Sexual Health. Health and Body
Sexual Health and Sexual Revolution
I know some people question it, but there really was a worldwide youth-driven, birth control pill–fueled, liberation-minded, sexual revolution in the 1960s and 1970s. People everywhere sought to reclaim sexual exploration and playfulness, a phase of development that many believed they had missed. Health and body.
That was the tenor of the time when I met the man who directly led to my becoming a sex therapist—a title I fought for years. He was the most exciting man I had ever been with. He was handsome and daring, a poet of sorts, a revolutionary, brilliant, and lots of fun. Unfortunately, the sex was terrible. We talked about it, but it just wasn’t happening. I had heard about a new program on human sexuality being offered by UCSF at Langley Porter, where I had interned. Since this man and I were starting to work together, we signed ourselves up.
It was truly a startling experience while also very humbling. I had thought of myself as belonging to a special class of people who were hip and highly knowledgeable about sex. I was shocked to see the auditorium filled with all sorts of very unhip-looking people—doctors, nurses, social workers, teachers, priests, and nuns—and everyone was having a great time learning about sex.
Sexual Health and Body. With every topic we studied, from sexual development to masturbation to anatomy, my classmates surprised me with their candor and curiosity. Some shared poignant stories of repression in childhood; a few talked of abuse. Two very ordinary people— a man and a woman—actually volunteered to be models for sexological exams. Each was draped in a medical robe and lay on an examination table on the stage of the auditorium, genitals exposed, as the entire class fi led by, one by one. I myself would never have done it.
My mate and I learned a great deal about sex, and our relationship lasted another couple of years. In the end, it wasn’t the sex that drove us apart. We just fought too much. But the course we took in sex changed the direction of my work and shaped my life.
I was already an embodied Gestalt therapist, practicing a method of psychotherapy that emphasized awareness of moment by-moment experience. I had also studied and worked with a range of body-oriented therapies, including Reichian, bioenergetics, sensory awareness, breath work, dance workshops, Feldenkrais, Rolfi ng, yoga, and Vipassana meditation. All of these methods reinforced in me the value of tuning in to the body. I liked Fritz Perls’s admonition to “lose your mind and come to your senses.” Sexual Health and Body.
At the same time, a powerful trend in personal development known as the Human Potential Movement had gained momentum. Growing out of Abraham Maslow’s humanistic psychology, Carl Rogers’s client-centered therapy, and embodied Gestalt, it was fed by the rising popularity of Zen Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies. The movement spread the philosophy that human beings are innately good and that with greater self awareness we can heal ourselves and access our full potential for health, happiness, creativity, longevity, and spirituality. We were giddy with the possibilities.
Sexual Health and Body
Growth centers sprang up everywhere, offering weekend seminars modeled on those developed at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. For me, Esalen became a horn of plenty: a place of personal healing, an unparalleled training center, and an opportunity to develop my work. Sexual Health and Body.
By most accounts, the emphasis on human potential has now become mainstream and integrated in today’s society. Self-help books, motivational and management training seminars, holistic medicine, and the trend in research psychology to study happiness and well-being have all become widely accepted. Yet when I was involved in those early days, they were all novel and exciting ideas.
Sexual Health and Body. I was very interested in sex because I saw it as the core of life, the juncture that connected everything, especially if one ever hoped to have a lasting love relationship, which I very much did. I completely resonated with the Reichian view that the ability to allow pleasure is intimately connected to emotional well-being and physical health.
My interest in human potential naturally led me to wonder about sexual potential. How good can sex be, especially if you choose to partner with someone for life primarily on the basis of the love you share and not on how great the sex is?
Sexual Science after 1980
Sexual Health and Body. When I started attending sexology seminars and sex therapy conferences in the early 1980s, I was disappointed to discover how much these psychologists, biologists, professors, therapists, and educators were focused on dysfunction and all of the problems associated with sex. The sexual freedoms and excesses of the 1960s and 1970s, along with the newly emerging horrors of AIDS and HIV and a whole crop of other sexually transmitted diseases, had clearly created an anti sex backlash.
Much of what was being discussed among these professionals and researchers was about the dangers of sex: abuse, pedophilia, addiction, teenage pregnancy, and infections with dire consequences. It was not the time to say anything good about sex. The times have changed. A major inspiration came from President Bill Clinton’s surgeon general, Dr. David Satcher, in reaction to what he observed as a significant public health challenges regarding sexuality.
Sexual Health and Body. This call to action was one of several reports Satcher wrote during his tenure in office; the others included a study of the health risks of long-term tobacco use and a study of suicide. Like these other reports, the one on sexuality did not make much of a splash in the general population. Yet it produced a tsunami in the interdisciplinary fields of sexual science, sex therapy, and sex education because of its emphasis on sexual health rather than disturbance.
Satcher created a new, more positive focus on sex by highlighting the interconnectedness of sexual health, physical health, and emotional well-being. He recognized sexuality as spanning the lifetime from childhood to old age. His recommendations encouraged more public dialogue about sex that was honest and mature, respectful of diversity, and seeking common ground.
In effect, the good doctor wrote a prescription: “Talk about sex.” Talk about sex in the privacy of your home with your children and your spouse. Talk about sex in community-based programs, schools, and clinics. He asked that physicians, teachers, healthcare workers, and others who work with the public become more informed about sex and more comfortable discussing sexuality. Sexual Health and Body.
Sexual Health and Body
Sexual Health and Body. Talking honestly about sex, however, is not always so easy to do. We don’t even have a good vocabulary for sex. Polite language can feel stuffy and clinical, whereas slang sometimes sounds juvenile, silly, or offensive. When feelings are involved, it can be difficult to put those feelings into words, and people don’t always know how they really feel.
Talking about sex with your partner or with friends can help, but many people are in fact misinformed about what is normal and natural. Even just a few sessions with a licensed and certified sex therapist, someone who is knowledgeable and comfortable dealing with sexual issues, can be highly informative.
When you finish this book, you will surely be well informed about sex and, should you choose to talk about it, highly conversant on the topic.
Sex and Overall Health
Sexual Health and Body. There is an overwhelming abundance of data that show that comfort and satisfaction with one’s sexuality have myriad blessings. The benefits of sexual activity begin with solitary sex. In 2002, Planned Parenthood published a report on masturbation. It compiled a detailed history of how the practice went from acceptance in ancient times to condemnation by the church and general stigma. It included a diverse collection of studies that made a good case for the value of masturbation in sexual health.
The research showed that healthy infants naturally engage in genital play by the third to fourth month of life and that the way parents respond to their children’s masturbation often affects how the children feel about themselves. Studies even showed a strong link for individuals between a lack of sexual satisfaction as adults and the experience of parental disdain upon having been discovered masturbating when they were children.
Arousal and orgasm from solitary sex is shown to be effective at reducing stress, alleviating physical and sexual tension, and providing a soothing outlet for people without partners—especially the elderly. Masturbation can induce sleep on a restless night. Self-stimulation and pleasure can strengthen muscle tone in the pelvic and anal areas, particularly when those muscles have been compromised through childbirth, illness, or surgery. Sexual Health and Body.
Sexual Health and Body
Developing skill in masturbation has consistently been an effective way for women to overcome an inability to achieve orgasm. Masturbation skill can also help men to learn effective methods for maintaining erection and ejaculatory control.
Sexual Health and Body. A second Planned Parenthood report, issued in cooperation with the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, looked at the research on the physical, emotional, and spiritual health benefits of sexual satisfaction. Findings from multiple peer-reviewed studies showed that an increased incidence of sexual expression was correlated with a boost in the immune system, a reduced risk of breast cancer, relief from migraines, and management of chronic pain. The mental health benefits of satisfying sex included a lower likelihood of depression and suicide and an increase in self-esteem. Sexual satisfaction was also shown to correlate highly with stability and satisfaction in long-term relationships.
In one study, data collected from more than thirty-five hundred American and European women for ten years showed a correlation between having an active sex life and a youthful appearance. A panel of judges looked at each subject through a one-way mirror and guessed her age. The data indicated that the sexually active women were consistently underestimated by as much as seven to twelve years.
Men benefit greatly from an active sex life. A ten-year study of men found that the incidence of death during this time was 50 percent lower among men who had at least two orgasms a week compared to men of the same age, health, and lifestyle who had orgasms less than once a month. The more orgasms, the lower the incidence of death. Frequency of male ejaculation also correlated with a significantly lower risk of developing prostate cancer. In both men and women, frequency of orgasm was associated with a less frequent occurrence of heart disease. Sexual Health and Body.
Sexual Health and Body
Sexual Satisfaction and Subjective Well-Being
Sexual Health and Body. Studies consistently show that sexual satisfaction is strongly predictive of relationship satisfaction. Recent studies, however, clearly demonstrate that the inner felt-sense of satisfaction extends well beyond the relationship.
Canadian psychologist Diane Holmberg and her colleagues were interested in studying whether sexual satisfaction positively correlated with satisfaction in other areas of a woman’s life, particularly with physical health and mental well-being. The researchers used several scales to assess the level of sexual satisfaction, including types of activities for women in same-sex and opposite-sex relationships. Relationship satisfaction was tested through indicators for love and trust; mental well-being was assessed through indicators for the presence of depression, anxiety, and stress; and physical health was assessed through indications of being bothered or distressed by minor symptoms like a stuffy nose, headaches, or stomach pain. Sexual Health and Body.
The study showed a high degree of correlation between a woman’s sexual satisfaction and emotional, physical, and relationship well-being regardless of her sexual orientation. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that sexual satisfaction makes people healthier. The researchers acknowledged that it works the other way, too. Having a good relationship and being emotionally content and physically fi t also makes people more interested in sex and more invested in their physicality. The researchers concluded that it is most likely that all aspects of well-being feed into one another and create a reciprocally reinforcing, self-sustaining loop.
What Makes Good Sex So Good for Us
Sexual Health and Body. Good sex is playful and lightens the spirit. The senses become activated and engaged. Aerobic spouts of activity induce deep panting, work the chest and lungs, and get the heart pumping. Sexual activity can also take on a slow and easy rhythm, bringing every organ of the body into entrainment—an equilibrium that imparts a visceral sense of inner harmony.
Fulfilling sexual experience floods the bloodstream with a host of biochemicals that have been shown to boost the immune system. Dopamine and norepinephrine activate the reward and pleasure centers in the brain and stimulate the nervous system. Endorphins, the body’s own opiates, reduce pain and stimulate exuberance. Oxytocin, the bonding hormone, bestows a calm sense of deep satisfaction. The latter two are released at orgasm, triggering the feelings associated with the afterglow. The entire body is infused with streams of energy that make us feel happy, alive, and energetic while also peaceful, loved, and loving.
Sexual Health and Body
What Makes Stress So Bad for Sex
Sexual Health and Body. When a person feels insecure in a sexual situation, his or her stress level goes up. Feelings of anxiety, guilt, or shame may be triggered. Instead of deep breathing, the breath is held and the belly tightens. Under these circumstances, the blood flow is reduced, the pelvic tissue becomes anaesthetized, and maintaining arousal or achieving orgasm becomes physiologically impossible.
Bodily attunement with a loving partner can, with practice, replace these stress reactions with feelings of safety, love, and confi dence in a loving sexual situation. The same embodied experiences that work for self-regulation and mutual regulation also enhance sexual experience: holding each other and breathing together, making eye contact, touching empathically, and kissing. Sexual Health and Body.
Sharing these primal intimacies can bring two bodies into greater inner resonance with each other. To take it to the next level of sexual resonance with a partner, however, it’s important to learn more about your own and your partner’s male or female body.
Male and Female Sexuality
Sexual Health and Body. I once heard someone suggest that maybe the difference between a man’s orgasm and a woman’s orgasm is like the difference between a sneeze and a yawn. Either way, an orgasm for all of us is like an underground earthquake of sweet pleasure with three epicenters—the genitals and pelvic floor, the spinal cord, and the brain—with ripples of seismic activity that spread throughout the body.
William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the first researchers to observe and record physiological measures of subjects having sex in a laboratory, found that both men and women go through the same four phases of sexual response. In the first two, the excitement and plateau phases, there’s an increase of blood flow into the genitalia, resulting in erection and flattening of the testes in men and vaginal lubrication and swelling in women. Orgasm for both involves genital contractions at intervals of four-fifths of a second for several seconds while all of the muscles of the body contract and then relax. Finally, there’s a resolution phase, in which the body returns to its resting state.
Sexual Health and Body
Sexual Health and Body. In a carefully controlled study, men and women were asked to write descriptions of the orgasm. The descriptions were edited to replace gender-specific terms with gender-neutral ones and then given to another group of people to judge whether the descriptions were written by women or by men. The results showed that even though all of the descriptions were vivid, the judges were unable to decipher whether men or women had written the descriptions.
This suggests that the psychological, emotional, and physiological microsecond-by-microsecond experiences and sensations of orgasm are very similar for both sexes. Yet what happens in the body, given our different anatomy, is somewhat different, and the comparison of sneezes versus yawns—albeit intensely pleasurable varieties of these—may in fact be a good one.
A Man’s Body
Sexual Health and Body. As far as is known to date, male orgasm occurs when semen fills up in the ducts of the penis and is held in place by a system of sphincters, probably creating a kind of pressure chamber. As the pressure builds, at the point of orgasm, the sphincters suddenly release, shoot a spurt of semen, rapidly fill up again to shoot another spurt of semen, and so on, continuing several more times in rapid succession.
According to sex researchers Barry Komisaruk, Carlos BeyerFlores, and Beverly Whipple, at least two separate sympathetic nerves, the pudendal and the hypogastric, which exit the spinal cord, are involved. They trigger involuntary contractions of the smooth muscles in the penis and the pelvic floor, including the perineal muscles and the anal sphincter.
Timing is supposedly everything, and that certainly is the case for two of men’s biggest problems with orgasms: early (often called premature) ejaculation and delayed ejaculation.
Sexual Health and Body
Early Ejaculation: What’s Too Soon?
Sexual Health and Body. When a man complains of ejaculating too quickly, the underlying goal is usually extending the sex play during penetration. Surveys have shown that men who feel in control of their ejaculation look forward to sex and feel capable of attending to activities in sex that can add to their own and their partners’ pleasure. Men who expect to ejaculate before they wish to tend to focus on feelings associated with failure, like embarrassment and guilt, and as a result they are less able to attend to activities that bring greater pleasure.
Sex educator Paul Joannides, who has authored a definitive and, at almost a thousand pages, the largest guidebook to “getting it on,” has provided a great deal of data to show that there are many possible reasons a man may ejaculate quickly. Some men have had this issue all of their lives; others acquire it as a result of a medical problem. It might be learned, or there could be a genetic propensity. Sexual Health and Body.
Joannides reported on neurological findings that there is one thing premature ejaculators have in common. When men who can control ejaculation get an erection, their heart rates speed up at first and then slow down. For men with difficulty controlling ejaculation, their heart rates speed up once they get an erection and stay elevated. This means that the nervous system of the man who is quick to ejaculate stays dominated by the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), the part of the nervous system that signals ejaculation. When men who control ejaculation get an erection, their heart rates slow down and their arousal becomes dominated by the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which means they relax. Only when they are ready to come do they start to rev up, and the SNS takes over. In other words, in order to stay up you have to calm down.
Sexual Health and Body. At the other end of the spectrum is the man who can’t seem to come no matter what he does. It becomes a problem when his flagging partner has been around the track three or four times and he’s nowhere near the finish line. Under these circumstances, having an orgasm can feel like work. Joannides pointed out that the research shows that most men with this issue can bring themselves to orgasm easily through masturbation, and there’s no reason to dismiss this as a suitable alternative. Although difficulty reaching orgasm may be a possible side effect of drugs like antidepressants, analgesics, or nicotine, there are also some emotional avenues for insight and release that are worth exploring.
In therapy, I have found that a number of men with this issue knew that they were holding themselves back in other ways from their partners. Many became aware that once they got hard, they could feel themselves emotionally restraining themselves, cutting off more vulnerable and tender feelings. Sexual Health and Body.
Some men also manage to separate themselves from any sensation in their penises and to stay focused on performance, not allowing themselves the pleasure of surrender. When they’re ready to come, they remain goal-oriented and focused on performance, like a horse heading for the stable. Yet what’s more likely to allow release is to give up the goal and get into the sensuality and emotional connection of the present moment.
Sexual Health and Body
The Erratic Erection
Sexual Health and Body. There’s an old joke about a man having two heads, a big one and a little one. When he gets into trouble, it’s usually because he’s thinking with the smaller head, the one without a brain. It’s usually the big head, however, that interferes with a man’s ability to be on the same wavelength as his penis. Here’s an example.
Chris was a twenty-six-year-old markedly handsome and fit young man who confessed sadly that he had a history of not being able to sustain an erection with a woman. He was just starting a relationship with Peggy, a young woman he really cared about, and his penis wasn’t working at all. He said he got better erections when he was home alone and just thought about her than when he was with her at her place.
Peggy had begun to notice that Chris was restrained when they made out, and she took it personally. She told Chris that she thought he wasn’t turned on to her and that he didn’t like her body. He reassured her that it was because he cared about her that this happened, but he wasn’t even sure that was true. Sexual Health and Body.
When Chris gave his family and sexual histories, it became apparent how Chris’s erection difficulties had begun. He described his big family as very competitive. His two older brothers were natural athletes like his father, and a younger sister was bright and bookish and kept to herself. Chris’s mother always felt overworked and hassled. She wasn’t very affectionate, but he liked being with her. He helped her in the kitchen whenever he could, just to be close to her. His older brothers called him a mama’s boy.
Chris’s troubles began when he turned sixteen. His brothers decided he was ready to “lose his cherry” and surprised him with a trip to a prostitute in a downtown hotel room. They delivered him to the room and told him they would sit in the lobby and wait for him.
Sexual Health and Body
Sexual Health and Body. Chris was horrified. He wasn’t attracted to the woman; she was much older than he was and wore too much makeup. He didn’t like the smell in the room or the strange furniture, and he felt affronted by the liberties she took opening his pants and handling his penis. Chris never got erect with her, no matter what she did. When the woman walked him back to the lobby, she shrugged her shoulders and told the brothers that she had tried everything but nothing had happened. They paid the woman but complained to Chris that he had wasted their money. Chris felt humiliated by the entire experience, and it alienated him from his brothers even more.
This sounds like something that could have happened fifty years ago, but it happened in the United States in the 1990s. Surely this is a form of sexual abuse: coercing a young person into cold, impersonal sex as his first sexual experience. To Chris, it was a test of his masculinity, and he had flunked it.
Naturally, Chris felt inadequate and completely confused about himself as a man. Much of our work together focused on helping him to become more skilled at reading his body and processing the emotions that kept parts of his torso and pelvis tight and not breathing. When he breathed more fully and took a felt-sense inventory, he could feel his tension patterns, particularly in his chest, gut, genitals, and rectum.
We processed the images that spontaneously came to him from his childhood, such as feelings of abandonment by his mother and his sister and of not measuring up to the men in the family. We also worked on helping him to heal his own wounded relationship with his penis. He seemed to have a medicinal view of masturbation, and much of his masturbating was a quickie in the shower or in the bathroom to relieve his stress. Instead, I encouraged him to masturbate in a more relaxed way, lying down in a candlelit room, listening to music, and fantasizing about sexy scenarios. Sexual Health and Body.
We also talked about getting his mind off his penis and focusing on Peggy when he was with her. He was a bit obsessed with what was going on between his legs, and he needed to raise his consciousness. When he and Peggy were together, he practiced being present with her sensually by putting his full attention on how she looked, sounded, smelled, and tasted. He reminded himself to exhale and to take slow, relaxing inhalations.
One evening, Chris caught himself holding back from passionate kissing because he didn’t want to disappoint Peggy when she wanted more. He decided instead to just let himself melt into Peggy’s soft body. To his surprise, he had an immediate result: the strongest, “happiest” erection he had ever had. Peggy felt it, too. The evening resulted in their most satisfying lovemaking to date.
Chris talked about it with me several days later. He said he was going through a sexual awakening and getting a chance at a do-over. The notion of having sex for love and pleasure, and not as a test, was a major game changer.
Sexual Health and Body
The Wisdom of the Penis, a Delicate Organ
Sexual Health and Body. The old term for erection difficulties is impotence, which means weak and powerless. That’s completely inaccurate, because nothing is more powerful than a penis that won’t perform when it really doesn’t want to. A penis has feelings, too.
Here are two examples of other men who conquered their difficulties by attending to the emotional needs—yes, emotional needs—of their penises.
Some men can do terrible violence with a hard penis, so divorced are they from the loving side of sex. Men who rape often can’t get an erection without violence. But good, decent men are more sensitive.
Unfortunately, Stan was a little too good and too decent. He had trouble maintaining an erection with Karen, his wife of five years. He seemed hesitant to complain about her, but he did admit that he was bothered by her aggressiveness with him. He described instances that suggested that her style, when she wasn’t getting what she wanted from him, was to berate and shame him. Sexual Health and Body.
Karen was going through a lot of job-related stress. Stan felt sorry for her in the same way he felt sorry for his mother’s struggles. His father had left his mother when Stan was five, and she had raised him as a single parent by working at a department store. She would often come home cranky and feeling sorry for herself, and she continually complained and put him down. Stan just swallowed his anger when his mother was verbally abusive with him. Now as a man, he was still swallowing his anger. In his heart he was able to excuse Karen’s bad behavior. His penis, however, was less forgiving.
When Stan recounted tales of the mean things Karen said to him, especially when they were unsuccessful at intercourse, I was amazed at her insensitivity. She told him that he wasn’t a man and that she didn’t find him as attractive as she once had. Stan wasn’t helping by taking her abuse. I kept telling him that he wouldn’t stand up for her until he stood up to her. That’s exactly what happened.
As Stan breathed and accessed the feelings in his body, he was able to feel his anger toward Karen and also, through imagery, toward his mother. One evening, as Karen was giving him a particularly hard time at the dinner table, he felt his anger rise, and instead of pushing it down he jumped to his feet and yelled, “Stop!” That got the attention of them both.
Stan apologized for his outburst but told Karen he was tired of her coming home from work and taking her frustrations out on him. Karen was stunned; she got up, walked away, and refused to talk about it. That lasted about a day, but then things began to change. Stan let Karen know that she couldn’t unload her office resentments on him, and he firmly disallowed her verbal abuse.
Sexual Health and Body. It also helped that Stan became better at hugging and comforting Karen when she was stressed out; this enabled both of them to regulate their stress. Stan recognized that his tendency to withdraw and hide might have contributed to Karen’s misguided way of trying to get a reaction out of him. During our work together, as Stan became able to hold and comfort Karen and to speak openly to her, she stopped acting like his mother and became more like the woman he had fallen in love with. The whole shift in their relationship enabled both of them to feel safer and more aroused when they made love.
Sexual Health and Body
The Penis Reveals What the Heart Keeps Hidden
Sexual Health and Body. Here’s an example of a man’s erection difficulties that were motivated by an entirely different set of feelings and circumstances.
Max was a successful businessman who was referred to me by his physician. He told me he didn’t need psychotherapy and was interested only in learning skills for getting his penis to perform better. Max’s first wife had died of cancer about four years earlier, and he had just married Rita, a woman who was about ten years his junior. They had a great relationship except that once they were married, he began to lose his erection just as they were about to make love.
Max was very clear that he was not interested in breathing or getting in touch with feelings. He was fine; it was just his penis that wasn’t working that well. I told him that I could certainly suggest exercises for masturbating in a way that could help, but unless he was willing to do some breathing and to read his body to see what feelings might be blocking him, I didn’t really think I could help him. Since his physician had recommended me so highly, he wasn’t ready to give me up yet, so he reluctantly agreed to give my methods a chance.
When Max breathed, I could see that while his entire torso was tight, his rib cage and belly were particularly tense and unmoving. I asked him what he was feeling, and he said, “Nothing.” I told him that tension in that area may signal feelings of guilt, responsibility, and obligation, and I asked if that’s what he felt. Max shrugged it off, saying that as head of his company he had lots of responsibilities and obligations. Could be, I acknowledged. Then again, it could be something more. Sexual Health and Body.
In a subsequent session, when Max was halfheartedly willing to experiment, I suggested that he close his eyes, focus on breathing into and expanding his tight rib cage, and see if any images appeared before his mind’s eye. To his utter amazement, he saw his first wife on her deathbed, and it brought tears to his eyes. Although Max may have been over the grief of his first wife’s death, he revealed that he wasn’t over the guilt he had felt from having cheated on a woman he regarded as a saint. He had described his mother in saintly terms as well.
As our work unfolded, what emerged was that after their early years together, Max hadn’t been able to make love with his first wife, either. He had ongoing affairs throughout their long marriage, and even though she suspected as much, she had never confronted him on it. That’s what made her a saint.
Max saw that he was about to canonize yet another woman, but this time he was determined not to let that happen. Through our work together, he was able to see how so much of his libido was tied up in conquest. Once he won a woman over, he lost interest in her sexually.
Sexual Health and Body
Max was now convinced of the value of conscious breathing and processing emotions through the body. He worked on his feelings of guilt and love for his first wife. He said that he was ashamed of himself, and he wept for how he had taken advantage of his first wife’s steadfast loyalty and quiet anguish.
Eventually Max was ready to forgive himself, but he was clear that he never wanted to be ashamed of himself again. He knew he needed help in that department, so he invited Rita to join him in couples therapy. She gladly accepted, delighted that what had started out as sex therapy was uncovering a truer, more emotionally available Max.
Sexual Health and Body. Why should withheld, unprocessed emotion have such a profound impact on a man’s erection? To get a more intuitive sense of it, we need to look closer at what actually takes place in the body when a penis gets hard. Thanks to researchers like Komisaruk and his colleagues, we now know a lot more about the science of orgasm in both men and women.
As a man becomes sexually stimulated, hormones originating in the brain activate nerve fibers that run down the spinal cord. These in turn activate the PNS nerves that run from the pelvic area of the spinal cord to the spongy tissue in the penis. The PNS nerves release nitric oxide and other neurotransmitters that relax the smooth muscles and blood vessels in the penis. In essence, it is the relaxing of the muscles of the penis that allows the spongy tissue to be engorged with blood, expanding and becoming rigid. The resulting compression closes off the veins that drain the blood, trapping the blood in the penis.
When implicit memories and withheld feelings are aroused by subtle environmental or relational cues, even though they are not consciously perceived, the brain triggers the SNS and a reflexive holding of the breath and muscular tension. Without the PNS activation and relaxation, there can be no erection. Sexual Health and Body.
Men and women who have experienced sexual abuse or any emotional sexual injury often hold tension in the belly and in the pelvic muscles. But in a sense, most of us have been sexually mistreated. Because this society typically fails to acknowledge and guide children’s healthy eroticism, shame and insecurity can become associated with sex. Sex-negative programming and a lack of accurate information about sex in childhood may also be considered forms of sexual injury.
Sexual Health and Body
A Woman’s Body
Sexual Health and Body. During the Victorian era (the 1840s to the beginning of the twentieth century), it was believed that sexual desire in women was a sign of disease or immorality and that women—at least, the “respectable” ones—weren’t capable of orgasm. In the 1960s, Masters and Johnson found not only that women are capable of orgasm but that some of their female subjects could have as many as fifty orgasms in an hour. The researchers had advertised for easily orgasmic subjects, and clearly they found a few.
No one really needs fifty orgasms an hour—and counting them could be very distracting—but there is now a wealth of data to show that many women do have multiple orgasms. That’s one orgasm followed by another, followed by another, and so on— each with its own buildup and explosive release.
Besides that, research has determined that different parts of female anatomy can provide different kinds of orgasms, and each kind feels different. Since a woman’s pleasure anatomy is complex, with many different parts, it pays to know where the opportunities are and what to zone in on.
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