Navigating Sexual Aversion

Triggers are powerful

Sexual aversion is a powerful somatic strategy for protecting oneself from unwanted sexual contact. In short, sexual aversion is a trigger state.  Triggers arise from experiences in our past in which our capacity in that moment to cope was overwhelmed. Triggers are, in effect, our brains and bodies caught in the past, although it can seem like the catalyst is in the present. Triggers always exist for a good reason, even if they have outlived their usefulness.

Our triggers can ask us to live small lives as we try to avoid being triggered. Sexual aversion is a trigger that can very much inhibit our expression of our sexuality. Shifting any somatic trigger is a process that requires commitment, attention, learning new skills, and practice.

It can become challenging when you want to have sexual contact with a partner and aversion is present. It is important to remember that the aversion has a reason for existing, and it comes from a wise place.

Impact on partners

Dealing with sexual aversion can have painful impact on you and your partner. It’s common for partners to feel rejected. It’s also common in couples dealing with sexual aversion for sex to become an area of high conflict, whether spoken or unspoken.

As with any somatic change, shifting sexual aversion requires a commitment of both partners to practicing a new narrative, new behaviors, and new choices. This means that both partners commit to finding a way through sexual aversion, together. It means that if as the partner of someone dealing with sexual aversion, if you feel rejected and shut down, you commit to your own work of tending those parts of you that are needing love and care.

What is healing? 

Rather than expecting sexual aversion to go away as part of a healing process, success entails learning to work collaboratively with your body, allowing all of the sensations, emotions and experiences to exist, without judgment.

Exploring the trigger of aversion in a safe, supported and structured manner can help shift the experience, with practice and over time. When healing trauma, it’s important to learn how to stay within a a neurological window of tolerance. This means finding the sweet spot in between your own neurological edges of not-enough and too-much activation.  This is where somatic learning can happen.

Somatic Commitment

Before beginning an in-depth exploration of a somatic trigger, it is helpful to establish the new narrative that you are shifting towards. This is called a commitment. A commitment is a powerfully-worded truth, written in the present tense, that names the somatic shape you are consciously creating. It is worthwhile to take the necessary time to create the most potent commitment.

For example, in the case of sexual aversion, a potential deisred shift might be having more choice and freedom in terms of your sexual expression. A possible commitment might be “I am a commitment to freedom in my sexuality.”  Using the phrasing “I am a commitment to…” creates an embodied statement.  The commitment statement becomes the new narrative you get to practice.

As part of the commitment process, it is crucial to know why you are doing what you are doing. This is the “for the sake of what”. In this case, it might sound like “For the sake of freedom, I am a commitment to self-compassion for my aversion trigger.”

Lastly, the conditions of satisfaction are worth enumerating. “For the sake of freedom, I am a commitment to self-compassionate exploration of my aversion trigger. I will know I have achieved this when I am consistently kind to myself when I feel averse, and allow myself the full range of my humanity.”

Practices to explore and shift aversion

After you create the new narrative, the next step is to consider the practices that support the new narrative. Triggers make us feel like we have no choice, and it is powerful to begin to reclaim our choice as a practice.

One choice might be how we engage with ourselves around our aversion trigger. Do we speak harshly to ourselves? Do we blame our partners? Do you give yourself permission to make a decision based on the amount of bandwidth you have in the moment? Do you move towards or away from the trigger?

The great thing about aversion is having opportunities to try different practices, notice what happens, and collect data. The following is a collection of practices and choices you can experiment with when your sexual aversion trigger gets tripped!

Acknowledge what is

Acknowledge what is happening, preferably out loud, perhaps even to your partner. Acknowledging what is is a powerful practice of being with truth. Shame often tries to silence this needed acknowledgment. Having an agreement with your partner ahead of time that you will share with them when you feel the aversion trigger can help them take it less personally, and be more available for loving support and connection.

Create Safety

Often people with sexual aversion have had experiences with unwanted sexual contact. Re-establishing personal boundaries and an internal, felt sense of safety is absolutely necessary.

Being safe means having the capacity to act on one’s own behalf. Safety is an internal felt experience that folks with trauma rarely have as embodied experience. Part of the return to sexual sovereignty is coming to trust that respect for one’s own boundaries will be honored. Choosing to not participate in unwanted sexual contact affirms a sense of self-trust.

As the skill of saying no is practiced and learned over time, while learning there may be mistakes. It’s possible to start a sexual activity feeling a yes, and then have that change, but not be able to extricate oneself from the situation. In this case, it is important afterwards to acknowledge what happened, and one’s role in it, with deep compassion for the learning process. Self-compassion is deep safety.

Make a choice

Make a choice about the best way to take care of yourself, right now. That may mean leaving the situation. That may mean getting curious about your experience. The choice you make depends on how resourced you feel in that moment, and how willing you are to do the work at that moment. Realizing you do have choice is powerful, in and of itself.

If you choose to take care of yourself by leaving the situation, follow your impulse of what will establish a sense of safety. How can you act on your own behalf? Acknowledge the power of that choice, and honor the setting of a physical spatial boundary. Track what happens somatically as you come back to center. What physical sensations do you note?

Support the contraction

If you choose to take care of yourself by getting curious about what happens next, start by supporting the contraction. Supporting the contraction means  physically, emotionally and energetically giving yourself permission for what is. This may mean tensing the muscles of your body where you feel something happening, or moving your body into a protected shape.

Stay with the contraction as long as is necessary, or as is interesting. Pay close attention to what is happening inside.  The practice of somatic awareness means learning to place your attention on the inside experience of your body. This is a crucial embodiment practice.

As you support the contraction, you may begin to lean into the physical sensations you are experiencing. You may choose to name each, and express it aloud. You can also note emotions that may be present. If there are any stories that come, note these as well. Be on the lookout for the guardian emotions like anger and rage. Pay particular attention to the deeper emotions such as grief, powerlessness, and helplessness, naming each.

Staying present with yourself, affirming that whatever is being felt is just fine to feel. It’s interesting to pay attention to how our nervous systems return to regulation after being disregulated. It’s interesting to note how we come back into our bodies if we have disassociated. All of this is important somatic information; there’s no way to do it wrong. It just is.

Practice the new narrative

It’s also useful to practice the new narrative when you are not triggered. This can mean saying it to yourself, writing it down and putting it places where you see it, or any other creative means of reinforcing. Practicing when not triggered can support remembering the new narrative when you are triggered.

Imaginal practices

Practices using your imagination can be powerful. An advanced practice is to practice feeling attraction and desire for your partner, when they are not present. Start by placing your attention on your own body, noticing what you are feeling. Finding a place inside that feels neutral or positive is a good place to anchor. Allowing your attention to be on your own genitals, noticing what you feel or don’t feel.

Next, pendulate your attention to an imaginal gesture/thought/movement involving your partner. Finding the right gesture or thought is important: find something that is positive, and has a slight erotic charge. It could be something you are doing to them, or that they are doing to you. Importantly, Pay attention to staying well within your window of tolerance as you safely explore erotic content involving your partner in your imagination. With this practice, it is very important to not force or bully yourself into making anything happen.

Move your attention back and forth between your own body, and the imaginal erotic thought concerning your partner. Notice what happens. There is no “right” outcome from this practice, just allowing yourself to imagine your attraction and desire, while noticing what happens in your body, and staying safe, all at the same time.

Ultimately, it takes time and practice to shift deep-seated somatic responses. It can feel like no progress is happening, which can frustrate you even further.  A wise teacher said “To change everything, start anywhere.” I recommend keeping a log or journal of what you try and experience each time you find yourself in the midst of your trigger. Remembering to do even one thing differently can begin to shift the entire system. In reflecting on the experience in your journal, you can acknowledge the work you did, thus validating your practice.

Get professional somatic support

Additionally, having skilled and compassionate support is helpful. Erotic coaches, guides and even wise friends can assist you as you direct your somatic education. “In its purity, somatic education is self-initiated and self-controlled. However, somatic education has emerged during the twentieth century as a procedure whereby this internalized learning process is initiated by a teacher who stimulates and guides the learner through a sensory-motor process of physiological change,” writes Thomas Hanna in Clinical Somatic Education.

Lastly, seeking expressions of sexuality that feel good to you and your partners. Often, when sexual energy is blocked in one area, like a river it finds its way around the obstacle. Where are you creatively expressing? Where are you sensuously enjoying? Working in collaboration with sexual triggers can require great creativity.

It’s a both-and approach: choosing not to live as small as the trigger requires, and simultaneously honoring the current truth and capacity of the body. It’s also true that we all limit ourselves with our habits and beliefs about what we define as sex. Can you and your partner be a team in exploring creative outlets for sexuality, that may look really different than either of you imagined?

In review

  • Create a somatic commitment statement, complete with for-the-sake-of-what and conditions of satisfaction.
  • Acknowledge and name what’s happening as soon as you become aware
  • Honor your own boundaries: Choose to not engage in unwanted sexual contact
  • Honor what’s working: where are you expressing your sexuality?
  • When triggered, assess your capacity in that moment, and make a choice about how to best take care of yourself
  • Notice sensations and emotions as they emerge whatever you choose
  • Offer yourself kindness and compassion for the experience
  • Keep a log of your practice experiences
  • Have support for your somatic learning
  • Be available for surprising expressions of sexuality between you and your partner that might not fit in the box of what you thought sex was!

If you or someone you love is experiencing sexual aversion, help is available. Feel free to reach out to me at http://www.emancipating-sexuality.com for support.

 

*I want to acknowledge the work of Meredith Broome, and Joseph Kramer, in informing this post.

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These boots were made for walking: Fluevogs, Sex, Divorce and San Francisco.

I moved to California in 2004, from a homestead in the backwoods of the North Carolina mountains where I literally baked my own bread each week. I could never have imagined all the ways San Francisco would infiltrate my skin, my soul, and my sex.  It ended my marriage, and brought me into my true partnership.  It turned me queerer than I’d ever dared to express before.  It radicalized my life. San Francisco has been, and continues to be, my totally  hot transformative lover, like no other.

Today I’ve been pondering what it is that my child self wants.  Making room for the desires of that girl, and trying to give her space for play and trust.  This afternoon, she has called out for dress up. Boots, in particular.

And although it feels incredibly vulnerable to share, here’s a little post-holiday gift for you.  I wrote this poem in 2005 about the pair of Fluevogs I bought that eventually changed my life. When I wrote the poem, I didn’t know all that would happen, but you’ll notice that somewhere I had a strong inkling, or at least some forshadowing.

As it turns out, I’ve ridden those boots home to a sexuality that continuously expands and furthers my expression of my deep, animal nature.

Back in 2005, my then-partner told me I looked like a prostitute (he didn’t mean in a good way) the very first time I wore the boots.  I was heartbroken.  But something raw and powerful inside insisted I wear them anyway. Ultimately, that moment informed my decision to leave my marriage and reclaim myself.  I felt a distinctive “fuck you” to those threatened by my sexuality.  I continue to feel that way.

In the post-capitalist-frenzy of the holidays, may my humble offering remind you that we can always travel home again, and sometimes the ticket is even for sale.

Buying the Boots on Haight Street, 2005

These boots are San Francisco.

As the striding, heel-crushing totems work their black magic,

supple black leather, long lines, heels curving up like city streets,

I tell my companion I am not ready to ride these.

As the striding, heel-crushing totems work their black magic,

my fingers trace these routes.

I tell my companion I am not ready to ride these

She says I will not wear these boots until I wear these boots.

My fingers trace these routes

like streetcars of desire.

She says I will not wear these boots until I wear these boots,

and there is longing, coveting, desiring.

Like streetcars of desire

carrying a bad-ass passenger,

There is longing, coveting, desiring

to be the woman who owns these boots.

Carrying a bad-ass passenger

Up, up, up, up

Oh, to be the woman who owns these boots,

pouring my legs into the casings, making me taller, badder, readier.

Up, up, up, up,

supple black leather, long lines, heels curving up like city streets,

and pouring my legs into the casings, I am taller, badder, readier.

These boots are San Francisco.

The Day I bought my Fluevogs (looking a little apprehensive.)
The Day I bought my Fluevogs (looking a little apprehensive.)

Baby, Baby, where did our Sex go? Sexless in San Francisco Part 2

Recently I posted about how 20% of all marriages fall into the ‘sexless’ category.  Which, of course, begs the question “Why?”  Often people say “I’m just not attracted to my partner anymore,” but I don’t really buy it.  There’s something going on that has created this change, right?  There are underlying issues that can be addressed.  Sexual Conflict Resolution is possible!

This post examines reasons a couple might stop being as sexual as they once were, or stop being sexual together at all.  It’s not an exhaustive list, but a good starting point if things aren’t as hot in your sex life as they once were, and you’d like that to be different.

The good news is that the status quo of a relationship can shift if both partners choose.  Determining the causes of the break-down in sexual relations is a first step to determining how to rebuild sexual fulfillment within a relationship.

Level 1: Physical Causesstress in sexless marriage

  • Stress
  • Exhaustion/sleep deprivation
  • Physical malfunction, illness or injury
  • Adultery
  • Painful sex
  • Pornography addiction
  • Substance addiction
  • Depression
  • SSRI’s

emotional sexless marriageLevel 2: Emotional Causes

  • Adultery
  • Lack of intimacy skills
  • Lack of sexual communication skills
  • Power struggles
  • Desire Policing
  • Rejection stories
  • Fear of breaking the connection if things are discussed
  • Lack of connection
  • Shaming
  • Boredom
  • Lack of exploratory space/attitude
  • Unaddressed trauma or abuse
  • Boundary violations between partners/lack of trust

Level 3: Erotic Themes and Values

(For more great information on Erotic Themes, check out Jack Morin’s The Erotic Mind)

  • Partners have different doors to access erotic energy (trance, partner engagement, role play)
  • Partners do not share the same morality/values around sexuality
  • Partners desire different frequency of sexual encounters

What might have started as a strategy to address a certain issue may have evolved into a habit.  It’s my belief that good, connected sex is strong glue that can help hold relationships together through the hard times.  If a couple isn’t having sex, and they are both truly okay with that, great.  But often that’s not the case for one or both partners.  Here’s where seeking guidance from a somatic sex coach can be beneficial.  The difference between a sex therapist and a sex coach is that sex therapists offer talk therapy, and couple explore at home.  A sex coach offers somatic, body-based work that includes talking.   Working with a sex coach, couples practice with guidance the needed intimacy and communication skills.  A therapist might look at root issues, whereas a coach deals with what’s happening in the present as well.  We make such a big deal about sex, and people are often so triggered and reactive to the topic. But really, if you had a tooth ache, you’d go to the dentist, right?  Right?

So what’s missing from this list?  I welcome your additions and comments.  Would you take a moment and share your thoughts?

Sexless in San Francisco

A city just doesn’t get more sex positive than San Francisco.  Here one can indulge any proclivity, explore and desire, and learn every sexual technique possible through the abundant variety of classes and workshops offered on every theme imaginable.  We have naked runs, naked bike rides, naked parades.  We have Folsom Street fair every year, dedicated to public BDSM and Kink. The Castro district is the Mecca for gay tourists and locals.  We are a sexy city.

And yet.  According to Newsweek, 20% of couples are living in sexless relationships.  Yes, even here in San FranSexual.  My next few posts are going to explore the sexless relationship, discuss reasons it happens, and how we can get our sexy back, if it’s fallen by the wayside.

I come to this work as a somatic sex coach through a long journey of reclaiming my desire, libido, and sexuality.  It’s been my primary personal growth work for the past six years.  Today, I’m at a place of feeling free and uninhibited most of the time around sex.  I’m exploring pleasure at new levels, and finding unexpected treasures as I survey what my body is capable of.  And it wasn’t always like this.  It’s been committed work, albeit often joyful, but always work.  I am only capable of leading others on this journey because I’m on it myself.

Rewind ten years.  I am married, living in a long-term heterosexual monogamous relationship.  We never talk about sex.  We rarely have it, and when we do, it’s the same as it ever was.  There is no sense of exploration, curiosity, playfulness.  Often, I feel really disassociated from my body.  I don’t have much sense of libido.   My masturbation is completely private, not even discussed with my partner.  I have shame about it.

At that point I’m tracking my ovulation, and thus have to also track sexual intercourse.  So I know that for years that having sex twice in a month meant a good month.  There were months we had no sex.  There were stretches of months we had no sex.  And again, it was never, ever discussed.  We didn’t even fight about it, just pretended it wasn’t a thing.  Because it wasn’t.

I knew this was problematic.  I knew I wanted more from my most intimate relationship.  And I hadn’t the slightest idea how to get it.  I bought some Chinese medicine to increase libido.   I bought a vibrator.  I got a subscription to a polyamory magazine. These were all band aids.  I didn’t feel like I could talk to my friends about it, because I was sure they were having way more sex than I was, and I was ashamed.  I can only guess that these experiences were also painful for my partner, and that he felt a sense of loss and disconnection.  Living in a sexless relationship was lonely, sad and shameful.

I write this brutally frank sharing now (I feel really vulnerable) to offer that there is a way back from the disconnect.  I wasn’t able to attain that with my spouse.  Perhaps if we had had support things would have worked out differently.  Ultimately, it took leaving the marriage to begin the journey of reclaiming passion and sex.  I don’t think it has to, though.  At least, that’s the premise I’m operating under when I work with couples.

There is much gratitude I feel for my sexuality.  Sexuality has refocused my life.   It has been my road home to myself.  And it creates a bridge of connection with my current partner.   I won’t lead a sexless life again, especially within my intimate relationships.  Sex energy is life force energy.  I was dead.  Now I’m alive.

Breaking silence about having been in sexless relationship is tough.  It’s often wrenching for couples to admit things are not okay, and to seek sex support

Rising from the Dead!

In the next post, I’ll write about some ways sex goes away in relationship.  How about you?   Is sex a constant in your relationships? Does it ebb and flow? Have you ever been in a sexless period? Speaking truth is the antidote to shame.  Can I get a holla?