LET’S TALK ABOUT SEX: Performance anxiety

It’s a big day in a man’s erotic life the first time he loses his erection in the midst of a sexual encounter. It can feel like a tragic self-betrayal, a terrible humiliation, proof that he’s broken and can never have sex again. The good news is that if he’s lucky and he hangs in there, he gets to the red-letter day when he discovers that he can lose his erection AND stay connected to his partner. In fact, that’s where the good stuff begins.

It takes some maturity, some practice, some support, and a little bit of a leap of faith to view erectile dysfunction simply as a mechanical failure, not a comment on your masculinity or a referendum on your worth as a human being. It’s a life-changing experience to realize that being a wonderful lover isn’t just about what you do with your penis but what you do with your hands, your mouth, your voice, your sense of humor, your energy, and your heart.

Erections are great and fun and super-pleasurable. But it’s exhausting and challenging to operate under pressure to Perform Like a Porn Star, constantly worrying – to put it bluntly – about your dick: is it big enough, is it hard enough, am I doing it right, am I going to come too fast, am I taking too long? Performance anxiety is the enemy of erotic intelligence, at least the way I understand it, which is the ability to be present for pleasure, to tune into your partner and what’s going on right here right now, without getting wrapped in trying to make something specific happen.

It’s not just men who struggle with performance anxiety. Social media has ramped up perfectionism for all of us. We spend a lot of time fixated on Getting It Right. We’re constantly tailoring our appearance and our behavior for each other’s approval. It’s an existential challenge to let all that go and leave reserve performance anxiety for people who are onstage performing.

In my work and in my life, I’m all about healing through pleasure, learning for myself and teaching other people how to turn down the volume on Pressure to Perform and be present for pleasure.

In workshops or in sessions when we’re focusing on intimacy, sometimes I will have partners spend time gazing into each other’s eyes, exploring the notion of the eyes as gateway to the soul, “into-me-you-see.” This can be beautiful, and it can also feel really vulnerable. We take in A LOT of information visually, and we live in a culture that has become hyper-focused on evaluation, stirring up equal amounts of judgment and fear of being judged.

So if we’re working on cultivating the capacity to be present for pleasure, sometimes it makes sense to close the eyes, to turn down the volume on incoming visual stimulus.

If you want to practice being present for pleasure right now, one way to do that is to let your eyes gently close and go inside. With your eyes gently closed, the idea is to take a moment to breathe, go inside, and take a break from processing visual information, judging and being judged.

As you let yourself breathe, bring your awareness to the way gravity works on your body. Let your face muscles rest, let your jaw soften, let your shoulders rest. Feel your buttocks on the seat of your chair, your feet on the floor. You don’t have to change anything or do anything special. Just take a moment to breathe and make space for what happens when you withdraw the sense of sight. Do things quiet down inside, do they rev up, do they stay the same? Try it now and just let yourself notice what happens.

Part of erotic intelligence is expanding your awareness of your own body. Notice the temperature of the air in the room against your skin. Notice the places where your clothing touches your skin, whether it feels soft, constricting, comforting, annoying. Notice what sounds you’re aware of in the room right now. Notice which sensations are pleasurable, what you’d like more of, what you’d like less of.

With a trusted sensual partner, closing your eyes or using a blindfold can be a simple tool for cultivating erotic intelligence. Removing one sense can heighten others. Light touch and pleasant sounds can be amplified, as can tastes and fragrances. The uncertainty of what happens next can create a luscious experience of anticipation and seductiveness. Nothing to do, nowhere to go, but be right here right now, taking in whatever sensory information is available.

Screen Shot 2020-01-24 at 2.26.38 PM

Note: this was part of a talk I gave November 9, 2019, as part of “Sessions Live,” Esther Perel’s online salon for sex therapists and coaches.

Media: BOYS AND SEX on Fresh Air

Journalist and author Peggy Orenstein has spent many years writing about the inner lives of girls in a series of best-selling books. In recent years, she turned her attention to young men and interviewed teenagers and college students for her new book Boys & Sex: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity. NPR’s Terry Gross interviewed her recently for the radio show/podcast “Fresh Air,” and it’s worth checking out. What she says about how boys are socialized not to talk about their feelings and the distorted ideas about sex they get from watching porn apply equally to men of all ages. I’m looking forward to reading the book (which just the New York Times’ best-seller list), but this interview is a tantalizing preview.

boys-and-sex

 

LET’S TALK ABOUT SEX: Coping with fear of rejection

There are many advantages to getting older, and one of them is the simple joy of growing up emotionally and outgrowing needs from childhood that no longer pertain. One of those is the constant need for approval, to be perfect, and the fear of rejection. When you are a child, you are dependent on others for crucial needs. It is a matter of survival. And it is understandable for a child to fear rejection or abandonment by his mother, lest he not survive.

As an adult, those needs are no longer essential for survival. Fear of rejection is a holdover from childhood. Perhaps something happened once, and we made it a rule. Then rule-making became a habit. If you know that fear of rejection is a major factor that holds you back from connecting with others, congratulations. That self-knowledge provides a golden opportunity. It is an invitation to spend the next year of your life making it a priority to get bigger than your fear of rejection.

One bold method is to make it a project to collect rejections. Go out asking for things and try to get ten nos. Make it a triumph to hear no. I promise you, you will survive and be stronger. Yes and no are matters of preference to a mature adult. They are a referendum on your worth as a human being.

yes_no_by_thisisgalaxy-e1384436623838

But the task that is at the heart of Authentic Eros — real intimacy, true connection — is to show up with all your desires activated, for the sheer pleasure and joy and wisdom of honoring your desire body. It will bring your vitality to the forefront.

A lot of times we hang back socially, romantically, physically, thinking: If I just sit here and do everything right and perfect, somebody will notice me and love me and give me what I want. That is the child mentality, the good child, the best little boy, the seeker for validation. There’s a fear that if I display my desires and they go unfulfilled, then I look like a fool, or I feel like a fool, and I will crumple up and die.

What if that’s not so? What if your desires are indeed a show of vitality? More is possible if you show up ready to go, your desires radiating from your being like a peacock’s feathers. Then you give others a point of contract or several points of contact. Then you’re ready to share, to live.

Those desires don’t have to be the deepest or most intimate to be desires. They just need to be active, actionable. As the famous Mary Oliver poem says: You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees/for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting./You only have to let the soft animal of your body/love what it loves.

To be an active receiver is to let the world know in no uncertain terms what pleasure or pleasures you are available to receive. Try it on. Let yourself be a love-dog. Dogs will let you know without words, without a doubt, when they want to be fed, walked, petted, left alone.

 

EVENTS: Sessions Live 2019 with Esther Perel

I had the pleasure last weekend of participating in “Sessions Live 2019: In Search of Eros,” an all-day gathering convened and hosted by Esther Perel, who’s probably the most famous sex-and-relationship therapist in the world right now. Her books (Mating in Captivity and The State of Affairs) and her TED talks (on desire and infidelity) have acquired a passionate following worldwide, as evidenced by the sold-out crowd of 400 who showed for the live event November 9 in midtown Manhattan (many of whom flew in from other countries) and the 1200 people viewing at home via Livestream.

11-9 in search of eros

A New York resident born in Belgium and educated in Israel, Esther brings a distinctly European flavor to her work, so what might have been a typical therapy conference with parade of academic talking heads became something else – a lively salon with a dynamic array of speakers presenting in a variety of formats with a very engaged audience,  fueled by delicious food.

The morning began with an on-your-feet warm-up conducted by Esther along with 5 Rhythms teacher Amber Ryan, psychoanalyst Aviva Gitlin, and therapist-performer-ritualist Paul Browde. Esther gave an opening talk called “Finding the Erotic Self:  A Journey for Practitioners,” which included dialogue with Alexandra Solomon. Before lunch, Holly Richmond talked about her work helping trauma survivors recover their sexuality, and I spoke about my own concentration on healing through pleasure.

11-9 esther and don onstage

After lunch Sara Nasserzadeh led the participants through a modified Sexual Attitudes Reassessment. Then there were presentations about erotic obstacles by Ian Kerner (author of She Comes First), psychologist Guy Winch, and the two young co-founders of the St. Louis-based educational company Afrosexology, Dalychia Saah and Rafaella Fiallo. The last hour brought a free-flow of questions and commentary from audience members both in the room and watching via Livestream.

11-8 reception at esthers

Women dominate the field of therapy and social work, and certainly Esther’s audience was 75-80% women (as became clear at the reception she hosted the night before — above), which is why she asked me to address the issues that men bring to a sex therapist. I talked about the dance between performance anxiety and being present for pleasure, the lessons I learned about erotic energy from Joseph Kramer and the Body Electric School, the paradox of pornography as liberator and oppressor, and my own formula for satisfying sexual encounters (PCM: your own Pleasure, Connection with your partner, and the Mechanics of what goes up and down, in and out).

For the rest of the day, I spent every break being pulled aside by people saying, “Do you have a minute? I have a question about…” I heard very touching stories from men who hailed from Iceland, Poland, and China, and female therapists who work with very specific populations (Catholic priests, homeless mentally ill, Jersey guys).

11-9 group shot

I walked away from the event feeling nourished by the high level of powerful questions that the day generated: What’s the difference between sex and eroticism? If I’m struggling to figure out what I want, what happens if I ask myself “What am I missing?” Which of the senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell) is most erotic to me? Which ones do I need to ramp up in my life? How do we teach vulnerability to young men who have no experience of that? How do we deal with different stages of erotic life?

MEDIA: “Sessions Live” with Esther Perel November 9

Sessions_Live_2.jpg

On Saturday, November 9, I’ll be speaking at Sessions Live 2019, an annual clinical event hosted by Esther Perel. I invite you to join me and this year’s esteemed guests for an invigorating day of learning online.

Click here to purchase your Livestream ticket for $99

Sessions Live is a one-day event dedicated to providing an opportunity for professionals in the field of mental health to come together to learn and challenge each other around a relevant topic in the field of modern relationships.

esther perel

This year, Esther invites us to explore the topic of Eros, also known as eroticism. We’ll look at eroticism as a quality of aliveness, vibrancy and vitality that is critical to both life and the clinical relationship. It goes far beyond a repertoire of sexual techniques. It’s a sense of creativity, agency and pleasure that we often aim for in our clients but neglect within ourselves.

Learn more about Sessions Live 2019: Finding Eros Livestream

Together, we’ll answer the questions:

  • ●  What does erotic intelligence mean to us as therapists, coaches, and relationship professionals?
  • ●  How do we help our clients cultivate a feeling of vitality?
  • ●  How do we sustain energy and aliveness in our work and in our own lives?
  • ●  What does recovery from trauma look like when it includes re-engaging with pleasure and vibrancy?
  • ●  And much more.

Your livestream ticket includes:

  • ●  Online access to the live full-day training on November 9th
  • ●  All archived recordings to view on demand after the event – the content is yours to watch when and where you please
  • ●  CE credits available for an additional cost

 

Purchase your Livestream ticket​ today and use code bodyandsoul​ for a special discount.

Join us online for a day of learning that will help you expand your definition of eroticism and increase your confidence in helping your clients tackle issues of love’s challenges and love’s celebrations.

illustration by Natalia Ramos (IG @natalia_ramas)

photo by Kathryn Wirsing