A little over 18 months

18 Months Away

It’s been a little over 18 months since my last post to this blog. I used the time to begin a long-term nonprofit development project (more on the project in a future post!).

Serving relationships

Over the 18 months, my practice has continued to serve diverse relationships, as well as individuals.  About half of the relationships I work with are monogamous, the other half consensually non-monogamous (CNM). There is much to be learned about committed relationships from working with both relational types.

Relationship

Deeper understanding

Diverse relational clients have deepened my understandings about personal development and committed relationships. I never think that one form of relationship as “better” than another, or ever work in that way. Different relationships & systems shape people in different ways.

head and heart

Hierarchy

Most (not all) open relationships I work with operate in a hierarchy, with primary and secondary relationship importance. These partners typically experience the tensions of a “mono/poly” relationship that can bounce between two very different sets of values.

hierarchy
Eros/Sex/Relational diversity

I’ve also continued working with erotically, sexually and relationally diverse clients, across the wide spectrum practiced in greater Seattle and Washington. They are an evolved cutting edge of imaginative eros and sex, supported by durable subcultures. They thrive on fluid genders and orientations.

Multi-flag poly kinky leather

 

 

 

RO

Photo Credits:

  1. Free 2. Dickson Phau 3: https://www.iconfinder.com/icons/1586745 :4:www.hierarchydc.com; 5. Free; 6: The Rock Church

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 quickly differentiates eroticism/sex between its internal and external contexts.

An Erotic/ Sexual Battle Royal

They’re not true opposites, yet partners in some relationships view private eroticism and arousal as opposition or competition to mutual sexuality.  I see it as a lifetime companion and wellspring of imagination for partnered sex. It’s a precursor, not a curse. Sex-with-self can be a platform on which sex-with-other(s) is built.

Often enough, people want to occupy personal/private sexuality, sometimes to re-energize their sex-with-other(s). For others, a partner’s sex-with-self is a betrayal, cause for suspicion, even a sign that the sex connection has died.

Doesn’t Play Well With Others?

Tensions between the two 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.

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 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  an internal sexual world during adolescence. 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.

The Self Is Hopefully 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.