Category Archives for "Relationships"

Are criticism or sarcasm showing up in love? The balm is kindness.

How kind are you being to yourself? How kind are you being with the people that you love?

The answer says an awful lot about your life, your needs, and what isn’t working.

Why?

Because as soon as kindness takes a hike, it’s time for massive change. Over and over again, this has proven to be true in my own life (and it’s backed by science).

If I catch myself being unkind in how I think about my body or my work, I know something is woefully out of balance and needs attention. Perhaps I’ve been comparing myself to someone else or reading too many fashion magazines. Maybe I wasn’t able to do something I really wanted to do because I’m too out of shape or maybe some anonymous jerk made a comment that stung. Whatever the reason, if self-kindness is hard to come by, immediate action is needed.

If I turn to criticism, cruelty, or sarcasm in my relationships rather than kindness, it’s a big red flag that a need is going unmet or I’ve checked out in some way.

Looking back at past relationships, it’s rather obvious when kindness stopped being the default behavior and when other less-nurturing behaviors set in like resentment, frustration, doubt, or exasperation. Patience suddenly became dangerously thin, and it seemed as if everything my partner was doing was for the sole purpose of annoying me.

That’s usually the moment the relationship goes from being a source of renewal and support to one that is careening towards catastrophe and pain.

Don’t believe me? Check this out, from an Atlantic article about John Gottman and his Love Lab:

“Research independent from [the Gottman’s] has shown that kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated—feel loved … There’s a great deal of evidence showing the more someone receives or witnesses kindness, the more they will be kind themselves, which leads to upward spirals of love and generosity in a relationship.”

Kindness is one of the most important predictors of relationship happiness and personal satisfaction.

When was the last time you caught yourself being unbelievably kind towards yourself? When your thoughts were full of nurturing thoughts and genuine admiration of self?

How much kindness are you offering in your intimate relationships? If it’s not very much, then it’s time to step back and figure out what changes need to happen in order for you to find your way back to generosity of thought and action. Otherwise, you’ll just end up hating each other.

Kindness translates to your sexual experience, as well.

If you and your lover are swimming in kindness, your sexual experiences will probably feel incredibly safe. Within that sense of safety, you’ll be more likely to ask for what you want, to withhold judgment when your lover shares feedback or fantasies, and it will be a lot easier to experience pleasure with all of you being so open.

It’s incredibly easy to fall into the habit of ignoring our loved ones, which is the same as taking them for granted. Just because they’ve been tolerating the tension for 20 months or 20 years, doesn’t mean they always will.

And the same goes for you.

One of the reasons I ended a relationship in my mid-20’s was because I felt like nothing I said or did would be met with genuine interest. To be ignored is not an act of kindness. To go through the motions, is also not an act of kindness. I was tired of the bickering and feeling unimportant, and so we both turned to criticism, contempt, and passive-aggressive jabs.

Another sign that kindness isn’t present? Feeling like you’re broken or like something is wrong with you. If you’re constantly being asked why you don’t want more sex or if your partner badgers you about your eating habits, that can feel unsafe at a profound level.

Kindness is accepting someone for who they are and inviting their experiences in, as-is. Kindness is offering someone the benefit of the doubt before anything else when they make a mistake or fail in some way.

Kindness is lifting each other up as a team instead of being combatants with a winner and a loser.

Click to tweet that statement!

Kindness has become a core behavior that I work to cultivate in my life.

Whenever I catch myself thinking something unkind about myself or my partner, I know it’s time to take a step back and find out where I’ve been silencing myself…because it’s almost always a case of my not asking for what I need or neglecting myself in some way.

So, I’m curious. How much kindness are in the thoughts you have, the words you say, and the behaviors you exhibit with your sweetheart? Same question but towards yourself?

What if sexual validation comes from within?

The day I realized 95% of my sexual distress, pain, and shame has been the result of other people telling me what my sexual experiences should look like and feel like, everything shifted.

I can't tell you how many hours (years?) I spent worrying about how my boobs looked or my tummy moved during sex instead of surrendering to the moment and enjoying this person who was sharing themselves with me.

Why? I was not born worrying my breasts were imperfect or that I shouldn't have a soft, round belly. Other people told me to be ashamed of those parts of myself.

The same for all the times I didn't share a fantasy or a desire for fear of what my partner might say. Where did that fear come from? Probably from the endless stories around us telling what "normal" sex looks like. The fear and shame certainly didn't come from within me.

Where did the stress about how much sex I do or don't have come from?

Why would I ever be scared that I wasn't wet enough or tight enough or hard enough?

Outside forces have tremendous influence over our sexual experiences (and the way we do relationship, too, but that's another post for another day), and unfortunately they're rarely helpful or informative.

One of the most powerful exercises you can do in your life is to examine all of the major beliefs, assumptions, fears, and hang-ups you have about sex.

Where did they come from?

Why does sex equal penis-in-vagina intercourse? Or why does orgasm matter so much? Who said a wet pussy or a hard cock were necessary for terrific sex?

Literally, all of these ideas come from other people who are not you - people who do not have your body with your experiences or your sensations or your unique version of experiencing pleasure.

The truth is that as soon as we all learn how to look within for our answers when it comes to sex is the moment we start to experience sexual liberation.

Click to tweet that statement!

It doesn't matter how many times Cosmo or Dr. Oz say you should be having sex in a week. Look within and ask yourself - REALLY ask yourself - how you feel about how often you're having sex.

It doesn't matter if the actresses in your favorite porn have small, hairless labia. Do your labia bring you pleasure? Do they love being tugged on and licked and sucked on?

It doesn't matter if the only bodies we see on magazines next to headlines like "Sexy!" or "Bikini ready" are white, young, ultra thin, rich, able-bodied models. Does your body enjoy being touched? Does your soft tummy give your lover the best pillow in the world? Do your uneven boobs make for a delicious handful when you're being fucked? Can you experience delicious pleasure right now, today, without changing a thing?

And it does not matter if you have a penis that doesn't stay hard for hours or that cums in a matter of minutes. Look deep within yourself and ask what are ALL the ways you can bring a partner pleasure? Are your hands an option? Your tongue? Your lips? Sex toys? The strength of your arms or the stubble on your chin? Your warm breath? The options, when you really look within, are only limited by your imagination.

Stop wasting your life worrying about what everyone else is doing and how they're doing it. (I do not say this lightly. To do this, you must do some deep, personal work. I can help.)

Refuse to give one more second of energy to trying to measure up to someone who is not you, who is not living your life, who is not in your magnificent body.

Because the truth is there is no other living being in the universe who can feel exactly what you feel in the body you're in except for you.

So why spend any time or any shame or any stress trying to be like some other person who is having their own super unique experiences? Or even lots of other people who lucked into having a lot of similar experiences?

Be an explorer of your own sexual landscape. It is rich and varied and deep - right this second.

Sexual liberation starts the moment you realize the answers you need, the definition of what is good and right and normal, is within you. It's there. I promise.

Chase your pleasure. You don't have to change anything about yourself in order to deserve it. Keep it consensual. And that's all, folks.

So, dear reader, what are some myths or standard advice you've held on to that you're ready to let go of? What are some fears or beliefs that have kept you trapped or feeling inadequate? What might the real answer be if you let go of those stories that other people gave you about what "normal" looks like?

Work with me

Looking for ways to reconnect with yourself or a partner? You're in luck because that's what I do.

From one-on-one coaching to my Sex is a Social Skill group calls, there are a number of ways we can work together to help you shed the shame and step into the pleasure and connection you've wanted.

 

 

Being a great lover takes practice. How have you challenged yourself to level up?

Being sexually adept takes practice. It also takes self-awareness, communication, curiosity, creativity, and most of all, the resilience to be wrong often.

Every day I talk to people who are unhappy or struggling with their sex lives. From lack of desire to a complete communication breakdown; from secret fantasies or trauma to feeling stuck and uninspired, I see a lot of frustration and confusion when it comes to sex.

Truthfully, sex is one of the least understood, most desired interactions in the world. The chasm between what we see on TV and in the movies, what we learn in school (if anything), and what the lived experience of sex and pleasure actually are could not be wider.

Most of us stumble along, figuring things out on our own, using friends, Cosmo, and porn to guide us. Which also means it's really common to feel abnormal, awkward, and lost - none of us have clear maps to guide us or the tools to find our way on our own.

The good news is a skilled lover is not simply born with all the gifts of Casanova.

Being sexually adept takes practice. It also takes self-awareness, communication, curiosity, creativity, and most of all, the resilience to be wrong often.

I've had some bad sex in my life. (Bad sex is different from traumatic sex.)

I have been the person who checked out during sex because I wasn't really invested. I've been the person who avoided sex at all costs because it always led to a fight with a partner, or to tolerating sex I didn't really want to just get past it.

I've even been the person who freaks out when their partner shares a desire because I had no idea how to do The Thing and completely shut them down as a result of my own shame and ego.

To this day, I still struggle with articulating my needs and desires at times.

But it's a process. It takes practice. And I know that. Most people don't.

Once the newness wears off in a relationship, folks often find they've become bored - never taking new information in about the person they're with, assuming they have a magic technique that always works, going through the motions or expecting sex because that's what you do.

Sex can be many different things to many different people, and even different things to the same person on different days in different moments. Sex won't always be immersive or mind-blowing, but it can be a powerful source of connection, pleasure, and enjoyment when you do have it.

In my own journey, both personally and professionally, I've discovered what it means to be a skilled sexual partner. It's endlessly simple, but not always easy.

A skilled lover understands that context matters, that the kind of day you had and the way you're feeling in that moment can profoundly impact the way you experience touch and pleasure. So, they practice curiosity.

A skilled lover is attuned to each gasp, each sigh, each muscle spasm, and takes all of the information in, constantly adjusting and reading their partner as the moment unfolds. They nurture and cultivate mindfulness, staying present and in the moment.

A skilled lover is not concerned with ego or goals, but instead, remains open to the endless mystery that is their partner. They know that no two moments are ever the same and allow themselves to be surprised by just how much they don't know - and delight in that. They communicate openly and frequently, asking questions instead of assuming answers.

If there's one thing I've learned it's that sex takes practice.

Practice means failing, messing up, being awkward, and trying again. It means no end point. No moment of final achievement. Mastering sex is mastering comfort with the unknown.

If you want to be a great lover, practice curiosity and curiously practice.

Click to tweet that statement!

Ask questions. Check-in. Read erotica. Turn a critical eye towards everything in the media. Seek out information that feeds your creativity.

Know that your pleasure is entirely your responsibility, so a skilled lover also knows how to ask for what they need and want - specifically and unapologetically.

Awkward is OK. Failure is OK. Having no fucking clue what you're doing is OK. As long as you remain open to what comes next and stay curious. You're learning. We all are.

The moment you lose your curiosity and wonder is the moment your sexual experience starts to become stagnant and disconnected.

So, marvel at your body and the pleasure it's capable of both giving and receiving. Get profoundly interested in your partner's reactions and requests. Introduce newness - from new questions to new locations to new techniques to new fantasies - whenever you feel yourself slipping into a routine.

Let yourself be imperfect in bed and invite the same in your lover(s).

Sex is not about obligation or expectation. Sex is about exploration and discovery. Check your attitude often.

My question to you today is what are you curious to learn? In what ways could you be inspired by your experiences or partner(s)? What is one small thing you can practice today that will set yourself and a lover on fire?

Your pleasure. Your love. Your terms.

If you're ready to start rewriting the stories you've been given and to step into connection and pleasure on your own terms, that's exactly what I help people do.

From one-on-one coaching to my Sex is a Social Skill group calls, there are a variety of ways we can work together to help you find the relief you've been looking for.

What are you prioritizing in love?

The pure and simple truth is the things you focus on are the things that grow and flourish. It’s not magic, though it seems to be something almost all of us forget once our lives settle into a routine.

Relationships, to put it simply, take practice. The uncomfortable, consistent kind.

Despite what so many people believe thanks to all of the “happily ever after” stories we’ve been fed, there is not an end point to practicing being in relationship.

You don’t get to coast after doing a certain amount of work or doing a handful of helpful things. Though, as you strengthen your skills, it does become a heck of a lot easier and less awkward.

Think of a relationship like a garden.

As long as you are tending to them with a tiny bit of daily maintenance, they can be gorgeous, breathtaking, and thriving. A place of comfort and peace, something that blooms and buzzes with life, even offering nourishment and sustenance.

Ignore a garden for a few days, and you’ll have some weeds to pull and a little tidying up to do.

Let your garden go unattended for weeks, months, or even years, and you’ll have a whole lot of VERY hard work to put in for a fair amount of time before you’re back to healthy, manageable soil and plants. (I implore you, dear reader, do not wait until you’re in crisis mode and then expect to transform your relationship in a matter of days at the do-or-die stage).

So, what are your priorities?

Take a good look at where you’re putting your limited time and energy each day.

How are you fostering connection? How are you inviting vulnerability and laughter? What small gestures are you taking EVERY SINGLE DAY to check in, to share, to connect, to admire the wonder that is this person in your life, to let them know what they mean to you?

It’s not about whisking your sweetheart off to Paris once a year. Research has shown that small, daily gestures are endlessly more impactful than rare, grand gestures.

Folks in thriving relationships know how critical it is to take 30 seconds or a few minutes several times per day to reach across the divide and strengthen that bridge.

A long hug.

A sweet text with an inside joke.

A compliment that’s well-timed and sincere.

A question about their day and then actually listening with curiosity.

A ritual before bed.

These are not time consuming, but they are love-nurturing. If you’re too busy for these, you need to take a serious look at why you’re even in relationship in the first place.

And no – deciding on dinner, negotiating who will go to the grocery store, or rushing through a quick phone call about your hectic day doesn’t count.

Prioritize what and who is important to you. I guarantee it isn’t your phone.

Click to tweet that statement!

Because my guess is that the person sitting next to you is a heck of a lot more valuable to you than seeing if you got any comments on Facebook, and yet how many of us have our phones out when we’re sharing a meal or settling in for bed?

Here is my invitation to you.

Get crystal clear on how you’re prioritizing your connection with a partner by finding ways to really share yourself at least once per day.

Ask yourself what you want to be cultivating in your life. If it’s love and joy and playfulness and feeling seen, then take a look at how you’re showing up for the people who love you.

In the end, will it be the number of social media shares or the points scored in the football game that matters or seeing the eyes of your lover crinkle with joy when you ask about their day because you genuinely want to know?

1 On loving two people at once (inspired by Ben Higgins on The Bachelor)

Inspired by Ben Higgins of The Bachelor, this week on the blog I examine what it means to love two people at once - brain versus heart, logic versus fear.

My brain and my heart are embroiled in a fierce disagreement, and over The Bachelor no less.

Thankfully, I’ve learned that I can hold two contradictory truths inside of me, two realities, and as uncomfortable as it may be and as confusing as it may feel, it’s more honest than trying to force an outcome.

In fact, we do it all of the time, don’t we? Contradicting ourselves, espousing a truth with deep passion, only to claim a different stance as soon as the circumstances change.

For instance, I can be the most confident person in the room one day and then feel unlovable and unworthy the next. It is not a character flaw or something to be fixed. It is simply a truth that I am learning how to navigate – it does not make the confident days any less confident, nor does it make the unlovable days any easier.

We are walking contradictions, especially when it comes to love.

You see, The Bachelor – Ben Higgins – is in love with two women and it all will come to a head tonight (March 14th) on the season finale.

I’ve seen countless tweets weighing in on the drama, many of them angrily insisting you can’t possibly love two people at once, that it’s not REAL love if you love more than one person, that true love is a one-time-only deal (until, of course, that relationship ends and then there’s another true love waiting around the corner).

Ben Higgins has even said he wishes there was a book that told him how to love two women at once (there is – Tristan Taormino’s “Opening Up” is a great place to start).

And I am angry…

I am angry that Ben is being forced to choose between the two women he loves. I’m pissed that the world is insisting he can only be with one woman.

Because I know that it’s possible to love two people (or more) at once, and to do so successfully. It might be a tad unconventional for mainstream television, but it’s not all that uncommon.

More and more people are exploring open relationships, non-monogamy, polyamory, relationship anarchy, and all sorts of relationship configurations that upend the Disney (and biblical) fairy tales of one true love.

After all, we know that 50% of first marriages, and 75% of second and third marriages, end in divorce. We know that serial monogamy is considered normal…that it’s not about being in love with one person for life but being in love with one person at a time.

Logically, it just doesn’t add up. (And the truth is that all of these sad statistics are less about monogamy, and more about communication, expectations, and sexual awareness…but that’s not what this rant is about.)

We love multiple family members easily and effortlessly, multiple friends for all their differences and the various ways they support us, and if we’re parents, we can love multiple children, unique as they may be.

Love isn’t limited in quantity, but it is bound by things like time and energy.

So, I wonder, why can’t Ben Higgins, or any of us, for that matter, love more than one person in a romantic way at the same time? Where is that against the rules?

If each woman (JoJo & Lauren) feels loved, valued, respected, seen, and nurtured, is it all that different for Ben to romantically love two of them than to…love one woman romantically and also love a good friend or a sibling that he enjoys spending time with, too?

My head understands all of this and fiercely defends his experience of loving two women at once.

It doesn’t make sense that he has to choose one over the other…because if the one he chooses doesn’t work out, what happens next? He labels the relationship a “failure” and then finds someone else to love?

What if loving both of those women at the same time is what creates the kind of support and connection that means all three of them are endlessly happy for many decades?

Love isn’t the fairy tale we’ve been led to believe.

Love, once the rush of new relationship energy fades, is more about hard work, turning towards each other through the mundane and the pain, and TRYING a lot. Trying every day.

Love isn’t terribly glamorous when you get beyond that drunk stage.

In fact, I could go on for days about the ridiculousness of how we’ve been trained/tricked into valuing romantic and sexual love above other kinds of love, but that’s a different post for a different day.

My brain gets it.

I know many people who are polyamorous or non-monogamous or in some form of open relationship and they are happy. They thrive. It makes sense – not having to choose just one, but instead getting to live in a way that honors the different people who come in and out of your life, the different types of relationships that might form.

But, my heart sings a different song.

My heart worries that if I speak these things out loud, they may come true for me. Because, as much as my head may know one thing, my heart isn’t quite sure what it believes just yet.

I know that I crave depth, intimacy, connection that grows deeper and stronger as time passes, finding novelty within the safe container I’ve built with someone who I finally let all the way in. I know that I want to know that when shit gets tough, people aren’t going to give up or turn away because it’s easier and less painful or because there’s someone new on the horizon.

My heart, in the end, really just wants to know I am special.

And so I get it. I understand why people are reacting so strongly to Ben’s confession that he is in love with both of these amazing women. He is turning the fantasy that so many of us cling to on its head.

It all comes down to fear and worthiness.

That little demon inside which whispers, “If the person I love can be in love with two people at once, then why would they ever choose me?”

If Ben can love JoJo and Lauren, have the stories we’ve been telling ourselves been wrong all along?

The uncertainty is terrifying. And then there are the personal fears that start to bubble up as we question the ways we define love and what makes us lovable.

We may not know how to name it, but that discomfort is a mask held up by our fear.

The fear of not being enough, or of being too much. A fear of how worthy we are that someone would ever choose us if they have other choices available to them.

Fear and unworthiness can make us do and say wild things. It can force us to the edges, to either-or, black or white, yes or no, instead of recognizing the power of remaining fluid and uncertain and curious.

For many of us, we wonder…if we can’t make one relationship work, what makes us think we can successfully manage two or three or more?

Despite all of the fear, though, on a personal level, my heart does break for Ben, JoJo, and Lauren, knowing that these are real people, with real feelings, and because Ben will be forced to choose one, someone will be devastated on tonight’s finale.

I can imagine the collective sigh of relief that millions of people will share when Ben makes his choice and brings his story back into alignment with the fantasy so many of us are desperately clinging to.

All of us wrapping ourselves, once again, in a blanket of false certainty that offers us a sense of relief in an uncertain world, even if it’s a lie.

Because even though there are no guarantees in life or in love, we like to tell ourselves that there are.

I’d love to know…what do you think? Why are people so angry at Ben Higgins for loving two women at once? What might happen if he decided to choose them both, and if they, in turn, chose him, too?


 

*Note: I am a fierce believer in successful monogamy, but only when the two people in the relationship are consciously choosing it for themselves, and not as a social default. I also believe open relationships, non-monogamy, solo polyamory, polyamory, and all of the other relationship styles can work, too. But again, only when everyone involved is choosing it and living in integrity with their needs and desires. I also believe that you can move in and out of monogamy, polyamory, and various relationship styles as your needs and circumstances change – it’s not a one-and-done, no going back thing, either.

 

Can you find a way to forgive yourself?

Can you find a way to forgive yourself for all the ways you've beat yourself up, for all the ways you've abandoned yourself?

Forgiveness has been on my mind a lot lately.

Certainly, forgiveness is something we have to revisit again and again with the people in our lives – for the ways they let us down, for the times they hurt us, for the little ways their words or inaction cut into our hearts and souls.

But, more importantly, I’ve been thinking about how to cultivate forgiveness for myself.

It’s something I struggle with constantly.

How can I forgive myself for the ways I’ve hurt someone I love or fallen short? For the times I’ve broken my own heart? For the failures and broken promises?

I’ve beaten myself up so many times for so many years, how do I begin to forgive that? But even more than that, I’ve silenced my own truth, put someone else’s needs before my own, and abandoned myself over and over again.

It’s a deep wound that I keep reopening each time I tell myself my feelings aren’t valid or worthy of attention. It’s difficult to forgive when everything feels so raw and tender, isn’t it?

Sometimes I don’t even realize I’ve hurt myself until long after the damage has been done – because it’s easier to focus on the people I love and what they need. It’s simpler sometimes to ignore the stuff that’s scary or uncomfortable like taking up space, putting my foot down, or using my voice.

But then, when I feel resentment or heartbreak, it’s so natural to turn on myself.

So, why is forgiveness so important?

Forgiveness is a cornerstone of trust. If I can’t forgive myself, how can I find a way to believe my own wisdom and trust my voice?

Brene Brown has a new course on trust over at CourageWorks.com. In it, she breaks trust down into seven smaller components like respecting boundaries, repeatedly showing up, integrity, non-judgment, and assuming generous intentions.

As I watched the videos, it struck me that forgiveness, trust, and empathy are ultimately about connection.

When we forgive…

…we can turn towards ourselves and towards the people we love.

…we can build bridges. We can connect across even the deepest chasms.

…we can find the grace to treat ourselves and our loved ones with kindness even after being wounded.

Forgiveness does not undo what has been done, but it does mean letting go to make space for something new.

What are you clinging to that you can begin to let go of?

Where are you holding on to something that just keeps hurting you over and over again, and if you invited some forgiveness you might find a little more ease and movement?

A better question may be, do you trust yourself? Do you trust your decisions, your ability to set boundaries, your inner worthiness?

If the answer is no, or not entirely, find the spots where you feel like you keep letting yourself down. That’s where forgiveness may be a beautiful way to heal and move forward.

But don’t be fooled by how simple it may seem to forgive someone, especially yourself.

Forgiveness is not a one-time magic pill. You don’t waive your forgiveness wand and suddenly find everything is behind you.

In my experience, forgiveness takes practice. It is an on-going choice, and sometimes you fumble it and lose that spaciousness. But it is always there, waiting for you to pick it back up and gently nurture.

Sometimes it hurts to move into forgiveness because it means examining and admitting the wounds you carry.

When I think of all the ways I’ve held back or silenced myself, it can feel devastating. All those times I decided someone else’s happiness was more valuable than my own…toes hanging over the ledge of that deep, dark abyss that is all of the ways I didn’t listen to my own heart.

But I can only start building the bridge of that forgiveness by understanding where I am and where I’d like to go.

Forgiveness takes practice. Trust takes time. And you can only find your way to love and joy by doing the work and showing up, over and over again, even on the tough days.

Forgiveness isn’t linear. Neither are healing, love, or growth. There is beauty in the chaos that is our stumbles, fumbles, and falls.

As we move towards a new year, I invite you to find ways to begin forgiving yourself.

When you forgive yourself, you can begin to trust yourself. By trusting yourself, you can start to set boundaries, ask for what you need, grow into deeper love with yourself and the people around you, and then that’s when the really juicy stuff starts to unfold.

No matter how many times you’ve been vulnerable and courageous, no matter how many ways you’ve failed, you must find a way to forgive.

Stop clinging to old beliefs and wounds that weigh you down and keep you trapped in the dark. Open to the possibility that at any given moment you are doing the very damn best that you can with what was available to you in that moment, and that makes you pretty damn amazing.

Open to the truth that you deserve to forgive yourself, and let yourself see all of the space that creates in your thoughts and feelings.

Breathe into your healing. You deserve this.

And so do I. Even if it’s hard to believe sometimes.

———

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Master these two words for better sex and healthier relationships

When it comes to having the best sex of your life and healthier relationships, you need to master these two words. Because it's all about healthy boundaries and honoring your own needs and desires.

The past several years have been an incredible journey for me. Transformation is inevitable when you start to dig around in all your softest spots and darkest places.

One of the most difficult realizations I've had about myself is just how hard it is for me to use my voice. I silence myself a lot.

Looking back, it's no wonder past relationships left me feeling exhausted and resentful. I rarely spoke up, always rushing to fix things for others, never prioritizing my own needs. In fact, even now I struggle to find the words for my needs sometimes.

It's different for each of us. For me, setting boundaries feels like I'm taking up too much space. And as a fat person, I've been conditioned to take up as little space as possible to offset my physical size. It's a mind fuck, to be sure.

But many of us have these mechanisms of taking up less space because we feel unworthy of love or are afraid of being alone or worry that if we actually draw a line in the sand and say "this is me" that people won't be able to handle us.

The paradox is that the clearer we are with our needs and boundaries, the more we set ourselves and our partners up for success. If you aren't sure where the edges of the sandbox are, it's difficult to surrender and trust that you're on the same page.

Though our language is full of beautiful words that sound like poems and terrifying words that evoke powerful feelings, the two most powerful words that we have at our disposal are yes and no.

Sadly, most of us don’t use those words in a way that serves our soul. There are countless ways that we silence ourselves or water down our experiences: social obligations, guilt, insecurity, a mindset full of lack and fear, shame, family dynamics, community expectations, peer pressure, our own internalized judgment.

Why is this important and how can we begin to find and strengthen our voice? 

When you give yourself permission to get crystal clear about your yes and your no, especially in the context of your sexual self, things begin to shift.

Too often we consider a maybe a yes.

Too often we default to yes when we’re on the fence, when we’re ambivalent, when we’re kind of interested but not entirely sure. And each time we do this, we send the message that our boundaries aren’t important, and we end up losing ourselves in the process.

Too often we want to say no, but we make excuses, we over apologize, we try to soften it with lots of flowery language that leaves people confused or thinking you really mean yes. We anticipate the other person’s feelings and try to control for it by changing our own answers.

But here’s the thing.

You are not responsible for someone else’s experience or feelings (and this can be SO hard to embrace if you're a people pleaser). You can be kind and say a simple, “No.”

It’s on them how they deal with it.

Because “No.” is a complete sentence. No doesn’t require an explanation. No doesn’t need to be defended.

When you say no to something, you are really saying yes to yourself.

Imagine you are feeling really sexy and turned on. You want a night of raw, hot, sweaty sex. When you ask your partner if they want to join in the fun, they kind of shrug and say “I guess.”

Once you’re in the bedroom, they only half show up. There’s no energy. No fire. You start to feel resentment because it feels lonely each time they check out, and the night ends in either a fight or silence.

Put another way, has an experience ever been improved by someone showing up who really doesn’t want to be there and then complains or drags their feet the whole time?

Wouldn’t you prefer that person stay home so all of the rest of you can enjoy the fireworks or the parade or the day at the park?

Start saying no when you’re anything other than an enthusiastic yes. A fuck yes, in fact.

And guess what?

You can be an enthusiastic yes about stuff that sucks. You can say, “Hell yes, I want us to talk about that last fight because as uncomfortable and awkward as it will be, I know we can work through this.”

Don’t second guess your yes, either. If you want to put on lingerie and dance around the house, do it. If you want a threesome, ask for it. If you want to re-enact a scene from that movie Secretary, make it happen.

No one ever owes you sex or physical affection, but that shouldn't stop you from asking for it and getting creative in ways to meet your own needs in a way that respects everyone involved.

Your yes and your no are literally what define you.

When you don’t honor your boundaries - in life and in the bedroom - it leads to confusion, mixed messages, hurt feelings, resentment, and you compromise the potential for your own pleasure and joy.

What have you not been saying yes to out of fear? What you have not been saying no to because you’re worried of hurting someone’s feelings?

Pick one thing this week where you can say “no” without explaining yourself and “yes” to something that feels juicy.

The amazing thing is even if it’s a dinner date or an appointment with your business, each time you honor your voice, you strengthen your sexual self, too.

The stronger your boundaries are, the more space you have to play. So, get clear on what you do and don’t want and then ask for those things.

Pleasure and joy are your birthright, but only if you’re willing to totally own your own experience.

Work with me

Wondering how to find your voice and use it in bed? That's what I do.

From one-on-one coaching to my Sex is a Social Skill group calls and DIY workbooks, there are a number of ways we can work together to help you find what you're looking for.

Addyi: Is it safe and should I consider taking it?

The new pink Viagra, known as Addyi or flibanserin, was recently released. Is it safe? Should you take it? Why is it not at all what the pharmaceutical companies are claiming? Learn more about this dangerous drug and what you can do instead if your libido is suffering.

I’ve always been the fat kid. Rather, I’ve always seen myself that way.

Looking at pictures of myself in elementary and middle school, I was taller, thicker, and stronger than most of the girls my age, but in a very athletic way. Still, I’ve spent my entire life feeling like I was fat, which until fairly recently equated to feeling unwanted, undesirable, unlovable, and a host of other inferior things.

When I was in high school and college (and even now, on bad days), I would comfort myself with this fantasy of a mystical being granting me “the perfect body”.

This fantasy was beautifully alluring because instead of learning to appreciate what I had, instead of loving myself in the moment, I could pretend it all away by taking a magic pill that turned my body into that of Sofia Vergara or Jennifer Lawrence.

Of course, the assumption being if I had a body like theirs all of my problems would be solved.

*poof*

The truth is that while these fantasies allowed me to escape the pain I was experiencing in that moment, they caused me so much more harm in the long run.

I spent countless hours wishing for magic instead of using all of that time to embrace myself, to find ways to love myself, to nurture myself, to appreciate my body, or to simply be present in my life and find a way to navigate my truth.

Everything around me, even “inspiring” magazines like O Magazine, shouted at me to lose weight, to shed 10 pounds, to find clothes that “flattered” my shape, that cast the fat girl as the sidekick (because who could actually want someone fat?).

By trapping myself in an unrealistic dream, largely defined by forces outside of myself, I was feeding my shame and self-loathing.

Honestly, I’m still trying to figure out how to undo some of that damage. But now I’m much better at looking inside of myself for the answers, even if they contradict all of the messages around me.

So, what does wishing for a magical cure to be skinny have to do with Addyi, the new female arousal drug that’s been called the pink Viagra?

A lot more than you would think.

The fact is that most women in committed, long-term relationships are under the impression that they should be wanting more sex without understanding exactly how desire works. Our world is conditioning us to feel like we are broken when it comes to our desire for sex.

In fact, even though Addyi has only been on the market a few days, one woman has already told me her doctor is pushing her to try it, and that breaks my heart.

Addyi is being touted as the magic pill that “fixes” arousal, when the truth of the matter is the pill doesn’t do what it claims AND 99.9% of the time nothing is actually broken.

There is a lot to say about Addyi and women’s desire. Enough to fill a book (which is exactly what Emily Nagoski did with her AMAZING book “Come As You Are”), so this is just the tip of the iceberg.

What is Addyi? How does it work? Are there any dangers that come with taking it? (Yes!) And, if you’re considering Addyi, what can you do instead? Let’s take a look.

Addyi: the not-so-good, the bad, and the ugly

When you think about Viagra, you probably get a pretty vivid picture of a guy taking a pill and suddenly finding himself rock hard. Of course, the assumption is that a hard penis equals wanting to have sex (but we know that isn’t the case at all – just because your body is doing one thing, doesn’t mean your mind is on board).

Basically, Viagra forces a physical response of rushing blood to the erectile tissue and creating an erect cock.

Addyi does not do this. It does not force blood to erectile tissue, it does not cause your vulva to swell with blood or your vagina to lubricate itself with more gusto.

According to Georgetown University Medical Center, Addyi – original name of flibanserin – “failed efficacy trials as an antidepressant and was rejected twice for its current indication before being approved.”

Instead of targeting your genitals, Addyi affects your brain’s chemicals: serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Why? Because Addyi is a rebranded antidepressant.

Let’s take a look at a few things that we all need to be aware of:

  • Unlike Viagra, which you take only when you want a hard penis, Addyi must be taken every single day.
  • People in the studies experienced higher rates of fatigue, sedation, unconsciousness, hypotension, and it interacts poorly with many medications, including oral contraceptives.
  • If you take Addyi, you cannot consume alcohol. Since Addyi is a daily pill, that means no alcohol consumption until you decide to go off of Addyi.
  • Your physician is responsible for prescribing Addyi, however, only a sex therapist/professional would know whether Addyi is appropriate for a patient. Physicians do not receive sex education training in medical school (it’s an elective even for gynecologists, which means many gyn’s can opt out of sex education in med school).
  • Speaking of physicians, doctors are receiving seven slides’ worth of training on Addyi. This means most doctors will be woefully under-informed about the risks, side effects, and limited benefits when they prescribe it.

 

Is all of this a problem if it really does help women to experience improved desire for sex?

Sadly, based on the trials, Addyi doesn’t appear to have much of an impact on patients.

Before we dive into that, let’s consider one thing.

“Hypoactive sexual desire disorder was recently dropped from the latest edition of the DSM-5. Disorders of desire and arousal have now been combined in the term ‘female sexual interest/arousal disorder’ (FSI/AD), which takes into account the fact that for many women, desire follows rather than precedes arousal.”

That quote comes from a fact sheet put together by Georgetown University Medical Center. You can see it here.

What that means is the American Psychiatric Association now recognizes that women’s desire is much more nuanced and complex than was previously thought. Back in the old days, the baseline for human sexual desire was that of 18-22 year old males. That was considered “normal” for all of us, regardless of gender, age, race, health, etc.

As a result, women were often considered lacking when it came to sexual arousal and desire – simply because they weren’t experiencing it as spontaneously and as often as young men.

Now, most mental health professionals and sex professionals recognize that our desire is actually much more dependent on context.

And so they removed “hypoactive sexual desire disorder” from the manual. But Addyi’s instructions says it treats “hypoactive sexual desire disorder” – in other words, this medicine claims to treat something that doesn’t even exist anymore.

So, what were the actual results from the flibanserin (Addyi) trials?

Women reported 0.7 more satisfying sexual events per month than women on the placebo.

Less than one. In a month.

Some experts are attributing that small increase to something else, though. The participants were asked to journal about their sexual satisfaction and sexual experiences. By simply placing a higher emphasis on thinking about sex and prioritizing it, it’s no wonder participants experienced a small bump – where your attention goes, energy flows.

What does all of this mean to you?

Addyi may offer a slight improvement in sexual satisfaction for pre-menopausal women who have had a sudden, steep decrease in sexual enjoyment.

However, due to the potential side effects, the possible drug interactions, and the lack of long-term studies on this repurposed pill, most sex professionals are strongly discouraging use.

We do expect more doctors to begin pushing patients to use this drug, but as consumers, we need to be willing to push back.

Desire is a beautiful, complex, tender beast.

If you’re truly struggling with a lack of sexual enjoyment or sexual desire, find a sex positive sex coach, sex therapist, or sex educator to help you explore and navigate what that means.

Often I find that clients are under the impression that they’re broken or that they should want sex more, but when we dig under those beliefs, we find so many other truths.

As you begin redefining sex in a way that fits with your life and your desire, without all of that noise from the outside, you set yourself up for a lifetime of sexual awareness and empowerment.

Instead of wishing for a magic pill to fix you, if you give yourself permission to begin accepting what is, exploring the beauty within, and creating something meaningful for yourself, you’ll find so much more pleasure and desire in the long run.

My advice? Avoid Addyi entirely.

Instead, unpack your sexual experience with the help of a professional. Roll around in your fantasies. Say the scary stuff. Confront the parts of your life that aren’t lifting you up. Do the work that unleashes your sexual self.

[callout title=”Work with me” link=”https://www.dawnserra.com/work-with-me/” class=”hb-aligncenter”]If you’re considering Addyi or you’re ready to explore your own desire, I’m here to help. [/callout]

Eight books on sex and intimacy you need to read.

If you're looking for advice on sex, intimacy, relationships, and communication, it can be hard to find books that are actually useful and transformative. Check out these eight must-read books from sex coach Dawn Serra. Your sex life and relationships will never be the same.

The world is overflowing with an abundance of amazing books, more than you could ever read in a lifetime. Fiction, poetry, biographies, even young adult stories, it’s an endless sea of inspiration and imagination.

But when it comes to books on sex, intimacy, dating, and relationships, the literary landscape is riddled with bad advice, antiquated ideas, and a shocking amount of bullshit sold as the law of the land.

(The Rules, I’m looking at you.)

Mainstream media advice about our bodies, our gender, the way we communicate, and sex is misleading at best and downright traumatizing at worst. That is to say, almost everything you see in magazines, on the news, and coming out of Hollywood is based on a set of rules and beliefs that are designed to make us feel bad and buy more stuff.

So, how are you supposed to separate the good from the bad from the downright absurd?

Allow me, dear reader, to lend a hand.

Behold. The eight books on sex & relationships that I most frequently recommend to my clients (and why you should read them).

Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski, a book on sexual arousal and desire in women

“Come As You Are” by Emily Nagoski

This is the number one book that I recommend to my sex coaching clients. If you’re struggling with low libido or getting aroused, especially if you are a woman, this book needs to be at the top of your To Read list.

Emily Nagoski uses numerous studies and scientific data to build a compelling story for why all of the things we’ve been taught about women’s arousal are wrong, and instead, how arousal really works for most of us.

Using approachable stories and fun anecdotes, you’ll walk away from this book feeling empowered, enlightened, and much more in control of your sexual pleasure and desire.


 

Ecstasy is Necessary by Barbara Carrellas is all about finding pleasure and ecstasy in ways you never before imagined

“Ecstasy is Necessary” by Barbara Carrellas

Barbara Carrellas is someone that I admire deeply. Her books are inclusive and powerful in ways that most sex books are not. “Ecstasy is Necessary” helps you to map out and discover your sexual self. Not the self that has been beaten into you by mainstream media or your family or your community – your true self.

What is ecstasy to you? What are the possibilities for pleasure? What are the endless ways you can tap into your sensual potential and unleash it in your life in practical and feel-good ways?

If you love this book, you’ll also want to check out Barbara’s “Urban Tantra” which is another book I recommend to most clients.


 

Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel is a book about infidelity, erotic intelligence, and why people cheat.

“Mating in Captivity” by Esther Perel

The prevailing wisdom that we see so often is this quest for intimacy in our relationships. But, what if intimacy is the very thing that kills our erotic energy, and our sex lives?

Esther Perel, known for her amazing TED talks on infidelity, posits that in order to maintain erotic energy, to keep that heat alive, we need to strike a careful balance between intimacy and eroticism. If you’ve ever wondered why people cheat and what you can do to be more aware in your own relationships to help prevent infidelity, this book is an important (and very easy) read.

It’s one of the more common reasons people seek sex coaching, and it’s one of the most common books I recommend to clients seeking change.


 

Women's Anatomy of Arousal by Sheri Winston is a very complex and rich look at women's anatomy, including the erectile tissue, clitoris, and how to help with arousal and desire.

“Women’s Anatomy of Arousal” by Sheri Winston

Did you know that many doctors, even gynecologists, don’t know the basics when it comes to arousal and genitals in folks with a vulva? It’s true! Sadly, many doctors only receive elementary information in med school about sex (most say it was less than 8 hours in their 8 years of training).

Sex education isn’t much better. We’re lucky if we ever even hear the world clitoris mentioned. Pleasure-based sex education is something we can hope for the future, but what can we do now?

Read Sheri Winston’s book. With beautiful hand-drawn images of all those delicious nerve endings and vast networks of erectile tissue, you’ll learn how the clitoris extends deep into the body, how important your pelvic floor muscles are, and what an important role your thoughts play in how your body reacts.

This book is the most comprehensive book on the anatomy of vulvas that I’ve ever seen. The language is heterocentric, so for any queer or trans folks, just keep that in mind as you go through the tips for lovers. It also has a lot of woo around energy and chakras.

Don’t let that stop you from buying this book, though! You’ll have a new appreciation for just how incredible our bodies are after you see what we’re made of.


 

Opening Up by Tristan Taormino is a very approachable and non-threatening look at all the different ways people can explore non-monogamy and opening up a relationship

“Opening Up” by Tristan Taormino

Tristan Taormino is a powerhouse in the sex education world. From her wildly popular podcast, Sex Out Loud, to her many educational DVDs, Tristan is a legend when it comes to sex.

“Opening Up” is the most approachable, non-threatening, easy read on non-monogamy that I’ve found. It’s full of stories and accounts from real people talking about the endless ways folks are redefining what it means to be in relationships.

Unlike many books about non-monogamy and polyamory, “Opening Up” does not pass judgment on folks who choose monogamy, which is part of what makes it so approachable for folks who are simply curious. Whether you’ve thought about kissing someone else or having a play partner on the side or even having multiple live-in spouses, this book walks you through the beauty of creating a relationship framework (or non-framework) that works for you.


 

Rising Strong by Brene Brown is a powerful book on moving through vulnerability and tough situations, like the ones you're likely to encounter in a relationship.

“Rising Strong” by Brené Brown

This book is hot off the presses and I’ve already written about its impact on me. Brené’s work on shame and vulnerability is incredibly relevant when it comes to sex and relationships.

In her latest book, “Rising Strong”, she outlines how to deal with failure in a way that allows for maximum emotional growth and healing. And we all fail in life – from trying something new in the bedroom to saying something we regret to a loved one. This book will arm you with powerful tools on moving through the yucky stuff without getting stuck.

If you take nothing else away from this book, learning how to say “the story I’m telling myself is…” will revolutionize the way you argue and have tough conversations. Get this book. Read it. Share it. And reap the benefits of new awareness in how you approach shame.


 

Rewriting the Rules by Meg Barker is a book that's likely to challenge your assumptions and stories about gender, relationships, pleasure, and sex.

“Rewriting the Rules” by Meg Barker

This book is important, but it is also pretty uncomfortable for folks who aren’t quite ready to step outside the lines of how society frames sexuality, gender, relationships, break-ups, sex, and self-image.

Meg Barker takes all of the stories and assumptions we have about relationships & sex, and breaks them down piece by piece. By questioning the rules, she invites new dialog that does not rewrite the rules, but instead, invites us all to let the rules go and live in a place of constant curiosity and flow.

When you’re no longer bound by “should” and “supposed to”, you can begin to create a relationship with yourself and with others that is more authentic and meaningful than ever before. Do expect to get uncomfortable.


 

Girl Sex 101 by Allison Moon is a fun, approachable look at sex with an inclusive approach that talks about everything from bodies to expanding what sex means for more pleasure.

“Girl Sex 101” by Allison Moon

Yes, this book is about queer sex. But, it is also full of body-positive cartoons, endless sex positive tips on how to actually have sex, and advice on everything from oral to strap-on sex and more.

Even if you think you’re beyond a sex 101 book, you’ll find yourself learning new and better ways to think about sex, your body, and how you can maximize pleasure with your partner. Allison Moon creates a fun, playful framework that will have you laughing out loud and nodding in agreement (the section on what makes someone creepy is especially fantastic).

Despite being a huge book, you’ll zoom through it and find lots of shareable quotes, pictures, and tidbits that you’ll want to try on for yourself.


 

BONUS BOOKS: If you have kids in your life, these two books by Cory Silverberg are LIFE-CHANGING.

What Makes a Baby by Cory Silverberg is an inclusive, beautiful book for young children that answers where do babies come from?

“What Makes a Baby” by Cory Silverberg

This book is designed for kids from 4-7 years old, though adults will get a lot out of it, too. Cory Silverberg wrote it for all kids in all sorts of families born in all sorts of ways to parents with all sorts of bodies and genders.

Instead of dreading the “where do babies come from” question, this book will give the young people in your life a beautifully inclusive answer that lays the foundation for a lifetime of sex positivity and self-awareness.

I buy this book for every single person I know who is going to become a parent.


 

Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg is the single best book for kids about sex, gender, and boundaries on the market.

“Sex is a Funny Word” by Cory Silverberg

Cory’s newest book, published in the summer of 2015, brought tears to my eyes. Intended for pre-teens, Sex is a Funny Word walks through anatomy, language, setting boundaries, consent, relationships, and the feelings associated with it all.

Each section ends with a question that invites the adult reading the book to engage with the young reader and the questions are sure to create an open conversation the likes of which I’ve never seen before.

Wildly inclusive, non-judgmental, and accessible to kids of all ages, if you have a youngster in your life, you need to get this book.

Please note, the links to Amazon are affiliate links for me, so if you end up buying any of the books, I’ll get a few pennies from Amazon. 


 

This list is not exhaustive and there are so many other books that I adore that I would have loved to include here, so expect additional reading lists down the road.

If you’re struggling with a specific issue or if you’d like to learn about something (like kink) that isn’t covered here, please comment below and I’ll provide additional resources and recommendations.

As always, I’m available for one-on-one coaching or you can join my bi-weekly Sex is a Social Skill Group Calls. Check out ways we can work together if you’d like additional inspiration and support.

7 When shame swallows you whole

Brene Brown calls shame the master emotion. Knowing how shame works won't save you from the crushing darkness. How can you break free once you're trapped?

*Trigger warning: Shame. In Brené Brown’s book, “Rising Strong“, she talks about how we live in a culture that tends to hide the ugly middle parts of our stories. Everyone likes a hero, but we’ve become a culture that doesn’t really honor the pain and mistakes and the struggles that happen when someone is in the middle of their story. For me, a big part of being a sex coach is modeling vulnerability and sharing my journey as a way to demonstrate that all of us are always in process and learning.

I had a few trusted colleagues and friends read this post, and while their feedback was overwhelmingly beautiful, a few also found their own shame triggered by reading about my shame. I invite you to take care of yourself as you read this and process. Be gentle. Allow space for your feelings. And reach out if you’d like to share anything.


 

Want to know something bizarre about me?

Vulnerability is a space that I’ve come to crave.

I know this makes me an outlier.

Most people cringe at the thought of being vulnerable, at opening themselves up to hurt, ridicule, failure, and pain.

It’s not that I’m emotionally masochistic (maybe I am a little bit), but that every single great thing that’s ever happened to me occurred after I allowed myself to be vulnerable and then found the courage to do the thing anyway.

Being vulnerable has allowed me to experience the most profound depths of intimacy, love, connection, gratitude, and transformation.

Studying Brené Brown’s work on vulnerability and wholehearted living, along with other amazing thought leaders like Tara Brach and Seth Godin, has not only inspired and influenced the work I do with my clients, but it also afforded me a sense of security against experiencing my own shame.

After all, if I understood shame, if I knew how it looked and how it felt, if I studied the way it impacts us and how to overcome it, then shame would be easier to avoid, to identify, and to elude, right?

The truth is shame will find you, no matter how much you know.

Shame will grab you and do everything it can to crush you.

Shame will find a way to hold you under the water and no one will ever know you’re drowning because the amazing thing about shame is it tricks you into silencing yourself when you most need to scream for help.

In “Rising Strong“, Brené Brown’s newest book, she says, “…shame crashes over you with such force that you go into do-or-die survival mode.”

She goes on to say, “Ironically, I always warn people not to be seduced into believing that they can manage these moments simply because they’ve learned how they work. We call shame the master emotion for a reason.”

I was genuinely surprised when I recently realized that I’ve been drowning in shame for well over a year in my relationship with my partner.

What’s worse, is in the tiny moments when I spotted glimpses of my shame, I felt deeply ashamed of feeling that shame because as a professional, I should (there’s that word) know better.

And so I hid.

I silenced myself.

I shrank, wished for a different reality, and through all of that resistance, suffered tremendous pain which, of course, fed my shame even more.

Each of us have different shame triggers, and many of us have one or two primary triggers that we carry for most of our lives.

One of my shame triggers is a nasty little voice that likes to whisper how unloveable I am.

Most of the time, that voice is a distant, nagging irritant that I can acknowledge without feeding it. We have found a way to live fairly harmoniously.

It’s an on-going process for me to remind myself I am worthy, I am enough, I am lovable, and it has gotten easier with practice to hold this knowledge inside of me as a truth.

I started to see cracks in my lovability as I fell more deeply in love with my partner. I began to internalize a dialog that told me I wasn’t living up to his expectations.

We have an open relationship. My partner identifies as poly, and I identify as non-monogamous.

When we first started co-creating this relationship, I had a few other lovers and non-monogamy felt pretty easy. As my feelings for my partner, who is simply extraordinary, became more important to me, something started shifting.

What once was easy was becoming crushingly difficult.

I started talking to myself about snapping out of it. I began a daily routine of speaking to myself like a drill sergeant.

Figure this out. Find out what’s holding you back. Name all the ways you’re insecure and start fixing them. Do more self-care, dammit! That’s not good enough. You’re going to ruin this amazing relationship. Get with the program.

That’s still not good enough.

You’re not good enough.

If you know the difference between guilt and shame, you can see how that last one is when things took a turn for the worse.

What made it more complicated is that I also live with PTSD from sexual trauma as well as anxiety.

But as a sex positive professional who is surrounded by folks who easily and naturally practice polyamory and non-monogamy, I felt utterly and completely alone.

I started wincing every time the word “poly” got mentioned.

I pulled inside myself and scrolled as quickly as I could past articles extolling the virtues of non-monogamy.

When my partner went on dates, I felt like something inside of me was dying, but knowing just how important our relationship structure was to him, I would only disclose smaller versions of my truth.

I would buckle down. Work harder. Dig deeper. Find a way. I could do this on my own.

Because I was convinced I was a failure, and who wants to show the world what a total and complete failure they are?

That’s when shame won.

Shame wants nothing more than your total and complete isolation. Shame salivates over your panic. And the thing shame loves more than anything is when you feel shame about having shame.

Oh yes. In the world of shame, nothing is more elegant and perfect than a shame spiral.

This deepening sense of worthlessness and dread nurtured itself inside of me for nearly a full year.

I started feeling like I was reaching my breaking point – which honestly sounded like: I will just end things. I can’t make him happy. I feel miserable about what a fraud I am. I’ll just pull the plug and save us both.

All of this despite the fact that my partner and I have one of the most accepting, trusting, passionate, communicative relationships on the planet. Because it wasn’t about him, or about us.

It was about me, being trapped under the weight of my own shame, and trying to disown my story without facing it.

I was resisting my truth.

Shame can drive us to do horrible things. Shame can traumatize us, harm us, and lead to depression, anxiety, and even violence.

Then, I had the fortune of having a perfect storm of circumstances force my shame out into the light.

First, my partner and I had pretty significant miscommunication that threw us into the deep end.

Second, I attended a workshop on shame by the glorious Charlie Glickman at the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit. Being confronted by so much information about shame, and also hearing so many people in the room express feelings and thoughts that echoed my own, I began to realize what was happening to me.

Third, I did what I do best, and I leapt towards what felt most vulnerable. I moved into my discomfort and had a series of scary conversations, ending with a raw, brutal tell-all one night with my partner.

I was inconsolable in my grief and pain, but as I started to drag my shame out into the light of day, it began to shrink.

We worked through that conversation together. My partner holding space for my truth, inviting time for me to share my feelings – even the really ugly ones. He offered me such grace and patience, which in turn allowed me to start to treat myself with the same amount of kindness.

For weeks after, I felt lighter than I had in months. Certainly, I still felt tender and raw, unsure of what this new world meant for me, but I felt seen and heard. I felt proud that I’d faced my deepest fears.

I felt my self-worth returning, but this time it was stronger and more rooted in my sense of self than ever before.

Because we’d been to hell and back and learned something powerful in the process.

As fate will do, shortly after all of this unfolded, an article landed in my lap that beautifully captured so much of what I’d been struggling to find words for. Even better were some of the comments.

My favorite comment spoke directly to the fear I’d been carrying for so long. The story I’d been telling myself was that if I couldn’t make myself look like everyone else who does non-monogamy, then I was a failure.

The comment, in part, said, “Every poly relationship is entirely unique to the individuals involved. In every relationship, poly or mono, we make allowances for the strengths and weaknesses of our partners…If I choose to be in relationship with you, I accept you as you are, and then will negotiate a relationship that works for us rather than one that works for someone else.”

Message received, world. Message received.

Shame only thrives in darkness. So, by sharing our stories and discussing our pain, we can begin the process of healing. Together.

Shame can show up in many different ways for each of us, and when it does, you feel like you are entirely alone in your struggle.

My shame shows up around my body, my talent, and my lovability. You may not have any shame in these spaces at all.

We can feel shame around parenting, or success, or money, or our education.

But where so many of us experience a great deal of shame is around sex and intimacy – the way our body looks naked, especially if it’s changed over the years; the way we experience orgasm (or not); the fantasies in our head; the things that turn us on; the fact that our bodies or our desire may not align with what all of the mainstream magazines and movies tell us it should be.

Every mention of the thing that we feel ashamed of can trigger more hiding, more yucky feelings, and more fear.

What makes shame even worse is when a partner shames us for something we are already struggling with – like watching porn or masturbating.

Though shame in very tiny doses can help us make changes, the kind of shame most of us experience is far beyond what’s healthy.

When we feel ashamed, we pull within and try to bury our truth. The deeper we push it, the more controlling and powerful it becomes.

No relationship can thrive when shame is sitting at the head of the table. No person can achieve wholeness when they’re weighed down by shame.

So, I do not take it lightly when I suggest that you find a way to come to terms with any areas where you are experiencing shame and share your fears with someone, because I know how profoundly difficult it can be to admit these things to yourself, much less utter those words to someone else.

Start with a therapist or a coach. Call into a sex positive podcast. Write a letter to someone you trust. Write a letter to yourself, even.

The bottom line is that you are valuable, powerful, beautiful, and normal just as you are. Shame will hide that truth from you and tell you horrible stories about yourself and your worth.

So, I’m inviting you to share your shame with me. Just as I’ve shared mine with you.

Let’s start a movement of dragging our shame out into the light and aligning with our truths, even if they’re terrifying.

If the people in your life cannot accept you when you’re standing in your truth, then the sooner you figure that out, the sooner you can build a new life, find new loved ones who do. And then that’s when the really good stuff unfolds for you.

It gets easier.

Just do it.

Dare greatly.

Whatever motto or movement inspires you, I implore you to shine just the tiniest of light into the darkest corners of your shame to see what happens.

You may just find that eventually you can fill those once-haunted spaces with love, gratitude, joy, and acceptance.

And whatever happened with me?

Well, by speaking my shame and giving my fears a voice, I started experiencing immediate relief. I’ve connected with other non-monogamous folks, shared my story, listened to theirs, and I’m finding new growth and acceptance where there was pain and suffering. My partner and I are co-creating our relationship, each and every day, and we have a vision for something uniquely our own. And yes, that vision includes non-monogamy.

If you’d like to share your experience with shame, I invite you to comment below or shoot me a message. You can even do it anonymously if you aren’t quite ready to make yourself known.

You deserve to let go of the stories that are not lifting you up.

If you decide to voice your shame with a partner, make sure you set both of you up for success by choosing a time when you’re both present and relaxed, when you can ask your partner to hold safe space for you, because you’ll probably fumble it a bit.

And that is OK. It’s part of the process. You’ve got this.

[callout title=”Work with me” link=”https://www.dawnserra.com/work-with-me/” class=”hb-aligncenter”]Your desire, your fantasies, your voice deserve to be explored and heard. I’m here to help. [/callout]