Defining Sex

I recently had a first session with a new couple that wanted to learn how to have creative and connective sex; specifically, without a bio-cock. For the purpose of this blog, let’s call the two women of the couple Zoe and Gwen. They were having trouble with everything from initiation to knowing when it was over. Not to mention figuring out who comes first, or how to negotiate toys. For the first twenty minutes of the session, Zoe and Gwen’s questions poured forth and so did my answers. Until a very important question broke our flow. I am asked bizarre and fascinating questions on a daily basis and it is highly unusual for me to become tongue-tied, let alone frozen like a deer in headlights.

Zoe asked me, “How do you define sex?”

No one has ever asked me that before. Why haven’t I asked myself this before?

“I don’t know,” I said in shock. “I need to think about this.”

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I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but I keep a running list of the people I sleep with. That list includes men, women, and non-binary people. All of the encounters were extraordinarily different, sometimes involving no penetration whatsoever. Yet all these people made it onto my list. Why? Recalling my sexual exploration in my teens, I remember my peers stating definitively that they, “Did not have sex. We did oral, and other stuff.” I myself had made similar comments in the past. Yet the first time I slept with a woman, I was delighted with the encounter and considered it sex. Why was oral sex with a woman ‘real sex’ yet oral sex with a man was not the same?

Prior to their current relationship, Zoe and Gwen had each dated men almost exclusively. As a result, they had a conventional if not narrow view of how sex worked. Conceptually, sex was coitus, or heterosexual intercourse. The apex of the sexual pyramid. There is a hierarchy of sex acts, implicitly agreed upon in our culture, that proclaims coitus as the most important sexual act. Everything else is at best a precursor, foreplay, or not really sex. At worst, other sex acts are relegated as perversions. This set of beliefs are deeply ingrained in our culture. If “third base” is oral sex or penetration with fingers (but not a penis), then what’s a “home run” for sex between two women?

The California Penal Code discusses and defines terms like: intercourse, sexual relations, assault, lewd behavior, etc… the list goes on and on. It’s actually quite an interesting read if you have the time. California law define sex as intercourse. Clear. Reductive. However, the term ‘Sexual Gratification’ comes up quite often. It seems, in the eyes of the law, the intent to seek sexual gratification is much more problematic than plain old intercourse. The desire and pursuit of pleasure, seems to be a key factor in law-making regarding sex. And you know what - I think they're on to something.

Merriam-Webster (the incontrovertible authority on the English language) defines sex as: “sexually motivated phenomena or behavior”. This definition is wonderfully broad, as it sites motivation to be a determining factor. And necessarily so, because many people never experience intercourse, yet we do not consider them virgins. Consider for yourself, the variety of sexual acts you have engaged in - do you have a favorite? If intercourse is something you have experienced - was it the most pleasurable? Do other acts arouse you more? Do other activities leave you feeling more connected to your partner? More cared for? More loved? Do other acts feel more valuable to you in a given moment? For each of us, there are sexual activities that make up our sex-lives. Everything on your list is part of how you define sex. And if intercourse was the definitive sex act, we would not also need legal or medical terms to define it. We would just call it sex.

Ultimately, it is up to each of us to decide for ourselves what constitutes sex. Not only is it our prerogative to decide which acts to engage in, it also the only way we can determine what kind of sex we want to have. To fully understand our sexual preferences and have truly mind-blowing sex, we must know what we like, and guide our encounters in that direction. For myself, it comes down to the feeling of being fucked. Whether I am the one receiving or giving, I want my encounters to to end in a haze of undoubted gratification. I want to smile to myself and think, “Yeah… I really got fucked.” Or, “They got properly fucked.” I define sex by the way that I feel, and this is what that I shared with my clients.


Making Time

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Making time for sex and intimacy is difficult - and nearly impossible for those of us living in the Bay Area. Add children to the mix and forget about claiming a moment for yourself, let alone getting busy with your partner! Most couples that I work with have many practical explanations as to why they don’t have time to connect. In some respects, my life is similar to the lives of my clients, as I myself suffer from being over-scheduled and overextended. I run my own business, have a thriving social life, exercise several times a week, co-parent a teenager, travel, and find time to rest… oh, and I have a ton of sex! Having time for sex is not actually an issue of time, but rather an appraisal of priorities. We make time for what is most important to us. Full stop.

I’ve been dating my partner for over two years, and if we are sleeping in the same bed we are probably going to have sex. On an average week, we have sex at least seven times. We double up on some days when we feel inspired, and rest on days we have less energy. We have this much sex because it is a huge priority for both of us and we place it before many things that others may prioritize first. The truth is that sex does not just happen. We have to make it happen, and that could include scheduling time.

When couples come to me with the goal of reigniting their sex lives I inevitably recommend they schedule time for intimacy, nurturing connection and even sex - then I brace for their cringe. I wouldn’t be surprised if you also felt resistance while reading the previous sentence. The most common response to my suggestion of scheduling is that planned intimacy lacks “spontaneity and romance”. There is also a concern that planned sex will feel forced or unnatural. “Sex should just happen,” my clients often inform me. And although sex isn’t ‘just happening’ for them, they have a deep-rooted belief that it should.

I find it fascinating that this belief is so pervasive, yet in direct conflict with our culture’s most common mating ritual, dating. Planning time to have sex is actually a huge part of American culture! In the early stages of most relationships we schedule dates, and after a certain number of dates, sex begins to happen during the date. This can go on for weeks, months, and even years. Thus, even though we may not be consciously aware of it, we are scheduling sex into these dates much like we schedule the dinner or movie beforehand. When the relationship progresses to cohabitation, there may be a spike in sexual activity because once again things are new and exciting. But after a while, couples become accustomed to each other’s presence and take certain aspects of the relationship for granted; namely sex and romance.

If you’ve read this far, I hope you find this post to be the rallying cry that I have intended. This is the time to reassess priorities. If you want to have more sex in your relationship, the first step is to create more opportunity in which sex is a possibility. That means scheduling date nights a couples times a month, meeting at home for a midday quickie, skipping happy hour with coworkers, and watching your latest Netflix obsession after you and your sweetie get busy.

I know you're tired, I’m tired too. And sometimes it won’t happen. Even when you make time, get the kids to bed early, and finish those final emails before 9pm. Sometimes you are just too tired. And that’s okay. If you don’t have the energy to play, you can use that time to connect intimately with your partner in other ways such as cuddling, massaging each other, etc. Although these activities aren’t sex, they will strengthen your bond and create intimacy that will support future attempts to connect sexually.


Alone

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As a sex & intimacy coach I work with a colorful demographic of people who come to see me for all sorts of issues, ranging from bizarre to mundane. Despite their many differences, the most common emotional state that most of my clients share is the feeling of loneliness. Loneliness does not discriminate between genders or orientations; loneliness does not spare those in relationships, and loneliness can affect us when we are surrounded by people. Loneliness is experienced by anyone who lacks the intimate connections they crave.

Many people feel lonely even while in a romantic relationship. This happens when one or both individuals in unable to share themselves fully with their partner(s), which creates a sense of isolation within the relationship. You might experience that feeling of isolation despite being in a crowded room, or feeling hurt and helpless after an argument with a partner. Loneliness leaves us feeling trapped within ourselves and unable to connect with people sitting right next to us.

Loneliness is genuinely dangerous for one’s health. The impacts of loneliness on the body include heart disease, impaired immune system, and substance abuse; as well as psychological effects. People who suffer from loneliness have less regulation over emotional responses. We have less impulse control and an impaired ability to cope with stress. People who feel profound isolation often fall into depression, which is an emotional state that makes people feel alone, which downward spirals. Luckily, breaking free of that loop is possible.

The cure for loneliness is connection.

Healing loneliness and isolation begins with an intimate connection with one person. Sharing your fear, shame, vulnerability and hope with a single person can suddenly make one feel no longer alone. For the majority of my clients I am that first person. When someone sits on my couch and shares themselves with me, they are no longer alone. And supported by our connection nearly all of my clients have been able to reach out to others, reconnect with their partners or begin to form new relationships. Like learning to dance, you can train yourself to let in connection and let out vulnerability. Even if you and I never meet I hope you will reach out to someone you trust. All it takes is one connection - a therapist, a mentor, or another coach.

Deliver

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In life, we have obligations and responsibilities. One of mine is to write a blog post.  Not just any blog post, but my first post ever. There is a voice telling me that I had better write something helpful, interesting, intelligent, sexy, and new… or everyone will think I don’t know what I’m doing.

I have performance anxiety.

Nearly all of us have experienced the anxiety associated with public speaking on some level, whether it was a book report in front of your eighth-grade English class, or a presentation at work. Someone probably offered you advice like: “Just picture everyone in their underwear, or even naked.” I do not understand this at all, since nudity tends to make even the most confident people uncomfortable.

Although not inherently sexual, nudity is inexorably tangled with sexand our culture’s attitudes about sex are incredibly anxiety producing. First, we are expected to be really good at it, but what does “good” even mean? Secondly, we are only supposed to experience it with very specific people in a very specific context - ideally, with a spouse in a heterosexual marriage. Third, there are right ways and wrong ways to do it, although no one ever sat us down and explained what is right and wrong. Men are supposed to constantly want it, while women are supposed to demurely protest. Then there’s the whole issue of orgasms. Which is the goal, right? We are supposed to have ALL the orgasms.

So. Much. Pressure.

Have you experienced the electric thrill coursing through your body as you and the person you desire move closer and closer to that perfect moment? It may be after hours of seduction, or days, maybe weeks and in some cases years, but eventually you reach the moment in which you both know that something is about to happen. You move from words, to gentle touch, then to passion and the shedding of clothes. All the while, feeling arousal move through your body and propelling you forward, until something happens, or maybe something doesn’t happen. And it all falls apart so much faster than it took to even reach this moment.

We are taught, that when two consenting adults decide to engage in sexual activity - everything is just supposed to work. I am turned on – my cock should be hard. I want to have sex – but my pussy isn’t wet. I have waited so long for this moment – but something doesn’t feel right. Performance anxiety is not just about prowess and skill; it can also be about basic functioning. And the pressure to have a mind-blowing sexual experience can be overwhelming for the body. Let alone the pressure to provide a mind-blowing sexual experience for another person.

So. Much. Pressure.

The anxiety that floods our brain has a knack for overflowing into our bodies and disrupting our experiences. The anxiety itself is enough to disconnect us from our bodies, limiting our capacity for pleasure and connection. Unfortunately, this is a ubiquitous experience for many people. Fortunately, it is totally normal and you are not alone. Everyone I encounter in my practice has had this experience at least once, both men and women.

While there are innumerable practical guidelines written on ways to deal with anxiety, I can leave you with an option that is often overlooked – just feel the anxiety. That’s it. And I promise, it won’t kill you. In fact, it will make you stronger. Way before sex, when you first started experiencing anxiety as a child, you found ways to avoid the devastation that feeling anxiety in your body caused. Some people learn to disassociate, some people dull the feeling by seeking out more intense feelings, some people mastered shutting down feelings all together. And although these strategies worked then, they are preventing us from getting what we want now.

What helped me the most in writing this blog post was writhing around (sometimes on the floor) feeling my anxiety, and telling other people about the anxiety. Then, once I allowed myself to have the experience, and even had a few witnesses, the anxiety passed away like every other feeling I’ve ever had. Just try it once; stop resisting the feelings you do not want to have. Name them, feel them, then watch them move on.