The XConfessions app

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Erika Lust’s new app is making it easier to talk about kinks and fantasies

By Marianne Eloise

The XConfessions app lets users swipe left or right on sex acts they’re willing or not willing to try

Erika Lust is currently making five films at once – no small undertaking, especially as her erotic films are cinematically beautiful; often feature-length, with professional crews who work on styling, location, cinematography, and everything else to make it visually arresting.

But that’s just a small part of the filmmaker’s mission to promote and create feminist pornography that centres women’s experiences and desires. Lust believes the most important thing with sex is communication and consent; clear rules that many people seem to skim over. She’s serious about promoting those values, too – she is determined to maintain an ethical work environment where all actors are comfortable, which she tells me goes from “feeding everyone on set” to “performers being able to stop shooting anytime they feel uncomfortable”.

Lust’s series XConfessions, which saw her win a Feminist Porn Award in both 2014 and 2015, is based on crowd-sourced erotic stories and fantasies from confessions that viewers can leave on her website. Now, she’s released the XConfessions app, an app which presents users (either playing alone or in a couple) with kinks: each person swipes left or right depending on whether they’re willing to try it. It’s billed as an inclusive app, taking into account all genders, sexualities, and types of relationships.

The XConfessions app takes the most awkward and complicated part of kink – the fear that your partner mightn’t want to try what you do; the fear of exposing yourself only to be embarrassed – and makes it disappear. We speak to Lust about the app, her work, and the ever-evolving porn industry.

One of the options on Erika Lust’s XConfessions app

I think the best thing about XConfessions is that – with trying new things sexually – there’s always the fear that your partner won’t want the same thing and it’ll get awkward. Was that your primary motivation?

Erika Lust:
It was designed for exactly that – to open up conversation and take away some of the pressure of broaching the topic of fantasy with your partner. I think the fear of embarrassment is really common. It can be very difficult to open up about your fantasies, even to someone you’ve been with for a long time, but these conversations can potentially take your sex life to the next level and intensify your bond and relationship with your partner. It’s really important in a relationship to have strong, open communication and I believe that this is part of it. Sexual fantasies are perfectly healthy and normal, and sharing them can be a really fun experience.  

Where do you think that embarrassment comes from?

Erika Lust: I think a lot of it stems from the shame tied up with sexuality. Unfortunately shame is cultivated in the society we live in and the sex education (or lack of) we receive growing up. We’re also taught to view sex in a very narrowly defined heteronormative way, which makes it seem that anything outside of this is deviant or weird. Women especially have to confront shame within their sexuality because they’re fed the message from a young age that they shouldn’t enjoy it too much.

Do you think that’s the most important thing in both kink and sex – communication?

Erika Lust: I think there are two equally important things, communication and consent. When we don’t communicate about sex, our wants and our needs aren’t met. A lack of communication means that we don’t try things that interest us and we will go along with things that we may not necessarily want to. We must always be aware of consent when having sex – ongoing conversation or clear non-verbal cues.  

It baffles me that the kink community has a bad reputation in ‘mainstream’ circles when they have such a strong model of what it means to obtain consent and speak about what they’re comfortable doing. It’s the norm in kink situations to speak about what sexual activities you want to do. I’m not saying that the kink community is perfect or that boundary violations don’t exist, but I think there is a lot we can learn. I think it’s also important to remember that consent and communication are not one-time conversations.

The app takes away something that can be common in kink – a perceived pressure to comply. If your partner says ‘I want this’ and you say ‘well, I don’t’, you can feel ‘boring’ or like you’re depriving them of something they want. This makes the conversation more positive and takes away that fear, while prioritising pleasure.

Erika Lust: I wanted to make the app in a way that users can play individually, as well as with their partner. In part, to take away some of the pressure to comply, specially when fantasies are spoken about during sex, there can be a pressure to say yes to avoid making things uncomfortable.

I think it’s a good idea to first have the conversation of fantasy with your clothes still on with a fun app. This is where the app works well, by going through the cards individually, and thinking about them alone you can decide if the fantasy is something that interests you. This also allows you to develop your sexuality and fantasies independent from your partner.

What is it like for you looking back on your career?

Erika Lust: I often tell people about the book that influenced me which was Linda Williams’ Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the ‘Frenzy of the Visible’. It gave me my lightbulb moment and I realised that pornography was a genre, a specific cinematic trend with its own history. It wasn’t just ‘porn’ to me anymore, it was part of a discourse on sexuality making a statement and expressing ideologies and values on sex and gender.

I shot The Good Girl when I moved to Barcelona, which was a humorous take on the classic pizza delivery boy porn trope. To be honest I can’t really watch it now without cringing but it was a start and it changed my life! That’s when I realised there were other people out there looking for alternatives to mainstream pornography, and I decided to start making adult films that reflected my own ideas.

What drives you to make these films?

Erika Lust: My mission was, and always will be, to show that women’s pleasure matters. I want to show that women have their own sex drive and desires, and are not passive objects exclusively focused on pleasuring the men. XConfessions is adult cinema that is smart, sex positive and respectful to women. It offers a representation of women’s pleasure and sex on screen that challenges the unchecked misogynistic attitudes, racist categorisations, and degrading narratives of mass-produced porn. Gagging, slapping, vomiting… some women may like it. But it is not a niche, it has become mainstream. That is extremely problematic. Studios produce it as it is the alpha and the omega of sex while it is content made with a very misogynist male-centric standard. It seems it is not arousing unless it is degrading to women. In my cinema, I show women enjoying themselves while receiving and giving pleasure in relatable scenarios. Women have their own sexual agency and take ownership of their bodies.

I also want to fight the fetishising and categorising that the mainstream industry does. Performers are categorised by their race, age or body type. I am really concerned with such ‘othering’.

What else are you doing to change the industry?

Erika Lust: With my ongoing guest directors open call I also have that community of new filmmakers. There are more female filmmakers in the industry who have loud voices and who stand by their work, and it’s great to be able to get more depictions of sex and sexuality, and more people doing something different to a lot of the mass produced stereotypical porn on the free tube sites. 

What sets your work apart?

Erika Lust: I think working with a female team really shapes my films. From the moment I created Erika Lust Films I knew I wanted to get more women in positions of power in all aspects of the business. I have a mostly female crew when I’m working on set, it can vary slightly but it’s usually 80 per cent women, with women working as camera people, producers, editors, runners. The female viewpoint is vital for me and to really get that I need to have a predominantly female team. With tube sites and the vast majority of studios, you don’t know who made those films. We should be asking ourselves who is making the porn that we watch.

You can download the XConfessions app and find out more about it here

Complete Article HERE!

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If You’re Not Talking About Sex, You’re Not Good At It

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Good sex can’t happen without good communication. Here’s how to talk the talk with your partner.

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Good sex is hard to find. Maybe it’s a chemistry thing. Maybe it circles back to attraction. Or, maybe, it has more to do with our inhibitions around talking about what we like and want in bed with the people we like and want in bed. That’s at least where Stella Harris has landed.  A sex educator, intimacy coach and BDSM instructor, Harris unpacks this argument in her book, Tongue Tied: Untangling Communication in Sex, Kink and Relationships. Within it, she discusses the prevalence of American non-communication and the reasoning behind it. She also provides insights and exercises designed to steer audiences away from this unsatisfactory standard. We spoke to Harris about how, exactly, couples can up the intimacy by way of communication.

Why is it so essential to talk about sex regularly with your partner?

All bodies are different. And there’s only so much you can figure out through trial and error. There’s no way to guess what someone is going to be into or what fantasies they have. When you aren’t talking about sex, you’re only scratching the surface of what experiences you could be having and the amount of pleasure you could be experiencing. We aren’t mind readers, and honestly, that’s probably for the best.

Was there anything, in particular, that inspired you to write this book?

People so badly want that quick fix, or that “one move” that will blow their partner’s mind. And they hate it when I tell them they have to talk to the person they’re touching. There’s nothing I can teach you that will get you out of having to talk to the person you’re having sex with. People are just so horrified by that. They think it’s going to “ruin the mood.” Other folks will come into my office and tell me about a secret fantasy they’ve been sitting on for 20 years but they won’t tell their partner. It’s too high stakes. If someone you’re partnered with rejects you or thinks you’re weird after you’ve told them about your fantasy, well, that’s really hard to live with. So much so that telling a stranger feels easier.

How can partners help each other find comfort in communication?

Part of what the book talks about is not just communicating your own interests but how to hear about other people’s desires in a way that is full of compassion; in a way that won’t shame them, even if you’re not into what they’re into. If you want someone to be vulnerable and upfront with you about their interests, you have to listen and answer compassionately. You have to think about what you’re putting out there. You have to figure out your own biases so you know what you have to work on before you accidentally hurt someone’s feelings. If you’re making fun of things, like, say Trump and his urine play, and it turns out that’s something your partner is into, they’re never going to mention it to you. We do a lot of offhand shaming. Sex makes for an easy punch line. Sometimes, I have to remind clients that certain behaviors are okay.

You do a lot with the kink community. What do you think more mild audiences can gain from the way they conduct themselves around sex?

I like to bring in some examples from the kink community when dealing with folks who think talking “ruins the mood.” Think about planning play-parties, for example. It’s not ruining the mood; it’s like planning a vacation. It’s part of the excitement. I try to bring them away from the mindset that anything that isn’t entirely spontaneous is “boring” or “unsexy.”

How can couples in long-term commitments benefit from better communication?

The best way to keep a long-term relationship strong is by experiencing novelty together. Sex is an amazing place to keep adding novelty. It doesn’t have to be kink or anything you might consider weird. Adding sex toys, adding role-play, even just adding a new position can help. There are so many ways to change things up. But you can’t surprise somebody with that stuff. You have to make sure they’re up for it.

What about parents?

Communication is especially important after having kids. Bodies change. Even if you thought you knew what you’re partner was into before, there’s a good chance what they’re body is up for has changed. This is really the time where you need to talk about maybe doing new things. You’re not going to stumble into it by accident.

How can people get the ball rolling? Where is a good place to talk about, well, talking?

I suggest people schedule conversations. Tell your partner you want to talk to them about some fun, new and sexy thing you want to try.  You want to make sure they’re in a receptive place before you open up that conversation. Sometimes it helps to be in a more neutral environment than at home. I often suggest people go out to dinner and discuss things. There’s a saying, “don’t negotiate naked.” And I think that works really well here. The idea is that, if sex is imminent, you’re not going to have as clear a head going into the conversation, as you should. If you’re in the moment you’re not going to think of all the questions and all the caveats that you might want to cover. It really helps to do it outside of a sexual setting.

So, ideally, how should people communicate during sex?

I actually quote Dan Savage’s formula in the book. He says the best way to ease people into dirty talk is by telling your partner what you’re going to do, what you’re doing, and what you did. I basically encourage people to narrate. Coming up with what to say seems to be the most terrifying thing for people. It’s easier when you simply narrate what’s happening. Say how attractive your partner looks, or how good they look against the sheets, how they look under the light, how they feel against your body… Take your imagination out of the equation, at least at first. Just throwing out positive affirmations can go a long way.

Complete Article HERE!

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How To Have More Intimate Conversations

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This Simple Shift Will Immediately Spark Intimacy In Your Conversations

By Danielle Dowling, Psy.D.

We’ve all been in a situation where we’re uncomfortably asking questions of the person we want to impress or connect with, only to find ourselves running the conversation into a brick wall.

Connecting through conversation is an integral part of any healthy relationship. But while we all talk with other people nearly every single day, that doesn’t mean each and every one of our conversations is a quality, connective, engaging experience. Far from it. We all have conversations with people who are not gifted in connecting—and we all at times struggle ourselves to create that intimacy.

You’d think the proliferation of social media technologies and seemingly more and more ways to communicate with anyone at any time would help alleviate this issue, but instead the opposite is true. With research showing that only 7 percent of communication is based on the written word (and 93 percent on nonverbal body language), social media actually makes us less social and likely to truly connect. Without that true communication and intimate connection, it’s no wonder that feelings of loneliness have reached epidemic levels in America (and no doubt, throughout the rest of the world too)—with at least 46 percent of Americans reporting they always feel alone and 43 percent feeling like their relationships are not meaningful.

With communication being so closely correlated to relationship satisfaction (and to long-term compatibility in romantic relationships), this is one relational concern you won’t want to let slip. But don’t worry! Connecting through conversation doesn’t have to be hard. There’s one simple shift you can make to immediately pique your partner’s (or anybody’s!) interest and have meaningful conversations that build deeper connection and intimacy:

Ask better questions.

Here’s the thing: “Did you have a good day?” just isn’t going to cut it anymore. While it’s always valuable to check in with your partner and indicate your interest in their lives and well-being, not asking the right questions can shut down a conversation before it even starts. The questions you ask (and field) in conversation often determine the quality of your engagement.

So, what sorts of questions should you ask—and how should you handle the answers?

The straightforward strategy that will enhance your ability to create better, more intimate conversations—especially with your partner—is to ask open-ended questions.

What exactly does that mean?

Start with no end in mind.

You should begin your conversations with no end in mind—don’t presume you know how your partner’s day went or how they’re feeling or even what they want for dinner. That’s where open-ended questions come in: They’re the types of questions that can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no,” so they open up the conversation and welcome in any number of possible answers from you or your partner. They’re your best bet for sparking truly inviting conversation.

Open-ended questions usually begin with words or phrases like:

  • How did you…?
  • Why…?
  • Can you share…?
  • Tell me about…?

…or some variation thereof.

They open the door for your partner, giving them the opportunity to truly think about their response and share with you on a deeper, more honest level.

Offer them that invitation—and ask for it in return if need be—and witness the added intimacy and connection that comes from holding space for their true thoughts.

Importantly, you’ll also have to hold space for any answer.

When you open up your conversations with open-ended questions, you create space for answers and topics you might not have anticipated—and may not even like.

While you don’t have to agree with everything your partner says, does, or believes, it’s important to hold space for them to respond to your question with openness, honesty, and authenticity (and for them to offer you space to do the same). That means their response may not always be pretty, it may not always be happy, and it may even trigger something deep in you.

That’s OK. Intimacy springs from this vulnerability—from your partner’s ability to share openly and honestly with you, and from your ability to witness that.

It can feel safer to have more surface-level conversations—those conversations where you ask, “Did you have a good day?” and leave out the deeper, tougher answers that you may not want to hear. But true connection—the intimacy we seek to spark in our relationships if we want them to be truly meaningful—can only be found in this more engaging and honest way of communicating.

Struggling to connect through conversation is natural (very few of us are ever taught to do it well!), but it doesn’t have to be your reality forever. Expand your relationship by expanding the content of your conversations and deepening your connection through your communication. You’ll be so glad you did.

Complete Article HERE!

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What even the most vanilla among us can learn from the BDSM community

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by Natalie Benway

“Sex is not what you do, it’s a place you go.” —Esther Perel

Americans carry a lot of anxiety about having an exciting sex life. This anxiety inspires Cosmopolitan, Redbook and the like to publish a steady stream of articles flouting “100 ways to spice up your sex life!” and “The top six ways to add more color to vanilla sex!” Shame about having “boring” sex is used to sell magazines as well as drive sales of sex toys, fluffy pink handcuffs and sexy nurse costumes, bought in half-hearted attempts to “spice things up.”

But these articles and products usually fall short of providing real avenues for change because they don’t address the mindset we need to have a fulfilling sexual experience. Many of us are afraid to ask our partner for what we are interested in exploring, or don’t know how. We need to feel safe in order to have a positive sexual experience, and sometimes “safe” can be limiting to sexual expression.

Insecurity around sex is a common issue I see in my psychotherapy practice. My friend Alison Oliver (sex educator and all-around epic woman) and I discussed the results of an exercise she has asked her students to complete in which they describe an average sexual encounter from start to finish. The formula was most often as follows: touching, kissing, light petting, heavy petting, oral sex, penile/vaginal contact, coitus, orgasm.

A common frustration among more vanilla folks is the pressure felt to spice up a basic or “boring” sex life. There is absolutely nothing wrong or pathological about wanting a vanilla sexual experience, but if you’re not satisfied, don’t have the skills or feel pressured to get kinky, what do you do?

“The frustration of vanilla — this constant quest to kinkify normative sexual relationships — seems to be the result of people’s actual sexual practices and desires butting up against the idea that there is one unified, normative way that ‘most’ people have sex,” Gawker’s Monica Heisey wrote in the 2014 article “Vanilla Sex: A Perfectly Fine Way to Fuck.” “If I’m supposed to be the default, the married man wonders, why do I want my wife to peg me sometimes? If I’m not kinky, a 22-year-old straight woman who only watches lesbian porn asks, why am I so interested in the idea of a threesome? The danger of vanilla is seeing it as ‘default’ when it’s as amorphous as any individual kinky person’s sexual preferences.”

How do we reframe our expectations so we are not constantly critical of ourselves or our partner? Let’s move away from who-does-what-to-whom and towards a curious and honest exploration of guiding principles that impact mindset. How do I get into the mindset of sex being a place we go, instead of what we do to each other? How do we explore our sexual appetite without anxiety or the pressure of an outcome?

It starts with pondering what we like — what brings us pleasure, and what mood we must be in to explore it — and being open about this with our partner or partners. When we reframe the erotic experience to focus on presence as opposed to performance, we can draw on erotic communication tools within the kink/BDSM community.

The guiding principles of kink/BDSM make no assumptions about what your appetite might be and are not limited in the menu of possibilities. Kink culture is grounded in safe, sane and consensual communication.

Oliver draws on kink/BDSM principles by supporting her students in communicating their sexual boundaries, interests and erotic preferences with an exercise in which they divide sexual menu items into three columns:

  • Yes, please — Favorable activities you’re always or often in the mood for in a sexual/erotic encounter.
  • No, thank you — Activities that are out of bounds for whatever reason, and are off the menu.
  • Maybe? — Activities that have conditions necessary, or you would enjoy under specific circumstances. These are menu items you are curious about and might be open to trying.

These erotic communication tools allow us to express, negotiate and explore our appetites. We can also access the tools of mindfulness to explore presence as opposed to performance. In mindfulness, we are not eating to get to the end of the meal, but to enjoy and experience the food. This can easily be translated to an erotic or sexual experience.

During a mindful eating exercise I do with clients, they are asked to eat a raisin or a nut and act as if they are an alien from another planet and have never seen or experienced the object in their hand. They are prompted to explore it with all their senses and notice not only what they see, hear or smell but also what they think. If their mind wanders, as it often does, they are prompted to gently bring their awareness back to the object of attention. Then they are asked to put the food in their mouth and explore it without biting it, then chew and swallow it and notice how many stages of the experience are automatic or intuitive.

What if we had this kind of presence of mind during a sexual encounter, instead of being distracted wondering if the other person is looking at the size of our ass or critiquing our performance? What if we could be brave and vulnerable in expressing our yes, no or maybe interests to our partners?
Sounds kinky.

Complete Article HERE!

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Rekindling the spark

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– how older couples can rediscover the intimacy of the early days

‘Poor communication is one of the main causes of discord’

A lifetime together can make some couples complacent, uncommunicative, or changed so much that they no longer recognise the person they first fell for. Here, in week three of our Be Your Best You series, Claire O’Mahony asks the experts how older couples can revitalise love and rediscover intimacy

By Dr Damien Lowery, Annie Lavin, Margaret Dunne

The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus maintained that change is the only constant in life, and this is clearly evidenced in romantic partnerships: they are not static entities. If you’ve been part of a couple for a long time, neither of you may recognise the people you once were, and likewise your situation will have changed, all of which is played out in your relationship.

It’s also a truism that good relationships require work and that they take an effort to maintain. Long-standing couples can potentially face a variety of challenges: they may have grown apart or they might have communication issues. Even couples who are very much in love sometimes acknowledge that an element of complacency can be found in their relationship and that a certain frisson is lacking. For those in the 55+ demographic, other factors can emerge, affecting how partners relate to each other. For women, menopause can bring side effects such as loss of libido and weight gain resulting in negative body image. Men’s sexual function, meanwhile, can be affected by declining testosterone levels and sometimes ill health. Major life changes at this time can impact on relationships, whether that’s dealing with empty nest syndrome or adjusting to the dynamics of retirement. “There is a lot of change occurring and we aren’t accustomed to change,” says consultant psychologist Dr Damien Lowry, whose practice is in Rathgar, south Dublin. “We are highly adaptive individuals and capable of adaptation and adjustment but it doesn’t come easily and it really puts a strain on our capacity to cope. If there are any cracks in relationships, it’s likely that it will be exposed by these marked changes in our lives.”

However, there are strategies that can be employed that can help older couples revitalise their union and strengthen their relationship, and some of them are even fun:

Better communication is key

Many studies have indicated that poor communication is one of the main causes of discord in relationships. According to Dublin-based dating and relationship coach and psychology lecturer Annie Lavin, clients often have a particular need that they want to express but in trying to do so, end up criticising the other person instead. “Generally when it comes to the effectiveness of any conversation, it’s determined by the tone that we set,” says Lavin, who works to empower people to achieve relationship success by transforming their relationship with themselves. “There’s a huge difference between saying something like, ‘I’m sick of doing everything’, and explaining to your partner that you’re feeling whatever that might be.” She suggests coming to the conversation with a calm demeanour and starting with how you feel but not attributing blame. “Instead of saying, ‘You don’t care about me’, it’s better to say, ‘I’m really upset and I’m really hurting about this’. We have to describe the problem neutrally without criticising the person, so you have to be specific.” Dr Damien Lowry agrees that the use of ‘I-messages’ is an effective way of communicating your needs. “An I-message is saying, ‘I am struggling’ or it’s even linking to behaviour – ‘I feel upset or ignored when you arrive home and ask where your dinner is’. Ultimately, it’s a way of avoiding falling into the trap of criticism.”

Getting Sex back on track

Growing older does not necessarily mean a decline in sexual activity and intimacy. The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing 2017 found that the majority of adults aged over 50 in Ireland are sexually active, with 59pc reporting they had sex in the past 12 months. The study noted that those who are sexually active have a higher quality of life and tend to have more positive perceptions of ageing. Margaret Dunne is a specialist psychotherapist in psychosexual, fertility and relationship therapy, based in Glenageary, Co Dublin. She has found that couples often come to her because they hadn’t been making time for each other, as life might have been so busy with children, which led to an absence of sex. These couples almost need to know how to start again. “When people come to me and say they want to get their sex life and their relationship back on track, it can be very exciting but it can be daunting as well,” she says. The first thing she will ask clients to do is to get tested medically – erectile dysfunction, for example, can be a sign of a heart complaint, high blood pressure or diabetes – before progressing any further.

“The challenge is to change what they have been doing all the time, which may not be working anymore and as our body and mind develops, our sexuality develops too and sometimes people forget and think, ‘If I do A and B, I’ll get to C’ whereas in actual fact, sometimes things change and what worked once mightn’t anymore,” she says. The intimacy aspect is also crucial. Dunne explains that there are four stages of intimacy: operational, where two people live in the same house and divide out tasks; emotional intimacy, where they feel close; physical intimacy and sexual intimacy. It’s difficult for couples to move onto sexual intimacy if there is a disconnect between any of the other three areas. The psychotherapist gives couples a series of exercises called sensate focus where they will touch without having sexual intercourse. “It works very effectively because it almost brings them back to maybe years previously when they were going out together and it was a little bit of touching and being quite intimate but not maybe going the whole way, as it used to be known. It brings back that sense of excitement, and they explore each other’s bodies,” she says. “If you’ve someone who’s not really in the mood or worried that they’re not able to perform, this takes that pressure off, and there’s a huge amount of trust involved.” She also gives couples individual exercises where they explore their own bodies and realise what’s sensitive for them, something that can change over time.

What constitutes a healthy sex life at this stage in life? “Whatever the couple are happy with,” says Dunne. “It’s when one or the other isn’t happy with it and doesn’t enjoy it, that’s when it becomes problematic. I often encourage them at the same time to push themselves out of their comfort zone. They may have never discussed their sex life before and it’s a chance to almost reinvent themselves and to be able to enjoy sex. A lot of them mightn’t have been having sex before marriage, maybe there wasn’t a huge amount of experimenting. For some, they’re at the stage where it’s become very mundane, repetitive and functional. I know there’s a hesitation in talking about it, but it helps tremendously if they can instead of looking outside of themselves for how to earmark whether their sexual relationship is healthy or not.”

Accentuate the positives

We will often hone in on the ‘don’ts’ of relationships – don’t get defensive, don’t give the silent treatment, don’t go to bed angry. But it’s vital to focus on introducing positivity into relationships too. Relationship coach Annie Lavin points to the work of author Gary Chapman who categorises the expression of love into five love languages: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch. “Some of us can rate highly in maybe one or two of those love languages, so if we understand how our partner likes to be appreciated, then we can meet them there, and that goes both ways obviously,” says Lavin. “Expressing appreciation is something we sometimes forget in partnerships and to be thankful for the littler things that your partner does for you. Affection can wane over time and that may need to be reintroduced and to realise that they still admire their partner and what is it about their partner that they now admire, which may have changed from the beginning.” The same goes for establishing caring behaviours such as showing encouragement. According to Lavin, the three universal needs of any relationship are belonging and companionship; affection, either verbal or physical, and support or validation. “The most caring thing you can do in a relationship is to discover your own patterns and really know your own relationship history, to know the things that can really set you off or trigger you. Having this knowledge will help shortcut any relationship issues that can show up so you can then begin to realise, ‘Is this my issue and is this something I’m bringing to this relationship?’ Once you’re then aware of any variations you might have under those three needs, you’ll be less likely to blame your partner when you feel they’re not giving you that extra thing you need.”

Re-establish your identity as a couple and not just parents

Once the children have left home, parents may struggle in their new configuration as a unit of two. Lavin says that the key here is to remind yourself what made your partner tick before children came along, and to become an expert in your partner again. Finding an activity that you both enjoy whether that’s golf, cinema nights or any other, is a good step towards strengthening your connection. It’s something that you can both revel in. “Make sure that you have the time to spend together that’s enjoyable as opposed to just the chores and the routines,” says Lavin. “The idea of dating could be long gone for couples who have been together for a long period of time, so set aside some time every week, even if it’s just to sit down together, have a dinner together. Make it a time where they bring a newness to the relationship by reflecting on their past, how they got together, and maybe just getting to know how the other person thinks. It’s about getting curious again about the other person as opposed to thinking they know everything about them already.”

Complete Article HERE!

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A Professional Dominatrix’s Advice For Powering Up Your Sex Life

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A professional Dominatrix explains how a trip to the dungeon can help average couples enhance their sex lives.

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It’s been said that every hopeful needs a mentor, and it may be so. But when it comes to sex, there’s not a lot of hierarchy around to guide you. Unless, of course, you look to the professionals. Mistress Justine Cross has been a professional BDSM consultant and lifestyle Dominatrix for more than a decade. In that span, she’s helped a lot of individuals bring their deep-seated fantasies to life. More recently, however, she expanded her practice to include a new demographic of potential clients: married couples. She brings couples down to her dungeon and offers them tips, tricks, and a little bit of rough treatment. Considering how one of the most popular sexual fantasies in America is BDSM, it’s a smart business move. We spoke to Cross about what the dungeon can teach these duos about intimacy, communication, and good sex.

Booking an appointment with a professional Dominatrix seems like a pretty extreme move, especially to the pedestrians out there. What could regular couples gain from a trip to the dungeon?

I think heterosexual couples tend to have one idea of what sex is and why it needs to be a certain way. BDSM allows you to explore things that fall outside of the standard penis-in-vagina sex. There are other intimate things to do. I do consultations with people who want me to talk them through different dynamics and role-plays. Other times, I introduce couples to some new moves. I teach them how to tie each other up, or how to hit someone without hurting them. I’m there to spice things up for them. I’m there to make things more fun.

How often do they come back for more?

I get some repeat clients. It’s not usually something they do all the time. It’s kind of a special occasion thing. I get a lot of birthdays and anniversaries. A lot of women come in on their own, too. They want to learn about BDSM and bring home some skills to surprise their husbands with.

Sex is a pretty intimate process. Why would a committed couple want to bring a third person into the mix?

When there are two people, there’s no referee. I kind of act as a mediator. I get to see what the dynamic is between the couple, and then I get to call them on their shit. Sometimes one partner is trying to communicate something but the other isn’t listening. That’s when I get to tell them to shut up and let their partner talk. I can also be nicer than that. But, basically, the goal is to give both people what they want in a way where they can both be seen and heard. I also leave some time towards the end of the session for couples to be alone. It’s important for them to reconnect within the space without me there.

Sexy stuff aside, how can this kind of experience bring couples closer together?

Well, it’s kind of weird coming in here. I mean, a lot of people come in excited, but it is kind of weird, if you think about it. You’re about to go into this dungeon located in a strange part of town, where you’re going to take off your clothes and this tall, mean, and beautiful woman is going to do things to you. I mean it’s exciting, but also scary and weird as hell. It’s definitely different from going to pick up the dry-cleaning together. It’s a different kind of adventure.

Which BDSM staple would you most recommend couples adopt?

Communication. I’m always trying to get couples to really express what they like, and what they don’t. It’s important to have an idea as to what those things might be. Sometimes people spend a long time fantasizing about a certain scene, or a certain kind of sex that they want to have, and then realize it’s not actually for them. It’s important to recognize why they didn’t enjoy it, what they might want to change, and how they might want to experiment in the future. It’s important to give yourself room to make mistakes. You might not know what your limit is until you meet it. Being able to talk about it is what makes people feel safe.

Are there any common requests you get from couples?

With heterosexual couples, the guy is often put in the dominant position. But some guys want to switch it up. If their partner is also submissive, I can top both of them. Or maybe I’ll co-top one of them alongside their partner. There are a lot of different ways it can play out. I just cater to the couple in terms of what they want.

Is there anything else the dungeon can teach us about a healthy approach to sex?

I think it’s important to remember that sex can also be funny. It’s important to be able to laugh. Maybe you have a whole scene mapped out in your head, but you trip and fall in the middle of it all. It’s ok to laugh about it, even if your partner is tied up across the room. You have to give yourself room to make mistakes.

 

Most people become parents as a result of having had sex. At the same time, “parenthood” and “sex” aren’t exactly considered compliments. How do you think BDSM can help bridge the gap?

When people have sex, there’s really no plan. But BDSM scenes are very directed. You can put together a checklist of things you want to happen, or don’t want to happen. It’s like, ‘I have an hour to play with you, and it’s going to run this way.’ It can be very convenient when you’re on a schedule. You know you’re getting your carnal needs met in this specific way, in this specific time window of time. You get to look forward to it. And that’s an approach you can apply to more vanilla scenarios as well. People don’t really schedule sex as much as they maybe should. They think it should always be spontaneous. But that’s just not reality. It’s not a bad idea to have some kind of arrangement in place. Especially after kids.

Complete Article HERE!

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Can’t Talk about Sex

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Every month in Sex at Our Age, award-winning senior sexpert Joan Price answers your questions about everything from loss of desire to solo sex and partner issues. Nothing is out of bounds! To send your questions directly to Joan, email sexpert@seniorplanet.org

By Joan Price

Our marriage needs help. Our sex life is in a slump and we can’t talk about it. We married four months ago, after being together for a year and a half. My husband and I have a great relationship and can talk about everything — except our sex life.

It takes me so long to have an orgasm that he feels like he’s not doing it for me. In the middle of trying to make it happen, he gets angry, stops, and storms out of the room. I’m left lying there, feeling guilty about hurting him. If I could talk to him about it and give him some ideas about what would help me orgasm, I think it would help. But he’s not talking and he won’t listen when I try. We are at each other’s throats over this.

We really do love each other and want this marriage to last the rest of our lives, but we have to fix our bedroom life. Could you please advise me about what I can do to make our marriage great again?

Can’t Talk about Sex

[Y]our slow arousal is not the problem – it’s normal. As we age, we get aroused more slowly. We need to be relaxed and allow time to get warmed up emotionally and physically. There’s no way you can ease into the sensations of sex if you’re tense and worried about not being fast enough and anticipating the moment that your husband will get angry and stop. You are not the problem here. Your husband’s anger is the problem.

You’re probably right that he’s frustrated and feeling inadequate about pleasing you, but he’s creating the opposite of what you both want by storming off and not talking. He needs to understand his own feelings and yours, and how his actions are sabotaging your marriage. I strongly urge you to ask him to get counseling. If he’s stomping off in the middle of sex four months into your marriage, he has problems that won’t be resolved without help.

You’re right that this rip in your marriage can’t be repaired without the two of you talking about your sex life. You’re the one who knows what you need to feel pleasure and reach orgasm. If he won’t let you tell him, how can he learn about your sexual responses? Again, since he’s so angry, I recommend counseling to help you talk to each other. A good couples counselor would help your husband with his anger and insecurity and teach you both communication strategies.

Meanwhile, try these tips to get the conversation started:

  1. Set up a neutral, relaxed time – not during sex – to open the conversation.
  2. Explain to your husband that slow arousal is natural as we age.
  3. Say something like, “I need a lot of warm-up and certain kinds of touch to become aroused. Let me tell you what I need.”
  4. Offer to show him how you pleasure yourself, if you feel comfortable doing that.
  5. Acknowledge that you understand his frustration, but shaming you is counterproductive and wrong, and will only make things worse.
  6. Invite him to join you in sensual activities that are pleasurable without being goal-oriented, such as massage and touching that gives pleasure without aiming for orgasm.
  7. If your sex life now is mostly or exclusively intercourse, engage him in new ways of enjoying sex without penetration. Show him this article and consider watching my webinar “Great Sex without Penetration”
  8. Assure him that you know you both want the intimacy of a loving sexual relationship, and the best way to get past this impasse by seeing a counselor.

I hope that the two of you will be able to overcome this problem by talking together and working with a counselor. I wish you honest and loving communication and mutual sexual pleasure.

Complete Article HERE!

Check out the podcast Joan and I did together. You’ll find it HERE!

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How to Get Your Partner to Dominate You During Sex

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By Gigi Engle

[T]rying some light BDSM role play is often the go-to for lighting the fire under long-term relationships, often because it’s the simplest fantasy to play out. Over 50% of Americans have reported trying BDSM, and domination play fits perfectly into that BDSM box.

For some women, the idea of being dominated is a huge turn-on. Having your partner pin you down and ravish you is hot (little forbidden fruit, anybody?).

The issue arises when a woman wants to give her partner permission to dominate her in the bedroom without compromising who she is as a person—sometimes it can be hard to remember that who we are in bed is not always who we are in life. You may have a high-paying job, be a badass boss, and take no prisoners; this doesn’t mean you are excluded from sexual domination.

And your partner may be the sweetest, most nurturing person you know—but that doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t have a little secret Dominant under the surface. Just remember to be empathetic to possible nerves. It’s a scary thing to explore the taboo.

Want to give it a go? Here is how to get your partner to dominate you during sex.

Have a light conversation outside of the bedroom.

If you want your partner to get into some domination, don’t expect him or her to be into choking you out sporadically during sex. These types of fantasies need to be talked about beforehand, outside of the bedroom.

Obviously, this can get a little awkward, but if you’re in a trusting and healthy relationship, there’s no reason why you can’t have these types of talks. Allow your partner to voice his or her concerns, especially if this is an out-of-character way for them to behave, as they may be a bit apprehensive.

Tell your partner about a fantasy you’ve had. Is he or she a Christian Grey-type billionaire with a Red Room of Pain? Do you picture a robber breaking into your house? Do you simply like the idea of your partner throwing you onto the bed and spanking you?

Talk about what you’d like to try. Ask your partner for some input about his or her own fantasies. You don’t have go to a dungeon or do anything crazy—always do what makes you comfortable. It’s an avenue of sexual adventure you can explore together!

Explore some BDSM porn together.

If your partner is down to explore, but you don’t really know where to begin, watch some BDSM porn together to get some ideas. Obviously, porn is not a representation of real life sex, but it can certainly act as a turn on. You can also explore a full range of erotica and pornographic books together. Because anything you use to get the steam rising is a good start.

Talk about your fantasies, get some inspiration, and enjoy yourselves. Sometimes all it takes is permission from someone, whether it be you or the porn you’re watching, to unlock someone’s inner Dominant.

Start slowly and use simple gear.

Remember, even if your partner is super into this idea, he or she may not be great right off the bat. Likewise, you may not know how you feel about this type of play once you take it from inside your head out into real life.

Go slowly. Start with your partner pinning your hands above your head. Perhaps you can utilize a tie to create handcuffs or a sleep mask to act as a blindfold. As you feel more comfortable, you’ll feel more at ease with pushing the boundaries.

Always remember to check in and see how both you and your partner are feeling before, during, and after sex.

Boost your partner’s ego.

One thing that will really get your partner going and into this new, dominant role is by boosting his or her ego. Make it a point to tell him or her how hot it is when he or she chokes you, spanks you, or pins you down.

This too can feel a bit awkward, but if you want to live out this sexy fantasy, you’ve got to be willing to get your partner into the right headspace.

Ask your partner to say the things you need to hear as well. If you want him or her to call you a dirty slut, ask for it! There is nothing wrong with sexual degradation between two consenting adults (as long as it’s something you want).

Sexual adventure should be fun and exciting—because exploration is what keeps things sexy.

Complete Article HERE!

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6 things a sex therapist wishes you knew

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It’s not always just about sex

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[C]ommunication 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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[G]rowing 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

[F]rom 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

[I]n 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

[N]ot 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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Talk Dirty to Me: The Why and How of Hot Aural Sex

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Want to have better sex? Speak up!

By JoEllen Notte

talk dirty

The more I talk to people about sex, the more I see that so many of them struggle with the very same things. High up on this list is sexual communication. Whether it’s navigating consent, ensuring that they get what they need, or being a better partner, an awful lot of couples come up short because their approach falls somewhere between mind reading and charades. I’d like to offer a better way. My suggestion? Dirty talk.

Dirty talk is hardly groundbreaking stuff, but according to a 2011 poll by Adam & Eve, nearly one-third of people never talk dirty, while another 33 percent only do so sometimes. So I’m going to come right out and say it: If you and your partner aren’t talking dirty, you could be missing out. Here are some key reasons why you should let the filth fly – and how you shy types can get the conversation started.

 

Complete Article HERE!

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The Toxic Attraction Between An Empath And A Narcissist

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toxic-relationship

We know that “narcissist” has become a bit of a buzzword recently, and some folks are quick to apply it to an ex-lover or family member or friend. While awareness of this concept is healthy, so is remembering that it is, in a mental health context, a serious condition that shouldn’t be applied to someone you’re mad at because they stole your mirror. ~ Eds. 

I am an empath. I discovered I was an empath after I got involved in a very deep and highly destructive relationship with a narcissist.

I am writing this article from the perspective of an empath, however, would love to read the view from the opposite side if there are any narcissists that would like to offer their perception on this.

Through writing about the empath personality type I have connected with many other people who class themselves as an empath and time and again I have heard people tell me how they have also attracted relationships with narcissists. There is a link. So, I decided to explore it further.

This is my theory…

From my own experience and studies on the narcissist personality type, there is always one core trait: A narcissist is wounded.

Something, somewhere along the line, usually stemming from childhood causes a person to feel worthless and unvalued and, due to this, they will constantly and very desperately seek validation.

Here comes the empath, the healer. An empath has the ability to sense and absorb other people’s pain and often takes it on as though it were their own. If an empath is not consciously aware of boundaries and does not understand how to protect themselves, they will very easily and very quickly bond with the narcissist in order to try to fix and repair any damage and attempt to eradicate all their pain.

What the empath fails to realise is that the narcissist is a taker. An energy sucker, a vampire so to speak. They will draw the life and soul out of anyone they come into contact with, given the chance. This is so that they can build up their own reserves and, in doing so, they can use the imbalance to their advantage.

This dynamic will confuse and debilitate an empath, as if they do not have a full understanding of their own or other people’s capabilities, they will fail to see that not everyone is like them. An empath will always put themselves into other people’s shoes and experience the feelings, thoughts and emotions of others, while forgetting that other people may have an agenda very different to their own and that not everyone is sincere.

The narcissist’s agenda is one of manipulation, it is imperative they are in a position whereby they can rise above others and be in control. The empath’s agenda is to love, heal and care. There is no balance and it is extremely unlikely there ever will be one. The more love and care an empath offers, the more powerful and in control a narcissist will become.

The more powerful the narcissist becomes, the more likely the empath will retreat into a victim status. Then, there is a very big change—the empath will take on narcissistic traits as they too become wounded and are constantly triggered by the damage being in the company with a narcissist creates. Before long, an extremely vicious circle has begun to swirl.

When a narcissist sees that an empath is wounded they will play on this and the main intention will be to keep the empath down. The lower down an empath becomes, the higher a narcissist will feel. An empath will begin to frantically seek love, validation, confirmation and acceptance from a narcissist and each cry for help as such will affirm to the narcissist what they are desperate to feel inside—worthy. A bitter battle can ensue.

As an empath focuses solely on their pain, trauma and the destruction of their lives, they become self-obsessed and fail to see where the damage is coming from. Instead of looking outwards and seeing what is causing it, the empath will turn everything inward and blame themselves.

An empath at this stage must realise the situation they are in and wake up to it, as anyone who is deeply in pain and has been hurt can then become a narcissist themselves as they turn their focus onto their own pain and look for others to make them feel okay again.

Any attempt to communicate authentically with the narcissist will be futile as they will certainly not be looking to soothe and heal anyone else. Not only this, they are extremely charismatic and manipulative and have a powerful way of turning everything away from themselves and onto others. A narcissist will blame their own pain on an empath, plus they will also make sure the empath feels responsible for the pain they too are suffering.

An empath will know that they are in a destructive relationship by this stage and will feel so insecure, unloved and unworthy and it can be easy to blame all of their destruction onto the narcissist.

However, an empath should not be looking to blame anyone else. An empath has a choice, to remain the victim, a pawn in the narcissists game or to garner all strength they can muster and find a way out.

Emotionally exhausted, lost, depleted and debilitated an empath will struggle to understand what has happened to the once loving, attentive and charismatic person they were attracted to.

However we allow ourselves to be treated is a result of our own choices. If an empath chooses to stay in a relationship with a narcissist and refuses to take responsibility for the dynamic, they are choosing at some level what they believe they are worth on the inside. An empath cannot let their self-worth be determined by a narcissist. It is imperative they trust and believe in themselves enough to recognise that they are not deserving of the words and actions the narcissist delivers and to look for an escape.

In an empath’s eyes, all they searched and looked for was someone to take care of and love and to ultimately fix.” That is where the trouble began and that is the most profound part of this that an empath must realise.

We are not here to fix anyone. We cannot fix anyone. Everyone is responsible for and capable of fixing themselves, but only if they so choose to.

The more an empath can learn about the personality of a narcissist the sooner they will spot one and the less chance they have of developing a relationship with one. If a relationship is already underway, it is never too late to seek help, seek understanding and knowledge and to dig deep into one’s soul and recognise our own strengths and capabilities and do everything we can to build the courage and confidence to see it for what it is and walk away—for good.

The chance of a narcissist changing is highly unlikely, so we shouldn’t stick around waiting for it to happen. If a narcissist wants to change, then great, but it should never happen at the expense of anyone else. They are not consciously aware of their behaviour and the damage it causes and in their game they will sacrifice anyone and anything for their own gain—regardless of what pretty lies and sweet nothings they try to whisper.

An empath is authentic and is desperate to live true to their soul’s purpose and will very likely find the whole relationship a huge lesson, a dodged bullet and painfully awakening.

A narcissist will struggle to have any connection to their authentic self and will likely walk away from the relationship very easily once they realise they have lost their ability to control the empath. The game is no longer pleasurable if they are not having their ego constantly stroked, so they will seek out their next victim.

The ability for these two types to bond is quite simply impossible. The narcissist’s heart is closed, an empath’s is open—it is nothing short of a recipe for a huge disaster, and not a beautiful one.

Complete Article HERE!

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