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Healing Sexual Trauma through Sensate Focus

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One of the most difficult things for me to deal with as a therapist is the aftermath of sexual trauma. And I know that the trouble I have with this is only a tiny fraction of the difficulty my client has as he or she faces his/her past. I share with you a correspondence I’ve had with a 36-year-old man from Boston named Trent.

Dr. Dick,
When I was 10 years my parish priest molested me. It went on for over a year. Mostly, I’ve been able to put this behind me. I’ve been married over a year to this really great gal. She’s been very understanding and supportive, and we love each other very much. A couple of weeks ago when we were having sex, my wife started to massage my bottom. This was the first time someone touched me there since I was 10. At first it felt good, but then I remembered how I felt when I was a kid and freaked out. I started to cry. My poor wife was devastated at the thought of triggering this painful memory. I told her it wasn’t her fault, but we haven’t had sex since. I’m worried, but I don’t know what to do.

Working through a sexual trauma, like the one Trent experienced as a kid, is difficult. But it is essential for regaining a healthy sense of the sexual self. I told Trent—and this applies to any anyone else who has had regrettable early sexual experiences in their past—that I strongly suggested that he and his wife engage a sex-positive therapist to help them get back on track.

Many people have dealt with some kind of sexually related trauma in their lives.  However, some trauma is more severe than others. Emotional scar tissue and painful memories may linger, but you can learn to insulate yourself from the disruptive effects of the past in the present. Thanks to the indomitable human spirit, most of us live through our difficulties and go on to develop healthy, integrated sex lives.

Sensate focus is a process that helps individuals move through painful sexual memories and heal the rift between the affected parts of the body and the pleasure they can produce. I thought this technique would be of particular value for Trent because of something he’d said: “At first it felt good, but then I remembered how I felt when I was a kid and freaked out.” This tells me that he was able to enjoy the sensations before the association with the molestation kicked in and ruined everything. Sensate focus offers a way to short-circuit this disruptive connection and rewire it for pleasure instead of pain.

What follows are structured therapeutic touching exercises for couples. They are not a prelude to sex. You need to be clear on that. Your genitals will be involved. There will be pleasure and arousal, for sure. But the object of this process is to desensitize the trigger (in Trent’s case, his butt), then re-sensitize it for pleasure. These exercises take about an hour one day a week over the course of a month. If you embark on this course, make sure that you dedicate that kind of time commitment. Please, don’t short-change yourselves; this is an investment in your sexual health and wellbeing.

You and your partner will take turns being the one touched and the one doing the touching. Both of you will have 30 minutes to touch and 30 minutes to be touched: 15 minutes lying on your front; 15 minutes on your back.

Week 1—Breaking the Ice
Structured touching will be unfamiliar to you at first. I want you to use this first session to connect with each other in a sensual and playful way. I want each of you to explore every inch of your partner’s body from head to toe, first the back of the body then the front. This first week, however, avoid one another’s genitals.

This isn’t massage, where touch is directed toward pleasuring your partner. Sensate focus exercises are about gleaning information. Focus on how it feels to touch different parts of your partner’s body in a non-seductive way. Be aware of the different textures contours and temperatures. Use different pressures—heavy and light; different strokes—long and short. Use fingertips, palms, the back of your hands and forearms.

When you’ve finished the first 30 minutes, swap places. This will work best if the one being touched relinquishes control as much as possible. Keep verbal communication at a minimum. Once the hour is over, thank one another for the experience and get on with the rest of your day. Don’t try to process things right then and there, just sit with the sensations. Or better still; write your feelings in a journal that you might want to share later.

Week 2—Making Things More Interesting
Building on what you learned in the first week; this time, kick it up a notch by expanding the structured touching to include anal and genital areas. These are sexually charged zones, but the touch must remain non-seductive. Begin the exercise with some full-body touching before moving on to the new areas. Again, the emphasis is on obtaining information and awareness of physical sensations.

This is where things got a bit challenging for Trent. When his wife touched his butt, I told him I wanted him to want stay in the moment and focus on who was touching him and why. Trent’s wife was not touching him in a sexual manner; she was gathering information.

Staying in the present helps take the edge off. If anxiety builds, deep breathing can help you to relax. Your partner will probably be very nervous too, so breathing together can be helpful.

A guided touch technique can also be useful. Place one of your hands on top of your partner’s and guide it over your trigger area. Try using more or less pressure as you see fit. Remember your trigger spot is just like every other part of your body. Even though an early trauma has sensitized this area to be off bounds, sensate focus exercises will re-sensitize and reintegrate it with the rest of your body. You’ll have to trust me on this.

Week 3—Mutual Touching
This week, we move on to mutual touching. However, it must remain structured and non-seductive, both in the giving and receiving. Mutual touch will provide a more natural form of physical interaction than the previous weeks. You’ll also be shifting attention from how it feels to touch to being aware of how your partner is receiving your touch. Keep verbal communication to a minimum. Let your body tell your partner how you are enjoying the touch. If you must talk, assign a number code to the touch you are receiving: 5 being, ho-hum, 1 being Yowsa!

Remember, no matter how sexually aroused you become, this is not a prelude to sex. If you need to release your sexual tension, feel free to masturbate afterward. No partnered sex during the exercises. Okay?

Week 4—Bringin’ It Home
This last week of exercises continues the mutual touching, with a focus on overcoming any final reservations you have about your trigger zone and the pleasure you derive from it. More of your partner’s touch should focus on that area. For Trent, I advised that his wife include a nice lotion or personal lube for this investigation. (Touching with a wet hand is different from touching with a dry hand.) While concentrating on his butt with one hand, I suggested she fondle his genitals with the other. By playing with the energy around Trent’s sphincter, his wife was able to redirect it and help him reconnect his ass to the rest of his body.

Try receiving your wire’s touch in different positions. Being proactive will facilitate the healing. While she is touching your trigger area, move your butt toward her to meet the caress. You’ll immediately see how being in control will help you move beyond any remaining anxiety. You are not just being passive recipient anymore; you are actively involved with inviting the pleasure. If there are still reservations, take it slow until they too, melt away.

Once he’d freed up his ass for pleasure, I told Trent be sure to incorporate butt play into his future lovemaking repertoire, but I also reminded him to take as much time as he needed to resolve the issue. There is no quick fix. I assured him, though, with diligence and care, sensate focus would remove the fear and shame of the molestation, and replace it with a sense of wholeness, joy and pleasure.

Good luck

What’s up with me, Doc?

Can we talk about sexual orientation for a bit? I sure hope so, because I’m gonna go ahead and launch into it here, if you’re ready or not.

Among the load of email I get from the sexually worrisome in any given week, I will predictably get a handful of questions, mostly from guys, who are concerned that they might get gay.

The guys writing in are concerned enough by something that is going on inside of them that they’re compelled to broach the issue with me. I hasten to add that rarely are these communications the “Gee, I’m Mildly Curious” type. Rather they’re more likely to be the “Oh My God, What Wrong With Me?” type. They fear that they picked up queer cooties somewhere and their undies are all in a twist fearing they are scared for life. Ya know, kinda like the pox.

Then there are those who write in wanting to me to make sense of their sexual ramblings. They’ve been playing on both sides of the fence, so to speak; and they want me make the call. My response to each group of correspondents is virtually the same — for most of us sexual interests and behaviors are way more fluid than we care to acknowledge. For example, here’s young (20-year-old) Mel.

My first sex was with a guy, and then I got plenty of sex with girls. Then there was the time that I got fucked, it hurts on the first time but as it continued it started to feel tickly and I started to enjoy it. But I still like to have sex with girls. What do you think I am really?

What do I think you are, REALLY? Why would you want me, a total stranger, to offer an opinion on who you REALLY are? I mean, REALLY!

I gather you want me to weigh in on your sexual orientation, right? Well from the bit of information you give me, I’d say you’re able to swing both ways. And that’s a good thing, at least in terms of getting a date. You have it way over all the other folks who acknowledge being interested in only one gender.

Listen, all human sexuality is on a continuum. Have you ever heard of the Kinsey 0-6 scale? The dean of American sex research, Alfred Kinsey, his associate, Wardell Pomeroy, and their colleagues developed this scale as a way of classifying a person’s sexuality in terms of both behavior and fantasy.

This is what they developed.

0 represents an exclusive heterosexual person, who has no homosexual behavior or fantasy.
1 represents a predominantly heterosexual person, who may have incidental same sex feelings — most likely in fantasy only.
2 represents a predominantly heterosexual person, who has more than incidental same sex feelings and experience — fantasy for sure and probably behavior too.
3 represents an equally heterosexual and homosexual person, one who enjoys both other and same sex behavior and fantasy.
4 represents a predominantly homosexual person, who has more than incidental other sex feelings and experience — fantasy for sure and probably behavior too.
5 represents a predominantly homosexual person, who may have incidental same other sex feelings — most likely in fantasy only.
6 represents an exclusively homosexual person, who has no heterosexual behavior or fantasy.

These pioneering sexologists also discovered that an individual can, and often does move around on this scale at different periods in his/her life. So if you really want to know what you really are, look to both your fantasy life and your actual behaviors and make your call with that information. Just don’t be overly surprised if you find that you shift from one position to another as you grow into you sexuality.

Good luck!

To elaborate on what I just said to our young friend, Mel, I’m going to go all egghead on you. Because there is a body of sexual research that underscores just how complex this whole issue is.

For example, did you know that a recent study discovered that gay men and straight women have similar brain organization? It’s true!

Researchers in Sweden found that gay men and straight women share some characteristics in the area of the brain responsible for emotion, mood and anxiety. Brain scans also showed the same symmetry among lesbians and straight men. These findings were published in the prestigious journal — The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers quickly added that their study couldn’t determine whether the differences in brain organization were inherited or due to exposure to hormones, such as testosterone, in the womb. They were also unable to conclude if brain organization is responsible for sexual orientation.

Numerous other studies have examined the roles genetics, biology and environment play in sexual orientation. But little evidence exists that any one factor in particular plays the all-important primary role. This leads most scientists to assert that both nature and nurture play a part.

To make matters worse, some research contradicts other research, and some promising findings never pan out. (Did you know that there was once a belief that male homosexuality and finger length might be linked? Another, later discredited claim, suggested that gays have distinctive fingerprint ridge patterns.) And researchers never agree on how to interpret results even when they find a likely correlation.

Here are some fun facts you might find interesting.

• A study of 87,000 British men published in 2007 found that gay men have more older brothers than straight men do. Only big brothers count. And lesbians don’t show such patterns.

Ray Blanchard of the University of Toronto, an expert on the “big-brother effect” says that each older brother will increase a man’s chances of being gay by 33%. That’s not as dramatic as it might sound. A man’s chance of being gay is pretty low to begin with — perhaps as low as 2%. So having one older brother only ups the chance of being gay to only about 2.6%.

Curiously enough, this “big-brother effect” holds true even for gay men who weren’t raised with their older brothers. This leads researchers to believe the key to understanding this is in the mother’s womb. After giving birth to a boy, a woman’s immune system can create antibodies to foreign, male proteins in her bloodstream. Subsequent sons in the womb could be exposed to these “anti-boy” antibodies, which might affect sexual development in the brain. How freakin’ amazing is that?

• The hand you use to sign your name might have something to do with what gender you are drawn to.

An study containing more than 23,000 men and women from North America and Europe in the year 2000 found that being non-right-handed seems to increase a man’s chances of being gay by about 34%, and a woman’s by about 90%.

Again researchers guess that different-than-normal levels of testosterone in the womb — widely theorized to play a role in determining eventual sexual orientation — could nudge a fetus toward brain organization that favors left-handedness as well as same-sex attraction.

• If exposure to testosterone in the womb influences sexual orientation, scientists reckon that straight and gay people would differ in body parts strongly affected by testosterone, such as a guy’s cock.

Here we get back to Alfred Kinsey’s groundbreaking work. Researchers at Brock University in Ontario reviewed the data on 5,000 gay and straight men collected by Kinsey and his associates from the 1930s to the 1960s. Their results, published in 1999, showed that gay men had longer, thicker penises than did straight men. On average, about 6.5 inches long and 4.95 inches around when erect, versus 6.1 inches long and 4.8 inches around for straight men.

Again, no one can actually say for certain what this means. One guess is that some male fetuses are exposed to a unique mix of hormones in the womb. Testosterone levels might spike early, causing enhanced penis growth, then drop off later in pregnancy — leading to some feminine characteristics.

As you can see, there’s a still a lot of work to be done in this field. The next frontier looks to be in the subtle differences in how gay and straight brains navigate new cities, respond to erotic movies and react to the scent of sweat and urine.

Stay tuned!

meat substitutes or give me the beef

Name: Carol
Gender: female
Age: 32
Location: Scottsdale, AZ
I’ve got an odd question. You know how there seems to be no end to the methods and devices available to bolster a man’s equipment. Everything from cock rings to Viagra. I know guys are all ego involved with their stuff and everything, but it seems to me that instead of all this gadgetry and pharmaceuticals why don’t they just strap one on? Most women I know wouldn’t much care if was the “real thing” and a dildo. I mean, is the “real thing” all that superior? I don’t think so, because a woman could choose the girth, length and texture of her “object of desire” or change it depending on her mood. The guy would not have to worry about being “worn out,” “premature” or not being able to “get it up” at all. Best of all, both could enjoy sex for longer periods. I’m quite serious. Let’s face it; the male refractory period is really a drag. It seems to me that strap-on sex would be a great way to put off ejaculation, extend the time we have for lovemaking and “keep the fire burning” for as long as the woman wants and needs.

OUCH, Carol! For a chick who says she understands that us guys are all ego involved with our stuff, you sure are rough as hell on us penis owning people. Holy cow!

You’ll get no argument from me — most us men folk are way to obsessed with our cocks. If only we spent a fraction of the time we fritter way worrying about the size and shape of our poor willies on something worthwhile, something that would actually make us more interesting; the world would be a much better place. But let’s face it, that ain’t gonna happen. And when all the boys out there get a load of your message, which suggests that most women would actually choose a strap on over the real thing, well…you know for sure the anxiety level is gonna go through the roof.

Frankly, I don’t believe that most women would choose a dildo over the real thing, even though the “real thing”, as you so generously point out, has its deficiencies like the pesky male refractory period.  And if I had to guess, and it would indeed be a guess, most women would prefer the animate thing, with all its shortcomings, no pun intended to the inanimate things with all their variety. I guess this because most of the women I know think that there is more to sex and intimacy than penetration sex, even though penetration sex is all fine and dandy. I’ve also had my share of women tell me they’re not overly disturbed when the hubby or BF can’t get it up, because that means less barkin’ at their front door, or (god forbid) back door…if you catch my drift.

I also get loads of letters from women who complain that the dudes in her life don’t know squat about how to use the dick nature gave them. It’s hard for me to imagine how awkward and clumsy penis/vagina sex would be if the guy pluggin’ the chick couldn’t feel the thing he was pluggin’ her with. I’d be willing to wager that there’d be a whole lot more bruised pussies out there if men were strappin’ their tool on, instead of using the one that came “standard issue” with their birthday suit.

But let’s just say you’re right; let’s say that most women would prefer to have fake as opposed to real, how would these women break the news to their benighted men? I mean, would she just come right out and say, “hey mister, tonight we’re gonna have you strap on old junior here.” As she pulls out some big vibrating monster wang and a harness. How do you suppose that would affect the guy’s ego? I suggest, not very well. Like I said at the beginning, us guys are already nervous about our adequacy. How are we supposed to compete with something that never loses its boner and can vibrate all at the same time?

No darlin’, I don’t think that’s gonna fly. Imagine for a moment if the shoe were on the other foot, so to speak. And men started to bring home blow up dolls to compensate for all the times their women were too tired, or too headachy, or too pregnant or too turned off to the idea of giving their man some well-deserved head. Imagine the female consternation if their male partners asked them to move over in bed to make way for Missy Blow-up…you know the one with the eveready mouth, pussy and asshole, the one that never complains and has those really perky tits, albeit made of plastic.

You see where I’m going with this, don’t ‘cha? Most of the women I know can’t even bear the idea their man might be jerkin’ off to porn let alone having to share their bed with an inanimate object that is there simply for the sexual gratification of their male partner.

Now that I’ve debunked the idea of real verses fake, I do believe that most couples I know — straight, bi, gay, what have you — would benefit from adding a sex toy…or six to their love making. I mean that’s why I hawk all those fabulous “marital aids” in the Dr Dick’s Stockroom for my kinkier friends  and my other, more vanilla toy emporium HERE.  I’m a big advocate of spicing up things with all this stuff, but never at the ego expense of one or the other partner.

So by all means Carol, if you’re bedding a man that has the ego strength to hear you suggest he strap one on when his peters out…so to speak…good for you! Knock yourself out! But then you’d have to be as agreeable to his toy suggestions too, right? I mean turn about is fair play, right darling?

I am of the mind that most people, both women and men are still too skittish about the whole notion of toys, at least as part of partnered fun. And that’s really too bad. For the most part, us Americans, particularly straight Americans, are not particularly adventurous when it comes to sex in general, and partnered sex with toys in particular. And those who are including toy play in their sex play generally use toys that are no threat to the ego of their partner. They tend to save their dildos and masturbation sleeves for when they are alone, again, too bad about that. I think that more people would have more enjoyable sex — together, if they were more comfortable jerkin’ off and jillin’ off WITH their partner and their toys. As it is now, most masturbation is still a furtive, solitary affair, again, too bad about that.

In the end, the answer to your query might reside with the kind of guy you fuck, Carol. Hopefully he, or they are open minded and fun loving sex freaks who are dying to try new things. If he, or they are, you’re in luck. All you’ll have to do is come up with a politic way of introducing “old junior” and his harness to your man. If by chance, the guy or guys you fuck aren’t quite so enlightened, maybe you’ll have to introduce the idea of toys first by getting him one. Imagine his surprise if you showed up in bed one day with a vibrating masturbation sleeve, one that looks like a real live pussy. Then you could tell your man to have a ball and bust a nut while you watch with joy. After he’s spent himself on the inanimate pussy, you could whip out the strap-on and tell him to go to town on your real thing.

Good luck!

The Erotic Mind of Jezza Smilez — Podcast #269 — 03/28/11

Hey sex fans,

Today I have the distinct pleasure of introducing you to one of the most charming and delightful people I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing. He is the fantastic artist, Jezza Smilez. I know you will love getting to know him (and his artwork) as much as I have.

Jezza is here as part of The Erotic Mind series, don’t cha know. I’ve been presenting these conversations with noted erotic artists, both visual and literary, from all over the freakin world for over three years now. They are presented as a means of uncovering something of the creative process involved in this specialized art form. And Jezza does not disappoint. He is very insightful and so forthcoming. It is truly a joy being in his company.

Jezza and I discuss:

  • His interviews with other artists that he posts on his site;
  • The common ground he shares with his fellow erotic artists;
  • His early life, stint in the military, being a cop and travels in Australia;
    Being a child artist;
  • When the erotic element began to show up in his work;
  • His nom de plume;
  • The distinction, if any, between being an artist and an illustrator;
  • His superior erotic imagination.

Be sure to check out Jezza and his delicious artwork on his site HERE!  He’s on Facebook too. Find him HERE!

(Click on the thumbnails below to see a slideshow of some of Jezza’s artwork.)

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BE THERE OR BE SQUARE!

Check out The Lick-A-Dee-Split Connection. That’s Dr Dick’s toll free podcast voicemail HOTLINE. Don’t worry people; no one will personally answer the phone. Your message goes directly to voicemail.

Got a question or a comment? Wanna rant or rave? Or maybe you’d just like to talk dirty for a minute or two. Why not get it off your chest! Give Dr Dick a call at (866) 422-5680.

DON’T BE SHY, LET IT FLY!

Look for all my podcasts on iTunes. You’ll find me in the podcast section, obviously. Just search for Dr Dick Sex Advice. And don’t forget to subscribe. I wouldn’t want you to miss even one episode.

Today’s Podcast is bought to you by: DR DICK’S — HOW TO VIDEO LIBRARY.

drdickvod.jpg

Where the sun don’t shine

Hey sex fans,

It’s another edition of Product Review Friday cumin your way. And we have a swell toy for your bum to tell you about. It cums to us directly from the manufacturer, Nexus.

Review crew members, Ken & Denise, are here to show you around.

Nexus Excel Prostate Massager —— $57.24

Ken & Denise
Denise: “The Excel is the third Nexus product the Review Crew has reviewed so far. There are more coming up too! You can find all our Nexus reviews HERE.”
Ken: “The Excel has this fantastic shape; is made of phthalate-free hard plastic; and it comes in three colors. We have the black one. I have to say that I am partial to silicone toys; there’s a warmth to them that hard plastic doesn’t have. Silicone toys also have a ‘give’ to them that the Excel surely doesn’t have. But now that I’ve tried both, I can say that the hard plastic, Excel has a charm all its own.”
Denise: “I totally agree. In fact, I was surprised to discover that it was hard plastic and not silicone. It sure looks like silicone through its clear plastic minimal packaging. There is one obvious benefit to hard plastic over silicone; you can use whatever line of lube you prefer, even a silicone-based lube. You can’t do that with a fine silicone toy. And because the hard plastic Excel is nonporous and waterproof, it is easy to clean and sanitize too. This makes it the perfect toy to share.”
Ken: “Absolutely! Also, because you can sanitize it you can use it both anally and vaginally. Of course, never go from one hole to the other without sanitizing it. Denise thinks it rocks as a G-spot massager.”
Denise: “True! But here’s the thing; the Excel package says it’s a G-spot massager, but it also says that the unique stainless steel rollerball stimulator massages the perineum. There’s no way the rollerball comes anywhere close to my perineum when I’m stimulating my G-spot.”
Ken: “Yeah, I was confused by that too. Then we discovered that Nexus uses the term G-spot interchangeably with the P-spot, which is really your prostate. I don’t get it, but maybe I’m missing something.”
Denise: “It’s got to be confusing for many more people than us, right?”
Ken: “If you are new to ass play, you’ll want to keep in mind that you need a lot of lube for any insertions. And you should also know that the Excel is probably not for the anal novice. It’s very light, but pretty girthy. But if you have some practice with anal toys this baby will fill you up. The shaft is just under 4” long, and it has a circumference of 1.57” at its widest point.”
Denise: “The unusual shape of the Excel allows you to wear it like a butt plug. Your ass sphincter closes down on the last ridge of the shaft, which keeps it in place. You should know that this thing doesn’t vibrate or anything like that, so there are no batteries to run down. Rather it massages your P-spot (if you’re a guy) by rocking on it, or walking around with it in place.”
Ken: “Denise mentioned the rollerball stimulator. Well this thing pops out of its hard plastic nest for cleaning purposes. The Excel comes with this little tool to do just that. You can drop the two pieces, rollerball and hard plastic everything else into a pot of boiling water to sanitize.  Or if you’re real lazy like us, you can simply add it to the dishwasher.”
Denise: “My advice is to warm up your ass before using any toy. We like to relax our sphincter muscles with our fingers, before toy insertion. This also keeps me in touch, nu pun intended with my ass, which is a good thing.”
Full Review HERE!

ENJOY