What do you do when toxic conflict and conspiracy theories sit down at your Thanksgiving dinner table?
Sex Therapy Calgary: Naked and Shameless Part #2: Liberating passionate love!
Sex Therapy Calgary: Regardless of whether we grow up surrounded by the rules and controls of religion or simply have our attitudes and beliefs shaped by society’s taboos, almost no one reaches adulthood in North America without a deeply ingrained sense that sex is dirty and defiling.
This sense goes far beyond the simple act of sex itself. It pervades gender, desire, fantasy, arousal and is used to shape our roles as men and women, our place in society and the needs we can expect to have met. Those needs and longings are culturally bonded with gender roles. The expectations tied to those roles supposedly provide us with a script that satisfies those longings in culturally approved ways.
What are those scripts?
Women, for example, are taught they are to be fragile, helpless, beautiful and ornamental to attract a man. From the earliest ages, little girls are taught that their primary value is as a sex object. Their sexual desirability is a sort of currency that, if used correctly, will somehow allow the purchase of love, connection and intimacy. Needs, of course, are to be suppressed, lest she be discovered as the dark, predatory and panther-like species that is a needy or high maintenance woman: The “Ball and chain.” Her role is to lie her way into and then con her way through a relationship by acting like her needs are irrelevant. Her sexuality is purely a response to her man. She exists to be what apparently makes every man happy: A Stepford Wife.
On the other hand, men are raised to believe that they are expendable and monstrous and that their primary value is as a success object. They are taught that they are the last off the sinking ship and the first into a hail of bullets in battle. They are taught that tall, dark and handsome is never complete without also being emotionally repressed and silent. From grade school on, sex is presented as being something that is taken from a woman. A man’s spontaneous and always-on sexuality not about love; it’s about scoring points in some sort of ultimate power game that reduces women – especially if they show desire and the man remains cooly detached. Senseless violence is condoned by nearly every Western or Action Flick, along with racist and contemptuous approaches to almost everything around him. Unless a man can, like James Bond, have sex with a woman and then casually shoot her mere minutes of screen time later, he’s not a real man.
Those scripts are primarily based on stereotypes, which never met anyone’s deepest heart longings.
Small wonder then that so many of my male clients have reported having to resist senselessly apologizing to the woman they love after having sex with her. Meanwhile. their female partners report experiencing bitter resentment as they cover their frustration and disappointment with a peaceful-looking smile. They come to marriage counselling seeking sex therapy exercises as though more techniques would fix things, but the problem is so much more profound.
The result of those shame and guilt-based stereotypes may initially be hot and intense, but it’s soulless, dead, and so far from the depths of passionate love and intimate attachment we all somehow know should be possible.
Ask any competent sexologist Calgary has to offer; they will all tell you the same thing: Hot and mysterious bodies may powerfully attract, but the novelty-fueled fires of burning lust are no substitute for long-term passion and the exact opposite of long-term happiness.
It’s time to liberate fantasy from the ignorance-based clutches of shame, fear and guilt, because you deserve so much more!
Sex Therapy Calgary: Naked and Shameless: Liberating Passionate Love
After decades of those soulless couplings, so many husbands and wives come into my office and tell me that they don’t care if they never have sex again. They say that, but they don’t mean it. What they mean is, “I don’t care if I ever have THAT kind of sex ever again.”
That’s a critically important difference.
Of course, popular culture and far too many psychologists come along and tell them that all they need is a new vibrating gadget, a weekend away to rekindle love or a few new techniques. Their focus is trapped in research that dates 20-30 years back into the past when genital sexual satisfaction was much less common than it is in an age where a simple google search will bring up untold pages of instructional videos.
Many of those partners who say they are done with sex are suffering, but not always from a lack of orgasms. As they sit in my office talking about the desperation they feel, what grows is a realization that they don’t even know how to identify what is going on inside, much less have the language to describe it.
But, they do know how deeply they long for something more: Intimacy.
In the most simple terms, the most intense, long-term, passionate sexual intimacy is largely about communication and the capacity to share both who we are and what we most deeply need. The problem is, that rarely works if we don’t even understand what is going on within ourselves, and it definitely doesn’t work if we despise it.
In the popular press, much has been made of the idea that most men (apparently, all but 3%) experience spontaneous sexual desire while a large percentage of women only experience responsive desire. Gender stereotypes like this sell books by the truckload, but serious researchers tend to deny the idea that there is any such thing as spontaneous desire.
The primary trigger of intimate arousal and passionate love is fantasy.
In other words, all sexual desire is rooted in our response to internal or external stimuli and the permission we give ourselves to engage with sources of such. If we look back to the stereotypes of men and women presented at the beginning of the article, this instantly makes sense. However bleak those fantasies may be, men are definitely permitted to fantasize in our society. On the other hand, women face enormous barriers to even feeling at home in their sexualities and endure nearly constant messaging telling them to suppress natural desires along with public shaming if they don’t.
In that light, it should surprise no-one that so many women have been shamed to the point that they never permit themselves to fantasize until they are already involved in a sexual experience. The results of silencing an entire gender’s sexuality hardly describe an innate gender norm, much less health.
If, as discussed in the previous article, sex is not just a means of pleasure but also the foundation for deep intimacy and a vehicle for transformative healing, then the fantasy that energizes desire can no longer be shrouded in mystery.
And, if the goal is unlocking the full force of passionate love in our most precious relationships, then silencing and shame needs to die.
Sex Therapy Calgary: Fantasy without shame!
When we study sexual fantasy, we are studying human dignity and the remarkable persistence of every person’s restorative longing for wholeness and life. The ties to our pasts and the complicated psychological meanings present in every sexual fantasy do not in any way mean that our imaginings are themselves diseased or pathological.
It is, of course, very well known that sexual fantasy is a tool we use to compensate for pathogenic beliefs formed in our childhood. The beliefs may reflect a broken heart, but that does not automatically render the tools we use to cover or heal those wounds unhealthy. The goal of welcoming and understanding our sexual fantasies is not driven by an attempt to “cure” those fantasies. Instead, it attempts to facilitate and assist those fantasies to fully accomplish the bonding and healing they were intended to offer us.
To do that, we first need to understand them.
Fantasy to heal anxiety, worry and guilt:
When a child grows up feeling overly responsible for a parent, a complex chain of beliefs is set in motion – especially if the other parent is dominating or abusive. That chain is complex because it involves two seemingly contradictory desires:
- A sense of guilt for being “too much” for the fragile parent to handle.
- A deep longing to erase fear and become powerful through identification with the dominating parent.
These contradictory drives directly create the flexibility seen in so much of the BDSM scene where “Tops” can quickly flip and become “Bottoms” and vice versa.
When our childhood experiences leave us flooded with guilt for or worry about draining, overwhelming or otherwise hurting a parent seen as weak, we unconsciously seek a place of safety from that internal experience. Being tied up in a bondage situation feels like a handy guarantee that, whatever else we are doing, at least we are not going to need to feel guilt over harming another.
The message is simple: When someone else degrades or inflicts pain on me, I’m not the one doing the hurting or degrading. Most masochistic fantasies revolve around guilt and may involve humiliation, waste-play, age-play (e.g., Diapers,) asphyxiation, rape, incest and group sex.
Playing out a submissive role can also function as a reenactment of a childhood state where, this time, the dominant (parent figure) wants to give – instead of being too wrapped up in mental health, addiction or relationship issues as our actual parent was.
Conversely, when our childhood experiences include being abused or dominated by a controlling parent who seems to crush our spirits, these same underlying self-perceptions often take us in a different direction. Most people playing out a “Top” role experienced childhoods where they were rendered terrified and victimized. The experience of flogging another has the dual benefit of allowing us to both identify with an abuser (thus becoming powerful) while simultaneously escaping the fear of harming a weaker through the intense arousal the “Bottom” seems to experience during the BDSM scene.
These same patterns are visible in fetishistic behaviours where a body part or article of clothing becomes the center of arousal and are also seen in voyeuristic behaviours. The focus on the body part, object or unaware person provides distance from the guilt or fear of harming or being harmed by another. Costumes can psychologically act as a suit of armour, while racial or physical stereotypes can often protect us from seeing the other as a vulnerable or threatening person.
Fantasy to heal humiliation, shame and rejection:
Probably one of the least sexually arousing internal experiences anyone can have is what some psychologists have termed “Self-Centered Contempt.” Self-centred contempt is a catch-all term that covers helplessness, lack of self-worth, self-hatred, low self-esteem and even rejection or humiliation.
One of the clearest examples of the use of fantasy to cover Self Centered Contempt is seen in the compulsive use of erotic materials. Statistics on the use of erotic materials repeatedly tell us that the most frequent use is strongly correlated with residence in areas dominated by aggressive and highly judgmental expressions of Fundamentalist Evangelical Christendom.
Raising children who believe that their sexualities are dirty or defiling and just cause for rejection is probably the most effective way to push that child to hide behind the safety of an LCD screen, fantasizing about a star or starlet’s unconditional acceptance of him or her. These fantasies allow us to resexualize ourselves, overcome inhibitions, take relational risks and temporarily break free from our identification with the negative messages about body, gender and sexuality our parents modelled and may have directly taught.
This same internal experience is very commonly seen in fantasies about cruising behaviours and anonymous sex and the actual practice of it. Anonymity protects us from the dangers of being intimate and the risks of being known. While our hearts may long for connection, our sense that we are too insignificant and defective to be loved by someone who would want us to be happy leaves us trapped in disconnection-based fantasy and behaviours. Other expressions of humiliation and rejection-based fantasy include some manifestations of voyeurism, exhibitionism, size or handicap fixation and heterosexual fascination with gay or lesbian individuals.
A variant of humiliation and rejection-based fantasy is also seen in so-called “Uniform Chasing,” where roles such as police officer, rock star, teacher, preacher, doctor or President of the United States are sexualized to the exclusion of the person in that role. Likely the most well-known uniform chaser, Monica Lewinsky had a long history of seducing powerful position holders. She pursued a path that compensated for self-hatred and powerlessness while avoiding connection with any of them. Obviously, the control found in this seduction is illusionary at best – a reality mirrored in the darkest expression of this type of fantasy when sexual abuse itself is sexualized.
In sexual abuse, shame and rejection merge with the most profound experience of helplessness wherein one who is supposed to love and protect chooses to exploit and debase. Helplessness is intolerable for all of us and, when we can not fight back, flee or deny it, we dissociate and shut down.
While some have suggested that sexualized abuse is simple revictimization, that misses an essential point: Any helplessness experienced in the fantasy is not real because the victim is now in control. The adult sadomasochistic fantasy serves to disprove the helplessness created in childhood abuse making it safe to become aroused.
Why fantasy deserves to be honoured.
Outside of only a narrow few varieties, general society mostly holds little positive regard for sexual fantasy – especially in women – and generally regards them to be the territory of prostitution or other sexual exploitation. That needs to change for, without those fantasies, neither intimate attachment nor the healing of our hearts will ever be fully accomplished.
While there are many variants of sexual fantasies, they all serve to accomplish the same goal: the resolution of tension. Regardless of the source of the inner stresses experienced, our imaginings help calm the wounds, feed the never-satiated hunger, free our ability to sexually respond and brave the dangers that intimate attachment can bring – often in entirely unexpected ways.
That deserves incredible honour.
How fantasy creates relationships.
So many premarital or newly married couples come into my office and tell me a very familiar story. It goes something like this:
I remember when I first saw her across the room. Everything in me just stopped. It was like 110v of electricity went through me, and I just knew she was the one. I had to force myself to get up and go over to her. My heart was pounding, and my knees felt so weak I could barely walk. By the time I got to her, she was blushing so hard I thought her face would melt, and I just knew, “This is the woman I’m going to marry!” The first time we had sex was like a dream world – I never knew anything could be so good. But, man, do we have problems in other areas…
While those couples believe they are telling me the most romantic love story ever, I hear something very different. What they are really saying is:
We’re each carrying many deep wounds from our childhoods and have a lot of broken beliefs about ourselves that match. When we saw each other from across the room, our conscious minds were captivated by the positive aspects we saw. But the real magic happened in our unconscious minds, which recognized someone who embodied our parents’ worst emotional characteristics and reminded us of how we were hurt the most.
When we first had sex, we felt the instant sense of chemistry that happens when each of our behaviours accomplished for the other precisely what his/her fantasies do: Counteract the messed up beliefs about ourselves that our childhoods implanted in us. We each do such an excellent job of proving or disproving exactly the shame, guilt, humiliation, worry, rejection, desirability and safety that the orgasms are mind-shattering.
But everywhere else in our relationship, those broken beliefs create real pain and incredible havoc…
Obviously, I don’t interrupt those romantic stories with what would definitely come across as a massive buzz-kill, but what creates those most heart-pounding and fiery attractions is far darker than most of us ever care to admit.
Sexual attraction happens in an explosive instant of mystery and wonderment that leaves us no time at all to process anything cognitively. Somehow, our unconscious minds magically draw us towards someone who seems divinely equipped to help us erase our irrational fears, calm our guilt, dispel our shame and reassure us that we are worthy of pleasure and attention.
And, that almost clairvoyant knowing nearly always proves to be correct. The problem is, we are being drawn towards someone who is uniquely equipped to trigger off all of what we most need to fix, and on many more levels than just the sexual experience.
However, the sexual experience is a microcosm of a large part of our lives and a place where everything is laid bare. As we strip off our clothing, we are also stripping away our pretenses, exposing our self-images and allowing our relational idolatry or idealized images of ourselves to be seen and reflected back by the other person. In this arena of naked sexuality, our social status, money, power and even our capacity to hide behind language are all taken from us, and we are left vulnerable.
At that moment, either those emotions and beliefs that diminish excitement are soothed, counteracted and dispelled by the other person, or the sexual experience falls flat. Chemistry happens when each person finds it easy to dispel the childhood beliefs that haunt the other. However, the success or failure of the relationship potentially hangs on what happens next.
Sex Therapy Calgary: How fantasy creates the possibility of healing.
When one partner or another comes into my office and declares they are done with sex, they are rarely reacting to problems with physical technique.
They are saying two things:
- I’m done with sex where I feel more rather than less guilt and shame. I long for my fantasies to be cherished, explored, used to dispel the anxiety that kills excitement and desire.
- I’m done with a relational context where sex is just an act that only touches my body without healing and calling my soul to life.
While usually viewed as an indictment, that is actually an open door for healing to flow through the sexual relationship into the deepest, most fragile and wounded parts of the soul.
Sexual interest is probably one of the most accurate gauges of distrust and conflict in a relationship and our sexual fantasies, in particular, stand among the most critical access points to our hearts’ most damaged and broken places.
While so much of the sexual intimacy-related couples therapy Calgary has to offer seems to focus on genitals, what happens between the couple’s ears matters so much more. A sexology degree has relatively little to do with genitals, and the daily work of a Calgary sex therapist is mostly about how we handle our hearts, minds and relationships.
This series’s third segment is partially about how a couple can draw upon those fantasies to create the best sex ever. But even more importantly, it’s really about how those fantasies can also inspire the most bonded relationship and the most extraordinary transformation in the lovers’ hearts enjoying it. So if it feels like passion is dying and your relationship has grown cold, perhaps it’s time to consider booking a couples Sex Therapy Calgary appointment. Start your journey of healing and transformation today!
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