5 Ridiculously Common Worries Sex Therapists Hear All the Time

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For anyone asking, “Am I normal?”

By Anna Borges

Fun sex things to talk about: enthusiastic consent, pleasure, sex toys, kink, orgasms, positions, intimacy. Less fun sex things to talk about: insecurity, inadequacy, unwelcome pain, dysfunction, internalized stigma, embarrassment. Understandable. No one wants to sit around chatting about their deepest sexual anxieties. But when you rarely see people having these less sexy conversations, it’s easy to assume you’re the only one who might have a complicated relationship with sex. You’re not.

“The sex education standard in North America is fear-based, shame-inducing messages that erase pleasure and consent,” sex therapist Shadeen Francis, L.M.F.T., tells SELF. “Because of this, there is a lot of room for folks to worry. Most of the insecurities I encounter as a sex therapist boil down to one overarching question: ‘Am I normal

To help answer that question, SELF asked a few sex therapists what topics come up again and again in their work. Turns out, no matter what you’re going through, more people than you might think can probably relate.

1. You feel like you have no idea what you’re doing.

Listen, good sex takes practice. It’s not like sex ed often covers much outside the mechanics: This goes here, that does that, this makes a baby. For the most part, people are left to their own devices to figure out what sex is actually like. A lot of the time, that info comes from less-than-satisfactory places, like unrealistic porn that perpetuates way too many myths to count. So if you’re not super confident in your abilities and sometimes feel like you have no idea what you’re doing, you’re not the only one.

This is especially true for people whose genders and sexualities aren’t represented in typical heteronormative sex ed. “Intersex people, gender non-conforming people, and trans people rarely have been centered in sexual conversations and often are trying to navigate discovering what pleases them and communicating that with partners outside of gender tropes,” says Francis.

People also worry that they’re straight up bad in bed all the time, Lexx Brown-James, L.M.F.T., certified sex educator and the founder of The Institute for Sexuality and Intimacy in St. Louis, tells SELF. “The most common question I get is, ‘How do I know if I’m good at sex?’” This, Brown-James emphasizes, isn’t the right question to be asking. Not only is everyone’s definition of “good sex” different, but it’s not going to come down to something as simple as your personal skill set. It’s about consensually exploring and communicating about what feels good, emotionally and physically, with your partner or partners.

2. You’re embarrassed about masturbation.

Depending on a few different factors, you might have a lot of internalized shame and self-consciousness around masturbation. Maybe you grew up in an environment that told you it was dirty or wrong, maybe no one talked to you about it at all, or maybe you’ve always felt a little nervous about the idea of pleasuring yourself. According to Francis, a lot of people have masturbation-related hangups.

If that sounds familiar, it’s important to remember how common masturbation is and that there’s no “right” way to do it. Not only do people of all ages, abilities, races, genders, religions, sizes, and relationship statuses masturbate, but there are tons of different ways to go about it, too. “People masturbate using their hands, their body weight, their toys, and various household or ‘DIY’ implements,” says Francis. Same goes for how people turn themselves on—people masturbate to fantasies, memories, visual and audio porn, literature, and a lot more. Some masturbate alone, while others also do it in front of or with their sexual partner or partners. Sex therapists have heard it all.

Basically, if your way of masturbating feels good to you and does not create harm for yourself or others, then it is a wonderfully healthy part of your sexuality and you should embrace it, says Francis. (Just make sure you’re being safe. So…don’t use any of these things to get yourself off.)

3. You worry that you’re not progressive enough.

You’ve probably noticed that lifestyles like kink and polyamory are bleeding into the mainstream. It’s not unusual to stumble across phrases like “ethically non-monogamous” and “in an open relationship” while swiping through a dating app.

According to sex therapist Ava Pommerenk, Ph.D., this increased visibility is having an unfortunate side effect: Some people who aren’t into the idea of polyamory or kink have started to feel like they’re…well, boring or even close-minded. Which is not true! But plenty of people equate alternative sexual practices with progressiveness when it’s really about personal preference. If you’ve been thinking your vanilla nature makes you old-school, just keep in mind that it’s totally OK if any kind of sexual act or practice isn’t your thing

While we’re on the topic, it’s worth noting that both non-monogamy and kink can be wonderful but require a lot of trust and communication. Some people who aren’t educated on the ethics involved are taking advantage of these practices as buzzwords to excuse shitty behavior.

“I get a lot of people, particularly women in relationships with men, whose [partners are] making them feel guilty for not opening up their relationship,” Pommerenk tells SELF. At best, that kind of behavior means there’s been some serious misunderstanding and miscommunication, but at worst, it can suggest an unhealthy or even emotionally abusive dynamic, says Pommerenk. If that sounds familiar to you, it’s worth unpacking, possibly with the help of someone like a sex therapist. You can also reach out to resources like the National Dating Abuse Helpline by calling 866-331-9474 or texting “loveis” to 22522 and the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 800-799-SAFE (7233) or through email or live chat on the hotline’s contact page.

4. You feel pressured to have sex a certain way or amount.

“One aspect of this that I see a lot—and this is true for all genders—is pressure to perform,” sex therapist Jillien Kahn, L.M.F.T., tells SELF. “[That] can include things like the pressure to have sex at a certain point in dating, feeling expected to magically know how to please a partner without communication, and/or fear of sexual challenges and dysfunctions.”

Kahn likes to remind her clients that sex isn’t a performance. “The best sex happens when we forget the pressure and are able to connect with our bodies and partners,” she says. “If you’re primarily concerned with your own performance or making your partner orgasm, you’re missing out on so much of the good stuff

Pommerenk also says it’s not uncommon for her clients to worry about the consequences of not being sexually available to their partners. For example, they feel like they’re bad partners if they’re not in the mood sometimes or that their partners will leave them if they don’t have sex often enough. A lot of this is cultural messaging we have to unlearn. It’s not difficult to internalize pressure to be the “perfect” sexual partner. After all, people in movies and porn are often ready and available for sex at all times. But much like worrying that you’re not open-minded enough, if this is how your partner is making you feel or something that they’re actually threatening you about, that’s not just a sexual hangup of yours—it’s a sign of potential emotional abuse.

5. You’re freaked out about a “weird” kink, fetish, or fantasy.

“Many of my clients seem to have a fantasy or enjoy a type of porn they feel ashamed of,” says Kahn. Some of these clients even feel ashamed to mention their fantasies or preferred porn in therapy, she adds. “The thing is, the vast majority of your fantasies have been around far longer than you have. The porn you look at was developed because a lot of people want to watch it. Even in the rare exception of unique fetishes or fantasies, there is nothing to be ashamed of,” says Kahn.

It can help to remember that just because you have a fantasy or like a certain type of porn doesn’t necessarily mean you want to do any of it IRL. According to Kahn, that’s an important distinction to make, because people often feel guilty or panicked about some of the thoughts that turn them on. For example, rape fantasies aren’t unheard of—in fact, like many fantasies, they’re probably more common than you’d expect, says Kahn—and they don’t mean that a person has a real desire to experience rape.

“I try to make sure my clients know that the fantasy doesn’t necessarily mean anything about them, so it is not necessary to try and analyze it,” says Kahn. “Whatever you’re fantasizing about, I can confidently tell you that you’re far from the only person excited by that idea.”

What if you do want to carry out a fantasy you’re worried is weird? Again, as long as you’re not actively harming yourself or anyone else, chances are pretty good that whatever you’re into sexually is completely OK—and that you can find someone else who’s into it, too.

If you’re still feeling embarrassed about any of your sexual practices, desires, or feelings, Kahn has these parting words: “Sexual anxiety and insecurity [are] such a universal experience. There’s constant comparison to this continually changing image of sexual perfection. [People should] discuss sex more openly for many reasons, and if we did, we would see how incredibly common sexual insecurity is.”

Complete Article HERE!

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How to Know If You Should Talk to Someone About a Low Sex Drive

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Plus where to get help

By Carolyn L. Todd

Feeling concerned about a low libido can be such an isolating experience. When your psychological drive to have sex isn’t where you would hope it is, you might feel like you can’t even discuss it with a partner—the very person you may normally turn to for basically everything else. But a persistently low libido that bothers you is not something to ignore. Here’s what could be behind a low libido, as well as guidance on who to talk to and how to find them.

Factors that can affect your libido

“There are so many physiological, psychosocial, and environmental factors in a [person’s] life that can have a very strong negative impact on their sex drive,” Leah Millheiser, M.D., clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology and ob/gyn at the Female Sexual Medicine Program at Stanford Medicine, tells SELF.

Some of the most common libido-killers include stress and fatigue, says Dr. Millheiser. Relationship issues like mismatched expectations about sex or a lack of emotional intimacy can also contribute. Additionally, hormonal fluctuations can sway a person’s libido, including the changes that occur during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause, as SELF previously reported. Several common prescription drugs, like some hormonal contraceptives and antidepressants can also affect your libido, according to the Mayo Clinic.

While tons of situational factors can affect your libido, this isn’t always necessarily a bad thing. Maybe you’re currently single, crushing it in like three different areas of your life, and honestly, sex and intimacy just aren’t top of mind for you right now. If you don’t really feel any type of way about that, carry on!

Conditions that can cause chronic low libido

So, we know there are situational factors that can impact libido, but health conditions can play a role too. Virtually every aspect of health can impact the physiological and psychological aspects of desire, which in turn can influence each other, Madeleine M. Castellanos, M.D., a board-certified psychiatrist specializing in sex therapy and author of Wanting to Want, tells SELF.

That includes numerous conditions that dampen desire by causing pain during sex, including endometriosis, ovarian cysts, vulvodynia (terrible chronic pain surrounding the vaginal opening), and vaginismus (muscle spasms that make penetration uncomfortable). Circulatory issues caused by conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes can result in a lack of sufficient blood flow to the genitals that hinders physical sexual arousal (which can impact the mental portion), according to the Cleveland Clinic. Then there are mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, which can make sex feel like the last thing you want to do.

So what happens if you’re experiencing chronic low libido without any of the aforementioned risk factors? If your libido has been absent for more than six months and you really can’t pinpoint why, you may have a condition called hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), which some experts think is linked to a chemical imbalance in the brain.

In sum, there are plenty of reasons why you might be dealing with a low sex drive. Figuring it out on your own can be confusing. That’s where experts may be able to help.

When to see someone about a low libido

The expert wisdom here is pretty simple: If you’re distressed about your libido or it’s causing issues in your relationship, it’s time to talk to a pro, Dr. Millheiser says.

Not only could low libido be a sign of an underlying health concern, but enjoying sex regularly can be good for you. “It’s a wonderful connection with another human being, but it’s also an important piece of your health,” Dr. Castellanos explains. In some people, sexual activity can help do things like make you feel great and less stressed, take your mind off menstrual cramps, and maybe even help you get to sleep, as SELF previously reported. Being satisfied with your libido and having a fulfilling sex life can have a positive impact on your psychological well-being as well.

“Don’t put [low libido] on the back burner if it persists,” Dr. Castellanos explains. “The earlier you address it, the easier it is to correct the problem.”

But keep in mind: You should only consider seeing someone about your libido if you view it as a problem. If someone like your partner is trying to make it seem as though your libido isn’t “high enough,” that doesn’t necessarily mean anything’s wrong with you or your sex drive. Your partner might be making assumptions based on their own libido, or maybe your libido really has changed over time but it’s a change that you’re mentally aligned with. While it couldn’t hurt to talk to someone about a change in your libido, you should never feel pressured to do so.

Who you can talk to about libido issues

The person best equipped to help you depends on what’s causing your low libido and your access to care, Dr. Castellanos explains.

If you have no idea where to start: See your primary care provider (PCP) or a general internist. “Any physical condition can affect your desire, so it’s always worthwhile to get that checked first,” Dr. Castellanos says.

This type of doctor can discuss your symptoms, order tests to help you uncover potential underlying medical issues, and refer you to a specialist if necessary.

If you’re having vaginal health issues: See an ob/gyn. Symptoms like pain with intercourse merit an exam and discussion with a specialist, Dr. Castellanos says.

If you’re having mental health issues: See a licensed therapist or psychiatrist. They can help you figure out which mental health condition may be contributing to your low libido and potentially provide a treatment plan.

If you suspect the problem is a medication you’re taking: See your prescribing doctor. They can talk to you about how likely it is that your low libido is a side effect of the drug and possibly recommend potential alternatives.

If no underlying medical condition is at play: Consider seeing a sex therapist. Sex therapists have the interpersonal training and depth of expertise to “get into the nuance and the nitty gritty of the psychology of sexual desire with you the way other clinicians don’t,” Dr. Castellanos explains.

The Mayo Clinic recommends looking for a certified sex therapist with a certification from the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT). Here’s more help for finding a sex therapist in your area.

If you’re having problems with your partner: You may not be sure whether relationship wrinkles are to blame for your low libido. Ask yourself if you still feel desire when you think about somebody else (like your celebrity crush) but not your partner, Dr. Castellanos says. If you do, that could point specifically to your relationship as your issue

In that case, you might want to see a sex therapist or couples’ counselor. They can help you dig into dynamics that could be affecting your libido, such as poor communication in or outside the bedroom. (Not all couples’ counselors cover sex issues, though, Dr. Castellanos notes, so check about that before you make your first appointment.)

If you think you have HSDD: See any kind of clinician specializing in women’s or sexual health, Dr. Millheiser says. That includes a PCP, nurse practitioner, licensed counselor, or psychiatrist. Diagnosis involves taking a medical history, ruling out any other factors, and, ideally, using a five-question screener based on diagnostic criteria developed by the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health (ISSWSH), Dr. Millheiser says.

How to talk to someone about your libido

Discussing sex in a medical setting isn’t always easy, and doctors know this. “I tell all my patients that I know talking about your sex life is very personal, especially if it’s not going well,” Dr. Castellanos says. “You might be anxious, but remember that only by saying what the issue is [can you] get help.” Here’s how to start the conversation.

1. Bring it up right off the bat.

“It’s very important to actually say why you’re there. If you don’t start off by telling them what the problem is, they don’t know what questions to ask,” Dr. Castellanos says.

Don’t wait until the last minute to see if your doctor brings it up. Unless this is their specialty, they may not. “That doesn’t mean it’s not appropriate to talk about with them. It just means that they’re busy thinking about other aspects of your health,” Dr. Millheiser says.

2. Be straightforward and specific.

It benefits both of you to be as open and honest as possible here, Dr. Castellanos says. Try something like, “Over the last three months, my sex drive has really dropped off and I’m not sure why. My partner and I used to have sex about twice a week, but now it’s more like once a month. We’re pretty happy otherwise.” And, of course, if you are having other symptoms, like fatigue or pain with intercourse, bring those up too.

3. Get a referral if necessary.

Some caregivers are more informed about libido or feel more comfortable talking about it than others, Dr. Castellanos says. If you’re not sure whether yours is the right person to help you or you’re not getting the care you want, Dr. Millheiser recommends asking your provider to connect you to someone else. Try something like, “If you don’t treat these things, can you refer me to somebody who does?”

“They probably know someone or can at least point you in the right direction,” Dr. Millheiser says.

And remember, your doctor has heard it all before. As Dr. Millheiser explains, “There is very little that could shock a clinician, and sexual function concerns are so common.”

Complete Article HERE!

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How Couples Can Deal With Mismatched Sex Drives

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By Kelly Gonsalves

One of the most common problems faced by long-term couples is desire discrepancy—one partner wants more sex than the other. It’s a frustrating place to be for both parties: One person doesn’t feel sexually satisfied or desirable in their relationship, the other feels pressured to have sex they don’t really want, and both usually feel guilty for putting their partner in this position.

One excellent way couples can deal with the issue is to see a sex therapist, who can work with them in building a new, mutually satisfying intimate life together. How does sex therapy work? A new paper published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy gives us a pretty good picture, describing one treatment approach for desire discrepancy developed by certified sex therapist and clinical psychologist Barry McCarthy, Ph.D.

Here are the most important steps for dealing with mismatched sex drives, according to McCarthy. Don’t worry—you can get through this.

1. Team up.

One of the most important steps of dealing with desire discrepancy is to stop viewing each other as representatives of opposing sides.

“In the first session, the task of the therapist is to confront the self-defeating power struggle over intercourse frequency and replace it with a new dialogue about the roles and meanings of couple sexuality,” write McCarthy and Tamara Oppliger, M.A., co-author of the study and clinical psychology Ph.D. student at American University, in a draft of the paper shared with mbg. “No one wins a power struggle; the fight is over who is the ‘bad spouse’ or ‘bad sex partner.'”

Stop trying to make one person out to be the enemy. You’re a couple—you’re on the same side of the table, looking over a shared problem that’s hurting your relationship. Come together to make an agreement that this is a journey you’re going to undertake together.

And by the way, your goals for this journey should be clear—and it should not be about making sure you have sex a certain number of times a month. Sexuality is about much more than how often you do it. “The goal of couple sex therapy for desire discrepancy is to reestablish sexuality as a positive 15 to 20% role in their relationship,” the authors write. “It is not to compensate for the past, to declare a ‘winner,’ or to reach a goal for intercourse frequency.”

In other words, your goal is simply to make intimacy a positive force in your relationship, something that feels good to both people.

2. No pressuring another person to have sex, ever.

“Sexual coercion or intimidation is unacceptable,” McCarthy and Oppliger write. That kind of behavior can be terrifying for the person getting intimidating and can lead to someone saying yes to sex they don’t want. Any sex that’s only agreed to because of pressure is going to feel more like a violation than anything else. There’s no faster way to kill desire and make sex feel toxic.

3. Prioritize desire, not intercourse or orgasms.

When a relationship involves a man and a woman, couples often fall into the trap of using intercourse (i.e., putting a penis in a vagina) as the definition of sex. They believe sex is only sex when intercourse happens, and how often you have intercourse becomes a pass-fail measure of your sex life. One of McCarthy’s key points: “When it is intercourse or nothing, nothing almost always wins.”

No matter what genders you and your partner are, stop trying to use any one act like intercourse or penetration as the only marker of whether you’ve had sex—and while you’re at it, forget about having orgasms too. All these things can be great parts of a healthy and satisfying sex life, but they’re by no means the most important or crucial parts. All kinds of touch can be pleasurable and connective.

If not intercourse or orgasms, what exactly should you be striving for in your intimate life? “Desire is the most important dimension,” McCarthy and Oppliger write. Desire is the key to sexual energy and excitement, and it’s often what we’re truly seeking when we pursue sexual gratification. “Satisfaction means feeling good about yourself as a sexual person and energized as a sexual couple.”

4. Not all sex needs to be earth-shattering for both parties.

“The best sex is mutual and synchronous,” the authors write. “Yet, the majority of sexual encounters are asynchronous (better for one partner than the other). Asynchronous sexuality is normal and healthy as long as it’s not at the expense of the partner or relationship.”

For example, sometimes one partner might just go down on the other so she can have a good orgasm, and then the two cuddle as they fall asleep. Both people don’t need to get off every time, as long as the pleasure balances out and is satisfying for both parties over time.

5. Start with touch.

Not sure where to start? After assessment, one of McCarthy’s first suggestions is for couples to begin with getting reacquainted with touching each other again. Those touches don’t need to be a whole sexual act—they can be as simple as holding each other in bed or rubbing each other’s backs. “The focus is using touch as a way to confront avoidance and build a bridge to sexual desire,” he and Oppliger write.

In other words, the more you get comfortable with touching each other and sharing skin-on-skin contact, the more your desire will eventually build up. (Past research shows desire is indeed buildable, with having a spark of erotic energy one day leading to more of it the following day, even if you didn’t have actual sex.)

Complete Article HERE!

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10 Things To Do If You’ve Been A Victim Of Sexual Assault

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It’s not too late to get help.

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Sexual assault is typically something you think will never happen to you—until it does and and you find yourself in desperate need of help and support.

According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), 1 out of every 6 women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, so it’s a scary (but common) reality—and one that can leave you feeling anxious, fearful, sad, angry, or a combination of those things.

“It’s a natural human state to be overwhelmed with this kind of traumatic event,” says Jessica Klein, a licensed clinical social worker and adjunct faculty member at the University of Southern California. “The thinking part of your brain really can’t process everything that’s happened.”

Thankfully, there’s help for sexual assault victims, whether your assault happened thirty minutes or three years ago. If you’ve been assaulted and need to know what your next steps are, here’s a timeline of all the various ways to get help—from the first minutes after your assault to the days, months, and years that follow.

1. Evaluate your surroundings and get medical treatment ASAP.

In the immediate aftermath of your assault, it’s time to think about your health and safety. Evaluate your surroundings and get yourself to a safe place if you aren’t already in one. Then consider calling 911 or going to a hospital, even if you aren’t visibly injured or are unsure whether you ultimately want to involve the police.

“After your safety is secured, medical treatment is often an immediate need,” says Kathryn Stamoulis, PhD, a licensed mental health counselor in New York City. “Even if you are reluctant to undergo a medical examination for the purposes of reporting your assault, trained staff can provide you with emergency contraception, treatment for sexually transmitted infections, and referrals to a counselor.”

2. Try not to change your clothes or use the bathroom.

Something important to keep in mind: You can decline or discontinue your forensic examination (a.k.a. “rape kit”) at any point if you become uncomfortable, says Stamoulis.

According to RAINN, you don’t need to commit upfront to reporting the crime in order to have an exam performed, but it’s a good idea to get one, anyway: Should you choose to report your assault later on, you’ll have gone through the necessary steps to collect evidence.

RAINN also advises against doing anything that could damage that evidence in the time between your assault and your exam, like bathing, changing your clothes, or using the bathroom. (FYI, even if you’ve done these things, you can still get an exam.)

3. Don’t hesitate to reach out to someone you know and trust for immediate support.

It may be helpful for you to stay with a local friend or family member in the hours after the assault, says Stamoulis. Being around someone familiar can be extremely comforting and reassuring.

If you are a student, she says, many schools and colleges have counseling centers or victim advocates on campus to help support you through the aftermath.

4. Try to make yourself feel as safe as possible.

In the short-term, you will be dealing with the traumatic effects of your assault. This might include feeling anxious or depressed, having nightmares, having difficulty concentrating, or struggling in your relationships, says Stamoulis.

During this time, it’s important to prioritize your physical and emotional needs. That might look like taking time off from work, finding babysitters or extra childcare assistance if you have children, or even replacing the locks on your doors.

All of these needs are normal, and you should feel free to ask for whatever helps you. Try not to judge yourself—there’s no way to predict how your body and mind will respond to the trauma.

5. See a trained counselor who specializes in sexual assault.

Well-meaning friends and family members may not (or cannot) offer you the best advice for your particular situation, so Stamoulis strongly recommends seeking professional counseling.

A trained counselor, she says, will know the best practices for helping assault victims cope and can educate you on what to expect during your recovery. (If you’re having trouble locating a counselor in your area, RAINN’s crisis hotline can refer you to someone.)

“Sexual assault is different from a lot of other traumas because our society tends to blame the victim, [which] is another way of being traumatized,” Stamoulis explains. “A therapist who specializes in treating sexual assault survivors understands the unique needs of someone who experiences a trauma that is often shrouded in shame and secrecy.”

6. If you didn’t report your assault or receive a forensic exam, take those into consideration again.

If you didn’t receive a forensic exam immediately after your assault, there may still be time; in some states, Klein says, evidence can be collected and preserved up to 96 hours later. And even if you’re beyond the forensic window, reporting your assault is absolutely not a “now or never” proposition.

“Law enforcement is getting better at understanding why people don’t report immediately in the aftermath and not having forensic evidence is not a dealbreaker,” she says. “There are other corroborating factors they look into, and you never know who filed a report against that perpetrator before you—or who might file one after you, since many perpetrators are repeat offenders.”

7. Know the lifelong risks associated with sexual assault.

Being a victim of sexual assault puts you at a higher risk for depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders, and substance abuse problems, per Mental Health America.

So if you’re feeling really down, having trouble with your daily functioning, or relying on unhealthy habits to cope with overwhelming emotions, seek help from a qualified therapist ASAP.

8. Remind yourself that healing isn’t always linear.

The road to recovery in the wake of sexual assault is not always a straight line. Stamoulis notes that some people find themselves doing well emotionally for a long time, then suddenly struggling with intensely negative feelings again.

If this happens to you, she recommends being kind to yourself (making sure you are eating and sleeping well, monitoring your stress levels), as well as eliminating any identifiable triggers, like watching the news.

9. Know that you may need to confront your trauma again.

The healing process is a complicated one that unfolds over time, but you will likely need to address your trauma head-on at some point. That may be done through professional counseling or through reflective mediums like art or journaling. Stamoulis calls this process “post-traumatic growth” and says it’s a key component of long-term healing.

“When you’re working through the trauma, you’re not trying to get rid of the memories completely, but trying to gain a different relationship to the memories so you can think about them in different [less triggering] ways,” she says.

10. Realize that everyone’s healing process looks different.

In the long-term, it’s important to be aware of your unique needs during recovery and to choose activities that help you move forward in a healthy way.

“Some people find that they want to make meaning from the experience by volunteering with other victims or fighting for social justice, while others want to put it completely behind them,” says Stamoulis. “There is no right or wrong response.”

If you’ve been a victim of sexual assault, you can call 800-656-HOPE to receive confidential crisis support from a trained specialist with the National Sexual Assault Hotline. It’s free and available 24/7. You can also chat online with a support specialist.

Complete Article ↪HERE↩!

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What Is Sex Therapy?

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And What Is It That Sex Therapists Do?

By Rita DeMaria

Here’s how to tell if sex therapy is right for you.

How many people have you known who confided in you that they went to a sex therapist or were considering sex therapy for intimacy problems in their marriage?

For many people, talking about sex with a partner is not always easy, so reaching out to a sex therapist might actually be a more comfortable way to address any concerns you have about your sex life.

So what is sex therapy, and how can working with a sex therapist help you create a stronger, healthier sexual relationship with your partner or spouse?

Sex therapy is defined as “a strategy for the improvement of sexual function and treatment of sexual dysfunction.” Sex therapy addresses a wide range of clinically described sexual behaviors and difficulties that create sadness, fear, frustration, and disappointment for people who want to explore and enjoy their sexuality.

Sex therapists provide focused and personal attention, typically in a private office setting, where couples — or individuals — can talk about their sexual relationship and any differences or problems they’re experiencing relating to physical intimacy.

Individuals often contact a sex therapist with very specific concerns. In contrast, many couples often look first for a couples therapist and then see if sex therapy is offered, too. Sometimes it’s very difficult for couples to decide which direction they want, especially if one or both of them aren’t so sure how sex therapy will go.

Sex therapists typically begin with an assessment of each person’s sexual history. Then, they’ll explore other experiences within the current relationship or address ongoing sexual problems like premature ejaculation or inhibited sexual desire.

In addition to sex therapists, there are also sex educators and sex counselors who can become certified by a national organization, the American Association for Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT). There is also an international non-profit organization, the Society of Sex Therapy and Research (SSTAR). SSTAR provides a forum for sex research and treatment, exploring many facets of human sexuality.

Most people don’t know what they don’t know about sex, which is why working with a sex therapist can help.

Some people aren’t sure if love is a necessary and important aspect of sex, but the truth is love and sex do go together.

Yes, people have sex with people they don’t know well. But generally, people prefer having good to great to sex with someone when they feel affection toward their sexual partner(s). Given the chemistry of romantic love, a sexual bond came become much greater than a friendship and go beyond affection.

Positive sex education, knowledge, and awareness are essential for men and for women (and for children, too).

Sexual counseling is also very important, though it differs from sex therapy. This type of counseling is often offered by a wide range of medical people (nurses, doctors, midwives), as well as in sexual health clinics and educational classes, where very important information and misinformation can be talked about individually or in groups.

Sex therapists provide intensive attention to difficulties and fears that individuals or couples experience and have knowledge and expertise in exploring their sexual desire and negotiating their sexual relationship.

Sexual problems and mismatches are common in committed and marriage relationships.

Even when couples have been together for a long time, you could be surprised to know that having a passionate and loving sex life can also last a lifetime.

Yet sadly, sex is often surrounded by secrecy and insecurity. Talking openly with your partner about your sexual thoughts and feelings, as well as sharing your fantasies, is an important key to a pleasurable relationship.

The root of sexual ignorance, shame, and embarrassment can be deep. Although there is so much information available, marriage, couple, and family therapy were interconnected with sex therapy in the early years with a focus on marital difficulties around sex. Premarital counseling, which also included attention to sex, began in the early decades of the twentieth century.

The evolution of sex therapy has been very important in helping individuals and couples with often complicated sexual experiences. These can include sexual traumas, sexual abuse, and a wide range of diagnoses from sexual desire, arousal, orgasm, and pain disorders, and many more sexual problems, like healing from infidelity.

Sex therapy can and will help you.

Sex is no longer a taboo subject, and it can last a lifetime for committed, loving couples. Both sexuality and sensuality can be an amazing personal experience.

Suffering from guilt, shame, misunderstandings, trauma, misinformation, and silence can be overcome with the help of a certified sex therapist. One of the most important aspects of having a healthy sexual relationship is the benefit of emotional and physical well-being.

Passion begins with your own sexual desire and fantasies, and so many people struggle and ignore the unique and amazing potential of what can happen when love, affection, desire, and sex expression combine. Your sexuality is a gift and if you’re worried that you’re not enjoying yours, don’t be afraid to reach out to a sex therapist for help.

Complete Article HERE!

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Why Pregnant Couples Should Totally Have Sex

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(And How To Do It Well!)

By Julia Guerra

A survey issued by the parenting website ChannelMum back in 2017 found that, on average, couples will have sex 78 times in a matter of six months (that’s 13 times per month) before they conceive. But what happens after they score a positive on the stick? Do they stop, for lack of a better word, scoring in the bedroom?

In life, and in pregnancy, it’s important to listen to your body and honor its needs. This includes any sexual desires that may (and usually do) arise. Of course, if you aren’t comfortable having sex while you’re pregnant, that’s perfectly fine. But while pregnancy is a lot of things, it doesn’t have to be a celibacy sentence.

The stigma around pregnant sex.

It’s one thing to put physical intimacy on pause if it’s uncomfortable or harmful to the mother, or if someone in the relationship feels genuinely uncomfortable having pregnant sex. However, there’s nothing inherently “dirty” or “wrong” about having sex while pregnant. But according to Sofia Jawed-Wessel, Ph.D., MPH, sex researcher and co-director of the Midlands Sexual Health Research Collaborative at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, the taboo pitted on pregnant sex isn’t directed at the sex itself but rather at pregnant women having sex. 

“Our culture has a difficult time juxtaposing motherhood and sexiness without fetishizing—without objectifying the pregnant person,” Jawed-Wessel explains in an interview with mbg. “We have a difficult time seeing the pregnant person as a whole person beyond their pregnancy.”

It all comes back to the “why,” she says. In other words: Why is a pregnant woman having sex?

If it’s to meet her own sexual needs, a pregnant woman pursuing sex is often seen as an “aggressor,” as selfish. If it’s to meet the man’s needs, that’s another story, Jawed-Wessel says. “If [a pregnant woman is] having sex not for her own pleasure but for her partner’s, because nine months is a long time for men to be celibate, then we understand. If she’s partnered with a woman, well, we won’t even acknowledge that!”

How attitudes about pregnant sex can affect an expecting couple’s sex life.

In her most recent study, Jawed-Wessel and her team of researchers followed 116 couples in which one partner was between eight to 12 weeks pregnant. Researchers asked participants to complete four surveys over the course of three months, with questions focusing on their attitude toward sex before pregnancy, their attitude toward sex during pregnancy, how often they were having sex (with their partner and/or solo), sexual activities that gave them the most and least satisfaction, and so on.

The cross-sectional study, published last month in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, found that a couple’s attitude toward pregnant sex could actually affect their overall sexual satisfaction. Partners who shared a positive attitude toward pregnant sex were more satisfied overall than couples who went into the experiment with reservations toward pregnant sex.

Jawed-Wessel says a negative attitude toward pregnant sex can be a reflection of one or all of the following:

1. They’re choosing to believe pregnant sex myths over their doctor’s advice.

Jawed-Wessel says experts are seeing a “disconnect” between what the doctor prescribes and the negative attitudes couples have about pregnant sex because of myths about the potential risk of either compromising the pregnancy or harming the fetus directly.

For the record, there is little evidence to prove sex can induce a miscarriage, and experts say it’s highly unlikely. Doctors do suggest patients with very specific medical issues—such as placenta previa (when the placenta covers all or part of the uterus), and cervical insufficiency (when a woman’s cervix is weak and dilates too early in the pregnancy)—abstain from sex during their pregnancy. For the average pregnant person who isn’t experiencing a high-risk or abnormal pregnancy? As long as your doctor says it’s safe, you’re good to go.

And yet many couples are still apprehensive or just unable to shake off the fear of doing damage to their future baby.

2. Societally speaking, women are desexualized when they become pregnant.

As Jawed-Wessel points out, most cultures—definitely America’s—view motherhood as a kind of pure, moral, and exclusively family-oriented state, whereas having sex still carries overtones of being immoral or selfish. Even if they don’t recognize it, some men buy into this sexist dichotomy and struggle to find their partner sexually desirable during pregnancy, seeing their partner transitioning from “lover” to “mother.” It’s not about the physical bump or even the baby per se (though it may be the case for some men); it’s more about that psychological shift taking place in how they’re viewing their partner.

3. They’re viewing vaginal intercourse as the end-all-be-all of physical intimacy.

Most straight people tend to think sex needs to involve vaginal intercourse. Of course, there are numerous sexual behaviors and experiences that a couple can explore that have nothing to do with penetration, but because couples fall into a routine, they lose that sense of adventure and mystery in the bedroom. Then when pregnancy comes along and makes P-in-V intercourse perhaps less accessible or comfortable, they assume that means sex can’t happen.

What should sex look like for pregnant couples?

According to the team’s findings, sexual satisfaction during pregnancy was extremely contextual for each couple and for each individual partner. The paper outlines that kissing, intercourse, and using sex toys as a couple all led to more sexual satisfaction. But some sexual acts didn’t bring as much joy: For instance, men experienced high levels satisfaction using toys alone (likely while masturbating) and low levels of satisfaction from vaginal fingering (maybe because they couldn’t get off from it, the researchers posit). Women reported the opposite: They were most satisfied through vaginal fingering and actually less satisfied when they used sex toys on their own (perhaps because it was a last resort when they weren’t being satisfied by their partners, the researchers say).

Clearly there wasn’t one overarching solution to being sexually satisfied while pregnant, and more sex didn’t necessarily correspond to being more sexually satisfied. Specific sex acts were more enjoyable for some partners than for others. That being said, the researchers’ model showed one common thread: The more positive of an attitude a couple had toward pregnancy sex, the more sexually satisfied they felt overall.

Sexual satisfaction is important for a healthy relationship—yes, even for soon-to-be parents.

“Pregnancy does not suddenly leave a couple void of sexual needs,” Jawed-Wessel and her team write in their paper. “Sex is important to individuals and their relationships, and pregnant people and their partners are no exception. Relationship satisfaction has been frequently linked to sexual satisfaction among the general population, and pregnant individuals follow a similar pattern.”

They add that pregnant women also experience unique benefits from being satisfied with the state of their sex life and relationship: “Pregnant women with higher relationship satisfaction have also been found to be more positive about their upcoming role as a mother and experience less maternal emotional distress.”

In a recent edition of her newsletter, sex researcher and educator Dr. Zhana Vrangalova emphasized why it’s so important for couples not to lose sight of their sex lives due to a pregnancy: “I know that sex during and post-pregnancy may feel strange, or different, or awkward. But I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for the health and quality of your relationship to maintain your sexual connection during this time. The longer you go without it, the harder and weirder it’s going to be to come back to it and reconnect in that way.”

Her advice?

“If you’re the one pregnant, give yourself the right to be a sexual being, and revel in your new body. A lot of women report that pregnancy sex was the best sex they’ve ever had!” she writes. “And if you’re the partner of someone who’s pregnant, please work on overcoming the harmful myths and negative feelings about pregnancy sex you’ve internalized, and make your partner feel beautiful, sexy, sexual, and desired.”

Communication is key.

Of course, this isn’t meant to put pressure on couples to do what they’re just not feeling. If a couple or partner just doesn’t want to have sex for whatever reason, Jawed-Wessel says there is nothing wrong with pushing pause. But she stresses: Communication is key.

“We see partners making assumptions or jumping to conclusions on what the other is thinking, and this is never good,” Jawed-Wessel explains. “[Pregnancy] can be a time to really explore each other’s sexuality and come to a closer understanding of one another so that when both partners are ready to push play again, it is easier to navigate and relearn each other’s needs and wants.”

As long as both partners have an open line of communication flowing and are being honest about their needs, Jawed-Wessel tells mbg, “there is no reason for sex or lack of sex during pregnancy to be harmful to either partner.” It’s only if either partner feels unsatisfied, or if the woman feels as though her partner does not find her sexually desirable, that may cause an issue.

Debby Herbenick, Ph.D., sex researcher and director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University–Bloomington, tells mbg that ultimately the importance of sexual intimacy during pregnancy will depend on the couple. For some, keeping things fresh in the bedroom during pregnancy is a priority. For others, sex is put on the back burner. “[New parents] have bigger fish to fry, focusing on staying and feeling healthy, caring for their pregnancy, getting things for their baby, napping more, doctors’ appointments, etc.,” Herbenick says. But she does suggest pursuing physical closeness in other ways: “Those who abstain [from penetrative sex] might find [satisfaction] connecting to kiss and cuddle to nurture intimacy.”

Overall, navigating the ways in which you and your partner can stay sexually satisfied during pregnancy is a personal process. As long as your medical provider gives you the OK, try your best to home in on how this experience can enhance your sex life and bring you closer, not only as new parents but as a couple. By keeping the communication flowing and maintaining a positive attitude, satisfaction will come—in and outside the bedroom.

Complete Article HERE!

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What To Do If You Want Sex To Last Longer

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By Erika W. Smith

There have been a lot of studies about how long sex lasts on average — but most of those studies focus on the length of P-in-V sex between a cis man and a cis woman, whereas we know that sex can encompass a lot more. When it comes to studies looking at how long sex — including foreplay, outercourse, oral sex, and any other kind of non-P-in-V sex — lasts on average, for people of any gender and sexuality, we have less data to go by. But even if we did have exact data, those numbers don’t really matter. Because the only real answer to “How long should sex last?” is “A length that you and your partner are happy with.”

In fact, studies and averages are “a comparison trap,” says Megan Fleming, PhD, a sex and relationships counselor who practices in New York. “It’s really more about what works in your relationship.”

Sex therapists generally consider someone with a penis to be experiencing premature ejaculation if they are ejaculating after less than two minutes of penetrative sex, Dr. Fleming says. The Mayo Clinic’s definition of premature ejaculation adds an important caveat: “Premature ejaculation occurs when a man ejaculates sooner during sexual intercourse than he or his partner would like.” If both partners are happy with how long sex is lasting, then it’s not something to be concerned about — there’s a lot more to sex than penetration, after all. “How much does [the partner] enjoy penetration?” Dr. Fleming asks. “Maybe they already had an orgasm first because of foreplay, oral, or manual stimulation.”

But if both partners — no matter their gender or genitalia — want sex to last longer, they can try some different tactics to make that happen. Dr. Fleming divides these strategies into two groups: the physical and the psychological. On the physical side, there are masturbation exercises. In particular, people with penises can “learn to stay in the safe zone before the point of inevitability, which is ejaculation,” says Dr. Fleming. If sex isn’t lasting long because one person is experiencing pain or discomfort, see a professional who can see if there’s an underlying health condition. If you’d like sex to end more quickly, masturbation exercises also apply. And whether you’d like sex to last longer or end more quickly, you should be using lube it helps reduce friction, makes sex feel more comfortable, and feels great. Try experimenting with different amounts lube, or trying different kinds of lube, to see how that feels.

There’s also the psychological side of sex. Along with trying out positions and types of sex, “that might mean including fantasy, or talking dirty,” Dr. Fleming says. It can also mean reframing what you think of as sex to include sexual activities outside of penetration — and if there’s a cis man in the couple, it can mean rethinking the idea that sex ends when he has an orgasm.

Dr. Fleming also suggests trying new sexual activities more than once — even if the first time you try a new position doesn’t have an effect on how soon your orgasm happens, that might be different the third time you try it. “When you try something new, you want to try, try again,” she says. She refers to the safe word system of red, yellow, and green, where red means “stop,” green means “go,” and yellow means “slow down” or “give me a moment.” “If it’s awful, ‘red light,’ then obviously don’t” try it again, she says. “But if it’s more like a yellow, then hang out and see if it turns green. Sometimes we have to do things enough to really be present and relax, and relaxation is the foundation of arousal

Complete Article HERE!

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What is autosexuality?

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A growing number of people are pledging undying love to themself

A newspaper interview by a woman who is planning to marry herself has triggered fresh debate about this growing phenomenon of self-love.

Talking to the Metro, self-described autosexual Ghia Vitale, a writer from New York, said: “I’ve been attracted to myself for as long as I’ve been cognisant of attraction.”

The newspaper notes that this sexual identification has been “seldom talked about” – so what does it mean?

What is the definition of autosexuality?

In 2013, Psychology Today blogger Leon Seltzer described autosexuality, or autoeroticism, as “one of the ‘fuzziest’ concepts in the entire field of human sexuality”, with “little consensus on what it actually means”.

The Medical Dictionary defines autosexual as “characterised by sexual physical self-contact (e.g., masturbation, erotic fantasies or rituals)”.

According to Seltzer, autosexuals “are attracted primarily – sometimes exclusively – to their own bodies”, and autoeroticism “involves a whole range of sexual behaviours and attitudes”.

“Many individuals fitting this designation might self-stimulate only when other alternatives aren’t feasible,” he adds. “Some might find themselves turned on both by themselves and others. Others might be aroused (or arousable) solely by themselves – whether through sight or touch.”

It may involve “being autoromantic – experiencing the relationship with yourself as romantic”, says Metro.

“It can mean being turned on by your own look and nudity, getting butterflies when you think about yourself, being excited to spend time alone, and masturbating to the idea of yourself. It’s all the feelings we get for a potential new suitor but for ourselves,” the newspaper continues.

Is it a new concept?

No. In his book Freud and Autosexuality, sychoanalysis researcher and professor Michel Herve Bertaux-Navoiseau writes that although “the Greeks didn’t have a word to designate autosexuality”, philosophers of the time “did not make any difference between making love with one’s clitoris or foreskin or with two sexes”.

Psychology Today’s Seltzer also cites the Greeks. “As the original Narcissus of Greek mythology became enamoured of his own image (as reflected in a pool of water), so can pronounced autoerotics be physically attracted to – or titillated by – themselves,” he says.

What else do psychologists say?

Seltzer argues that autosexuality “isn’t a one-dimensional phenomenon”, adding: “Moreover, it cannot be overemphasised that very few individuals do not – to whatever degree – exhibit certain autoerotic elements in their sexuality.”

Dr Michael Aaron, author of Modern Sexuality, tells lifestyle site Refinery29: “It is very common for people to be aroused by themselves [to varying degrees]. Some experience it more like an orientation, in that they feel more aroused by themselves than by others.

“In fact, if you bring a mirror into your sex life, you can transition those feelings of arousal into an experience that you can enjoy with partners. And if you’re really into having sex in front of mirrors, there’s actually a name for that fetish – katoptronophilia.”

Self-outed autosexual Vitale claims that sex researcher Bernard Apfelbaum was the first to coin the term. In an article on blogging platform Medium, Vitale argues that the true number of autosexuals is underestimated and understudied.

She asks: “Is it because it’s still so stigmatised nobody ‘believes’ it’s real and thus, never sincerely studies it? Or is it because autosexuality is actually quite rare and there aren’t enough folks who manifest behaviour in the same way to properly qualify it?”

Complete Article HERE!

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When Sex Workers Do the Labor of Therapists

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BY Carrie Weisman

Sky is a professional escort. She’s been working at Sheri’s Ranch, a legal brothel located in Pahrump, Nevada, for a little under a year. A few months back, a man came in asking for a group session with Sky, who prefers to be identified by her professional name, and one of her colleagues. He had come around a few times before. He made it a point to keep in touch through Twitter. This time, however, the session took a dark turn. He came in to tell them he was planning on killing himself.

“We see a lot of clients who have mental health issues,” she tells In These Times. Though, this experience was markedly more dramatic than her usual run in with clients who going through a depressive episode. She and her colleague were eventually able to talk the guy down. They sent him home with a list full of resources that specialize in matters of depression. They asked that he continue to check in with them through social media. 

Research suggests that upwards of 6 million men are affected by depression every year. Suicide remains the seventh leading cause of death among men in America. While it’s impossible to gauge exactly what percentage of that demographic frequents sex workers, the experiences of those in the field can offer some insight. During Sky’s last tour at the Ranch, she scheduled about seven appointments. Out of those bookings, only one involved sex. “We do a lot of companionship and intimacy parties,” she says. “The clients who sign up for those bookings are the ones struggling with loneliness.” 

And people with depression aren’t the only neurodivergent individuals sex workers encounter on the job. Those suffering from anxiety, a common accompaniment to depression, show up frequently. They also see a lot of people who fall on the autistic spectrum. In fact, Sky says she sees men who fall into the latter demographic relatively often. 

Sky first got her start in the industry working as a professional dominatrix. While she has since pivoted her position in the industry, she’s found ways to incorporate that expertise into life at the brothel. Sure, she offers standard escort services, but she also books sessions dedicated to BDSM, an acronym that can be broken down into three sub categories: Bondage/Discipline, Dominance/Submission and Sadism/Masochism. Each dynamic refers to a specific form impact play that participants can find deeply pleasurable. That kind of tactile experience, she suspects, might offer a certain special appeal to men with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). And she might be right.

Among the many symptoms of those diagnosed with ASD is a resistance to physical contact. According to the CDC, early signs of the disorder may present in the form of an aversion to touch. At the same time, touch is an important sensation to experience. A lack thereof can lead to loneliness, depression and even a more secondary immune system. Researchers have determined that therapies designed to nurture regular sensory integration can help in this regard. 

Goddess Aviva, who also prefers to be referred to by her professional name, is a lifestyle and professional dominatrix based in New York City. Like Sky, she sees a good amount of clients with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and also men dealing with depression and anxiety. She takes certain measures to screen clients. After all, violence against sex workers is an ongoing issue in the United States, and the wavering legality of the trade doesn’t exactly help combat the issue. In the wake of new federal legislation that has largely kicked sex workers offline, and with them, the ability to vet clients from afar, sex workers must be more vigilant than ever about whom they decide to take on. The clients who are neurodivergent or live with mental health conditions don’t seem to be the ones sex workers are worried about.

“You don’t have to be diagnosed with a mental illness to be a shitty person, and some of my clients who do deal with mental illness are wonderful, kind people with good intentions,” says Aviva. “I’ve never felt unsafe with a client that makes it all the way to a session. What matters most to me is that someone is respecting my boundaries, time and protocol.”

Sky, too, has encountered a number of undesirable clients throughout her career in the industry. But, similar to Aviva, these experiences don’t seem to be driven by those suffering from mental health or neurodivergent conditions. “My most uncomfortable moments in the industry have always come from men who would be told by a professional that they were completely sane,” she explains.

Fortunately, for Sky, it’s much easier to weed out problematic clients in places where prostitution is legal. According to her, the brothel has a security team monitoring the property. She also says there’s a sophisticated screening mechanism in place. Before booking a session, all clients have to provide ID and agree to an intimate screening to rule out immediate potential health risks. These aren’t typically privileges those operating independently have access to.

Throughout her career, Sky has encountered clients who have been pointed to the brothel by concerned friends, or family. She even knows of a few who have come by at the suggestion of a therapist. Though, not all mental health professionals would advise that kind of thing.

“Certainly, there are individuals that struggle with social anxiety, which prevents them from finding a real-life partner, and in those cases engaging with a sex worker can be both therapeutic and pleasurable,” says Dr. Michael Aaron, a sex therapist, writer and speaker based in New York City. “But the best option for a therapist that is looking to provide a patient with real-life experience is to seek out surrogates, who are trained and certified by the International Professional Surrogates Association.” The organization he’s referring too, also known as IPSA, operates around a triangular model of therapy involving a patient, a surrogate and a trained therapist. Together, the three work to improve the patient’s capacity for emotional physical intimacy through a series of structured, sexual experiences. The legal status of the practice is largely undefined in most of the United States. 

And maybe it’s not just in the interest of clients to see someone trained to provide the level emotional support they may be after. “It can be heavy,” says Sky. “I’ve had days where I have to take a minute for myself and get myself back together.”

Still, it seems as though few in the field shy away from providing the emotional labor that clients demand. “There’s this huge misconception that at the brothel we just have sex all day,” Sky explains. “But there are a lot of people who come in to work out some serious emotional issues. It’s really a good chunk of what we do.”

“I love my job,” she adds. “But there are certain parties that make us feel like we’re actually making a difference in the world – that we’re actually doing good things and not just providing a good time. And that can be super fulfilling.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Understanding Erotophobia or the Fear of Sex

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By Lisa Fritscher

Erotophobia is a generalized term that encompasses a wide range of specific fears. It’s generally understood to include any phobia that is related to sex. Erotophobia is often complex, and many sufferers have more than one specific fear. Untreated erotophobia can be devastating and may lead sufferers to avoid not only romantic relationships but also other forms of intimate contact.

Specific Phobias

Like any phobia, erotophobia varies dramatically in both symptoms and severity. It is a very personalized fear, and no two sufferers are likely to experience it in the same way. You may recognize some of your own fears in this list.

  • Genophobia: Also known as coitophobia, this is the fear of sexual intercourse. Many people with genophobia are able to begin romantic relationships, and may quite enjoy activities such as kissing and cuddling but are afraid to move into a more physical display of affection.
  • Fear of Intimacy: The fear of intimacy is often, though not always, rooted in a fear of abandonment or its twin, the fear of engulfment. Those who fear intimacy are not necessarily afraid of the sex act itself but are afraid of the emotional closeness that it may bring.
  • Paraphobia: The fear of sexual perversion is itself a complicated phobia. Some people are afraid that they might be perverted themselves, while others fear the perversions of others. Some people with paraphobia are able to enjoy traditional sexual relationships that fit well within their personal moral code, while others are afraid that any form of intimacy might be perverted.
  • Haphephobia: Also known as chiraptophobia, the fear of being touched often affects all relationships, not just those of a romantic nature. Some people recoil from even passing contact by a relative, while others are afraid only of more protracted touching.
  • Gymnophobia: The fear of nudity is often complex. Some people are afraid of being naked, others of people being naked around them. This fear may signal body image issues or feelings of inadequacy, although it may also occur alone.
  • Fear of Vulnerability: Like the fear of intimacy, the fear of vulnerability is often tied to a fear of abandonment or fear of engulfment. Many people are afraid that if they are totally themselves, others will not like them. Fear of vulnerability may affect numerous relationships, both sexual and non-sexual.
  • Philemaphobia: Also known as philematophobia, the fear of kissing may have many causes. It is often tied to physical concerns, such as a concern over bad breath or even germ phobia.

Causes

As a highly personalized fear, erotophobia may have innumerable causes. In some cases, it may be difficult or impossible to pinpoint a specific cause. Nonetheless, some people may be at a higher risk due to past or current events in their lives.

  • Sexual Abuse: Although not everyone with erotophobia has been raped or sexually abused, those who have been traumatized are at increased risk for developing some form of erotophobia.
  • Other Trauma: People who have been through major traumas have a higher risk of developing anxiety disorders including phobias. If the trauma was physical, you may be more likely to develop a touch-related erotophobia, while those who have been through psychological or emotional abuse may be more likely to develop intimacy or vulnerability-related fears.
  • Personal, Cultural, and Religious Mores: Although many religions and societies frown on sexual intercourse except for procreation, following these restrictions does not constitute a phobia. However, many people experience difficulty when trying to balance past and current beliefs. If you have moved away from a restrictive background but are afraid to change past patterns of thought and action, you may at be at risk for developing a phobia.
  • Performance Anxiety: Sometimes, it isn’t actually sex that we fear at all. Instead, we may worry about our own ability to please a partner. Performance anxiety is particularly common in those who are young or inexperienced but may occur in all ages and levels of experience.
  • Physical Concerns: Some people worry that sex will hurt. Some wonder if they will be able to perform due to a physiological condition. Fears that have a legitimate medical basis are not considered phobias. However, some people experience fears that are far out of proportion to the reality of the situation. If your fear is inappropriate to the current risks, you might have a phobia.

Treatment

Because erotophobia is so complex, professional treatment is generally required. Sex therapists are licensed mental health professionals who have completed additional training and certification, and many people feel that they are the best choice for treating sexual concerns. However, it is not generally necessary to seek a sex therapist, as most mental health professionals are capable of managing erotophobia.

Erotophobia generally responds well to treatment, although complex erotophobia may take time and effort to resolve. Depending on your therapist’s style and school of thought, you may need to face difficult and painful memories in order to heal and move forward. Because the nature of the fear is so personal, it is critical that you find a therapist with whom you truly feel comfortable.

Although beating erotophobia is never easy, most people find that the rewards are worth the effort. Be patient with yourself, and honest with your therapist. Over time, your fears will lessen and you can learn to enjoy your personal range of sexual expression.

Complete Article HERE!

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The Bored Sex

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Women, more than men, tend to feel stultified by long-term exclusivity—despite having been taught that they were designed for it.

The “distracted boyfriend” meme gets reversed.

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Andrew Gotzis, a Manhattan psychiatrist with an extensive psychotherapy practice, has been treating a straight couple, whom we’ll call Jane and John, for several years. They have sex about three times a week, which might strike many as enviable, considering that John and Jane—who are in their 40s—have been together for nearly two decades. Based on numbers alone, one might wonder why they need couples counseling at all.

But only one of them is happy with the state of play. And it isn’t Jane.

“The problem is not that they are functionally unable to have sex, or to have orgasms. Or frequency. It’s that the sex they’re having isn’t what she wants,” Gotzis told me in a recent phone conversation. And like other straight women he sees, “she’s confused and demoralized by it. She thinks there’s something wrong with her.” John, meanwhile, feels criticized and inadequate. Mostly he can’t understand why, if his wife is having sex with him and having orgasms, she wants more. Or different.

Despite “fears of seeming sex addicted, unfaithful, or whorish” (Gotzis doesn’t like these terms, but they speak to his patient’s anxieties, he explained), Jane has tried to tell John, in therapy and outside of it, what she’s after. She wants to want John and be wanted by him in that can’t-get-enough-of-each-other-way experts call “limerence”—the initial period of a relationship when it’s all new and hot. Jane has bought lingerie and booked hotel stays. She has suggested more radical-seeming potential fixes, too, like opening up the marriage.

Jane’s perseverance might make her a lot of things: an idealist, a dreamer, a canny sexual strategist, even—again channeling typical anxieties—unrealistic, selfish, or entitled. But her sexual struggles in a long-term relationship, orgasms and frequency of sex notwithstanding, make her something else again: normal. Although most people in sexual partnerships end up facing the conundrum biologists call “habituation to a stimulus” over time, a growing body of research suggests that heterosexual women, in the aggregate, are likely to face this problem earlier in the relationship than men. And that disparity tends not to even out over time. In general, men can manage wanting what they already have, while women struggle with it.

Marta Meana of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas spelled it out simply in an interview with me at the annual Society for Sex Therapy and Research conference in 2017. “Long-term relationships are tough on desire, and particularly on female desire,” she said. I was startled by her assertion, which contradicted just about everything I’d internalized over the years about who and how women are sexually. Somehow I, along with nearly everyone else I knew, was stuck on the idea that women are in it for the cuddles as much as the orgasms, and—besides—actually require emotional connection and familiarity to thrive sexually, whereas men chafe against the strictures of monogamy.

But Meana discovered that “institutionalization of the relationship, overfamiliarity, and desexualization of roles” in a long-term heterosexual partnership mess with female passion especially—a conclusion that’s consistent with other recent studies.

“Moving In With Your Boyfriend Can Kill Your Sex Drive” was how Newsweek distilled a 2017 study of more than 11,500 British adults aged 16 to 74. It found that for “women only, lack of interest in sex was higher among those in a relationship of over one year in duration,” and that “women living with a partner were more likely to lack interest in sex than those in other relationship categories.” A 2012 study of 170 men and women aged 18 to 25 who were in relationships of up to nine years similarly found that women’s sexual desire, but not men’s, “was significantly and negatively predicted by relationship duration after controlling for age, relationship satisfaction, and sexual satisfaction.” Two oft-cited German longitudinal studies, published in 2002 and 2006, show female desire dropping dramatically over 90 months, while men’s holds relatively steady. (Tellingly, women who didn’t live with their partners were spared this amusement-park-ride-like drop—perhaps because they were making an end run around overfamiliarity.) And a Finnish seven-year study of more than 2,100 women, published in 2016, revealed that women’s sexual desire varied depending on relationship status: Those in the same relationship over the study period reported less desire, arousal, and satisfaction. Annika Gunst, one of the study’s co-authors, told me that she and her colleagues initially suspected this might be related to having kids. But when the researchers controlled for that variable, it turned out to have no impact.

Many women want monogamy. It’s a cozy arrangement, and one our culture endorses, to put it mildly. But wanting monogamy isn’t the same as feeling desire in a long-term monogamous partnership. The psychiatrist and sexual-health practitioner Elisabeth Gordon told me that in her clinical experience, as in the data, women disproportionately present with lower sexual desire than their male partners of a year or more, and in the longer term as well. “The complaint has historically been attributed to a lower baseline libido for women, but that explanation conveniently ignores that women regularly start relationships equally as excited for sex.” Women in long-term, committed heterosexual partnerships might think they’ve “gone off” sex—but it’s more that they’ve gone off the same sex with the same person over and over.

What does it all mean for Jane and the other straight women who feel stultified by long-term exclusivity, in spite of having been taught that they were designed for it and are naturally inclined toward it? What are we to make of the possibility that women, far from anxious guardians of monogamy, might on the whole be more like its victims?

“When couples want to remain in a monogamous relationship, a key component of treatment … is to help couples add novelty,” Gordon advised. Tammy Nelson, a sex therapist and the author of The New Monogamy and When You’re the One Who Cheats, concurs: “Women are the primary consumers of sex-related technology and lubricants, massage oil, and lingerie, not men.”

Of course, as Jane’s example shows, lingerie might not do the trick. Nelson explains that if “their initial tries don’t work, [women] will many times shut down totally or turn outward to an affair or an online ‘friend,’ creating … a flirty texting or social-media relationship.” When I asked Gotzis where he thinks John and Jane are headed, he told me he is not sure that they will stay together. In an upending of the basic narrative about the roles that men and women play in a relationship, it would be Jane’s thirst for adventure and Jane’s struggles with exclusivity that tear them apart. Sure, women cheating is nothing new—it’s the stuff of Shakespeare and the blues. But refracted through data and anecdotal evidence, Jane seems less exceptional and more an Everywoman, and female sexual boredom could almost pass for the new beige.

It’s not uncommon for women to let their straight partners play in a “monogamy gray zone,” to give guys access to tensional outlets that allow them to cheat without really cheating. “Happy ending” massages, oral sex at bachelor parties, lap dances, escorts at conferences … influenced by ubiquitous pop-cultural cues, many people believe that men need these opportunities for recreational “sorta sex” because “it’s how men are.” It’s how women are, too, it seems.

Women cannot be pigeonholed; the glory of human sexuality is its variation and flexibility. So when we speak of desire in the future, we should acknowledge that the fairer sex thirsts for the frisson of an encounter with someone or something new as much as, if not more, than men do—and that they could benefit from a gray-zone hall pass, too.

Complete Article HERE!

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Here’s What Sex Therapists Really Think About Netflix’s ‘Sex Education’

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The show gets a lot right.

By Kasandra Brabaw

When Netflix’s new show Sex Education dropped earlier this month, it became an instant hit among basically anyone who has sex or thinks about sex. The show follows an awkward teen, Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield), who knows a lot about sex thanks to his sex therapist mom, Jean Milburn (Gillian Anderson). Otis teams up with school outcast, Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey), once they realize that Otis’s sexual knowledge means they can both make some major cash from their peers via “therapy sessions.” In each episode, Otis addresses a new classmate’s sex and relationship issues, all while dealing with his own sexual inhibitions and his mom’s serious prying.

Those who love the show love how relatable it is in showing the awkward situations and weird sexual questions that teens are inevitably going through but aren’t usually talking about. And with Otis as acting as a sex therapist for his classmates, we get to see what it would be like if teenagers actually had a thoughtful, insightful outlet for talking about sex and relationships.

It also broke barriers in a lot of ways, like showing teens finally having honest, progressive conversations about sex and sexuality. And also showing a full vulva on TV. Of course, that doesn’t mean every bit of Sex Education is 100 percent accurate. This is still TV, after all, and TV shows tend to rely on clichéd tropes and unrealistic drama to make the show entertaining.

So we talked to six real-life sex therapists about their thoughts on the show. Here’s what they had to say.

Spoilers ahead if you haven’t watched the whole season!

1. The show’s portrayal of an actual licensed sex therapist—Jean (Otis’s mom)—is a little clichéd.

“Sex therapy is a bit unconventional as a job, but it’s still a job to us,” Kate Stewart, a licensed mental health counselor based in Seattle, tells SELF.

Although some sex therapists may constantly talk about sex and have lots of sex with lots of people, the majority don’t. “I rolled my eyes at the trope of the mom banging all these people because she’s a sex therapist,” sexologist Megan Stubbs, Ed.D. tells SELF. “Banging people all over the place is not a job requirement.”

Then there’s the issue of the job itself—Jean makes it look like being a sex therapist is a cakewalk. It’s not. “For the most part, sex therapists don’t just sit around in big houses barely doing anything and looking gorgeous all day,” Rosara Torrisi, Ph.D., a sex therapist based in Long Island, tells SELF. “We see clients, we write articles, we give talks, we lecture, we teach, and so on. Looks nice, though.”

2. But her dildo-filled office is pretty realistic.

“I want to say that I don’t have nearly as much crazy sex art, but I do have two nude paintings and a bunch of crystal and stainless steel dildos decorating my office,” Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist and creator of Finishing School, tells SELF.

3. Most sex therapists are generally better with personal and professional boundaries.

Not only does Dr. Milburn openly hold therapy sessions in her home—breaching her patient’s privacy, as well as her and Otis’s potential safety—she also pries into her son’s sexuality and disrespects his wishes on a few occasions. Sure, lots of moms do this and it gives us the kind of drama that makes TV interesting, but it’s not exactly how you’d expect a sex therapist to act.

“Many of the sex therapists I know have children, and they are all very respectful of their children’s space and ability to explore sexuality in their own way and on their own time,” Stewart says. “I think we would all talk to our children about our work if they were interested, but we wouldn’t get into such graphic detail about our clients being interested in pegging.”

On top of that, we discover that Jean and her ex-husband (also seemingly a sex therapist) had a toxic relationship complete with a lack of boundaries that probably led to Otis’s own sexual inhibitions (specifically, his inability to masturbate). Remember that scene when young Otis sees his dad having sex with a patient? “Completely against our ethics and care for a client,” Megan Fleming, Ph.D., a sex therapist in New York, tells SELF. Later, we see a scene in which Jean explains to young Otis that sex can be wonderful but can also destroy lives. “So it’s not that Otis is just inhibited,” says Fleming. “He was taught and conditioned by his own mother that sex is destructive

But then again, nobody is perfect, even therapists. And Jean’s behavior shines a light on that fact.

“Otis’s mother was one of my favorite characters,” sex therapist Megan Davis, M.Ed, tells SELF. “She shows the reality that even though we are therapists, we’re sometimes at fault for crossing boundaries with those closest to us (by writing a book about Otis’s sexual difficulties), being unclear in our communication, and reacting in stressful situations.” She adds, “I can admit, I am sometimes guilty of not taking my own advice or keeping my cool.”

4. But Sex Education does a great job depicting real sex and relationship problems—and solutions.

“My favorite scene was when Otis counseled the two lesbians in the pool,” Dr. Torrisi says. “At some point one of them remarks that the issue can’t be the relationship, that it’s just the sex. I hear this a lot. Yes, having a good relationship can help sex. And having good sex can help the relationship. But often as a sex therapist, I see people scapegoat the sex in order to hide their fears about the relationship.”

In fact, pretty much every therapy session Otis has with fellow students rings true. “Otis addressed issues such as low or no desire, pain during sex, lack of orgasm, erectile dysfunction, and sexual orientation issues,” Davis says. “We have a tendency to shame and silence discussions of sexuality and sexual issues, but Otis was able to help his peers to remove the shame and begin openly talking about their bodies, their sexuality, and their issues.”

The way people react to his advice is realistic as well. “There is an immense power in just being able to talk about sex out loud. In the scene in the bathroom with Adam, you can practically see the weight coming off of his shoulders when he acknowledges that he’s having issues with his erection and orgasm,” Marin says. “I see that same kind of relief with my clients, too.”

5. Ultimately the program shows that sex therapy—or at the very least better sex education—can be helpful for pretty much anyone.

“Otis debunked many myths about sex during his sessions with his peers. For example, the myth and expectation that men should last 30-45 minutes before orgasm, when in fact most men only last three to five minutes. And the myth that vaginas [or, more accurately, vulvas] are supposed to look a certain way, particularly the labia,” Davis says.

Despite the TV tendency to solve complex problems in 30 minutes or less, Otis uses very real sex therapy tactics to help his fellow students. “He provided education to his peers, homework (i.e. when he sent Aimee home and encouraged her to masturbate on her own in order to tell her partner what she likes or doesn’t like in bed), brought in both partners to work on communication strategies, worked with couples on conflict resolution skills, and encouraged experimentation individually or as a couple,” Davis explains.

Although the show portrayed sex therapy in both realistic and unrealistic ways, it’s strides ahead of similar teen shows about sex. In Sex Education, sexual issues like erectile dysfunction and sex injuries aren’t laughed off—they’re given serious thought and discussion.

If after watching the show you think you might benefit from sex therapy of your own, here’s how to find out more about it.

Complete Article HERE!

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Forget couples counselling,

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it’s all about sex therapy now

More couples are going straight to sex therapy to support the relationship.

By Thomas Mitchell

A friend recently told me that he and his girlfriend had been seeing a sex therapist. Their sex life had been sliding, and they were struggling to connect, so they booked in for a few sessions. Fast forward to our conversation, and it had worked wonders for their relationship.

“It was the best thing we’ve ever done,” said Scott*, with the obvious glow of someone having top-shelf sex again. “But you should’ve seen my dad’s shocked face when I told him.”

For context, Scott is close to his dad and had wanted to share this development with him.
While he hadn’t predicted his dad’s disbelief, I was less surprised. Scott’s father was the kind of man who would say things like, “Come on now, that’s enough” if the conversation drifted towards sex at the dinner table.

But rather than focus on his old man’s failure to appreciate the value of sex therapy – that would be akin to being shocked by the sun rising each morning – I was delighted.

In the last six months, I’d heard many tales of people I knew employing sex coaches, attending seminars, working with sex therapists.

Adding Scott’s story to this pile, I was convinced I had (anecdotal) evidence of a pattern. As it turns out, I wasn’t too far off the mark.

“We certainly notice that people are more comfortable talking about their sex lives and that has been reflected in people using different sexual services,” says Fiona Barrett, a counsellor with Relationships Australia.

“I put it down to a cultural shift, Masters and Johnson did their groundbreaking sexual research in the late 1950s, but it takes a generation or two for people to get comfortable.”

“My parents wouldn’t have gone to a sex therapist,” adds Fiona.

“But today we’re finding middle-aged and young adults seeking out these services because sexuality is in the media, it’s talked about at dinner, people are open about their desires and needs.”

It’s a trend that Lisa Torney, a practising sex therapist with more than twenty years in the field, has witnessed.

“We’ve seen a cultural shift, people are aware that pleasure and intimacy are important aspects of their relationships,” says Lisa.

“And if that’s missing, they don’t want to just get help, they want to get specialised help.”

While some people still hear the words “sex therapy” and picture candles, blindfolds and soft music, the reality couldn’t be further from it.

“Sex therapy typically involves getting history on the couple or individual, to understand what their relationship with sex is like,” explains Lisa.

“We’re looking to decipher what factors are impacting on them – things like lack of confidence, having kids, age, illness, disability, previous negative experiences – and realising how that might affect their intimacy levels and how we can improve and work through that.”

As well as being a sex therapist, Lisa is the national chairperson of the Society of Australian Sexologists, a body that is growing as supply attempts to keep up with demand.

“Our membership keeps increasing, and we now offer two Masters degrees in Australia in sexology,” she says.

Meanwhile, sex education and intimacy coaching is also becoming popular, as couples and individuals look to prioritise pleasure. It differs from sex therapy in that there is less of a focus on counselling and more on coaching, to help people achieve the fulfilling sex lives they want.

Organisations catering to the carnally curious are popping up all around the country offering individual classes, group sessions or weekends away.

“More people than ever are looking for a better connection with their sensual self, they want to get back into their bodies because they have felt out of touch for far too long,” says Georgia Grace, a Sydney-based sex educator and coach.

At the mention of the ‘sensual self’, I can’t help but think of Scott’s disapproving dad frowning his way through a session.

But while he may not find anything useful in being coached, others do.

“Couples need education and training in how to relate, increase pleasure, ask for consent, practice boundaries and understand who they are as sexual individuals,” she says.

Now everyone knows there’s nothing sexier than statistics, so let’s heat things up with a little data.

The Australian Study of Health and Relationships is our most important study of sexual and reproductive health, only carried out once-in-a-decade, it delivers a snapshot of where we’re at sexually.

The most recent study, completed in 2016, found that while Australians are more experimental and open than ever, the frequency of sex in relationships has dropped. Perhaps that explains our desire to seek out help from therapists and coaches.

“We’re more at ease with sex, but there are also more intrusions now, even in the past two years since that study,” explains Georgia.

“People take their devices to bed, we’re living vicariously through our phones and it becomes hard for people, and couples, to switch off, so they can turn on.”

Both Lisa and Georgia admit that – “what’s a normal sex life?” – is one of the most common questions they hear from clients and both also agree, there is no such thing.

But in light of our increasing desire to explore, improve, understand and enjoy sex, it’s clear that
what’s not normal is the reaction of Scott’s father.

Eventually, I asked Scott what he said to his dad and his response was priceless – “come on now Dad, that’s enough.”

  • Scott’s name was changed to protect his privacy.

Complete Article HERE!

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The 5 Most Common Sexual Complaints That Couples Have

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By Jessa Zimmerman

As a sex therapist, I see an amazing breadth of presenting issues and concerns in my practice. Despite the fact that I talk about sex all day, there is an incredible diversity in the people I work with, the stories they share, the goals they want to achieve, and the ways in which sexual difficulties show up and affect them. However, there are themes that emerge in my work. While every couple is different and their path to my office unique, there are several common problems people encounter in their sexual relationships. Here are five of the ones that appear the most, as well as ideas about how you might approach the situation if this is where you find yourself:

“We disagree about how often to have sex.”

For most of the couples that come to therapy, sexual desire discrepancy has become an issue. When a couple is counting how often they have sex, treating their intimate life as a math problem, that’s my clue that they have been having the wrong conversation. The answer is not about finding an average or creating a quota; it’s about creating a sex life that can be truly engaging for both people.

In every relationship, there is one person who wants more sex and one who wants less. That isn’t a problem by itself, but it can become one when people don’t know how to manage that tension and don’t know how to handle their part well. The person who wants more sex tends to take their partner’s level of desire personally. They tend to feel rejected, undesirable, and unimportant. The person who wants sex less feels pressured. They can either feel like something is wrong with them (that they are missing a “natural” sex drive) or resentful that their partner can’t accept them for who they are.

What to do

The more desirous person needs to stop treating sex as an affirmation of their worth. They need to separate their own sense of worth from their partner’s level of desire. If sex has become something that needs to happen to make you feel better, it’s lost its appeal. It’s not sexy to have sex out of neediness rather than an authentic desire to connect with each other. It’s also important that the more desirous partner continue to advocate for what they want. So many higher desire partners start avoiding the topic or waiting for the other to volunteer sex. Keep talking about the importance of sex and your desire to share that experience with your partner. At the same time, handle a “no” graciously.

The less desirous partner should start by identifying obstacles that are in the way of the desire they may otherwise have. Identify and address each barrier you find. Resolve the relationship issues that keep you feeling distant. Manage the environment to help you relax and shift gears into sex, whether that’s cleaning up or putting a lock on your door. Speak up about what you need in sex itself, especially if you haven’t been getting it.

It’s important to understand that you may also have what I call “reactive desire.” This means your sexual desire doesn’t show up until after you’ve started. This means you need to create opportunity to get aroused and interested. Instead of saying no out of instinct, consider saying “maybe.” Start talking, kissing, touching…whatever you like. And if you end up turned on and interested in sex, great! If not, that’s OK too. Either way, the less desirous person should take an active role in creating a sex life that they can embrace.

“I do all the initiating.”

There are two basic reasons one person ends up doing all or most of the sexual initiation. First, the desire discrepancy I described above tends to result in the higher desire partner being the one to suggest sex. The lower desire person often ends up accepting or rejecting the other’s invitations. Second, the more desirous of you also tends to be someone who experiences what I call “proactive desire.” This is the spontaneous desire that most of us think of as libido. This person thinks about sex, experiences spontaneous arousal or interest, and wants to seek it out and make it happen. This makes it easy to initiate. If your partner has “reactive desire,” though, they may almost never think about sex. It legitimately doesn’t cross their mind. This makes it more challenging to initiate sex.

What to do

The two of you need to accept that no amount of sexual desire is “correct” and that reactive desire is normal. Nothing is broken. You have to find a way to work together and collaborate on your sex life. To achieve more balance in your sex life, the person who struggles to initiate may need to do it on purpose. If you have reactive desire, you aren’t going to initiate sex because it’s on your mind and you’re horny. You can do it from a more intentional place, thinking about the value of your sex life in general and the importance of taking a more active role in your relationship. It’s OK to start with an engine that’s cold; take your time, get going, and see if the engine turns over. If you end up turned on and interested, you may want sex—when you couldn’t have imagined that just a few minutes ago. If you don’t, that’s fine, too. At least you connected with your partner and took some responsibility to tend to your intimate relationship.

We each have sexual preferences and desires that interest us and turn us on. Early in a relationship, we tend to migrate toward the common ground, the things we both enjoy and that don’t make either of us uncomfortable. Later in a relationship, though, this can become a problem. One or both of you may want to explore some of the sexual behaviors or activities that were held back or neglected early on.

What to do

It’s worth trying to get out of your comfort zone and experimenting with some of the things that interest your partner. If you think about it, everything we’ve done sexually started off as uncomfortable. We have to develop comfort with things over time, whether it’s French kissing or oral sex. So experiencing some discomfort or anxiety can be OK, if you’re able to approach it as a willing partner and as an experiment. Of course, it’s OK to have some hard no’s (or to discover some), too. You do need to take care of yourself and not violate your own integrity or bottom line. You’ll want to find a balance of saying no when you need to and yes when you can.

There are other ways to incorporate some sexual desires, too, if you determine that you can’t do them with your partner. You may be able to talk about them and bring them into your experience in imagination. You may find a “lite” version that works for both of you. If nothing else, you can use that erotic material in solo sex, fueling your fantasies and arousal there.

“My partner masturbates and/or watches porn.”

It’s perfectly normal to masturbate, whether you’re single or in a relationship. Solo sex and partnered sex are really apples and oranges. Sex with a partner is a collaboration, a give and take between two people. Solo sex is an opportunity to have a simpler experience, a quick release, or an exploration of your own eroticism. As long as masturbation is in addition to your sex life, not instead of, it is not a problem.

It may challenge you to think that your partner finds sexual arousal in anything besides you. We don’t stop finding other people attractive just because we’re in a relationship. And we don’t stop finding sexual behaviors interesting just because our partner doesn’t enjoy them. We don’t own the thoughts in each other’s minds, and it is futile to try to police what our partner is thinking about.

What to do

As long as the sex life you share is fulfilling and enjoyable, let go of the worries about what your partner finds arousing. And if your sex life needs work, focus on that rather than controlling their sexual thoughts.

Now, actually talking about the viewing of pornography and how you each feel about it can be a difficult and loaded conversation. For some, pornography is just another erotic medium that provides stimulation and fodder for the imagination. For others, it can become a compulsive and problematic behavior. Some people can enjoy watching porn; others cannot accept it at all based on moral, social, or ethical complaints. It’s not that viewing porn is either “right” or “wrong.” It’s about having a conversation where you can truly be curious about each other’s perspective and then coming to an agreement and understanding that works for you both.

“We find ourselves avoiding sex.”

If you and your partner have struggled with sex, with any of the problems I’ve already described or any of the many others, it’s likely you’ve started to avoid sex. It’s natural to avoid things that make us feel bad. Once sex has become loaded, stressful, disappointing, or negative, of course you aren’t looking forward to the next encounter. In fact, sex may feel like a test or an ordeal—one that you expect to fail.

What to do

You can take a two-pronged approach to addressing sexual avoidance: Deal with the things that make sex seem negative, and address your sex life together rather than avoid it.

The first step in dealing with what makes sex negative is to challenge your expectations. If you have the idea that sex should be easy, that sex should go a certain way, or that you have to perform, then you set yourself up to be disappointed. But if you adopt a view that sex is just about experiencing pleasure and connection with your partner, that anything you share sexually is a win, and that there is no way to fail at sex, then you set yourself up for success. Second, you can take steps (many that I’ve outlined in this article) to improve the sex you’re sharing with your partner.

The more you can treat sex as a collaborative process and endeavor, the more enjoyable you’ll find your sex life. Communicate openly with your partner about what’s working and what isn’t. Keep talking about what matters to you in sex and what would make it more engaging for you. Resist any urge to hide and avoid rather than deal with your issues.

It’s normal and common to struggle in your sex life. A long-term, committed relationship takes work—in the bedroom and out. If you’ve encountered any of these issues in your relationship, take heart in the knowledge that they’re common—and totally workable.

Complete Article HERE!

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8 Signs a Sex Therapist Might Improve Your Life

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(and How to Find One)

People are trained to make your sex life better! What a world.

By Sophie Saint Thomas

You may have joked to friends that you don’t need therapy—you have them. But sometimes working through the hard stuff requires help from a neutral party who happens to be a licensed professional. If your hard stuff is about sex, a sex therapist may be your best option. Here are eight signs a sex therapist could be a great addition to your life, and after that, advice on actually finding one.

1. You’re experiencing pain or physical difficulty when you try to have sex.

It’s important to see a medical doctor first to rule out any physical conditions behind this, somatic (body-based) psychologist and certified sex therapist Holly Richmond, Ph.D., tells SELF. Unfortunately, a ton of things can cause horribly painful sex, like cervical inflammation from a sexually transmitted infection, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids. In that kind of situation, medical treatment may help ease difficulty having sex.

If you see a medical doctor and there is no physical issue at the core of your trouble with sex, that doesn’t make what you’re dealing with any less significant. Seeing a sex therapist to discuss any psychological components at play can be helpful, Richmond explains.

For instance, vaginismus, which causes painful vaginal muscle spasms during penetration, can stem from anxiety about having sex, according to the Cleveland Clinic. (That could include anxiety about it being painful even if any condition causing the pain has been treated.) It can also happen due to issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder from a sexual assault. Stress is one of many possible psychological causes behind erectile dysfunction, too.

Point is, the mental and physical are often so closely intertwined that painful sex is a very valid reason to see a sex therapist.

2. You’re processing sexual trauma.

It’s a misconception that trauma leaves all survivors incapable of being sexual beings. Enjoying sex after an assault is possible, and a sex therapist might help you get there.

Of course, recovering from a sexual assault is a different process for everyone. But for some people, a sex therapist is a better option than a more generalized mental health professional. “Oftentimes therapists will talk about the trauma, but there’s no resolution on how we move forward as our sexual selves,” says Richmond, who treats many survivors. “[Sex therapists] process the trauma and move forward to help you have sex with your partner. We can help you move from survivor to thriver.” That’s not to say a therapist who doesn’t specialize in sex can’t help you heal after an assault. But if you’d like to specifically focus on the sexual aspect, a sex therapist may be ideal.

3. You’re in a partnership with mismatched desires.

This can mean many things, like one person having a higher libido than the other or being interested in exploring a kink such BDSM, sex therapist Liz Powell, Ph.D., who often sees partners with mismatched desires, tells SELF.

While having a kink is generally becoming more accepted, disclosing one can still be scary. This is where a sex therapist can help. For instance, Richmond recalls a couple who came to her because the male partner was struggling with the female partner’s urge to explore her submissive side in a specific way. “She wanted to be called a slut, a whore, and her partner just could not do it. So, we had to figure out other ways for her to work within her fantasy,” Richmond says

If necessary, a sex therapist can also guide you through the realization that the partnership isn’t working due to incompatible desires. “So many people are just petrified of breakups [and] they choose to stay even when they’re not happy,” Powell says. Seeing a therapist together may help you figure out whether to salvage the relationship or bring it to a respectful end.

4. You want to explore opening up your relationship.

This is another scenario Powell, who specializes in LGBTQ+ communities along with kink and polyamory, sees quite often. A sex therapist can help a couple in this situation craft a relationship format that allows both of them to feel safe and fulfilled. That can mean everything from the freedom to have a one-night stand once a year while in another country to dating multiple partners.

Having an impartial, trained person involved can help ensure that no one is simply capitulating to something like an open relationship due to pressure (even the internal kind) and that both partners are respecting each other’s boundaries—even if that means splitting up.

5. You have questions about your gender identity.

The gender revolution is making progress. In one recent win, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law a provision that creates room for a third gender, X, on birth certificates.

But there are setbacks, too, as evidenced by the recent news that the Department of Health and Human Services wants to define gender as a fixed identity determined by a person’s genitals at birth. (It’s not.)

In light of the continued fight to have everyone’s gender identity respected, figuring out the right words or expression for your gender can be a daunting task. A sex therapist, particularly an LGBTQ+ friendly one, may be able to help you alone or with a partner, Powell says.

6. You’re exploring your sexual orientation.

As with gender, a sex therapist can help you navigate questions about your sexual orientation, reassure you that there’s nothing wrong with you, and aid you in your journey of self-discovery. This can be especially helpful if you’re in a monogamous relationship and experiencing sexual curiosity for people of genders other than your partner’s, Powell says.

A sex therapist could also be useful if you’re wondering whether or not you’re asexual or would like to talk about being asexual. “Some people think it’s a sex therapist’s job to make people have more sex and crazier sex, and [it’s] definitely not,” Richmond says. “You don’t have to have any sex. As long as you’re OK with it, I’m OK with it.”

7. You’re a current or former sex worker or dating someone who is.

Richmond says she frequently sees couples in which one person is or used to be a sex worker. A good sex therapist can help people uncover and eradicate any kind of internalized stigma around the profession. “In many people’s minds, because of our cultural lens, that’s something to be ashamed of,” Richmond says. “That’s not my view

Another important component may be helping the person not in the adult industry separate their partner from their sex work, Richmond says, explaining that people who are dating sex workers sometimes fetishize their partners accidentally. “Helping separate the person’s identity from [the adult industry] can be tricky because of the shame, but at the end of the day, you’re just dating another person,” she says.

8. You want to overcome sexual shame.

You may have noticed a theme here. From gender identity to surviving an assault to sex work and more, a sex therapist can help you deal with something that brings you shame even if that emotion is totally unwarranted. (As it is with everything on the above list.)

Both Powell and Richmond say that, deep down, most people who see them want to know if they’re “normal.” Shame has a funny way of making you feel like you’re not, and it’s the opposite of conducive to enjoying a healthy sex life. But it can also be almost impossible to escape. “Having grown up in a culture with so much shame, I think most of us could benefit from seeing a sex therapist,” Powell says. If anything is keeping you from having the love or sex life you always wanted, a sex therapist might be able to help you work through it.

Wishing you could teleport to a sex therapist’s office right now? Here’s the next best thing: advice on finding a great sex therapist you can afford.

Finding the right therapist can feel like dating. Despite their qualifications, therapists are humans, too. You might run into a therapist with their own sexual hang-ups or old-fashioned views, or just someone you don’t gel with. But when you find “the one,” there’s no feeling like it. Here are a few steps to try
1. If you have insurance, call and ask for help finding a local sex therapist. You can also look through their online directory. Since that may not allow you to filter specifically for sex therapists, you might still need to do some digging on the therapists’ backgrounds.

2. Richmond suggests looking into the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT). They have an online directory of local professionals. Not all of the professionals list their insurance policies, though, so you’ll need to visit their websites or get in touch with their offices to ask about that.

3. Online services such as ZocDoc and Psychology Today have filters that allow you to get more specific about what you want. For instance, on Psychology Today, you can drill the results down to sex therapists who specialize in gender identity, take your insurance, and participate in online therapy. (Even if it seems like you’ve landed upon your dream therapist, it’s always smart to call the office and verify that all the information you’ve found is up to date.)

4. Try asking your potential therapist’s office if they ever accept payment on a sliding scale and, if they do, which income brackets qualify. Unfortunately, not all therapists take insurance. Even if they do, your insurance may not cover your One True Sex Therapist. If your therapist accepts payment on a sliding scale, that can be a great way to lower your financial burden.

5. If price is still an issue, consider seeing a sex educator or a counselor instead of a therapist. Someone with a degree such as an M.S.W. (masters in social work) may have a lower rate than someone with a degree like a Ph.D., but should still be highly skilled.

6. Google “sex-positive therapist in [insert your city here].” You may find a network such as Manhattan Alternative, which lists sex-positive therapists in New York City who specialize in areas such as kink, ethical non-monogamy, and sexual assault survivorship.

7. If you’re looking for help specifically related to an LGBTQ+ issue, check out SELF’s guide on how to find an LGBTQ+ friendly doctor. Much of it extends to finding a sex therapist as well.

8. Ask about virtual sessions. If the best therapist you find isn’t in your city, remember that many are open to coaching you over the phone or virtually with a service like Skype or FaceTime, Richmond says. For all its potential ills, technology can be a beautiful thing.

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