Tag: Relationship

Good Sexual Relationship Essentials: Easier Than You Think

This August, Vancouver hosted the 33rd annual meeting of the International Academy of Sex Research, where I was privileged to meet the stars in the field of sexuality research and to hear them present their latest findings. Among them was Dr Peggy Kleinplatz, an Ottawa-based sex therapist who has been gathering data from seniors in long-term, sexually-successful relationships. Her subjects were all over 60, in their relationships for 25 years or more, and happy with their sex lives. Dr. Kleinplatz and her team wanted to know how they had done it.

They designed the study along scientifically rigorous guidelines. Only Kleinplatz and her assistant knew the identity of the respondents. Once the interviews were completed, they coded the responses and had them processed by other researchers who were blind to ages, genders, and other demographics. What did those researchers learn?

One interesting finding was that the researchers could not identify older from younger, male from female, nor geographical, ethnic, or any other specific differences among the happy couples. This indicates that when we form long-standing, contented, mutually beneficial relationships and are bolstered by meaningful, joyous sexuality, differences between people vanish. Erasing those disparities enables peaceful co-existence and encourages sexual adventurousness.

As well, there were no complicated magical formulae, no unusual practices that these couples used to preserve good sex for twenty-five years or more, other than a sustained insistence on the importance of sexuality in their lives. Though all of these couples were devoted and loving, the majority were polyamorous, or had become so during the course of their relationships. Surely this signals a confidence not only personally but also in their union, so that fidelity was not confused with possession. They viewed sex as a natural and healthy human expression and revelled in its open expression.

These couples set aside time for sex on a regular basis. Being older, they gave sex more time than they did when they were younger and distracted by work and family duties. Some began planning their weekend of sex on Thursday by preparing finger food so they would not be interrupted by hunger over the next few days. Then they spent the weekend luxuriating in lazy, playful sex until Monday started another week’s routine.

Note the word “playful” in that sentence. That’s the key factor found by Kleinplatz’s team. When they analyzed all the data, laughter was the key element. Those couples who laughed, giggled, and thoroughly enjoyed themselves during sex reported solid, happy relationships. Given that one feature, other demographics fell away, leaving happy, loving, communicative couples. Simple, eh?

This is the newest research–cutting edge stuff–performed under rigorous conditions by highly educated, dedicated professionals hungry for accurate information. And the answer? Laughter! Fun! Taking time to enjoy playful sex on a regular basis for many happy years!

This is great news. We can all do this. True, some relationships may need remedial work, but that’s available through sex therapy with dedication, hard work and open hearts. If you already have a strong and loving union, this new research is the hopeful and confirming news you need to fuel years of ongoing love, sex, and companionship.

But I Can’t Say THAT

– Originally published on WebOfCare.com

Sexual communication? It’s easy, when our message is “Oh, Sweetheart, that was just the BEST!”. It becomes more thorny when we need to express disappointment, anger, or disinterest; and it seems futile when our partner can no longer even comprehend the discussion, as can be the case with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and brain injury. Perhaps all of us wish we could speak easily about sex and intimacy, though few of us escape the pleasure-phobic societal taboos and innuendos that teach us we must not talk about sex. And when we throw into the mix our misconceptions and unrealistic expectations about romance and marriage, it is no wonder we hesitate to blunder forward in an area in which we are uninformed and in which our partner’s response is unpredictable and important.

Romance and new love are fertile ground for verbal exchanges about lovemaking, but it doesn’t take long for the honeymoon stage to spend itself. (The word ‘honeymoon’ refers to the concept of the time from one full moon to the next–only twenty-eight days!). Thereafter, it is as important to learn to speak about our most vulnerable and intimate wishes as it is to discuss healthy styles of co-habitation, decision-making, and conflict resolution. But most of us soon establish unspoken sexual codes, and verbal communication steadily wanes.

The danger is that silence guarantees constancy or deterioration of a situation. When we want change, we must stop being silent. We have a much better chance of getting what we want if we ask for it. One of the myths we learn about love and romance is that “If you really loved me, you’d know what I want.” Deciphered, this means we expect our partners to read our minds. Not only is this impossible, but it sets us up for disappointment when our lovers (predictably) fail the test, proving to us that we are unloved. Then, unsure of our status, we feel vulnerable and powerless, further silencing us. Such an ugly cycle, and an unnecessary one!

At this point we are influenced not only by the belief in mind-reading, but are broadsided by yet another myth, that any suggestion involving our mate’s sexual performance will be unbearably painful and scar the relationship. This is another manifestation of our culture’s ‘silence about sex’ credo, firmly ingrained in our social code. Typical of myths, it just is not true. In fact, most of us hunger for a little direction, a small suggestion, that informs us how better to please our sexual partner. Since we are given little or no information about sexual relationships as we grow up, and since we are expected to be proficient lovers upon marriage, we are left in a Catch-22: just how is this transformation to happen? We do a lot of groping, and assuming, and hoping, and sometimes we read each other well enough, and reveal enough of ourselves, that we can and do build solid, loving sexual relationships. Most of us are not that lucky. And all of us could improve what we have if we can learn to speak honestly and open heartedly about what we really like (and really don’t like) about sex.

How do we learn to be fluent in the language of sexuality?

We begin with an examination of our personal beliefs and attitudes about our bodies and about sex. For instance, who is responsible for our bodies? Who is responsible for our body’s pleasure? If we give ourselves away to another person, we lose the privilege and right to govern our own experiences. It is when we take full responsibility and control of ourselves that we can assess clearly what we need and want.

Regarding sexuality specifically, what kinds of sexual activities do we want? How often do we want to be sexual? How important, or insignificant, is sexuality to us? What compromises and accommodations are we willing to make to keep sex central in our lives? How do we differentiate sex from lust/ love/care/duty? When is sex personal and when is it a marital issue?

When we have these pieces figured out, we can attend to our needs and desires. Now comes the task of determining exactly what we would ask for if we could write our own script, if we could eloquently ask for things to be precisely as we wished and our mate’s response would be “Oh, Darling, I’m so glad you asked; I’ve been hoping for the same changes!” If there were no reason for fear and many for daring, what, exactly, would we ask for? The little things offer a good beginning. There are some relatively safe situations where we can practice our communication skills. Asking to bathe together, or suggesting a massage, or gesturing with a ‘come hither’ look and a smile, are easy places to start. We can begin the flow of language ourselves, telling our mates that we appreciate them sexually and listing the things they do to please us. We can touch more, mentioning how marvelous skin feels touching skin. We can learn this unfamiliar language as we would acquire any other, with patience, and courage, and practice.

So far, so good. But what do we do when we’re well beyond stifled communication? What if we no longer desire our mate, or they us? What if illness or injury makes sexual expression impossible? What if verbal negotiation is impossible?

We begin by acknowledging and embracing our grief for a situation that may well be beyond our control and which is unjust and unfair. We enter loving relationships full of promise and the expectation that we will have happy lives together. When those dreams are dashed, for whatever reasons, we are filled with sorrow, rage, and resentment. Dreams die hard, and it hurts very much to lose them. When illness or injury takes away the lover with whom we once shared those dreams, we lack a dividing line between the marriage that was before and the relationship henceforth. Sometimes things appear pretty much the same as before, even though they feel completely different, and we invariably feel guilty that we don’t feel gracious at all about the changes. Because routine settles us into recognizable lives, we try to ignore our sense of betrayal and rage, and get on with necessary tasks. Family and friends, as helpless as we, feel incompetent (often rightly so) to help. When sex is one of the casualties of a medical crisis, we become mute once again, struck dumb with helplessness and blind to workable options.

It is at this frightening juncture that we are most affected by our abundance (or lack) of preparation regarding the inevitable changes in our sexual relationships. The silence which marks our childhood and early adulthood often invades our marriages, too. Many couples have never had conversations about topics as vital as childbearing philosophies, disparate desire levels, beliefs about sexual exclusivity, and sexual fantasies and fears.

These silences cripple us when we are dealt a bad hand and must make unilateral decisions that involve both people. Often ignorance, fear, and isolation conspire to freeze us into inaction that can last indefinitely, leaving us a life devoid of fulfillment and scarred with resentment and suffering. There are three simple and vital questions to any decision that clarify our goals and options. These questions are:

1) What do I want?
2) How much does it cost?
3) How much am I willing to pay?

When our emotional dust settles and we get clear about our personal expectations, it is time to compile a list of options and determine the costs and rewards of each. This is a difficult process, complicated by the personal and culturally loaded nature of sexual issues, and by our heartfelt desire to do no harm to our loved ones, to impact them as little as possible. Struggling with these issues may bring us to realize a need for a more distant perspective to help us analyze our choices, and sexual or marital therapy may be appropriate at this time. It is vitally important that we choose a qualified (look for certification by the American Board of Sexologists and/or affiliation with AASECT or SSSS), sex-positive therapist. Well-intentioned but unqualified counsellors who labor under their own unexamined sexual beliefs can misinform and limit rather than expand the options in such complex situations.

We may also find that our best solutions are ones that we would normally find unacceptable. Extraordinary circumstances sometimes require extraordinary measures, and needing to make dispassionate choices about
our sexuality certainly qualifies. Judith Light and Jay Thomas star in a daring movie entitled “A Husband, A Wife, and A Lover,” in which Ms. Light plays a woman who (conveniently) has just left her husband when she is notified that he has had a physically compromising stroke from which he will not recover. She dutifully returns to care for him, and shortly meets a man who becomes her supportive friend and eventually her lover. Together, they care for her husband throughout his illness and eventual death, the three of them redesigning their definitions of fidelity to accommodate the reality of their lives. This is a tender yet controversial movie, and even though the often negative responses of their family and friends are downplayed, it illustrates the creativity of those determined to maintain happiness to design affirmative solutions.

A Husband, A Wife, and A Lover illustrates but one solution to the problem of what to do when a sexual relationship with our partner is no longer possible or fulfilling. Some are able to redirect their sexual energy, and experience little loss. Others rely on masturbation and fantasy to fill their sexual needs. Still others frequent prostitutes, offering experienced, made-to-order sex devoid of emotional involvement. Others enjoy short-lived, serial affairs, providing the thrill of novelty and the safety of short duration. Some invest in an open, committed relationship with a person fully aware of our commitments and obligations at home. There is not one right answer to this question, and the appropriate decision must be made personally, following fearless and heartfelt analysis of our situation and consideration of the broadest possible choice of options.

We must each decide what is best for us and those we love and care for. We may well have to stretch to learn how to think ‘outside the box’. We may risk censure and rejection from those who oppose our choices. We may not be able to make everything work perfectly for everyone. We may have to learn to rely on logic as much as faith. We may have to question our commitments, our beliefs and value structures, and our loyalties. We may have to keep private parts of our lives that we would rather share, a frequent cost of sexual iconoclasm.

The test is this: if, after weighing our options honestly and making a decision, we feel that we have made the fairest choice possible, for all concerned, then we have done all we can do. If we aim to act with integrity, we will hit the correct target.

Penis Size

Dear Subscribers,

The following letter came to me via my website. It reflects such a common issue that I’m sure it will resonate with many of you. Here’s your chance to ‘listen in’ and examine a sexual issue. Feel free to send me your own questions. Even if your letter doesn’t make the Hot Topics column, you will get a personal response.

Please Note: All identifying information in this, and all other, articles has been modified to preserve confidentiality. You can always count on this.

Question:

Dear Dr. Ren,

I am totally embarrassed by this question.

My wife and I have been married for 10 years. We are both relatively fit and able-bodied. The marriage is great and we have 2 wonderful children; it’s just that most of the time we only have time for quickies (dodging the kids) and I would rather use my penis. I can really only pleasure her orally or with different types of devices because my penis very small fully erect. The width of it, along with the length just isn’t enough, I guess, to me more personally than my wife. Although there is no problem with my erections, my wife gets no pleasure when I’m inserted. It would be great if I could finish the job with just my penis.

We have tried many different positions and have bought many books showing other sexual methods. I have never tried any product I see advertised. Is there really anything out there that enhances the penis?

Answer:

Let me begin by assuring you that anything over about two inches in penis length is wasted as far as vaginas go. You see, women don’t have nerve endings except in the outer third of the vagina (it’s why we aren’t aware of tampons). The pleasurable sensations we experience from deep penetration are from pressure on the cervix, which can be accomplished quite well with fingers and dildos. I suspect your wife’s lack of pleasure is far more psychological than physical…we are sold such a bill of goods (women as well as men) regarding the ‘bigger is better’ myth.

You are correct that girth is more important than length. And your comment “to me more personally than my wife” reveals much insight, too. If she is dissatisfied, experiment with positions, toys, different touching techniques, etc, and above all, keep talking and listening. And try to believe her when she tells you she wouldn’t trade you in for anything in the world. As to wanting to “finish the job with just my penis”, you may be looking at an ego issue rather than a sexual issue…and that’s a good thing because you can control that. Please believe me when I tell you women are far more satisfied with a caring, attentive lover with a small dick than an insensitive lout with a big one.

I see from your letter that you are comfortable using toys (and, I presume, your hands). I suggest you continue to intersperse intercourse (which, again I’m presuming, YOU enjoy) with oral sex, penetration with dildos for that full feeling your wife likes, and digital manipulation.

As to your question about whether there is actually anything that will extend penis length, yes, there is, but they are imperfect. Check with your local sex store, or contact Good Vibrations. They carry a condom-like sheath that has an extension included, providing extra length. It might be just what you are looking for.

As for creams, lotions, etc…it’s all snake oil. There are penile extension surgeries, but they are very high risk and many men rue the day their egos convinced them to agree to them. There is also a technique (much less dangerous) in which the suspensory ligaments are severed so the penis hangs lower from the body, giving the effect of being longer. Problem? The suspensory ligaments anchor the organ…cut them, and you have no control of the penis, so you must hold it in place during sex or you keep missing your target while thrusting. What a bother.

The fact that you usually have time only for quickies is certainly as much of your problem as the size of your penis. My bet is that if you and your wife set aside time each week for nothing other than creating a safe and comfortable environment in which sex and intimacy can happen, you will both be far more satisfied. I do understand how ‘quickies’ become the norm in a busy household, but your letter cues me that this may well not be affording you what you are seeking. Have a look at my article ‘Mate Dates’, and call the babysitter.

I hope this helps. If you are enjoying a good marriage after ten years, you’re doing something right! Apparently, you and your wife are communicating and problem solving together. The enjoyment of sex is much more between our ears than between our legs. Still, I hear your anguish and hope that these suggestions will bring you some welcome relief from concern.

If you need more information, just ask.

Women’s Unpredictable Orgasms

I find myself explaining to clients the difference in men’s and women’s orgasmic patterns so often that it seems right to devote a Hot Topic to this essential information. It is true that all human bodies respond physiologically almost identically, but the stimulation we require to achieve orgasm varies considerably. The more we know about our own pleasure paths and those of our partners, the more fun we can have sexually.

The difference revolves around the point of inevitability of orgasm. That is the moment when you know—really know—that you are about to come. What happens for men at this moment is invariable – they come. It doesn’t matter if their mother-in-law walks in the room (or the kids, or the cops, for that matter), they’re gonna come. It doesn’t matter if stimulation continues, stops, or changes. Once a male reaches the point of inevitability, orgasm follows.

Not so for women. During the arousal phases, the physiological signs (muscle tightening, skin flushing, breathing changes) are identical to men’s, but when your girlfriend is shouting “yes, yes, yes” while you are circling her clit with your thumb in rotations of one per second and you figure that if she loves this pace then two per second will be twice as good….well, trust me, you’d be wrong. Any change in stimulation at the point of inevitability and the moment will be lost. The connection is far more fragile for women than it is for men. It is one of the few sexual differences between men and women.

It is not only during partnered sex that women experience this tenuous connection. Sometimes women report that even while masturbating in their usual manner they will sometimes experience an orgasm that ‘gets away.’ Almost at orgasm, the most subtle of shifts will prevent the explosion and they are left to start again. It can be a very frustrating experience.

Women who do not understand the intricacies of the orgasmic pattern can believe themselves unable to achieve regular orgasm. If those same women have been taught to feel shame about self-pleasuring, these fruitless attempts may well confirm their guilt. Without understanding the natural rhythm of their bodies, they believe there is something wrong with them, and that they are not entitled to sexual pleasure.

Add to this our culture’s fairy tale that it is a man’s job to give a woman her orgasm. Now if it is difficult for a woman, who owns a woman’s body, to figure out this complicated stuff, how do we expect a man to know how to do it better than she can?!

What can men do with this situation, then? Spend some long, luxurious time exploring your lover’s vulva in minute detail, requesting feedback. What sorts of touch does she like on her inner labia, her outer lips, her clitoris, her urethral opening, her perineum, around her anus, on her mons? Do those preferences change depending on her state of arousal? Ask her to let you watch her bring herself to orgasm and watch closely how the action stills just before the orgasmic explosion. Let her teach you, and remember to tell her how hot it is to watch—we appreciate that reassurance.

Women do not have orgasms as reliably as men do. When we understand that there is nothing wrong with us and that our next romp will probably reap an orgasmic reward we do not fret about it. When men understand our orgasmic uncertainty, too, we can stop faking orgasms, and we would like to do that. Everyone benefits from this knowledge, and of course, when we relax into open and honest sexual communication with our lovers, sex just gets better and better.

Premature Ejaculation (PE) for Women

Some time ago a client came to me for treatment of premature ejaculation. Like most men, he had suffered with this condition his whole life. Married many years, he reported with great sadness that his sexual difficulties had so eroded his relationship that his marriage was on the brink of collapse. His wife had given him a final ultimatum: get fixed or get out.

I explained the course of treatment and we began. All went well until it was time for his wife to join us. Despite his initial success and my encouragement, she steadfastly refused to attend sessions. She would not even speak with me on the phone. Since this was not her problem, she would not be involved in its resolution. She simply wanted him “fixed.”

Months passed. My client called again, reporting some progress. His wife had agreed to read literature about PE aimed specifically at wives. What did I have? I went to the Internet. Nothing. I appealed to a sexologists’ list serve. They suggested couple’s therapy. Hmm.

Therefore, I designed this month’s Hot Topic for the wives of men who suffer with timing their ejaculation. My hope is that when you finish reading this, you will be inclined to join your mate in counselling, for they need you there with them. In the meantime, I hope this column will address your needs.

Many of you have lived for years hoping that perhaps this time sex will be fulfilling, that he will last long enough for both of you to enjoy the connection and intimacy that intercourse can bring. Then he comes fast again. He mumbles he is sorry. You look away, tell him it’s all right, and soothe him. You both turn away from each other, silent and disappointed.

Eventually you avoid his touch. You do not let yourself give in to the expectation of arousal and release. What’s the point? You accommodate his advances so you don’t have to have a discussion or, worse yet, a scene. You feel like a receptacle. You resent him. This is not what you signed on for. Why doesn’t he do something to fix this!? God knows, you’ve been patient, forgiving and loving. Inside you start turning to ice.

As time progresses, your frustration leaks into other areas of your relationship. You no longer view him as someone you can count on. The respect and admiration that once made you breathless is long gone. He becomes just another child to be tended. You can’t even rage at him about this given men’s fragile egos. You consider an affair but reject the idea, for you know the only way you can maintain your family and your sanity is to deny your body any touch. The first whisper of sensual pleasure and you know your defenses would collapse. You are a prisoner in your frozen world. You hate him for this. You cannot punish him enough!

Now he goes to therapy and says he is better. On the few occasions you submit to intercourse he is just as nervous and incompetent as ever. He tells you his therapist says it will be that way until you come in for treatment, too. No way are you falling for that! You have been hurt enough. Why should you risk any more?

I have an answer for you.

You should risk now because your mate and his therapist are telling you the truth. He has gone as far as he can on his own. He has done weeks’ worth of masturbatory exercises (and in some cases taken pharmaceuticals) to learn a new sexual response language to replace the one that did not work.

When he comes to you, the sexual scene is the same. He needs this, too, to be different, and he cannot do this alone. As a team, he and I want to teach you his new language so that you two can speak it together – cautiously and haltingly at first – until slowly and lovingly you become fluent lovers once again. Joyous, relaxed lovemaking awaits you.

I am not so naïve as to believe this is happening in a relational vacuum. I want to see you alone as well as with your mate. I am well aware of your need to vent and to grieve. I understand that you have sacrificed your own sexual expression and may be hopping mad. I realize that we must repair other areas of your relationship as we mend your sexuality. You have been silent for too long. Now is the time to have your story heard in an environment of safety and solace.

Are you afraid that it is too late for you? Do you think that your sensual, responsive nature is hard and dry now, that it can no longer be awakened? It can.

You are no more frightened than your man was. Your stakes are the same. Your reward for taking this risk is also the same – a chance to reconstitute the promise you two made so long ago, buried under disappointment, good intention, and inadequate communication.

Please consider joining your husband in his treatment for PE. It offers not only a chance to repair your beleaguered sex life but also an opportunity to work on the damage done by the effects of dashed hopes, disappointments, and unresolved anger. So much more is possible. Isn’t the risk worth the chance of renewing your relationship?

Premature Ejaculation

A common complaint among heterosexual male clients is their inability to control the timing of their ejaculation. They come too soon. What is too soon? A general perception is that other men last 10-30 minutes. Not so. In his ground-breaking research in the 1950s, Kinsey found that the average time between intromission (when the penis enters the vagina) and ejaculation is two minutes! Most of the time spent in lovemaking is not actual thrusting but in kissing, fondling, caressing and stroking.

In assessing the problem, the number of minutes is less important than the satisfaction of the people involved. If ejaculation occurs sooner than the lovers wish and this causes distress in the sexual relationship, then the ejaculation can be regarded as ‘premature’.

PE is learned early, when adolescent boys hurry through masturbation to avoid getting caught. They focus little emphasis on pleasure; efficiency is the goal. When they begin dating, furtive gropings in inappropriate venues rarely allow boys to luxuriate in the enjoyment of arousal. Ejaculation is often hurried of necessity. When these boys become men and form stable couples, the premature ejaculation sometimes fades as the couple develops a loving sexual rhythm. Those men who more easily learn to control their ejaculatory timing are those who appreciate sensuality and luxuriate in foreplay. They tend to form relationships with women who do not focus on penetrative aspects of sex but rather delight in the overall playfulness of sex. Their relationships are more often egalitarian than those designed along gender role guidelines. Even in stable marriages, however, periods of stress may aggravate PE. When we feel pressured, we often revert to old patterns.

Though a rapid ejaculation pattern generally begins in adolescence, it sometimes occurs later in life in response to a withering relationship or a high stress life change. It can be triggered by the nervousness and excitement of a new sexual experience (partner or situation). Performance anxiety does little to promote relaxation and pleasure, key ingredients for good control. Sometimes after the jitters settle down the problem resolves, but for those men who suffer chronic PE treatment is imperative.

For those men who do not learn ejaculatory control in early relationships, PE can be a difficult behaviour pattern to break, and not all relationships create an environment that promote change. Some components that breed sexual dysfunction are: sexually demanding partners, unrealistic expectations, disparate desires, partners who also have a sexual dysfunction, and an excessive desire to please. A partner’s derogatory remarks uttered in frustration develop a cycle of failure and anxiety. Poor communication and trust underscore these problems.

PE challenges a man’s sexual self esteem and sense of self control. He feels like a bad lover, for in fact he often fails to please his partner. Shamed into silence, he eventually stops discussing other aspects of lovemaking as well. The bedroom is no longer an exciting place to be.

Addressing PE can lead to a new openness about sex that enriches more than ejaculatory control. When trying to deny pleasure to delay coming doesn’t work–and anyone who experiences PE knows that fact—it is time to consider a treatment program. The good news is that a professionally monitored program offers an 85-95% lifelong success rate, and the key to its success is in learning to embrace pleasure. It’s true that it requires commitment and patience, much like learning a new language. The reward is many long years of terrific sex, unmarked by the frustration and humiliation of unintended ejaculation.

Perhaps acknowledging the problem and that you can’t fix it yourself is the toughest hurdle to overcome. No doubt calling a perfect stranger and asking for help with such a personal issue is difficult as well. But with each step in the treatment, your self confidence swells and your ability to control your ejaculation increases. The big bonus is that you begin to experience real pleasure with arousal and sex becomes a glorious expression of joy.

If premature ejaculation is dogging you, consider confronting it. With our modern treatment programs, you can enjoy years of the magnificent sex you deserve!

Preventing Premature Ejaculation: Tales for Tots

PE, or premature ejaculation, affects almost one quarter of men. It batters their self-confidence and plays havoc with their sexual relationships. Many men suffer their whole lives with this affliction, trying unsuccessfully to control the timing of their ejaculations and apologizing to their mates for their failure as lovers. Their women, at first understanding and forgiving, eventually lose patience and withdraw sexually. Many marriages fail under the weight of this burden. The defeated husbands leave knowing they take this shame with them to their next relationship and the cycle continues anew.

It begins years earlier, when we as mothers slap away our son’s hands fondling his penis and tell him “No.” We reinforce it when we punish him for playing doctor. We cement it when we supply him with no information and little privacy and socially condemn masturbation as a violation.

What is he to do, this pubescent lad coursing with hormones and curiosity, plagued with erections and surrounded with erotic images, if he cannot find pleasure and release in masturbation? He can learn subterfuge and stealth is what. He can learn to get off as fast as possible before getting caught.

And that is exactly what he does: as this boy is imprinting his sexual response cycle, he does so not with pleasure and leisure, but furtively, rushed, and suffused with guilt and shame. The pattern is established and reinforced until he forms his early romantic connections, themselves often rushed and unsatisfying.

If he is lucky, he will establish sexual relationships sufficiently long-term and caring to adjust this response pattern to include pleasure and leisure. If not, he carries his original pattern with him until there is an intervention, usually in the form of sex therapy, often after years of disappointment and embarrassment.

And so I aim this column at the mothers and fathers of little boys, hoping to alert you to the pivotal role you have in the shaping of your son’s sexual happiness. I am fully aware and respectful of the intergenerational sexual taboo between parents and children. I also know that you have the power to teach your boys pride, pleasure and comfort in their bodies. You can do this by leaving your toddlers alone when they happily fondle their genitals and by closing the door when you encounter them playing doctor (you may want to provide books with sex information appropriate to their age following your discovery). Don’t wait for them to ask you about sex—lead with information. Before they hit puberty, prepare them for the physical changes awaiting them and explain that their bodies are in training for sex.

This is your opportunity to impart your family values about sexuality. If you want your children to believe that sex is a glorious, fun-filled game that adults play, this is the time to explain that. Let them know now about nocturnal emissions (wet dreams) so they won’t be alarmed by them. Tell them about the value and enjoyment of masturbation. Talk about the pleasure of sex. This is a good time to talk about privacy. Start knocking–and wait for a response–before entering your child’s room.

Will you feel awkward and embarrassed? Probably! Happily, there are marvellous books to help you. Plan an outing to a bookstore and find the sexuality section. Locate some books written for parents and targeted to kids their age. Pick a topic that makes you feel particularly uncomfortable–oftentimes that’s masturbation. Look up that topic in the Index of each book and see which books best match your family values. Shortlist accordingly and choose your favourites from those winners.

After you have read your chosen books, present the books to your kids or read them together. Don’t make it a big deal. Your children will love being informed and will learn that they can come to you with questions.

Optimally this process starts when your children are toddlers and evolves, but it is never too late. Informed kids are protected kids. They are less vulnerable to exploitation and manipulation and they grow up more confident and respectful of themselves and others. And boys who are given information, permission and privacy regarding masturbation grow up avoiding the agony of premature ejaculation.

As we come to the end of another year, perhaps it would make a fine new year’s resolution to do more to foster good healthy sexuality in our children.

Secret Sexual Desires

“Hello, Dr. Ren, I have a sexual problem that makes me very unhappy and could ruin my relationship.”

“I’m glad you called. Please tell me what is bothering you.”

“Well, that’s the thing. I’ve never spoken to anyone about this before. It’s hard to say it out loud.”

That’s how many of my phone calls begin. Many of us harbour sexual fantasies, desires and behaviours about which we feel shame and embarrassment but which we crave nonetheless.

Some believe their desires are so unacceptable that they do not tell even their lovers, believing without asking that they will be rebuffed because of their request.

Sometimes these cravings are quite harmless–like wanting anal sex or enjoying cross-dressing–and may be easily accommodated, but the fear of rejection overrides the risk. Some of my callers tell me they have been married for many years, coping with adequate sex and minimal sexual communication, longing to realize a fantasy and now regretting the fulfilling sex that might have been theirs. They want to know what they can do.

What happens next proceeds in a couple of ways. The first scenario sounds something like this:

Client: “I like to be spanked.”
Me: “How is that a problem for you?”
Client: “Are you kidding? My wife would never agree to do that!”
Me: “It’s a common sexual behaviour. Would you like some help learning to discuss this desire with your wife?”
Client: “Absolutely not. She would leave me.”
Me: “Have you ever broached this topic with her?”
Client: “No. I know her. She wouldn’t accept it.”
Me: “Okay. Then do you want to find ways to indulge in the fantasy of spanking that don’t jeopardize your marriage?”
Client: “Like what?”
Me: “Well, you could watch porn involving spanking, or spank yourself when you masturbate.”
Client: “I don’t like the idea of either of those things.”
Me: “If you don’t like things the way they are, but you don’t want change either, you are left with few choices. How would you like me to help you?”
Client: “I thought that’s what you were going to tell me! Listen, I’ll call back later, okay?”

You would think I wouldn’t hear from that caller again, but I often do, sometimes months later. Eventually the day comes when not taking a chance becomes more painful than risking a change. Let’s listen in on that call.

Client: “I called before. We talked about spanking. You told me it was a normal sexual activity, and I brought it up in conversation with my wife. Funny, but I had to do it a couple of times before I got her attention. It turned out it wasn’t such a big deal, but I didn’t tell her it was about me.”
Me: “Well done. It’s often the case that fear is worse than reality.”
Client: “I’d like to come in to see you now.”
Me: “Of course. What are you hoping to gain from our session?”
Client: “I’ve never talked about this before. I’ve been ashamed of this desire. Now maybe I have a chance to have the kind of sex I’ve always wanted. I want you to teach me how to present this to my wife in a way she can accept. That means I need to learn to accept it fully myself. I also want to learn how to communicate better about sex in general.”
Me: “You sound ready to learn those skills. You may be pleasantly surprised at how receptive your wife is to your willingness to be open and honest with her. This may be the start of the best phase of your lives together.”

The point is that if you want your life to change, you have to be willing to risk changing it. Change stresses, but so does living unhappily. It happens one step at a time, and each step brings you closer to your goal of sexual freedom and fulfillment.

If you are unhappy, consider doing something now to make it better. The answer may be only a phone call away.

Better Sexual Communication

Communication is an overused and misunderstood word. We generally think it means saying what we want someone else to hear and expecting them to understand the message. Actually, communication that promotes intimacy involves far more than just spoken words, and when we add a sexual component to our message, communication can get complicated indeed.

In the early stages of courtship, sex seems perfect. It is abundant and satisfying, fed by those powerful endorphins. Our conversations revolve around getting-to-know-you fascinations and murmurs of appreciation.

We rarely stumble into areas of difficulty until limerence wanes or until we need to negotiate a difference. This can prove either smooth or rocky, depending on good will, our communication skills, and the subject area. Negotiating housekeeping standards is easier than discussing disparate desires, for instance. It is always more thorny when it’s about sex.

As a society we do not talk openly about sex, and we protect ourselves on such a personal level. The parameters of “acceptable” sex are so narrow that asking for something we want that our partner may view negatively can make us feel unacceptable and could lead to our rejection. With that big a risk, most of us remain silent and hope our partner suggests the activity we crave.

The undesirable effect of this self-protection is that our lover reads our silence and inaction as conservative behaviour and responds to it in kind. Before long, we are both locked in a bland set of sexual activities that gets the job done but lacks creativity and vulnerability. Such couples refer to their sex lives as efficient but not hot. Eventually, desire suffers.

One way this type of unimaginative sex is played out is when sex becomes simply intercourse. Lost is the languorous playtime involving caressing, pillow talk, kissing and laughter.

Another is ‘duty sex,’ a close relative of ‘mercy sex.’ You know what they are if you’ve ever given—or received—them. Then there’s twelve-minute sex, and that’s only after a glass of wine. It’s nice, but it’s sure no movie love scene.

Do you both wish for better quality lovemaking but just don’t know how to recapture the magic?

Plan your next few lovemaking sessions to include your three favourite forms of sex play—except intercourse. Have your mate choose, too, and alternate. Do I hear wails of complaint about not getting off? Include orgasm-producing activities in your list, or mutually (or individually) masturbate to conclude your sessions.

If you find that suggesting such an exercise is way outside your comfort zone, it is an indication that you two are locked in a rigid sexual routine and are sharing little sexual communication.

Ask yourself when you can last remember sharing a sexual conversation. Initiate one now. Start small. Perhaps tell your lover three things you appreciate about how you have sex together and ask him or her to respond in kind. Next, ask for three things your partner would like more of. You can see how the questions, and the activities, can grow.

Now, as you begin to open up to each other, tell your lover how much you appreciate knowing this information and how it helps you to be a better lover. Add how you would like sharing your own fantasies, hard as that may be, because it allows you to be sexually visible and vulnerable. And it helps your sex together get better and better. The more you do this, the easier it becomes.

By the time you get to this point, you and your lover will have established a new rhythm to your sexual communication. You can now talk to your partner in new ways because you have learned to take small risks and check their consequences. Because we all love being paid attention to and respond positively to it, we gain better communication–and better sex–immediately.

This is no magic potion: “Take a pill, do an exercise. Save your marriage.” You both need to be onboard. Your relationship needs to be happy and solid. This will not work if you have desire problems, or if you are angry or out of love. However, if you are best friends and still hot for each other, but have just sort of lost touch with the erotic element in your relationship, these tips will help bring it back. Have fun.

Same Language, Different Dialects

Sometimes a thread weaves through one’s life for a while. So I have found it lately with the theme of male/female eroticism. I thought this was complete with October’s Hot Topic, which told of my unsuccessful search for heat at The Lusty Lady. But I was not yet finished. The same message kept coming at me in different forms until I was compelled to pen this month’s column, too, largely informed by my reading of Max Valerio’s excellent book, The Testosterone Files. The theme is similar: the disparate erotic dialects of males and females.

I use the term dialect and not language intentionally, for I believe we are more alike than different in our quest for sexual fulfillment. I believe, too that homosexual couples, whether male or female, have an advantage over their heterosexual counterparts in that they are not only making love with similar bodies but also with minds that view sex similarly and bodies that dance to similar rhythms.

How often I hear women complain that they would welcome their husband’s sexual advances if only he’d romance them first, while that same man complains that if he simply got a little now and again he’d be more inclined to woo his wife! These are not stubborn thoughtless people unwilling to give their mates what they want. It is beyond each of them to understand what the other means.

Transsexual Max Valerio becomes ‘bilingual’ in the language of gendered sexuality as he crosses over from living in the body of a lesbian who enjoys sex just fine to inhabiting the body of a testosterone-driven male. He explains how sex shifted from important to primary, from a craving to a drive. He clarifies how sex and relationship no longer necessarily co-mingle, but are now distinct and at times separable.

Women would be wise to listen to these lessons from a former sister. There is great relief in the message, for if men can be sexually attracted to others without any emotional connection (just as they’ve been saying all along), there’s really no harm done, is there? We needn’t be threatened by Internet images or ogling. Maybe we can even encourage our men to rev up visually outside and bring the good sex energy home. If we want them to begin the romance in the morning, maybe we can start the titillation then, too (“Go ahead and stoke your fires all day, Honey, cause tonight I’ll be taking care of all the heat you can build!”)

For most males, the romantic or emotional connection part of sex is distinct but not absent. Orgasm releases a cascade of brain chemistry, particularly oxytocin, that floods us with the desire to bond. Presto! Intimacy. (You can see where this is going, can’t you?) The more we encourage the men in our lives to express their sexuality freely and openly, either by themselves or with us, they stay sexually satisfied, oxytocin-saturated, and well bonded with us. In post-coital reverie we get our relationship needs met while they get their sexual needs met. Symbiosis.

The trick here is in believing that there is no threat to us when the man we love is aroused by another woman. That could be true only if he felt differently about love and sex than we do. Max Valerio, who knew love and sex first as a woman and then as a man, tells us this is true. It is in our own best interest to believe him. How this frees us all!

But, you say, even if Max’s experiences do prove something, can his experiences apply to all men? Who cares? The goal is to improve our relationships, isn’t it? If we are given the gift of understanding these different dialects of gendered sexual communication, would we refuse it because it might not be a perfect model? How silly! Let’s take this gem of experiential knowledge and use it to close the gap between the genders. The result? Everybody’s happier!

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