DID YOU SEE…: New York Times on workday stress reduction

Phyllis Korkki’s Applied Science column in today’s Sunday New York Times offers good sensible advice about using conscious breathing, posture, and body awareness tools to reduce stress and anxiety on the job. These are simple mechanisms that we all know about but it’s easy to forget them.

Seeking some assistance in dealing with mounting stress, Korkki says, “My first stop was Belisa Vranich, a clinical psychologist who teaches — or rather reteaches — people how to breathe. Dimly I sensed that the way I was inhaling and exhaling was out of whack, and she confirmed it by giving me some tests. First off, like most people, I was a ‘vertical’ breather, meaning my shoulders moved upward when I inhaled. Second, I was breathing from my upper chest, where the lungs don’t have much presence.

“In her Manhattan studio, Dr. Vranich taught me the right way to breathe: horizontally and from the middle of the body, where the diaphragm is. You should expand your belly while inhaling through your nose, she said, and squeeze your belly inward while exhaling.l way to breathe — the way children and animals do it, Dr. Vranich said. It’s when society begins to exert its merciless pressure on us that we start doing things the wrong way.

stress reduction illo by michael waraska                                  illustration by Michael Waraska

“When we are under stress at work, we tend to brace and compress ourselves, and our field of vision becomes narrow, Dr. Vranich said in a recent interview. This causes us to breathe more quickly and shallowly. The brain needs oxygen to function, of course, and breathing this way reduces the supply, causing muddled thinking. Also, the digestive system doesn’t receive the movement and massage it needs from the diaphragm, and that can lead to problems like bloating and acid reflux, she said. Stress can send people into fight-or-flight mode, which can lead them to brace their bellies to appear strong. This is exactly the stance that interferes with calm, alert thinking.”
Paying attention to these body cues and shifting your response to them is good practice. Check out the whole article online here and let me know what you think.

Quote of the day: MINDSET


My research started out looking at how people cope with failure and setbacks, especially students who were asked to solve challenging problems. Some students acted as though a failure was a catastrophe, while others actually relished the challenge. I was particularly interested in the latter group. I vowed that I’d figure out what their secret was and try to bottle it. It comes down to whether you focus on growing your abilities, as opposed to proving and validating them all the time. When you’re in what I call a fixed mindset, your goal in life is to prove you’re a smart, competent, worthwhile person and avoid doing things that could undermine that image of yourself. In the growth mindset, you believe these abilities and talents can always be developed, so you’re not on the spot every second to prove yourself, and you can focus on developing those abilities through taking on challenges and seeing them through. You can be more resilient from setbacks because they don’t define who you are. In other words, the fixed mindset is the idea that you have a fixed amount of intelligence, ability, or talent, and the growth mindset is the idea that you can always develop these abilities and talents. Of course, people differ in their abilities, but the underlying premise that separates people is the degree to which they believe they can develop their talents and capacities further.

–Carol Dweck, interviewed in Psychotherapy Networker

carol dweck

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Sue Johnson on passion and female desire


Passion is attachment longing—the longing for emotional connection twined with attunement and erotic exploration and play. Passion is about so much more than responding to novel stimuli or ramped-up lust. In the dance of sex, passion can be constantly renewed, not simply by finding more exotic sexual positions (although who can resist being intrigued by the positions in the new Joy of Sex, such as Wailing Monkey Climbing Tree) but by changing the level of our engagement in the moment and with our lover. If we really understand love, we can also understand how to shape lasting passion.

In today’s world, we’re surrounded by impersonal sex—to the point where young men are routinely seeking help because, having conditioned their brains every day since the age of 12 to respond to porn sex images, they can’t get an erection with their girlfriends. We’re also regularly told that sex in long-term relationships is almost always “vanilla,” bland. To be spicy at all, it just has to be ramped up with constant novel stimuli, new lovers, rougher sex, new toys. So let’s look at the difference between impersonal—what I call avoidantly attached sex—and sex that’s infused with emotion and attachment.

This focus on emotional safety may be a particularly crucial defining element in sex for women. If you expose men and women lying in brain-scan machines to explicit or subliminal sexy pictures, everybody’s brain lights up. But only in women does the cortex—the judgement/control center of the brain—light up. Women’s brains naturally pair up desire and safety concerns. Makes sense! Sexual intercourse is literally much riskier for women. So women most often need to check out the relationship context—to talk as part of foreplay before allowing themselves to descend into conscious, active desire. Women, in particular, may be physically aroused (their body registers a cue as sexually relevant) but may not necessarily translate this into explicit desire—wanting to have sex.

All the new evidence is that women are more sensitive to relational context—safety!—and so for them, desire often follows arousal, versus the classic model of sexuality, where desire comes first. Desire is in response to interactions with their partner. Note: this means that a woman can be totally healthy and normal and never experience spontaneous sexual desire. This research helps me explain to a husband that the fact his wife doesn’t come on to him or instantly respond to any sexual signal isn’t a sign that she doesn’t desire him—and that the emotional context he creates is key in moving her into a sexual space. The way he demands sex actually activates her sexual brakes—pushes her out of sexual and into safety/survival mode. He needs to get curious about what context cues activate her sexual accelerator.

Bonding science says that a loving relationship also offers us a secure base to go out from. What this says to me is that great sex is a “safe adventure.” Thousands of studies show that safe emotional connection fosters curiosity and confident exploration. Think of a zip line: the freedom, the exhilaration you feel comes precisely from knowing you’re on a line and you’re held. Would you be screaming, “Weeeeee!” if you weren’t sure that the line would hold?

Hundreds of attachment studies show that safe emotional connection is the opposite of deadening, in or out of bed. Security increases risk-taking and spontaneity. A secure base allows us to play, to learn, to explore each other’s bodies and minds. Thrilling sex is about being secure enough to surrender to the moment—to let go and see what happens.

–Susan Johnson, author of Hold Me Tight


THE PARADOX OF PORN: Joe Kort on straight vs. gay approaches to porn

Recently, my partner Andy and I shared a barbecue dinner with three straight women in their 40s of various marital statuses — one married and cohabiting, one married but living apart for work reasons, the other not married but cohabiting. It was a wide-ranging adult conversation, and I got up the nerve to pose a question I’d never dared to ask a group of women: how much time do you spend looking at porn? The woman in the long-distance relationship admitted that she sometimes looks at porn when she’s horny (she wouldn’t reveal what she looks at — we weren’t that friendly). The others said they virtually never look at porn, though one said her first exposure to porn came from accompanying friends to a gay bar. They all agreed that their men probably look at porn almost every day.

This conversation confirmed the basic thesis of gay sex therapist Joe Kort‘s recent article in the Huffington Post, “Porn Is Not a Public Health Crisis for Gay Men: Then Why Is It for Straight People?” Kort asserts that men tend to view porn matter-of-factly, as a ready source of healthy sexual stimulation. In relationships between two men, it’s assumed that both partners look at porn on a regular basis and it’s not a problem, whereas in relationships between men and women there is often tension about the men’s porn-watching, which is seen as tantamount to infidelity. It’s a very interesting and complicated topic, which Kort covers with considerable nuance.

Porn typing on the white keyboard. Online porn concept

He says, among other things, “The real public health crisis is a lack of sexual education. A step in the right direction could be having a conversation about gay men and lesbians who watch porn and are not in crisis over it. It would be better if all children in schools could receive a proper sex education that included balanced representation of porn and all the ways that exist to be sexual that are not primarily and only heterosexual. There is no sex education in schools for gay boys, and so they have to turn to porn to get it. Discovering gay pornography is almost a rite of passage for young gay men. For sexually fluid men, or sexually repressed men, watching porn can begin to connect them to who they really are sexually.

“Sex is messy, politically incorrect, taboo on so many levels. Porn is not what we would do in real life. Just like in watching movies, it is fantasy. Straight people need to learn what porn means to men. Men objectify more than women, who are more relational. And it is a scare tactic to say that watching porn leads to infidelity, as some have said. In fact, it is often way of not engaging in infidelity, an outlet that allows them to vicariously enjoy an act that they cannot do, like watching football—they can’t play it but boy to they enjoy watching it. Some may say, ‘see what porn did to you?’ but my belief is that they are discovering something already alive within them, and can begin to move toward more authentic sexuality.”

Check out the whole article online here and let me know what you think.

SEXUAL HEALTH: sex therapy for wounded veterans

In an article by Joseph Jaafari posted online May 12, The Atlantic covered creative therapies that are teaching veterans with genital injuries alternative ways to be intimate. “While all Veterans Affairs hospitals offer Occupational Therapy, which includes sexual therapy, the VA Long Beach Healthcare System in southern California and Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, are unique in that they have introduced courses and counseling focused on this issue. The programs offer guidance as veterans recover from genital wounds, and are part of an increasing effort by the military to both address these injuries and protect soldiers from them in the future.”

The article focuses on the treatment of a former U.S. Marine Corps staff sergeant named Timothy Brown. “Post-recovery, Brown has taken a different approach to sex than he had before—shifting the emphasis from his personal satisfaction to insuring that his partner enjoys the experience. ‘I went from being self-centered to trying to encompass everything for the both of us,’ he says. ‘Simple things like feeling [his partner’s] body, feeling their muscles when you hit the right spot.’ While he developed this outlook on his own, he notes that the program enabled him to feel more secure in his sexual life.”

Army Spec. Chris Smith, a soldier from the 10th Mountain Division stationed at Fort Drum, sits in The Different Drummer Internet Cafe in Watertown, New York April 16, 2008. The Different Drummer is a place where soldiers both active and discharged can go for support, counciling or just to socialize. Soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division are among those who've spent most time in Iraq and Afghanistan, making its base at Fort Drum a "canary in a coal mine" for a looming crisis of post-traumatic stress disorder.  Picture taken on April 16, 2008.     To match feature USA-MILITARY/ and USA-MILITARY/MARRIAGE         REUTERS/Mark Dye          (UNITED STATES) - RTR208HV

Army Spec. Chris Smith, a soldier from the 10th Mountain Division stationed at Fort Drum, sits in The Different Drummer Internet Cafe in Watertown, New York April 16, 2008. The Different Drummer is a place where soldiers both active and discharged can go for support, counseling or just to socialize. Soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division are among those who’ve spent most time in Iraq and Afghanistan, making its base at Fort Drum a “canary in a coal mine” for a looming crisis of post-traumatic stress disorder. Picture taken on April 16, 2008. Photo by Mark Dye

The article notes that “Brown’s approach is exactly what occupational therapists at Walter Reed have tried to teach other injured soldiers. Within the hospital there is a sexual health and intimacy service that focuses on education and therapy. According to Brown, therapy sessions were de facto sex classes that included sex toys aimed at stimulating different parts of the body. Officials at Walter Reed wouldn’t comment on what products were used during the sessions. In addition to funding classes like this one, the Department of Defense spent more than $84 million on erectile dysfunction drugs in 2014.”

Check out the whole story online here and let me know what you think.

DID YOU SEE: gay critique of mainstream tantra classes

Tantra is an ancient spiritual practice that seeks to channel divine energy through human experience. In our time, the word “tantra” is tossed around very lightly, and its meaning shifts wildly depending on the context. In its classic definition, tantra is a school of meditation that envisions universal consciousness as an intricate erotic dance between Shiva and Shakti, form and flow. In the West, the sexual metaphor has gotten literalized so that the most familiar manifestations of tantra are tantric sex and tantric massage, which invite participants to experience sex as energy. People are often drawn to study tantra by the invitation to deepen the connection between sexuality and spiritual practice that other religious traditions tend to keep strictly apart. There are many different ways to study tantra in schools, classes, and workshops, and like any educational process the quality of teachers and teachings can vary wildly. The original tantric teachings rely super-specifically on the dance of male and female energies, which complicates matters for queer people undertaking the study of tantra, as Lisa Luxx discusses in great detail in her article “Why is Gay Tantra So Taboo?” which appears on Ruby Warrington’s website The Numinous (subtitled “material girl, mystical world”). Her description of attending a tantra training and being pressured into ridiculously literal-minded tantric exercises that reinforce hoary old gender-role stereotypes matches my own experience when I first started exploring the world of tantra in the early 1990s, when most tantra workshops derived from the teachings of Margot Anand (best-known for her book The Art of Sexual Ecstasy).

concha on behance
credit: Concha on Behance

Luckily, there are tantra teachers that speak to the experience of queer people. The Body Electric School, founded in 1984 by Joseph Kramer, incorporated tantric and Taoist teachings into a series of workshops starting with “Celebrating the Body Erotic” that taught erotic massage as a healing practice combining breath and touch to connect the dots between the physical, the erotic, the emotional, and the spiritual. While the Body Electric School originally emerged from and spoke to the population of gay men struggling to preserve sexual health and vitality in the midst of the AIDS crisis, it expanded its offerings to include trainings for men, women, and those who decline the gender binary. Other trainings have evolved that address tantra specifically from a queer female perspective, such as Barbara Carrellas’s Urban Tantra program. One of the coolest things about Lisa Luxx’s article is that the comments thread provides information and links to other tantric explorations for women all over the world that transcend simplistic gender stereotypes.  Check it out and let me know what you think.

DID YOU SEE: “Prince’s Holy Lust”

Among the outpouring of tributes to the musical genius Prince, who died Friday morning at age 57, two in particular caught my attention.  One is the CNN interview with community organizer Van Jones, who talked about all the ways that Prince quietly used his money and his fame to help people all over the world, an inspiring model of selfless service. You can watch that online here.

More to the point of this blog, in the Sunday NY Times, music critic Touré wrote an op-ed piece about how from the very beginning Prince embodied, articulated, and championed healing the split between sexuality and spirituality.

The piece begins:

“Let me tell you why ‘Adore’ is the central song in the Prince canon. Because in ‘Adore’ you get the commingling of two keys to understanding the man and his music: his sexuality and his spirituality. In the second verse he paints the picture: ‘When we be making love / I only hear the sounds / Heavenly angels crying up above / Tears of joy pouring down on us / They know we need each other.’ They’re having sex under a sprinkling of angel tears, which are flowing because of the angels’ admiration of their love.

“This is the erotic intertwined with the divine. The Judeo-Christian ethic seems to demand that sexuality and spirituality be walled off from each other, but in Prince’s personal cosmology, they were one. Sex to him was part of a spiritual life. The God he worshiped wants us to have passionate and meaningful sex.”

Read the whole piece online here and let me know what you think.