partner, and it would sharply drop the minute I got home. I was drained of energy and in a foul mood for days, often skipping work or class. I felt stuck on something because I wanted to feel that intensely blissful sex all over again, but I couldn’t figure out how to get it back.

If you’re familiar with the after-effects of taking MDMA—the crash, the lack of endorphins, the dip in mood for up to a week later—then you’ve got a pretty good idea of how a “drop” felt for me. Just add in an unhealthy serving of guilt and self-doubt, a pinch of worthlessness and a dash of contempt for both myself and my partner, and voila! Top drop: the less talked about counterpart to sub drop where the dominant feels a sense of hopelessness following BDSM—bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism and masochism—if after care is neglected.

In the BDSM community, it’s common to talk about the submissive (sub) experience: To communicate the expectations and needs of the submissive partner before engaging in consensual kinky play, to make sure the safety of the sub during intense physical and/or psychological activities is tantamount, to tend and care for the sub after the scene ends and they’re brought back down to earth.

Outside of this, the rush of sadness and anxiety that hits after sex is known as post-coital tristesse, or post-coital dysphoria (PCD). It is potentially linked to the fact that during sex, the amygdala—a part of the brain that processes fearful thoughts—decreases in activity. Researchers have theorized that the rebound of the amygdala after sex is what triggers fear and depression.

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that 46 per cent of the 230 female participants reported experiencing PCD at least once after sex.

Aftercare is crucial and varies for subs, depending on their needs. Some subs appreciate being held or cuddled gently after a scene. Others need to hydrate, need their own space away from their partner or a detailed analysis of everything that happened for future knowledge. But no matter what the specific aftercare is, the goal is still the same: for a top to accommodate a sub and guide them out of “subspace”—a state of mind experienced by a submissive in a BDSM scenario—as directly as they were guided in.

I asked one of my exes, who’s identified as a straight-edge sub for several years, what subspace is like. As someone who doesn’t drink or do drugs, I was curious about what it was like for them to reach that same ephemeral zone of pleasure.

“It gets me to forget pain or worries, it gets me to focus only on what I’m feeling right then,” they told me. “It’s better than drugs.”

My ex gave up all substances in favour of getting fucked by kink, instead. I’m a little impressed by how powerful the bottom high must be for them.

“The high for bottoms is from letting go of all control,” they added. If we’re following that logic, then the top high is all about taking control.

We ended the call on a mildly uncomfortable note, both trying not to remember the dynamics of control that ended our relationship.  Those dynamics were created, in part, by my BPD, and, as I would later discover, top drop.

In the days to follow, I avoided thinking about what being a top had felt like for me and scheduled a lunch date with another friend to hear his perspective.

“Being a dom gives you the freedom to act on repressed desires,” he told me over a plate of chili cheese fries. This is what his ex said to cajole him into being a top—the implied “whatever you want” dangled in front of a young gay man still figuring himself out.

He was new to kink, new to identifying and acting on his desires, and most of all, new to the expectations that were placed on him by his partner. He was expected to be a tough, macho top to his ex’s tender, needy bottom. His after-care, however, didn’t fit into that fantasy. If that had been different, maybe he wouldn’t have spiraled into a place where his mental health was deteriorating, along with his relationship.

The doubt and guilt that he would often feel for days after a kinky session mirrored my own. We both struggled with the idea that the things our partners wanted us to do to them—the things that we enjoyed doing to them—were fucked up. It was hard to reconcile the good people that we thought we were, the ones who follow societal expectations and have a moral compass and know right from wrong, with the people who are capable of hurting other people, and enjoying it.

For my friend, there was always a creeping fear at the back of his mind that the violence or cruelty he was letting loose during sex could rear up in his normal life, outside of a scene.

For me, there was a deep instinct to disengage, to distance myself emotionally from my partner, because I thought that if I didn’t care about them as much, then maybe I wouldn’t hate them for egging me on to do things I was scared of.

My friend has since recognized how unhealthy his relationship with his ex was. These days, he identifies as a switch (someone who alternates between dominant and submissive roles). The deep-seated sense of feeling silenced that was so prevalent in his first kinky relationship, is nowhere to be seen. He communicates his sexual needs and desires and any accompanying emotional fragility with his current partner. He’s happy.

I’m a little envious of him. My second-favourite hobby is rambling about all of the things I’m feeling, and it’s a close second to my favourite, which is crying. I credit my Cancer sun sign for my ability to embrace my insecurities, but there’s still something that makes me feel like I’m not equipped to deal with top drop.

There’s an interesting contrast between how a top is expected to behave—strong, tough, in control—and the realities of the human experience. When a top revels in the high of taking control, but starts to feel some of that control fading afterwards, how do they pinpoint the cause? How do they talk about that insecurity? How do they develop aftercare for themselves?

One of the hallowed tenets of BDSM and kink is the necessity of good communication; to be able to recognize a desire, then comfortably communicate that to a partner. Healthy, consensual, safe kink is predicated on this.

Complete Article HERE!

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