Answers to FAQ in all areas of sex, intimacy, relationships, sexuality, including short ‘how to’ blogs

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The Modern Guide to Breaking Up: Introduction

The time between New Year’s Day and just before Valentine’s Day is known as breaking up season.

Couples who have been struggling for during the autumn and through the holiday season often use the ‘new year, new you’ energy as an impetus to end the relationship so that they can look towards Valentine’s day as a time to start another romantic adventure.  This is breaking up season.

In mid-December, I toured WeWork Aldwych House in London.   If you haven’t been in co-working office space like WeWork, you might not know how much creativity happens in casual conversations in the hot desking common areas.  Co-work offices provide hot desks which are tables or desks that you can either reserve or just claim when you arrive in the space.  Most spaces have great Wi-Fi, free beverages and a variety of comfy seating arrangements.  You sit down and work and during the time you are there, often enter into a conversation or two with the people working around you.  People can be from any field, business or discipline.  In any event, I ended up in a conversation with one of the local team.  We were talking about what I do for a living and he said that there really should be a good guide to breaking up since there didn’t seem to be any guides to help people refrain from emotionally shredding each other when they leave a relationship.  That is how I came to be writing this guide.  This blog is an introduction and outline that identifies the problems and gives some good hints and tips to avoid the worst of the pitfalls.  If you want the full guide, you can purchase it here.  I have laid it out as an eBook/eworkbook.

I have been working with individuals, couples, families, and relationship groups for the past 30 years.  Most of the time when people come in with relationship problems, they will say they are coming in to therapy in order to save the relationship.    In reality, in at least 60% of the cases, one of the people has come in with the desire to end the relationship and wants help so that the end is not absolutely horrible and destructive.  Most people know that acting on the intense emotions that are frequently present at break up time can be destructive to themselves in addition to their soon to be ex-partners.  But they still cannot help but lash out.     Even people who are usually excellent at negotiation and have great emotional and social skills can behave like out of control bullies when involved in a break up.breaking up

Why do people behave so badly when breaking up?  Here are the most common reasons:

  1. They have been betrayed by their soon to be x.

Breaches of trust cut incredibly deeply.  There is nothing worse than discovering that the person you have trusted with all of you has betrayed you.  The most common betrayal is an affair but there are other betrayals.  All betrayals involve lying and/or withholding truth (pretending).  The ones that have gone on the longest are the most emotionally damaging.

  1. They are betraying the person they want to break up with.

In this case, the person projects their own bad motives and behaviour onto their partner.  They become angry and horrible because they cannot admit their own bad behaviour.  They feel guilty about breaking up and it makes them angry.

  1. They find it too hard to be honest, vulnerable and make a clean break.

Being angry and belligerent pushes the other person away.

    4.  They don’t want to stay friends and don’t know how to end the relationship with compassion without their partner wanting to stay connected.

  1. They have no empathy.

There are people who have little or no empathy and cannot place other people’s needs before their own needs.  Sometimes they are just thoughtless.

  1. They know that breaking up is the best thing for both parties but don’t feel they can stay separate if there isn’t animosity.

  2. They feel helpless in the face of their partner’s sadness and upset and this causes an angry reaction.  Anger is easier than powerless feelings.

  3. They cannot stand their own feelings of sadness and grief and find anger much easier to bear.

What are some of the pitfalls to an amicable or friendly breakup?

  1. It can be hard to stay away from the person you are breaking up with.

You are in the habit of spending time, sharing things.   If things are friendly, those habits are too easy to continue.  You may not have a new routine for emotional support or sharing the little things about your day so this too will make staying separate hard.

 

  1. Making the decision to end a relationship that is not meeting your needs is often a huge relief.

Once you have made the decision, sometimes a lot of the negativity will lift and you will find being together more comfortable and even more fun.  Sometimes people remember what it was like at the beginning of the relationship when they were really into each other and things were going really well.  Suddenly the relationship may feel like it is salvageable.  This is the time when people forget the reasons that they decided to end the relationship.

  1. Going back out into the world can be harder if you are still close to your ex-partner.

Many people find it uncomfortable if a person they are dating is close with an ex.  Also when you are emotionally close with someone, you may compare new people to the person and this may put you off developing closeness with someone new.

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Some tips and tricks to avoid behaving badly:

  1. If you have been betrayed, do some personal work (counselling, therapy, coaching, talking with a trusted friend – whatever works for you) to resolve some of the intensely negative feelings you are experiencing.
  2. If you were the one who was having the affair, own up to it (at least to yourself) and make a clear effort not to project your stuff onto your soon to be x partner. You might benefit from some personal work (counselling, therapy, coaching, talking to a good friend – whatever works for you).
  3. Use journaling to help you get what is in your head out onto paper. If journaling doesn’t appeal, try some type of art work.
  4. Create a separation plan. This is particularly useful if you have been living together or leaving lots of stuff at each other’s places.  It’s also useful to help manage the emotional and social aspects of separation.  If you attend a regular social event with common friends, this is where you can address who will be attending in the future and who will not or how you will both manage to attend.    This can be a detailed plan that allows you to address all the ways your lives are entangled or it can be simple and just have some basic rules.
  5. If you are attending the same events, it can help to go with another friend to avoid awkwardness.
  6. Build in time for your favourite stress reduction activities and plan these around when you have to deal with the breakup.
  7. Remember that breaking up involves loss and so there is a grieving process that most people experience. If grieving isn’t something you are good at, get some help to learn how to grieve (which usually means to learn to allow yourself to feel the loss until you are finished feeling it instead of trying to suppress the feelings or push them aside).

Working towards ending relationships without lots of destruction is one of the best things you can do as you will need these skills in multiple places over your lifetime.

Sometimes we end business relationships, friendships and even familial relationships and all of these can be as traumatic as ending romantic relationships. 

If you found this introduction intriguing and useful, look for my Modern Guide to Breaking Up eBook/eWorkbook on https://the-intimacy-coach.com on the products page to be released on 25 January 2018 or simply set up a discovery session with me by going to my website https://the-intimacy-coach.com and then my contact page and clicking where it says ‘click here’.

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A Practical Primer for Overcoming Shame

We experience shame when we cannot own something we have thought, felt, or done or some part of ourselves. Guilt can be appropriate when we have done something we know is wrong and harmed ourselves and/or others. It serves the purpose of getting us to look at the wrong and highlighting the wrong so that we can make amends, change our behaviour.

What Turns You On?

I ask this question of clients a lot and surprisingly, people often cannot answer it.   Many people look to others to turn them on.  Their expectations are that partners will somehow know what to do.    Many people are still brought up to think of sexual self-exploration as shameful.  Women are often taught to attend to their partner’s pleasure and that if they make a partner happy they will be happy too. Sadly, though making your partner happy will make you feel good, it won’t often give you sexual satisfaction.

If you want to learn what turns you on, first learn to take responsibility for your own pleasure.

Serious as this sounds, it is actually lots of fun.  The first step is to pay attention to your body and notice the things that make you tingle, hum, or purr.    If you are not used to pleasuring yourself, you might find it more comfortable to have a partner touch your body in different ways while you focus on your response to see what makes you tingle, hum or purr.  If you are going to do this with a partner, start by telling them that you are doing this experiment to learn more about what turns you on, that you would like their help in doing so.  Tell them that you would like them to touch you sensually and sexually in a variety of different ways and that you will be focussing on your own responses.  Make sure that they don’t expect you to start focussing on their pleasure.

 

What Turns You On

If you are happy with masturbation and self-pleasure, explore on your own.  Take the time to stroke your body in different places, in different ways.  Use a variety of toys as well as your hands and notice your body’s myriad responses.  Pay attention to the sensations that make you take in your breath sharply and the sensations that cause you to say ‘ahhh’.  The goal is not necessarily to reach orgasm but rather to see what gets you so turned on that you are close.  Feel free to use erotica, pornography, other movies and anything that you find stimulating.  Spend this time with yourself daily over at least a week.    Notice how you feel about taking the time to just enjoy yourself.    Taking responsibility for your pleasure is empowering.  When you know what turns you on, you can ask for what turns you on.  When you are able to provide yourself with pleasure, you need not look to someone else to give you that sexual satisfaction.  You can choose to be with a partner to gain sexual pleasure or you can choose to pleasure yourself.    If you find yourself becoming turned on, you can see to your own needs.

Extend your exploration from noticing your reactions in your body, your feelings and your thoughts about what turns you on to looking at what turns you on in other people.  When you know this as well you will make better relationship choices.  What type of sex turns you on?  For many people the answer is many types of sex.  Pay attention to what you like and when you like it.  Give yourself permission to push your own boundaries and try something new.

So many people have been brought up with shame around sex and sexuality.

They have been brought up hearing ‘no’ repeatedly, being told that sexual feelings and activities are shameful, wrong and sinful.  So many women have been told that their pleasure is not a priority.  Sexual pleasure is not wrong or sinful.  Sexual pleasure is part of healthy sexual activity and relationships.    Your body is made to give you pleasure.  Give yourself permission to experience pleasure and particularly to experience sexual pleasure.

What turns you on?

Try to remember the first time you felt turned on.  Can you remember the event in detail?  Leslie said ‘The first time I remember feeling turned on I was about 10 and I was watching a movie with a really sexy actor. There was a scene where he was in bed with the leading lady. I felt tingling and my breathing was faster.  I didn’t really understand why I was feeling that way but it did feel good.  It felt so good that I watched the movie four times so I could feel that way again.’    Roger describes the first time he felt turned on.  ‘I was 9 and I was in bed and having a really good dream.  I woke up with my hand on myself and it felt really great until I remember the nuns telling us that it was a sin and then I was afraid I was going to hell.  I stopped for a while and thought about the nuns.  But the next night I was touching myself again.   This time I didn’t stop but felt guilty after.  It took a couple more years before I stopped feeling sure I was going to hell.’

Do you know what turns you on?  If you want some help exploring, schedule a free discovery session with me here

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Here’s Why It Makes Sense For Sex Workers To Run (And Manage) Their OWN Brothels

The theory was when prostitution (and brothels) were legalized, the criminals (especially organized crime – responsible for most trafficking) would find some other easier more lucrative way to earn money. In turn, sex workers, on the street and in brothels, would be safer, healthier and paid better. Prostitution was legalized in 2000. People who own a sex business need a license and to follow the local rules and sex workers now have to pay taxes.

Despite legalization, Amsterdam’s sex industry has continued to be inundated with the victims of trafficking most of which is being done through eastern Europe.

For those who choose to be sex workers, the environment did not get better financially.  They have to pay taxes and the rent for their premises (the ubiquitous windows in the Red Light district) went up because there were fewer available. The city council of Amsterdam started an initiative to create a brothel space that is designed and managed by the sex workers themselves.

They set up a foundation called My Red Light and their first brothel has just been opened.  It has room for 40 sex workers to work and occupies 14 windows across four buildings in the Red Light District.  The sex workers have been involved in everything from creating the laws that govern opening, taxes, licenses through to the decoration and styles of the windows.

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What makes My Red Light different from other places sex workers work?

There is a client free lounge space in the buildings where the sex workers can meet, talk, have coffee, tea and light refreshment.  The rooms are lighter and more spacious than the typical rooms used by sex workers.

The people who designed this space hope this will combat some of the isolation that has existed and that women will be able to give each other advice about things like dealing with difficult clients. It also encourages the workers to become self-employed, allowing them to choose when, where and how they work.

The hope is that they will become less dependent upon pimps and others who seek to control and exploit them. By building a space together, they will learn about all aspects of business and will be able to share what they learn and potentially provide newcomers with personal and professional development paths.

There are plans to provide courses for the sex workers from massage to finance. A large Dutch bank gave the Red Light Foundation a start-up loan and they are also being given business advice. Additionally, the Red Light Foundation is leasing the space from local government so they do not have ownership of their own space.

But not everyone is happy about this project.  There are many who believe that the sex industry should be expelled from the Red Light District and that government sanctioning initiatives will only benefit the buyer of sexual services, not the sex workers.  They are concerned that pimps will benefit instead of sex workers.

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So why aren’t people happy about this…

One of the biggest objections to sex work is that so many people who become sex workers are coerced into doing so and/or the victims of trafficking. These people live lives full of violence and misery.

The argument goes that if there was no pornography and there were no sex workers (e.g. there was no demand for such) then the trafficking would not occur. I am afraid I must disagree with this logic. Legalization decreases the amount of value to be gained by trafficking but on its own does not do enough.Until we see sex workers as providing a valuable service, shame will be the primary emotion experienced by both those seeking out the services and the workers themselves.  And where there is a lot of shame, there is potential to control and humiliate.

Until we see sex workers as providing a valuable service, shame will be the primary emotion experienced by both those seeking out the services and the workers themselves.  And where there is a lot of shame, there is potential to control and humiliate.

Shame becomes toxic when internalized.  This type of shame produces feelings of disgust and pain that are intense and is triggered and retriggered by our own thoughts. Shame of this type convinces people that they don’t have a right to their own bodies and therefore to say what is done to their bodies or what they do with their bodies.  In particular, women’s sexual experiences are often

In particular, women’s sexual experiences are often stigmatized. Women are told that to enjoy sexuality is shameful, to enjoy their bodies is shameful.  Women who choose sex work are stigmatized even further and through this learn that their health and even their consent does not matter.

Perhaps creating a sex worker run workspace and learning space goes some way to de-stigmatising sex work and decreases shame for the workers as well as for the customers.  If it does, this is another step towards shifting attitudes around sexuality so that we begin to see sexuality as a necessary, joyful part of our lives.

Sex workers provide an invaluable service for people who are without sexual partners in the short, medium and long term.  I have worked with many clients over the years who were so socially phobic that the only way they could manage sexual contact was to see a sex worker.  Some were able to increase their social and sexual skills to the point where they found life partners and were forever grateful to the sex workers who helped them reach their romantic goals.

These sex workers helped the clients to embrace sexuality and to leave shame behind.  Other clients never moved beyond their contact with the sex workers.   In these cases, sex workers were even more important to the client’s well-being.  Long term lack of physical contact has long been known to be psychologically and sometimes even physically damaging.

Sex workers can provide a safe space for some clients to talk about and enact fantasies that they fear to discuss with their partners (or potential partners).  When sex workers are happy in their work, are well paid, have good health care and are treated with respect, they are better able to help clients let go of sexual shame.

Bottom line…

This experiment will work best if the sex workers continue to have a large voice in creating the rules and procuring the education that they want.  If their voice is valued their esteem will rise.  If they are given more ownership over their business practices perhaps they will take more ownership over the totality of their work environment. In turn, valuing themselves enough to institute a policy for standard health care (where it is highlighted that the sex workers are valuing their bodies rather than framing it only in terms of protecting customers as it often is framed).

Economic pressure will always be a large factor in choosing to be a sex worker.   Many people making this choice have few other options to earn money that pay even close to a living wage.   However, there are many sex workers who choose sex work because they enjoy it.  Many who do so for limited periods of time (such as working their way through university).

There are also many forms of sex work. Perhaps the people running Red Light Foundation will create space for sex workers to work online or via telephone as well as working directly. Having choice is the mark of having control over life. Choice increases your sense of esteem and agency in the world.  Choice makes consent real whereas when there is no choice consent is simply words.

When pimps are involved and violence is threatened, there is no choice and therefore no consent.  When sex workers are given agency to create their own working lives, shame and humiliation decrease while pride and self-belief increase.

It is my belief that societal attitudes towards sex workers can reflect attitudes towards sexuality in general.  Where society views sex for pleasure as shameful, sinful or wrong in some way, sex work is viewed as dirty, shameful and degrading.  As society begins to view sex for pleasure as an integral part of life, sex work begins to be seen in terms of economics rather than morality.

If the Dutch government is able to make sure that the Red Light Foundation has the muscle it needs to make sure that windows are only rented to sex workers who have chosen their profession and not to pimps and traffickers, this initiative will benefit sex workers, clients and society.

My weekly podcasts The A to Z of Sex and Sex Spoken Here can be found on iTunes.  Check out my free eBook 74 Hot Movies (that are not pornography) here and join my mailing list.  Got questions about sex, sexuality or relationships?  Ask them here.

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Pop-up Brothels? Whys an wherefores of buying sex

Not too long ago there was a huge outcry when it was discovered that some sex workers were hiring places using Airbnb and setting up short term brothels.  People were upset about the sex work in general and also about the thought of people having sex in their homes.   On the one hand, it is understandable that people would be concerned about their homes being known as brothels and have worries about people returning to their homes after the sex workers had left, looking for the brothel.  On the other hand, people use Airbnb the same way they use hotels and so have lots of sex in the places they rent.  This is one of the things you can expect if you are selling space in your home to people who are on holiday.

This set of incidents started me thinking again about why culturally selling sex is seen as such an outrage and all of the objections and prejudice that sex workers face.   I have known lots of sex workers over the years (and still know quite a few).    There are as wide a variety of people who are sex workers as there are people.

One of the biggest objections to sex work is that so many people who become sex workers are coerced into doing so and/or the victims of trafficking.   These women (and some men) live lives full of violence and misery.  The argument goes that if there was no pornography and there were no sex workers (e.g. there was no demand for such) then the trafficking would not occur.    I am afraid I must disagree with this logic.  This is the same argument about the drug trade – that demand is what causes the trade to be full of violence.    When drugs are no longer criminalised and they are regulated by the state, the violence decreases.  Where sex work is regulated, the workers are there by choice and receive the benefits (like health screening) that other workers receive.  There is ethical pornography made with sex workers who are there because they want to be as well.

I believe our attitudes towards sex work need to be examined.  For some men and women, they only way that they can experience sexual contact regularly is to patronise sex workers.  I remember one client who was so socially phobic that even engaging in regular email exchange with a woman was painfully difficult.  He came to see me because he had never had a romantic relationship and didn’t even have friendships.  He enjoyed a close relationship with his parents who were getting older and his only sibling lived in Australia.  Jacob realised that his parents would not be there forever and he did not want to end up on his own.   He decided to come to see me to help him get ready to ‘find a wife’.

Jacob was 44 years old and he had never kissed a woman or had any other sexual experience with another person.  He was clear that he was attracted to women but he was petrified to talk to them.   For sexual satisfaction, he admitted to masturbating and said that he had watched some pornography that he defined as ‘normal stuff’.  Upon questioning, it was clear this was heterosexual pornography and that there was no kink involved.

Jacob wanted to find a wife but he was afraid that if he waited until he met someone and then had a first sexual experience, he would lose the person because of his inexperience.   He also wanted to practice talking to a woman about romantic things and sexual desires.

We spent a few months working together just getting Jacob used to talking with me and talking through all the steps he would need to take in order to have a sexual encounter with a woman.  Jacob then began to look for a professional to see.  He spoke with a number of escort services over the phone until he found one that met his requirements.  He wanted the escort to know in advance that he wanted to see her more than once so that he could practice social skills and then hopefully practice sexual skills.  He was clear that he wanted the professional to know that he was a virgin and he wanted to learn how to please a woman.  I asked Jacob if he didn’t want to wait and have his first experiences with a woman that he had developed a relationship with and he was clear that this was far too anxiety provoking.  He also considered a sexual surrogate but was unable to find someone in his local area.

Jacob’s experiences with the sex worker he engaged increased his confidence 1000-fold.   He felt ready to approach dating.  After a few months, Jacob met someone online and then in person.  One year after his experiences with the escort, Jacob became engaged to be married.

Jacob used his interaction with escorts in order to build confidence and build skills.  Other people never move on to relationships that are not with professionals.    A professional dominatrix I know has a number of long term clients who have never managed relationships with non-professionals.  The men she describes have specific fetishes and also have high levels of anxiety as well as specific fears around actual sexual contact.   They have regular contact with her weekly and have done so for years.    She is the closest thing they have to a romantic partner.  They are unwilling to consider therapy or counselling and find this solution allows them to have full satisfied lives.    Were there no sex workers willing and able to form relationships with them, they would have no relationships or romantic companionship.

Sex workers come in many types.  There are strippers, glamour models, women and men who act in pornographic films, prostitutes/call girls/escorts (male and female), dominatrices, dominant men, professional slaves, phone sex workers, those who work via the internet performing live shows, those who work in theatres doing peep shows, live sex shows.

Statistics, on the other hand, are very hard to quote.  As this article in the Washington Post highlights, much of the research has been done without actually interviewing a single sex worker.

‘Imagine a study of the alcohol industry which interviewed not a single brewer, wine expert, liquor store owner or drinker, but instead relied solely on the statements of ATF agents, dry-county politicians and members of Alcoholics Anonymous and Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Or how about a report on restaurants which treated the opinions of failed hot dog stand operators as the basis for broad statements about every kind of food business from convenience stores to food trucks to McDonald’s to five-star restaurants?

You’d probably surmise that this sort of research would be biased and one-sided to the point of unreliable. And you’d be correct. But change the topic to sex work, and such methods are not only the norm, they’re accepted uncritically by the media and the majority of those who the resulting studies. In fact, many of those who represent themselves as sex work researchers don’t even try to get good data. They simply present their opinions as fact, occasionally bolstered by pseudo-studies designed to produce pre-determined results. Well-known and easily-contacted sex workers are rarely consulted. There’s no peer review. And when sex workers are consulted at all, they’re recruited from jails and substance abuse programs, resulting in a sample skewed heavily toward the desperate, the disadvantaged and the marginalized.’

Most of the discussion around sex work assumes that the customers are men.  This is assumed whether or not the sex worker is male or female.  In fact, there is evidence that quite a few women seek out the company of male escorts.  Middle aged women who choose to use male escorts report doing so to get their own sexual needs met without having to worry about the needs of others, for companionship when they are not in relationships and to avoid ‘the hassle’ of dating when they have otherwise very busy lives.

Sometimes people choose to see a professional in order to explore a kink in a setting where they can call the shots and only have to attend to their own needs.  This allows exploration at their own pace so that if they choose to involve a partner, they are clear where their limits are and how to explain what they enjoy.  Other times people see a professional when their partner does not wish to participate in certain types of sexual activity.  When this is done ethically, it can provide a relief for the partner who doesn’t wish to engage in the activity and relief for the partner who has the desire as it is now being met.

Much of the discussion around sex work comes from the perspectives that either it is morally wrong or that all sex workers are exploited.   I have tried to present some other perspectives where sex workers provide a valuable service and are paid well and treated with respect for doing so.

If this article has you thinking and you wish to explore your desires further, why not attend Creating a Bonfire . a one day intensive exploration.  Or perhaps you would like to consider what programmes are available?  Sign up for 30 minutes free consultation here.