The Power of Dressing Up: Comicon NYC, Halloween, and BDSM

Six ways that Halloween and role playing can enhance one’s erotic sex life

With the runaway popularity of the 50 Shades of Grey (link is external)trilogy of novels, and the hotly-anticipated film adaptation (link is external) (due in theaters this upcoming Valentine’s Day) women and couples across the country have been inspired to experiment in the bedroom (link is external), with Lelo reporting an 82% increase in sales of vibrators and vibrating rings at the end of 2013.

Power Exchange Role Play
Once considered deviant or bizarre sexual behavior, role-playing, power exchange, and BDSM are becoming mainstream as more and more people experiment with this type of sexual play. There is a musical parody of Fifty Shades playing off-Broadway in New York (link is external) where women and men come to laugh and get titillated by the sexually-charged scenes between Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele. Many of my clients have experienced greater intimacy and passion after bringing an element of fantasy into the bedroom. On the heels of New York City’s recent Comic-Con (link is external) (the most widely-attended event of it’s kind; this year’s surpassed the famed San Diego Comic-Con) and with Halloween approaching, the playful spirit of dress up and fantasy are in the air.

New York Comic Con attendees
For couples who are curious about exploring role play and fantasy in ther sex lives, now is a wonderful opportunity.

1. Openness About Fantasies Can Increase Intimacy

The old saying that “the brain is the biggest sex organ” still holds true. How we become aroused in a sexual scenario—either solo or with a partner—begins with fantasy and imagination. Often, my clients are shy about sharing personal fantasies out of fear of being perceived as strange, bizarre, or disgusting by their partner. Not being fully open about one’s sexual desires and needs can lead to problems down the road in the relationship. I work with couples to navigate ways in which they can share and explore their fantasies to achieve a fulfilling sex life. Role-playing is one of many options that provides a safe, non threatening way for couples to explore.

2. Novelty Creates Excitement and Spark

The novelty of a role-playing scenario—whether it is doctor-nurse, teacher-student, or involving bondage, dominance, and submission—transforms a sexual encounter into something utterly new and exciting. Role-playing may help couples who feel they have “lost the spark” are in a “rut” or whose lovemaking has become routine and stymied. One of my clients was so amazed and enthralled when he saw his wife in a corset and stockings—he was able to see her in a new light. Novelty can help partners increase their desire and libido in the long run.

3. Using Fantasy in the Bedroom To Balance the Reality Outside

Role playing allows couples to enact scenes that are very different from their daily lives. Each person is able to step out of themselves and take on a new, exciting role. The harried career woman who feels powerless at work with a demanding boss can take control and power over her husband via safe and consensual bondage. In this way she is balancing her lack of control in her day-to-day existence by engaging into this kind of play. It is a way of subverting her frustrations and playing them out through sex play.

4. It’s All About Communication

To have a successful and stimulating role-play encounter, clear, direct, and honest communication is necessary. Especially for those exploring BDSM, knowing when to stop, and when to say “no” is extremely important. It is vital that activities remain consensual and safe, and the easiest way to do so in a BDSM scenario is to use a “safe word”. As many BDSM scenarios involve one partner overpowering another—by force, rope, or command, sometimes a submissive partner’s cries of “No!” don’t necessarily mean “stop”. It is required as part of a contract or agreement made beforehand that a neutral word like “red” be used as a safeword. Couples should respect one another’s limits and boundaries—and clear communication is at the heart of navigating these encounters. BDSM’s main rule of Sane, Safe and Consensual is at the heart of playing with power during play. Here’s a link for those interested in keeping sex-play with power safe.

5.. Enhancing Trust

Engaging in roleplay and/or BDSM is something that can enhance trust between partners. Roleplay and BDSM put individuals into vulnerable positions. One might feel silly and absurd acting out a teacher-student scenario, not be able to control their giggles, or feel worried about what their partner will think if they reveal their curiosity about being tied up. To expose one’s fantasies—and then explore them—is an act of putting tremendous trust in one’s partner. It not only takes trust to engage in these activities in the first place, but couples might find a newfound sense of trust after engaging in roleplay. This type of sexual activity pushes one’s boundaries and comfort zones, and doing so with someone you love or feel strong affection for can strengthen the bonds of trust and the erotic connection with one another. One has to realize that the play created in role play is just that: play. It is not necessarily the way a couple relate to one another outside the bedroom.

6. Boosting Confidence in the Bedroom Can Increase Confidence Outside the Bedroom

Naming your fantasy and figuring out how to enact it in your sex life can be an empowering experience sexually and help you gain power in other areas of your life. Mustering up the courage to act out a fantasy with your partner might just give you the courage to ask for that raise, promotion, or more vacation time.

Best Mother’s Day Gift Ever: Sleep

Mom’s Day can be the beginning of better sleep routines.

This Mother’s Day give Mom what she needs: more sleep. More than 60% of women get less than the seven to nine hours of sleep (link is external) a night they need to function at their optimal level. With modern moms’ identities often encompassing partner, professional, and parent, mothers need sleep more than ever.

I attended Ariana Huffington’s Third Metric Conference (link is external) this year. She and Mika Brzezinski “woke” up in bed on a stage and Arianna joked about “sleeping your way to the top”, using the old fashioned saying as a pun to let women know that getting sleep is crucial to one’s personal and professional success.

Hogging the Covers: Sleeping with your Partner

One culprit of Mom’s sleep deprivation may be sharing her sleep space. Nearly everyone who’s shared a bed can tell a story about winning or losing the battle for blankets, trying to sleep while their partner snores, or playing defense while their restless sleeper spouse thrashes about. At times, one of you might be suffering from Sleep Apnea (link is external), a serious disorder that sometimes gets overlooked and can cause you to feel tired and causes your breathing to actually stop for a moment. If you snore or wake intermittently you should report it to your doctor. It may also be due to anxiety, depression or drinking too much alcohol.

Chronic sleep deprivation can impact the emotional and sexual well being of a relationship. Studies (link is external) show people who regularly do not get enough sleep have more trouble regulating their emotions and interpreting emotional information. This means that the endearing albeit irritating habit of your spouse could trigger a heated argument if you are not getting enough sleep. It can also cause low desire which can leave a marriage hungry for intimacy and connection.

While it can sometimes be difficult, sharing a bed has benefits. While the research is still in its early stages, what we do know is that women in long term relationships sleep better and may experience some impressive health benefits (link is external)from sharing a bed with their partner. Couples in my practice have found a deeper sense of security and intimacy from their healthy sleeping habits.

Professional Powerhouse

We’ve already established that sleep deprivation impacts emotional health in romantic and family relationships, but what does that mean to Mom as a working professional? Lack of sleep lowers cognitive flexibility—a person is less capable of switching between tasks and understanding multiple perspectives when they have a sleep debt.

The women in my practice often forgo sleep to get that extra bit of work in, with the understanding that success at work will lead to greater happiness along the way. While professional success can be a source of pride, forgoing sleep can lower levels of happiness. To put in monetary terms, a 2012 study by Dr. Norbert Schwarz from University of Michigan found that an extra hour of sleep for the sleep deprived can do more for a person’s happiness than a $60,000 raise.

Motherhood

Being a mother, especially a mother of an infant or toddler, can be exhausting. Your sleep habits are no longer your own but rather dictated by that tiny human you want to nurture. All of the neural impacts of sleep deprivation from the previous sections apply to parenting as well. In these situations, quality sleep becomes key as the recommended 7 to 9 hours becomes nearly impossible.

Take advantage of your child’s nap time by taking a nap as well. Leave the chores for later, and take a full 90 minute nap, the length of the standard REM cycle. You will wake up feeling more rested and alert than a shorter nap. And remember as a mother, you are a role model for your children; this includes your sleep habits. Modelling good sleeping behaviors can help your children adopt them as well.

Make a Commitment to Self-Care this Mother’s Day

Here are 11 ways you can increase your quality of sleep today.

1. Change your perception of sleep. We as a society have this notion that sleep is optional, that functioning with inadequate sleep is a badge of honor. Start to honor need for sleep by tracking your sleep habits in a two-week challenge by WNYC to get an extra hour of sleep.

2. Listen to your body. Everyone has a natural sleep schedule that balances sleep and wakefulness. Tailor your sleep habits to your natural sleep pattern. While a full night’s rest is ideal, it’s not always possible. Work with your circadian rhythms to wake up feeling refreshed. Sites like Sleepyti.me will help determine wake up times that leave you feeling like you got the sleep you needed.

3. Lose the stimulants. Yes, I am talking about coffee, energy drinks, and really anything with caffeine. While caffeine temporarily makes us feel more awake and alert, consumption can lead to insomnia, irritability, and disturbed sleep. Some of you are laughing at this seemingly absurd notion of living without coffee, even though you know the facts. That’s okay. For better sleep, keep your caffeine intake at a moderate level. That’s about 24 ounces of coffee or 250 milligrams of caffeine in any form. Since the caffeine affect lasts hours, even after you no longer feel energized, keep the caffeine regulated to your morning routine.

4. Build a good sleep environment. Your bedroom should be a sensual sleep sanctuary. Make the only activities you do in your bedroom sleep and sex. Create the best environment for sleep by keeping the room cool and dark; it should be a relaxing place without distractions like TVs. How you make it a sensual place is up to you.

5. Unplug. It can be tempting to browse the Internet and catch up on email when you’re waiting for that magic moment of sleep to come. The light from your devices can actually throw off your circadian rhythm and lower the quantity of your sleep. Make a commitment to charge your phones in another room other than your bedroom, it will help to keep you present in your bed.

6. Use guided imagery. This is the modern take on counting sheep. Most guided imagery exercises will help you visualize a relaxing and calming fantasy. Studies show guided imagery can be effective in reducing stress, depression, and anxiety, all components that contribute to poor sleep. There are some great guided imagery options on YouTube, just be sure to turn off your device’s screen.

7. Meditate. Research out of Harvard shows meditation can facilitate relaxation and ease anxiety while protecting against hypertensions and infertility. You don’t need to become a yogi to get these benefits. Short intentional mediation practices, 5 to 10 minutes a day, can be enough to support quality sleep.

8. Find a relaxing activity to do to prepare for bed, if mediation isn’t your cup of tea. For some people, this may be a literal cup of decaffeinated tea, a warm bath, or gentle stretching. For others, it may be reading. Try to avoid using electronic devices.

9. Journal. If you’re a person who just can’t shut your mind off before bed, try journaling before sleep. Whether you’re writing whatever thought pops into your mind or a deliberate list of things you’re thankful for, journaling can help you stop ruminating and ease anxiety you may have.

10. Orgasm. Whether it’s alone, with a partner, orgasms release oxytocin into the body. This chemical increases feelings of love and trust, allowing you to relax.

11. Create a sleep routine. Use these tips to design a routine to prepare yourself for sleep. Like Pavlov’s dog and the bell, consistent implementation of the routine will signal to your body that it is time for sleep, relaxing you and inducing drowsiness.

My Sexy Valentine

As Valentine’s Day approaches, I am enthralled again by the many ways people love, lust and languish in their sexual lives.  This holiday is not just for the newly fallen-in-love or just engaged. No, it is celebrated by older, younger, married, living together, living apart, heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and polyamorous lovers.  As a sex therapist who hears many stories of desire, conquest, and loss, I never tire of contemplating the various ways in which people create relationships or systems to get their needs met.  As someone who loves the arts, I immerse myself in the imaginations of artists to discover many truths that could help me in my work as a sex and couples therapist.  I decided to review some of the peak experiences I’ve had at the movies these past couple of months to reveal some aspects of sexuality that play out among couples at the different stages of loving.

I spent some time watching the first two films of Richard Linklater’s trio titled “Before Sunrise” and “ Before Sunset” (made nine years apart with the same actors) before I watched his latest installment,       “Before Midnight”.  The brief outline of the story, (without offering too many spoilers) revolve around the meeting of a French girl and American boy on a train who decide to spend one day together before parting.  The second film has them meeting nine years later after they have matured, created new partnerships and they continue their initial spark for discussing all that is beautiful, messed up and hopeful in life.  In this most recent film the characters Jesse and Celine are married and are on vacation with their young children in Greece.  Unlike the first stages of lust and love, we see a couple ripened over time so that the membrane of young infatuation is torn open to view their longings, fears and frustrations expressed in a variety of conversations not only with one another but with others.

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Midnight

When couples have been together for years, there are the fears that one is not enough for the other along with the sense that their lives might not be as full as they had originally imagined.  Especially for couples who are raising children, the lure of spontaneous sex seems a far-off memory and the routines upon which children need to depend, bog down the erotic escapes once treasured by the very same couple.

How can one create novel experiences, discuss new desires and needs when there’s barely time to catch up about who’s cooking dinner.  I counsel couples to dig in and do the work of erotic discovery while creating play time to explore new and old games, talk about their feelings around their work, getting older, new and old dreams they have yet to achieve and take a break from discussing who emptied the dishwasher last, what the kids will do on their vacation from school, etc.  The focus in Before Midnight is on the ever streaming dialogue, like a stream-of-conscious poem pondering long term love’s challenges and the ever present Look out for my next blog which will look at another film.

Renegotiating Sexual Contracts in Monogamous Relationships

This month I want to discuss how partners can talk to one another about what their true sexual desires are when it breaks the code promoted in the popular culture of true love? In our popular American movies, novels, magazines and television shows the individuals who are in love are portrayed declaring to one another: “You are the most beautiful and most important person in the world to me”.  And while there may be chemistry and sexual connection early on in a relationship, the chemicals that are pulsing through one’s body during the first 18 months to 2 years of a relationship begin to decrease as the relationship enters the phase of building a life together.  So the question is what happens to the erotic and sexual desires that may either not have been discussed, experimented with, or developed over the next years of the relationship?

In the new upcoming play “The Goddess” produced by The Looking Glass Theater the playwrights explore the non-monogamous relationship of a married couple and how they navigate the rules, issues, and boundary crossings that ensue along the way.    I have been asked to lead several talk backs after the performances on October 17th  @ 7:30 pm, October 27th @ 3 PM and October 31st Halloween evening performance.  To receive a discount on the tickets, use the code Cooper when you buy your tickets.  Please come and bring your friends to learn how one couple redesigned their marriage and discuss the issues and questions you have about the alternative choices they made.

Showtime’s new series Masters of Sex about the world renowned sex researchers Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson, Virginia Johnson states in the first episode: “Women often think that sex and love are the same thing, but they don’t have to be, they don’t even have to go together”.  And while this was a revolutionary idea during this period of the late 1950s in the white middle class culture of the time, there are still many who share these beliefs in our country today.  So much so that the discussion of one’s erotic tastes and interests may never come up when a heterosexual couple date and decide to marry.   After the initial stage of limerance (that period of the first 2 years) has quieted down, the influx of obsessive thoughts, anxiety over the loss of that special person, higher desire for that person gradually fades to the background.  In other words, the feeling of being “head over heels in love”.

What then comes to the foreground is the thought that we know everything there is to know about our partner.  Included in this perceived knowledge is the sensitivities, old wounds, and non-verbalized boundaries around what can or cannot be expressed.  So if one person has always wanted to try anal sex, or handcuffs or include a third person in the sexual relationship, he or she usually feels like the opening for that conversation is no longer available to them.

How can one say to one’s life partner that while you love them deeply you still want to explore sexuality with others?  That is a hard conversation to have especially if you’ve agreed to a monogamous relationship way back when?  The partner might feel devastated personally, feeling they are no longer attractive to their partner, they are no longer cherished as a special one.   In our mainstream culture we are led to believe that to be in love with someone, one has to forsake all others and that you would want to forsake all others.  This is inherent in most marriage vows.  While there might be the understanding that your partner will be attracted to other people, the choice one makes each time one doesn’t pursue that attraction into action is a show of love, respect and fidelity.  I agree that this is the way one remain faithful to one’s spouse and it is a choice one practices each and every day.

Although I believe commitment to monogamy should be a daily practice I don’t see it as a gag order not to discuss what sexual innovations or improvements partners want out of their relationship.  Why?  Because we are human beings who change each day, grow as we go through different experiences and hopefully understand ourselves and the world better as we learn and grow through those experiences.  While that may mean that each day you each choose to remain sexually monogamous, or have a similar sexual routine, or have sex the same day(s) of the week, it may also mean that you have to discuss these choices a few times a year or once a year to see if it still holds true for your partner.  These are not easy conversations to have because partners’ don’t want to feel rejected or hurt nor do they want to tell their partner they aren’t satisfied sexually.

As a sex therapist I coach couples on a daily basis who are bravely forging ahead to carve out new understandings around their individual and joint sexuality with their partners.

I recently went to a celebration honoring Erica Jong, the author of Fear of Flying, a book that broke barriers in 1973 because it unveiled the raw, uncensored sexual thoughts, desires and actions of a white, educated married woman.  It became a sensation because before this time white educated women were seen to have little desire or education around their own sexuality and were viewed as objects for men to lust after not as adventurers who wanted to pursue what they found erotic or sexy.

Erica Jong created a novel whose ideas appealed to the masses in the same way Masters and Johnson’s research had done for the field of science and sex therapy.  The prevailing term “zipless fuck” represented the sexual encounter about which the main character Isabel Wing continually fantasizes.  The “zipless fuck” is an encounter with a sexual partner that is solely focused on lust and chemistry.  One will know very little details about the partner because the focus will be about the sexual connection.  Similar to the modern hook-up, the “zipless fuck” was a novelty when it was introduced and continues to be a lightning rod for writers exploring what women want sexually in a post-feminist society.  Many individual clients of mine many years just having hook-ups that when they meet someone with whom they want to develop a more emotionally connected relationship, don’t have the communication and sometimes sexual skill to establish it.

So are these just fantasies that coupled individuals have in their imaginations but when faced with the opportunity to try the act doesn’t live up to expectations, similar to what occurs in Fear of Flying?  Or can a couple negotiate new boundaries around sex and love that include other people in their bedroom or outside of the home with a don’t ask/don’t tell policy?  What if one of the partners falls in love with an outside partner while just playing?  Can people be so disciplined that they don’t develop feelings for another person which might threaten the stability of a marriage, a home with children, or a partnered couple?  That is what some of my clients discuss when they process the idea of going out of the relationship with consent from one another.  What about bringing other lovers that become part of the loving family as some people do with Polyamory?  In another Showtime series Polyamory: Married & Dating,  we see different couples and groups navigate the complex feelings and boundaries that need to be discussed if one is going to bring other lovers into established relationships.

Most people do not have the confidence and communication skills to express their changed desires effectively to their partners, whether it’s to add to the repetoire of sexual activities with one another or to invite others to play with them.  Some of the clients I work with instead stepped out on their fidelity agreement hoping that they could have their needs satisfied outside the home without upsetting their own and their partnership’s applecart of complex feelings by renegotiating their contract.  We have certainly seen many examples of infidelity over the years with politicians, celebrities and actors that wreak havoc on their partners, children, constituents, and business partners.

After working with couples and individuals for over 20 years at various points in their relationships (dating, pre-marital, trying to get pregnant, with small children, and retirement) my belief is that no one in a love relationship gets away with hiding their fantasies, thoughts, desires and unrest forever.  At some point the truths are revealed and I encourage people to share them in a safe, respectful way so that wives, husbands, partners and children are not faced with the heartbreaking debris upon discovering a betrayal.  This choosing and contracting is not for the faint of heart, it requires courage and love to stay in the conversation.  I also don’t believe that open relationships or polyamory relationships are the right way to go by any means.  What I want to emphasize is the importance of keeping the practice of discussing one’s desires a regular event.  That the conscious choosing of the boundaries is a regular practice that occurs without malice, criticism or disdain but one that may be painful but also incredibly healing.

Hope you can make it to see  “The Goddess” produced by The Looking Glass Theater on the days of my talkback to continue the conversation.

Moms in the Middle of Daughters and Mothers on Mother’s Day

How to Deal with Critical Mothers, Demanding Daughters and the Super-Mom Myth

If you’re a daughter and a mother to a daughter you sometimes feel you’re getting the same messages in stereo from both sides of the generational divide. These messages can sometimes be the most cutting, hurtful and critical messages which can leave moms feeling depressed, lonely, underappreciated and exhausted.

This Mother’s Day I want to send a shout out to all those moms who are working so hard to raise daughters to be self-confident, ethical, technologically and street-wise while providing their own mothers with the emotional, psychological, physical and financial support as they get on in years. The percentage of mothers working full-time is now up to 74% and 66% work either full-time or part-time. Many women feel like they need to be perfect in all areas of their life. Since this is an impossible task they constantly left feeling less than. Unfortunately, there is still the pervading myth that moms need to still provide a home-cooked meal each night, arrange play dates for their youngsters, check up on their child’s Instagram and Facebook statuses and then plan all the thousands of details that go into running a household week-in and week-out to be considered a “good mother”.

So many mothers end up feeling guilty if they aren’t doing what their stay-at-home mother did for them when they were growing up with their own children while they’re holding down a full-time job. In my office each week I hear from mothers and wives who feel like failures if they can’t cook up a Betty Crocker-style birthday party with a homemade birthday cake and creative gifts to hand out to the children in their loot bags as they walk out. Trying to live up to the Mom Myth of being the “super-mom” who does everything perfectly causes moms to feel more depressed than those women who reject that notion.

Now if you’re one of those moms who happens to be trying your best to balance work outside the home, home-making, parenting and marriage, you know the challenges you face in terms of trying to find time to check off all the items on your list. Most women feel more anxious about trying to push ahead at work or feel worried to “lean in” at their job outside the home as Sheryl Sandberg discussed in her most recent book, for fear of it requiring more time away from their families. I hear working mothers discuss how fatigued and stressed they feel because they’re trying to give to everyone else but leave very little time to re-nourish their bodies and spirits. They talk about how their libido has left them and they feel badly for their spouses who are more interested in sex than they are.

Many of these same women discuss how guilty they feel when they listen to their own mothers who may give advice on how to run a more elegant, efficient or frugal household. When visiting their mom, one of my clients might hear that her children are acting out of control and then be given tips on how she
should really discipline them more effectively. What these moms and you might be experiencing are feelings of inadequacy and self-criticism that may at times overwhelm you. Since most mothers of past generations did not have to balance a job, a household, e-mail, texting and technology policing responsibilities themselves, they are not attuned to the overwhelming informational overload of today’s mom.

Then, on the other side of the generational bridge today’s mom may be berated, wined at or ignored by a tween or teen daughter who is not satisfied with her clothes, or the meal that her mom cooked while her daughter sits on the couch texting or posting on Instagram or Snapchat with her friends and rolling her eyes if her mother attempts to ask a question about how her life is doing or ask her to help out with the household chores. Yes, some of these exchanges are as old as time itself when girls become teens but I do feel the technology provides more fuel to the fire and frankly, cell phones are this generation of teen’s new drug of choice in my opinion. Even if your daughter hasn’t hit her tweens or teens yet, there are a myriad of online games that need to be monitored so that private information is not given in error. So the new job title for a parent is that of techonology cop! And yes, one needs to keep up with learning and monitoring every new app that comes up in order to educate your daughter on the consequences of sending a text or posting an image while perhaps learning how to follow their movements through new monitoring apps.

Moms in the middle have my utmost empathy because they were sold a bill of goods fantasizing that their moms and daughters would understand them better than their spouses or sons would, due to the simple fact of having the same gender. Even mothers in that stage of early childhood when your daughter runs up to you as you walk in the door of her daycare or nursery program with a huge hug and kiss, the manual chores required can be physically fatiguing. Moms give, they plan, they remind, they cajole, they comfort and they empathize. What most moms are not good at though is asking for help because they think others will see it as a chink in their perfect mom armor. They have difficulty demanding that their spouse contribute an equal 50% to the household chores. They also feel like they could not possibly let their mothers know how demanding their day-to-day lives truly are for fear of appearing like a failure.

What I’d like to say to you moms out there is that this is really a new age and the old parent manuals do not always apply. So for this Mother’s Day I encourage you as I do to my own clients to:

• get over believing in the Mom Myth, you’re not perfect (nor is anyone else) and you’re on the frontier of re-defining what a good mom is on your own terms.

• make a list of all the homemaking jobs you do (including planning, calling for doctor’s appointments, calling or e-mailing for playdates), have your partner or spouse do the same and sit down to divide up the chores in a more equitable way.

• Make one on one dates with each of your children doing something simple like a walk in the park, watching a movie or playing a game so you and they feel like they can reconnect.

• Have a few talks with your mother to explain all the hats you are wearing and let her know in direct actionable behaviors how she could be most helpful while letting her know that giving advice when it’s not asked for can be experienced as critical. Let her know that you are carving out new territory as a 21st century parent.

• create a weekly time that’s just about your own nourishment, whether it’s having coffee with a girlfriend, going to a yoga class or reading a book.

• make a date time with your spouse/partner to keep your libido engaged.

Happy Mother’s Day to you. Please share this with your friends and let them know they can receive my monthly blogs if they ask to be put on my mailing list. Please like my Facebook page and/or follow my Twitter account @asksaricooper.

Happy Mother’s Day to the Mom in the Middle of a Daughter and a Mother

If you’re a daughter and a mother to a daughter you sometimes feel you’re getting the same messages in stereo from both sides of the generational divide.  These messages can sometimes be the most cutting, hurtful and critical messages which can leave moms feeling depressed, lonely, under-appreciated and exhausted.

This Mother’s Day I want to send a shout out to all those moms who are working so hard to raise daughters to be self-confident, ethical, technologically and street-wise while providing their own mothers with the emotional, psychological, physical and financial support as they get on in years.  The percentage of mothers working full-time is now up to 74% and 66% work either full-time or part-time.  Many women feel like they need to be perfect in all areas of their life. Since this is an impossible task they constantly left feeling less than. Unfortunately, there is still the pervading myth that moms need to still provide a home-cooked meal each night, arrange play dates for their youngsters, check up on their child’s Instagram and Facebook statuses and then plan all the thousands of details that go into running a household week-in and week-out to be considered a “good mother”.

So many mothers end up feeling guilty if they are not doing what their stay-at-home mother did for them when they were growing up with their own children while they’re holding down a full-time job. In my office each week I hear from mothers and wives who feel like failures if they can’t cook up a Betty Crocker-style birthday party with a homemade birthday cake and creative gifts to hand out to the children in their loot bags as they walk out.  Trying to live up to the Mom Myth of being the “super-mom” who does everything perfectly causes moms to feel more depressed than those women who reject that notion.

Now if you’re one of those moms who happens to be trying your best to balance work outside the home, home-making, parenting and marriage, you know the challenges you face in terms of trying to find time to check off all the items on your list.  Most women feel more anxious about trying to push ahead at work or feel worried to “lean in” at their job outside the home as Sheryl Sandberg discussed in her most recent book, for fear of it requiring more time away from their families.  I hear working mothers discuss how fatigued and stressed they feel because they’re trying to give to everyone else but leave very little time to re-nourish their bodies and spirits. They talk about how their libido has left them and they feel badly for their spouses who are more interested in sex than they are.

 Many of these same women discuss how guilty they feel when they listen to their own mothers who may give advice on how to run a more elegant, efficient or frugal household. When visiting their mom, one of my clients might hear that her children are acting out of control and then be given tips on how she should really discipline them more effectively. What these moms and you might be experiencing are  feelings of inadequacy and self-criticism that may at times overwhelm you.   Since most mothers of past generations did not have to balance a job, a household, e-mail, texting and technology policing responsibilities themselves, they are not attuned to the overwhelming informational overload of today’s mom.

Then, on the other side of the generational bridge today’s mom may be berated, wined at or ignored by a tween or teen daughter who is not satisfied with her clothes, or the meal that her mom cooked while her daughter sits on the couch texting or posting on Instagram or Snapchat with her friends and rolling her eyes if her mother attempts to ask a question about how her life is doing or ask her to help out with the household chores.  Yes, some of these exchanges are as old as time itself when girls become teens but I do feel the technology provides more fuel to the fire and frankly, cell phones are this generation of teen’s new drug of choice in my opinion.

Even if your daughter hasn’t hit her tweens or teens yet, there are a myriad of online games that need to be monitored so that private information is not given in error.  So the new job title for a parent is that of techonology cop! And yes, one needs to keep up with learning and monitoring every new app that comes up in order to educate your daughter on the consequences of sending a text or posting an image while perhaps learning how to follow their movements through new monitoring apps.

Moms in the middle have my utmost empathy because they were sold a bill of goods fantasizing that their moms and daughters would understand them better than their spouses or sons would, due to the simple fact of having the same gender.  Even mothers in that stage of early childhood when your daughter runs up to you as you walk in the door of her daycare or nursery program with a huge hug and kiss, the manual chores required can be physically fatiguing.  Moms give, they plan, they remind, they cajole, they comfort and they empathize.  What most moms are not good at though is asking for help because they think others will see it as a chink in their perfect mom armor.  They have difficulty demanding that their spouse contribute an equal 50% to the household chores.  They also feel like they could not possibly let their mothers know how demanding their day-to-day lives truly are for fear of appearing like a failure.

What I’d like to say to you moms out there is that this is really a new age and the old parent manuals do not always apply. So for this Mother’s Day I encourage you as I do to my own clients to:

·         get over believing in the Mom Myth, you’re not perfect (nor is anyone else) and you’re on the frontier of re-defining what a good mom is on your own terms.

·         make a list of all the homemaking jobs you do (including planning, calling for doctor’s appointments, calling or e-mailing for playdates), have your partner or spouse do the same and sit down to divide up the chores in a more equitable way.

·         Make one on one dates with each of your children doing something simple like a walk in the park, watching a movie or playing a game so you and they feel like they can reconnect.

·         Have a few talks with your mother to explain all the hats you are wearing and let her know in direct actionable behaviors how she could be most helpful while letting her know that giving advice when it’s not asked for can be experienced as critical.  Let her know that you are carving out new territory as a 21st century parent.

·         create a weekly time that’s just about your own nourishment, whether it’s having coffee with a girlfriend, going to a yoga class or reading a book.

·         make a date time with your spouse/partner to keep your libido engaged.

Happy Mother’s Day to you.  Please share this with your friends and let them know they can receive my monthly blogs if they ask to be put on my mailing list.  Please like my Facebook page and/or follow my Twitter account @asksaricooper.

Sex Esteem, Valentine’s Day Style

Five tips for sexual rejuvenation with your partner

What do most Americans think of on Valentine’s Day? Is it the chocolates, or dinner out, is it an expensive gift like jewelry, or a cute pair of cufflinks? In fact, Americans will shell out an average of $130.97 on candy, cards, flowers, etc. according to the National Retail Federation (link is external).

How about a new way of celebrating Valentine’s Day this year? Instead of thinking about what to buy your lover/spouse, why not think of a new experience to share? Stepping out of the box of familiar dates, stereotypical conversation, and well-worn sexual routines allow people to experience themselves and their partners in a whole new way. I invite you to make a list of 3 things you have never done before and would be open to trying and ask your spouse or partner to do the same thing. It should be an activity that raises the stakes in the erotic department and may even make you a bit nervous? Why?

Because it’s only through pushing against the envelope of what you already know that you can transform yourself and your relationship. The combination of RISK + CREATIVITY (link is external) brings out innovation and renewal in oneself, one’s relationships and one’s work. Think about the actor on a Broadway stage who performs 8 shows a week for years. That actor works on discovering some new emotional or physical nuance to their character to try out each performance, which is why the performance sparkles. In other words, they’re not dialing it in.

The things most long-term monogamous couples complain of when they come into my office for sex therapy include a weary boredom, frustration with a lackluster sex life and low libido. What I find though is that people think they know their partner inside and out and have gotten lethargic about making attempts to discover something new about them.

Couples tend to stick to the tried and true (both in and out of the bedroom) out of a desire to create a nest for children, reinforce the security of the relationship or a lack of self-esteem to go out on a limb and try something new. Stephen Mitchell wrote that our need for security and constancy can overtake our willingness to keep getting to know new aspects about our partner in his book “Can Love Last? The Fate of Romance Over Time” . It is only through trying something new that one can explore the creative side of their brains. Hence the name Sex Esteem™, which I’ve coined to express a combination of self-confidence and curiosity people need to increase the erotic quality in a sexual relationship.

So if you really want to transform the erotic and romantic quality of your relationship, try these ideas or create your own:

 Find a burlesque club in your city and go see a performance that’s a combination of erotic dance and performance art. Talk to one another about which acts raise your erotic temperature.

So if you really want to transform the erotic and romantic quality of your relationship, try these ideas or create your own:

 Find a burlesque club in your city (link is external) and go see a performance that’s a combination of erotic dance and performance art. Talk to one another about which acts raise your erotic temperature.

– Check out the Erotic Salon for free erotica, sign up for the monthly newsletter or plan for a night away in Philadelphia and attend one of their live events.

– Order in dinner and explore the erotic stories of Adultfanfiction.net, a world of collected erotic stories based on popular characters in books, television or films.

– Stop by a local sex toy shop (in New York we have Eve’s Garden, Babeland and Shag) pick up a DVD with sexual moves or situations you have never tried before to stimulate your curiosity muscles. This is not a commitment to doing them but just an opening to explore what you and your lover find titillating. Pick up some innovative toys to add to your Valentine’s Day celebration.

– Listen to some storytelling about love, sex and seduction at a Moth event this week. The Moth is a performance series featuring people telling real stories of their lives that range from the frisky, nostalgic to the outright raunchy. They have performance series running in 12 cities throughout the U.S.

How Could Petraeus Betray Us? Infidelity Unmasked

Decoding the Latest Scandal and What It Teaches You about Spouses who Cheat

Since the discovery of David Petraeus’ affair with Paula Broadwell, I keep reading and hearing that “it’s beyond shocking” (link is external) that the now former head of the CIA would have betrayed his wife since he was a gentleman and a consummate family man. People talk about his high standards of discipline, intelligence and leadership and are in awe that a man who was presented as so upstanding could be unfaithful to his wife.

There are a few questions this story presents. One is whether he was unfaithful to the country and whether a private situation like infidelity warrants this much public attention. There was some speculation that he could have compromised sensitive private documents. There is also little known law called the Uniform Code of Military Justice (link is external) that he broke which states that it is illegal and punishable by court martial and/or revocation of one’s pension if a service person has an affair while in service. Although this law is not enforced very frequently it illustrates that military personal are held to a higher standard than non-military folks.

There are also the speculations that he quit his post as head of CIA because he was avoiding having to testify in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee on the Bengahzi attacks thus avoiding the embarrassment and shame of discovery that Petraeus could have prevented the lives lost there.

But I don’t think this is why he quit and I don’t think this is why it’s getting so much attention. I think there may be other personal secrets that he wants to prevent the public from knowing because it would hurt his family further. For example, this may not be the first time he’s had an affair but in fact, the first time it was discovered. There are those spouses in the military (link is external) who believe that their partners are more at risk for affairs due to the many months spent away from home, the stresses of the military and the alcohol abuse which is more prevalent in the military. Perhaps he had been able to keep previous affairs private or perhaps he had a non-monogamy agreement with his wife about which the public will never know.

In addition, for a man like Petraeus who is an expert at keeping highly sensitive information secret, the exposure of the affair may have been just as, if not more embarrassing to him as the fact that he had been cheating. How good could he be with secrets if his own were leaked because of his lover’s jealousy. Does it show him as a man who could not maintain control? I think he quit because he is a perfectionist who could not respect himself for the exposure of a common weakness. The revelation has robbed him of the respect and honor he feels should be expressed by the CIA Director in every area of his life.

However, I think the media frenzy going on has a lot to do with the Greek tragedy-type narrative that features taboo sex, a powerful person brought down by his own flaw. That’s all. Americans love the soap opera story line of affairs, and the schaudenfreude feeling of enjoyment watching someone else’s train wreck, not theirs.

The tragic hero in this latest version (like John Edwards and Bill Clinton before him) is a successful general who had reached the pinnacle of success in his field yet was tempted by a woman with whom he was in close contact. As in those other stories the “other” woman was attractive and ostensibly lavished much praise and adoration on Petraeus which can be a huge erotic trigger for many men. It’s not that this affair was so shocking but that in fact so expected. The twist in this story is that his lover was also married and highlights the point that it is not just men who have affairs although that is more of what we hear about in the media.

That is not to say I condone breaking a contract of monogamy. I just think it’s unrealistic to hold some men or women to a higher standard of fidelity than the rest of us. In fact, this rendition of infidelity should be presented differently in the media. It should be another warning that each person who agrees to a monogamous relationship needs to be more conscious of the situations in which they put themselves. The affair also brings to light the question of sexuality in long term marriages and whether partners begin to take one another for granted or avoid sexual contact for long periods of time without an agreement. However, Americans have a very difficult time discussing their sexual needs or accepting sexual differences so the subject of sex very often becomes the white elephant in the room.

In this case, when Petraeus was spending so much one on one time with a woman to whom he was sexually attracted he should have been more honest with himself that he was in hot water. This was his first warning sign to keep a formal physical distance. When he then discovered that he and Paula Broadwell had so much in common and that she showed such acute interest in his life it must have made him feel rejuvenated and more virile. At this point he would have become more aware of his body’s signals, his imagination’s erotic fantasies. If he had been more conscious of these warning signs he would have had to realize that he’s human just like everyone else and made every effort to call off the agreement to be interviewed by her for the biography. Unfortunately, he ignored these signs and perhaps believed his own press. He believed he was Superman Gentleman, the superhero who could resist his own sexual urges for a seemingly willing and eager lover. Or he had become entitled enough to think that he could have an affair and believed he was intelligent enough to keep it hidden.

What You Can Learn From ‘The Sessions’

The lessons of sexual discovery in this film are key for everyone’s sex esteem.

The new movie The Sessions tells the true story of poet Mark O’Brien who lost the use of his body’s muscles in childhood as a result of Polio. The movie is based on the essay “On Seeing a Sex Surrogate” which Mark wrote in 1990 about his experience of seeing a sex surrogate at the age of 36 to learn about sexuality with a partner for the first time in his life. Due to the requirement of spending all but a few hours a day in a contraption called an iron lung, Mark had been isolated from peers from the age of 6 through adolescence and robbed of the common experience young adults have of experimenting with sexual relationships thereby learning what they like and don’t like from different experiences. It’s not until his mid-twenties when he attended the University of Berkeley where he studied journalism that he even gets to develop his social skills.

The lessons learned from this film offers the audience a critical opportunity to contemplate the ways in which most people in American society are robbed of a positive accurate sexual education. I have seen non-disabled clients over the years who have felt the same fear, self-loathing and frustration about their own particular sexual desires as Mark did. Similar to Mark, these are people who were well-educated, intelligent, and successful in their livelihoods but had either been taught negative things about sexuality by parents, teachers and spiritual leaders or had been raised in a vacuum of no information at all. This led them to believe as Mark did, that their desires were perverted and/or sinful. He wrote: “The attitude I absorbed was not so much that polite people never thought about sex, but that no one did. I didn’t know anyone outside my family, so this code affected me strongly, convincing me that people should emulate the wholesome asexuality of Barbie and Ken, that we should behave as though we had no ‘down there’s’ down there.”

Many of my clients are filled with misconceptions, myths, and extreme shame about the erotic desires and physical arousal that are part of most people’s sexual response cycle. Whether they have been brought up in a religious faith that forbids any romantic contact before marriage like practicing Muslims, traditional Indians (or Indian-Americans), or Orthodox Jews, or clients who had families that made negative comments about sex as they were growing up, these clients all struggle to find a way to integrate their belief systems with their erotic desires and or behaviors.

It is my role as a therapist to ask the right questions to find out what a client’s goals are regarding their sex life and to determine what emotional, psychological and physical impediments need to be addressed and by whom. I am respectful of a client or a couple’s desire to adhere to their religious traditions while offering them basic information that will allow them to begin to decide for themselves what they want in their sexual life.

Mark struggled with his Catholic faith and his family upbringing as he contemplated seeing a sex surrogate writing: “What would my parents think? What would God think?” Mark O’Brien had fallen in love with people in his life (including a caretaker and a fellow student at University of Berkeley) but his feelings had not been reciprocated and he felt the opportunities to give and get sexual pleasure within a marriage seemed few as he couldn’t even get a date. He consulted with both his therapist, another therapist who specialized in sex therapy and a Catholic priest to help him come to the decision to work with a sex surrogate. All these counselors gave Mark their perspective and useful information without putting pressure on him one way or another.

What people can learn from this film is that the many people who grow up feeling ashamed of their sexual thoughts have few people to whom they can go to who are willing and able to tell them the facts as well as process the feelings that can go along with sex. Instead, misinformed lessons are learned through the romanticized Hollywood romantic-comedies in which the amount of time it takes for a woman to get thoroughly turned on is reduced to some short period of making out before the clothes are ripped off. The hot passionate scenes abound in American films in which safer sex is never discussed before sex, men never stop to put on a condom and women climax with delight without any foreplay and through intercourse alone.

And more recently, there is the modeling for teens and young men of partner-sex based solely on the viewing of porn which is a format created solely for erotic entertainment and fantasy. Porn has little realistic information to offer young men in terms of how mutual sexual relationships should be negotiated, the wide variety of women’s sexual desires and response cycle and the visual modeling of how partners can be both givers and receivers of pleasure. Porn does not illustrate the way in which feelings of love might be integrated into a sexual union. And porn, like the movies never exhibits a man losing his erection and the many reactions he might experience and receive from a partner in that situation.

After getting his priest’s blessing, Mark learns that his body can be a source of immense playful, sensual pleasure and that he can give pleasure to a woman through his sessions with Cheryl, a sexual surrogate whom he hires to teach him about sexuality. Through body awareness exercises he finds out what types of touch he enjoys, what tickles and which ones are annoying. He asks Cheryl in a direct way whether she enjoys having her ear licked and she answers no but that some women might and supports him in his asking. Verbal discussions and non-verbal total body touching are critical skills to develop as part of anyone’s sexual repertoire.

When he eventually learns how to have intercourse he finds out that all the sensual play beforehand and after intercourse can be part of a tremendously moving and sensual experience, and is an important part of a person’s life. Mark also comes to feel entitled to express that part of him. He writes: “Another lesson learned: sex is a part of ordinary living, not an activity reserved for gods, goddesses, and rock stars. I realized that it could become a part of my life if I fought against my self-hatred and pessimism.” Important lessons indeed.

How To Bring Vacation Sex Back Home

couple in hammockOne of the common questions couples ask me when they come in for sex therapy is:”Why can’t we have the same kind of sex during the year that we tend to have when we go away?”

It’s a great question and the within the answer lies many ingredients to a healthier, more satisfying sex life among monogamous couples.

Vacations are planned to give couples adventure, relaxation or a combination of both.  If they are family vacations, one of the purposes is have unstructured time with the kids away from the regular schedule of school, homework and after school classes.  I was recently interviewed for an article on this topic by fashionwire.com  Most long-term couples suffer from boredom, lack of time, and fatigue as they try to balance the stresses of work life, household responsibilities and their roles as parents if they have children.  Most parents are facing this task as their children go back to school this month.

Part of the excitement of a vacation is in the planning. One thinks about all the different elements one wants as part of their vacation experience.  Things like,  great beaches,  a historic castle or delicious cuisine can whet the vacationers’ appetite’s before even setting foot in an airport or in a car.  Sex is no different.  If one gave a bit more time to planning a sensual and sexual experience with the ingredients that stimulate one’s erotic triggers each partner could look forward with anticipation to the experience.  One partner could put together a playlist of sexy sultry music to put on before a date.  Another partner could tidy up the bedroom and lay a soft plush coverlet on the bed to bring about a tactile change to the experience.  Whether it’s what you bring in to eat,  massage oil to slather on your lover’s body, or a sexy piece of lingerie to where, all these details planned ahead add to the erotic experience.

Another element of  vacations is more time to rest.  According to the Center for Disease Control 30% of Americans are not getting the amount of sleep they need.  I would add that those folks who still have jobs are probably working longer hours since the recession began as companies have not been hiring new employees and they are making up for the slack of laid off colleagues.  When couples go on vacation they commonly take time to either sleep later in the morning and/or take naps during the day.  So how do you get more sleep when you return home?

Just as you would book a babysitter or ask a family member to watch your kids while you go out for a date.  You can ask whoever is caring for your children to take the kids out while you and your partner book a 3 hour time to sleep as well as perhaps have some intimate time without the worry that a little one will be knocking on your door,  barging in, or that an argument will occur while you’re in your bedroom.  This allows the bedroom to become a haven again of rest, peace and yes, sex.

Happy Fall, and remember to plan and take some ”nap dates” with your honey real soon.