Polyamory-Friendly Professionals Directory

I’m glad to be listed in this directory, which includes a number of colleagues here in Seattle and in the State of Washington. Having a Polyamory-Friendly Professionals Directory is both a reflection of need, as well as how widely practiced poly is becoming.

The same good folks publish the Bisexuality-Aware Professionals Directory.

 

The Sexual Relationship With Self

The Sexual Relationship With Self

The sexual relationship with self is a widely experienced part of adolescent and adult development. It’s a simple enough phrase, and people tend to make some instant sense of what it means. It differentiates eroticism/sex between its internal and external nature, simply and quickly. Saying it implies its ‘opposite’ – sexual relationship-with-other(s) (a subject near and dear to psychotherapy.)

An Erotic/ Sexual Battle Royal

Except they’re not true opposites. Yet that’s how some partners, in some relationships, view sex-with-self: as the opposing force to sex-with-others, and meager by comparison. I see sex-with-self as the platform on which sex-with-other(s) is built. It’s a precursor, not a curse. And it’s a lifetime companion and wellspring of imagination for partnered sex.

Eroticism Is Part Of Self

But it’s more than that, because it’s part of self. Often enough, people want to occupy personal/private sexuality, sometimes to re-energize their sex-with-other(s). But for many, a partner’s sex-with-self is a betrayal, cause for suspicion, even a sign that the sex connection has died.

It’s Ours And We’ll Protect It

The relationship-with-self can be altered by sexual coercion, deception, abuse or violence. Even if undisturbed these ways, it’s still a psychologically, emotionally and physically turbulent place. But it’s ours, and it grows –  like any part of us that is subjected to both indulgence and frustration. This is an early personal/private crucible of psycho-sexual development. And we will protect it, if we can, from shame.

Ongoing Experience of Sexuality

The basic concept is unremarkable. Many people maintain (usually from adolescence on) a conscious intermittent awareness of sex and desire, regardless of happiness or fulfillment. It’s also well established that people, through masturbation, can have a sexual experience and erotic identity, sans partner(s). But socially, it’s shamed.

Even with eroticized cultures, and gender re-definition, most of us developed during adolescence an internal sexual world. The challenge is to take whatever level of ‘fullness’ and integration, and extend it out – to develop it well with other(s).

sexual-fantasies

Map Of A Journey Of Love

It reflects how we were loved, nurtured, and injured. We journey (if safely enough), and start to draw a ‘map’ and an ‘arousal template’. These are used to increase our chances for pleasure, by playing out ways to decrease (usually) our specific anxieties. For some, this can mean mastering anxiety by re-enacting it in a controlled way (BDSM).

Since the erotic map can also lead us in a spiritual direction, it grows with us as we age. This is adult eroticism.

Doesn’t Play Well With Others?

Yet the elementary construct, sex-with-self, does not have an ‘easy relationship’ with its counterpart – sexual relationship(s) with others. )

Other variations include: people struggling to actually do what they privately fantasize about (with any partner, though usually a primary); the idea of observing partner masturbation (to heighten & share pleasure); partners who can only orgasm when masturbating, either before, during or after partner sex, privately or not; and last but not least, taking a partner’s use of pornography personally.

The Self Is A Safe Place

I’ve met a good number of men who ejaculate faster than they want during partner sex. They have the problem much less often during sex-with-themselves (self-stimulation). There is something soothing about being in the safe place of one’s imagination, even with repetitive fantasies. It allows for kinky play, on the erotic map, using various templates. It’s true that a good number of porn users choose fantasy over the challenges of bringing them into reality.

Breach Of Agreement?

But does sex-with-self’s existence, beyond some bare minimum, also violate a prior and superior commitment – to the relationship-with-other? That relationship, in monogamous terms at least, usualy requires an exclusive contract for sexual engagement.

Threat Posed By The Inferior

In many committed relationships, the relationship-with-self is presumed (not openly, usually) to take an inferior or secondary status to the relationship-with-other. If the relationship-with-self occupies increasing amounts of time or interest, it becomes a threat to the prevailing sexual order. A relationship-with-self is by definition self-involved; and, that’s compounded when it’s hidden or shamed.

[Yes, I’ve also worked with folks who have passionate relationships with both self and other(s). And who see the two relationships in a constant alliance throughout adulthood. That helps define ‘sex-positive‘]

An Adolescent Regression

If anything, sex-with-self is seen as a regression, back to adolescent fantasies of compliant/kinky figurines that make no demands. It comes across as a failure to fully engage in committed relationship or “true monogamy.” And a vague sense of betrayal, that a partner has checked out from the once mutual journey.

Development Not Seen

The erotic/sexual relationship-with-self is rarely seen in a developmental way, as the result of a crucible – of self, personality, culture – seeking aliveness. And evidently, a source of safety which allows pleasure. And therefore containing the seeds of renewal into the relationship-with-other.

Individuality & Togetherness

So sex-with-self has a big picture, about the tension between individuality (sense of self) and connection to others (togetherness), expressed erotically & sexually. Both are core elements of individuality-seeking-aliveness. This view fits within a developmental (non-pathologic) view of human sexuality.

Safe To Explore

Ideally, our sexuality begins with imaginative self-exploration. It’s the default safe place (or at least should be) for the birth of the sexual self.

sexual relationship cradle

It’s mutually reinforced, or not, in the body.  It seeks fundamental aliveness, sustained with meaning and pleasure – with other(s). This is eros – attraction. And it begins with a maturity process: self-love & acceptance empowering love towards others. Eros “bridges” our complex internal, private world with those of others, in the matter of experiencing and generating pleasure, meaning and bonding. [Many view eros as the bridge to deep attachment. As in, wanting-before-choosing]

Unusual Even-Handedness

The relationship with self is not better or worse than the one(s) with other(s). They co-exist, typically in the back and forth/ebb and flow that marks all development processes. The ongoing experience of sex-with-self and with others mutually enriches and heals both. It may lead to greater courage in being truly intimate.

Unless it doesn’t. It can become stuck like any other development process.

Therapy Thoughts

Stuck Either Way

Anxiety can get fixated on partner sex, or on sex-with-self. I’ve worked with relationships that have gone in either direction. Repetitive/compulsive behaviors reflect self-involvement over growth. I try to see why.

You can say sex with-other is normal and with-self is not, but I don’t think that will help. Problems with integrity are often about people trading it away, for the (relative) safety of minimizing shame.

When it’s well out of balance, it usually means basic or standard difficulties in personal and relational differentiation. This helps the couple develop greater immunity to anxiety, and promotes collaborating in a non-pathologic frame.

The Impact On Relationship

We are not just talking about the impact of a self-involved sexuality on a relationship. How many times have you heard that a partner seeks refuge from the constant advances of the other partner? How they want “alone time”? The problem can distance partners that way, or through a sexual self that is too private/protected.

Integrity, Empathy, Anxiety

Issues of integrity often assert themselves, making new positions or stances harder to establish. Empathy, and the hope needed to heal the relationship, can seem in short supply. Sexuality is a very effective delivery mechanism for anxiety, and its powerful subsidiary, shame.

Self-Involvement

The truth is that self-involvement can directly impact relational life. It’s hard to bear that a partner withheld connection, preferring to self-pleasure, and is/was willing to hide it away indefinitely. This strikes at the heart of desire, and at the vulnerability of monogamy. I could say ‘fragility’ too, as in, how the more ‘normal’ sex-with-others referred to above is hyper-sensitive to how lowly/immoral sex-with-self seems subversive.

Grieving & Self-Soothing

Sexuality is for many people a drive wheel of the relationship, even if they’ve not paid much attention to it. But a first step in healing this must be to recognize the hurt and pain in the relationship.

Sex & Relationships: Slow Sex (OM)

I’m beginning to recommend Slow Sex by Nicole Daedone and Orgasmic Meditation (OM) as a suggested “active approach” for couples in search of new desire and arousal. Apart from the technique of OM, and the larger practice of Slow Sex, one of my favorite ideas from the book is that sex is an art, so we cannot “fail” at it. The first chapter is well written, and motivational toward a sex-positive life.

Not A Task

Erotic life is not a “task” unless we, or a partner, make it so. We can choose not to be creative in our erotic mind and sexual life, and we often do. But that is first and foremost a problem of finding creativity in life itself – as a lifelong pursuit. For those in committed relationship, treating it as a “soft” responsibility may make sense, given how important it usually is to emotional life.

Desire And Children’s Security

For those who are parents of children under 18,I am fairly firm in the belief that the childrens’ greatest security lies in the vitality of the parents desire for one another. Nothing is more sacred than the responsibility to parent well. And, parenting does little for real adult desire. The benefits of seeing one’s parents engaged in wanting each other is for many one of the warmest of childhood memories.

Still A Journey

The OM development process is sound in its methodology, involving the partners psychologically in a good if limited or basic way. There is integral use of debriefing both mind and body experience. OM can involve some frustration at certain times, or plateaus, of arousal and orgasmic response. Paired with the pleasure that’s indulged, the plateaus and non-orgasmic frustration, OM can be a valid personal development experience. It might provide in some focusing practice that some women could use to hold their arousal more stably and controllably..

Slowing Down, Noticing

OM focuses on slowing down inside, becoming more body-aware; those are the “meditative” elements. They are intended, like a cross between Tantra and the old “sensate focus” exercises from Masters & Johnson, to directly stimulate the clitoris (OM), and to foster the creative, euphoric and very alive parts of life.

Slow Sex-Positive

The larger “Slow Sex” framework is straightforwardly sex-positive I find ‘slow sex’ values very well grounded in human history and practice. The female orgasm is treated as a treasure that must be cared for and nurtured.  If Slow Sex/OM isn’t for you, it will at least stimulate a discussion of what might be.

Suggested Activities For Partners

I’ve always tried to incorporate suggested activities for couples seeking desire and arousal.  I have employed activities devised by David Schnarch, Esther Perel, Marty Klein and others. None are as directly oriented to genital stimulation

Living Passionately

OM is a modern equivalent of the “sensate focus” exercises that have been widely discredited as sex therapy. Yet the heart of the approach is about inspiring us to live fully and passionately; orgasm is but one (admittedly vital) component.

Who Will Like OM?

For couples who have maintained a relatively warm, if non-passionate, connection, there could be enough resilience, differentiation, good will and nerve to begin OM together.

For some, it will seem like a radical approach, and there’s some truth to that. Others might be put off by the openly heterosexual couple and feminist points of view. Deaden is aware of it and seeks understanding. In “Slow Sex” she also uses a motivational style that can be both annoying and sustaining. That’s part of the competitive publishing market she is in.

Partners Reconnecting

After five years as a book, and longer in the making, Slow Sex/OM remains fresh and well-grounded in what it’s trying to do – to re-connect partners actively and simply through a powerful channel, as part of a life to be reinvigorated with pleasure, new commitment, generosity and creativity.