13 A love note from me to you

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Hi you,

This week, I wanted to sit down and write a little love note – from me to you.

Maybe it’s because we’re coming out of Mercury in retrograde or because everything seems to be moving so damn fast all the time, but I’m feeling tender this morning, a little raw, a little unsure, and in need of something gentle.

I thought you might need something similar.

Perhaps we can share a virtual cup of tea (or hot chocolate!) and chat.

Because I want to tell you something important.

You are enough.

You are exquisite and powerful.

You do so damn much – so much more than most people ever realize that you do.

You work so hard, you dream so big, you take care of so many people, and you’re always imagining what’s next. You’re always looking for ways to be better, stronger, smarter, more successful…for ways to be MORE.

And yes, you are capable of amazing things. You will go amazing places.

But don’t you know that you are already amazing?

Your spirit shines so brightly that I can see it from here. Your power is limitless.

For all the places you want to go and all the things you want to achieve, I invite you to pause for a moment.

Right now.

Breathe.

Soften.

Soften some more.

Open to the beauty that is you right now, exactly as you are. No pushing, no doing. Let’s just be. You and me. Right here. And allow ourselves to FEEL it all.

What are you running from? What are you scared of?

Failure? Being wrong? Being seen? Losing it all?

I have those feelings, too.

That maybe, just maybe, I dreamt too big, wished for too much, and it will come crashing down around me.

Can you feel your own vulnerability?

Can you feel those tender spots that you dare not poke or prod for fear you’ll crack open?

What if we loved those spots fiercely today?

What if we, together, let our fears move through us, shake us and scare us, until there was nothing left of them but a glorious emptiness waiting to be filled.

Filled with a knowing that you will be alright, no matter what happens, because you are strong and powerful and talented and unbelievably important to this world.

I don’t want to be driven by fear, I want to be catapulted by hope.

So let’s sigh into the places that we don’t love nearly enough.

Let’s caress the spots that we neglect.

Shall we sit for a spell, you and me, as we bask in the warmth that is our own glory?

No place to be. Nothing to do. (For just a few moments, at least.)

Except to fill ourselves with the knowledge that we deserve love.

We deserve to be seen.

We deserve to know our dreams and to see them come to life.

But more than anything, for each of us to know deeply and profoundly, that we are whole and complete and glorious right now.

As is. Just right. Perfectly imperfect.

No caveats. No asterisks. No footnotes.

And isn’t that a magnificent thought?

I think so, too.

Let’s sit with that just a little longer.

You and me and our enough-ness.

With love,

Dawn

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5 What the pros know: the (not-so-secret) secret to great sex

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Recently, at the end of a long and powerful session with one of my clients, I made a little joke to her about all of my sex failures. She stopped and looked at me, and then said:

“I find that hard to believe. You’re so awesome at…everything.”

Um. That couldn’t be farther from the truth, and I said as much. In fact, my sex and relationship mistakes, mishaps, and epic failures would fill the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, and then some. They’re so ridiculous I’m writing a book about everything I’ve messed up.

She let that soak in, nodding as if to say, “Maybe there’s hope for me after all.”

That little exchange made me realize something – often my clients think I have it all figured out. That I’ve somehow stumbled upon (or been born with) the keys to the sex kingdom.

And therein lies the secret that all sex professionals know. It’s in the handbook, in fact.

The (not-so-secret) secret is that great sex doesn’t just magically happen – we all have to work at it.

Last year, at the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit, I attended a session on the power of provocative and offensive words. The session morphed into a very intimate sharing circle. Almost everyone in the room (a good 15 of us or so) worked in sex, sexuality, or a related field – we represented sex educators, social justice advocates, therapists, counselors, sex experts, podcasters, sex workers, and the like.

During that hour a powerful thing happened.

We all shared that we struggled with the things everyone encounters at some point – low desire, failing relationships, fear of being vulnerable, mediocre sex, using our voice in bed, or feeling scared when things got tough.

It was incredibly validating and empowering to know I wasn’t the only professional who had these same issues. Because feeling like you’re the only one can be terribly lonely.

Knowing that professionals don’t have it all figured out when it comes to sex levels the playing field a little bit (and if a professional claims they don’t struggle with these things, run the other way – immediately).

What gives sex experts a leg up is a well-stocked toolbox for overcoming common problems.

As the group talked, it became clear that while our problems are similar to those our clients struggle with, we had the luxury of having powerful tools and resources that helped us to work through those issues a little easier.

Tools like the confidence to know that our desires and fantasies are healthy and normal (which allows us to remove shame), communication techniques that create a bridge rather than a divide when we talk to our partners, scripts for initiating scary conversations, practice digging into things that are uncomfortable, a thorough understanding of our bodies, and the knowledge that great ANYTHING doesn’t just happen – it takes work.

No one is born being amazing at sex or relationships. No one.

The truth is relating to others in any way, be it familial, platonic, or intimate, is a learned skill developed over years and years of practice. If you had the opportunity to see open communication modeled in your home as a kid, then you may have naturally adopted those skills, but again – they aren’t inherent.

Unfortunately, we rarely have a chance to witness healthy, tough conversations play out, and they don’t teach us in school how to deal with things like waning desire or hating our bodies. That means, we often feel like we’re totally alone in our struggles.

But the great news is that because these are skills that are learnable, you can learn them, too.

Building up your toolbox can be empowering (and that’s a large part of what I do with my clients), but skills take practice.

Practice means letting go of perfection and making a lot of mistakes.

So, here are a few tips for working on those skills. (Saying the scary stuff will be a separate series, so stay tuned for that very critical tool.)

Tool #1: You are normal.

Your desire, or lack of it, are normal. Your fantasies, the way your body experiences pleasure (or doesn’t), the needs that you have? Normal, normal, and normal.

If you need a vibrator to get off, bring it into bed with your partner and make it happen. That is completely normal.

If you like imagining that you have a stable of attractive lovers eager to wait on you hand and foot, embrace that. It’s normal.

If you get turned on by the sound of people having sex or by the smell of latex or when someone touches your neck in a specific way, let those things be your truth. They’re all normal.

Sexual fantasies are not politically correct and they aren’t necessarily something you want to happen in real life.

They are your private, creative landscape and accepting your sexual desires means letting go of shame and owning that this is your story.

Professionals understand that they are completely normal. It’s incredibly freeing to release shame or guilt around what you want and need.

Tool #2: Be specific when you communicate.

When you and your partner aren’t super clear about what you want and what you mean, it can lead to confusion, hurt feelings, and feeling like your partner just doesn’t get you.

For some reason I couldn’t stop thinking of this scene from Rush Hour with Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker:

Do you understanding the words that are coming out of my mouth? Communication and a shared vocabulary is critical to a healthy sex life and a strong relationship.

Let’s say you tell your partner that you like being touched.

Well, what does that mean exactly? Where do you like being touched? What mood are you in when this is happening? With hard or soft pressure? With long or short strokes? Is it a sensual touch or a sexual touch you’re craving?

It’s also important to note that the way you like being touched changes constantly – after a long day, your needs may be totally different than first thing in the morning when you’re fresh out of the shower.

If you aren’t specific and open about what you mean, then you’re setting your partner up for failure. This is true for sex and life.

Tool #3: Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Though this is true for relationships in general, when it comes to sex, sometimes things are just awkward.

Pros know that sex, and talking about sex, takes practice.

The first time you do anything, whether it’s playing the piano or swinging a flogger, it’s going to feel weird and cumbersome and unnatural. And because so many of us have a lot of shame and embarrassment around sex, when things don’t go as planned, we tend to throw in the towel after one or two failed attempts and never look back.

But what if you treated sex like one great big on-going experiment?

Each time you get naked, you’re gathering information that will get woven into your complex and beautiful sexual story. Experiments don’t see mistakes as failure, but instead as valuable data. Imagine saying – “Well, that didn’t work the way I thought it would. What happens if I try it another way?”

A lot of people in the kink community like the saying, “It’s only kinky the first time.” Anytime you do something new, it’s going to seem weird.

In fact, unless something goes really wrong, I suggest to people that they try new things 3-4 times in different settings at different times of day with different context, because sometimes it takes a few tries to work through your embarrassment before you really start to see the potential in something.

Sex is messy.

It’s an act between two (or more) gloriously imperfect people. It can get sweaty and sticky and awkward. Someone may fall off the bed or bang their head or not realize which hole they’re sticking something into.

Getting comfortable being uncomfortable means allowing imperfection and mistakes, and knowing that’s all part of the journey.

You may not know how to phrase a request or how to talk dirty or how to share a fantasy, and you may react poorly to a lover’s private desire, but if you are willing to learn and grow and try again, with a spirit of “let’s see what happens!”, amazing things will begin to unfold.

Tool #4: The more you know about your body, the better.

In a recent post on masturbation, we looked at all the reasons that self-pleasure is so important.

Which areas are sensitive and when (because it won’t be a constant)?

How long does it take for you to get from zero to fully aroused when you’re by yourself? When you employ your juiciest fantasy? When you’re with a lover?

Do you enjoy gently tugging on your pubic hair or do you know what movements give you muscle cramps or which types of toys feel amazing and which ones are just distracting?

On top of that, basic anatomy is something pros constantly study, and that information can be wildly empowering. A wonderful resource on the female body is “Women’s Anatomy of Arousal” by Sheri Winston. I also have a 6-week online course in the making, so stay tuned for that.

Whether you pull out a mirror and get to know yourself visually, or you take the time to understand your body and all that it’s capable of, you will be a better lover for it.

The secret to great sex is you.

Your body was built for pleasure. Your mind is boundless and creative. Your voice is strong and powerful.

Great sex isn’t a natural gift. It’s not something that only a select few have access to.

Sex professionals know that our problems are not unique, they aren’t insurmountable, and with a little patience and a spirit of adventure, great sex can happen. And great sex can be whatever it is you want it to be – passionate lovemaking, no penetration at all, kinky as all get out, or anything else that makes you feel satisfied and yummy.

It might be uncomfortable and frustrating and scary and awkward sometimes, but if you’re willing to work with that and allow it be what it is for a little while, ecstasy is on the other side.

What’s the thing you struggle with most? How can I support you? Comment below and tell me where you get stuck.

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10 My husband is always trying to fix me

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I was at dinner with a friend a few weeks ago, and she was telling me how her relationship with her partner was going.

One of the things that she was happy to report was that her partner has been getting better at not immediately offering advice when she is talking about her day.

We laughed because it’s something both of us understood so clearly. I’ve had so many clients confide “my husband is always trying to fix me and all I want him to do is listen to me.”

And it’s not just husbands, but friends, too.

A few years ago, after telling a friend of mine about a particularly bad day, I got frustrated with him for trying to give me suggestions on ways to handle it. I remember so clearly his surprise when he said:

“Why are you telling me this if you don’t want me to fix it? What’s the point? I don’t get it.”

We had a good laugh over it, but he was genuinely baffled by the behavior. I wasn’t the only person fussing at him for this, either. His wife complained about the same thing, and he really didn’t understand why.

He was just trying to help, after all.

I don’t want to turn this into a battle of the sexes because I have seen people of all genders exhibit this behavior, but here’s the rub…

If someone is sharing something and they want to feel heard and understood, it can feel lonely and frustrating when instead they receive advice.

It feels like preaching. It feels like you’re being talked down to or like what you’re going through isn’t important. Because for the person receiving the advice it feels like “here’s how you fix this, can we not talk about this anymore?”

Of course, to the person offering the “solution”, they often feel like they are being super supportive and loving by trying to resolve what sounds like a pain point.

So, how do you overcome this miscommunication when you have two people who communicate so differently?

Empathy or advice?

My partner and I practice this very simple technique and it’s made a world of difference in how supported I feel.

If I start talking about something I’m struggling with or feeling bad about, my partner asks, “Do you want empathy or advice?”

(Actually, at this point, it’s been shortened to “empathy or advice?”)

When he asks me that, I think for a moment and then answer honestly.

Sometimes I’ll say, “Empathy, please!”

Other days I want both, and so I say “Both.”

And if I really do want his help, because he is very good at bringing new perspectives to my issues, I let him know, “I would really love to know your thoughts, so advice is welcome.”

Sex educator and relationship guru Kate McCombs recently said, “Often, the best way to help someone is not to make them feel “better,” but to help them feel “lighter.”

Of course, this technique requires your partner’s buy-in, but it’s a super simple way to make everyone feel less frustrated.

If you both start doing it, that’s even better. What if you always offer empathy and your partner or friend really does want advice? It goes both ways.

Here’s another way to overcome this common problem.

Tell them what you need before you begin speaking.

That can sound like, “I’d like to tell you about this weird thing that happened today, and I would really love it if you would listen and empathize. I don’t need advice, I just want to share. Is that cool?”

Not only does this help you learn how to assert your needs, but it also sets your partner up for success by letting them know ahead of time what would make you feel most loved.

No need for mind-reading.

Plus, by ending with a question, they can tell you whether that’s something they can really do for you right now. Maybe they’ve had a bad day, too, and they just don’t have it in them to be empathetic.

Wouldn’t you rather know that before you spend five minutes sharing about your day and then feel rejected when they offer nothing at all?

You state your need. You ask for their support. They get a chance to weigh in. Everyone now feels heard and valued.

What if they go into advice mode anyway? Gently remind them what you asked for at the beginning of the conversation (remember that you’re on the same team and assume they mean the best) and restate your ask.

The key to almost any communication technique is setting yourself and the person you’re speaking with up for success by being really clear from a place of kindness. Once you get a few easy scripts in your toolkit, doing these things becomes incredibly natural and removes a great deal of frustration for everyone involved.

What has worked for you in this situation? How will you implement “empathy or advice”?

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8 Why do people cheat? A look at infidelity and what you can do about it.

 

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Cheating.

It’s everywhere – in our favorite TV shows, in the movies, in the books we read, and even in our lives. Whether you’ve cheated, been cheated on, or know someone close to you who has been through this experience, it’s an epidemic.

And according to renowned therapist, Esther Perel, infidelity isn’t going anywhere.

So, what the hell is going on? Why do people cheat? Most importantly, what the heck can you do about it?

Let’s start by examining Perel’s latest TED talk. Then, we’ll look at a few ways that will help you combat some of the main issues that can lead towards infidelity.

Adultery has existed since human beings began entering into relationships.

In fact, Perel humorously points out that infidelity is the only commandment repeated twice in the Bible: once for doing it and once for just thinking about it.

What exactly is an affair?

According to Perel it has three things: “a secretive relationship, an emotional connection to one degree or another, and a sexual alchemy.”

Perel goes on to say that cheating is universally practiced, meaning it’s something that isn’t unique to one culture, time period, or way of living.

She even shares that 95% of us say it’s terribly wrong for a partner to have an affair, but then we turn around and admit that 95% of us would never tell a partner if an affair happened.

Happiness is not the cure for cheating. Because people who are happy in their partnership still cheat.

The truth is that despite what we see and hear in the media, cheating is not always done from a place of hatred or misery.

Of course there are serial cheaters out there – individuals who are dishonest and disconnected and disrespectful on many levels. But that’s not who we’re talking about.

I’m talking about people who love their partner, who are generally pretty happy, and who still seek something outside their relationship in an unethical way.

So what gives?

“Monogamy used to be one person for life. Today, monogamy is one person at a time.”

In the past, monogamy had nothing to do with love. It was about ownership – guaranteeing the purity of the man’s heir, of the ownership of his property and inheritance. It was an economic transaction based on wealth and security.

An affair, then, used to threaten our economy status and our financial well-being, but taking a lover was often our only chance at love.

That has changed somewhat recently. Now, our relationships are based on love and personal connections. As a result, affairs threaten our emotional and psychological well-being, which is a much higher price to pay.

What’s the solution? Many people claim that non-monogamy is the cure for infidelity because monogamy isn’t realistic or fair.

However, Perel says that cheating happens in non-monogamous relationships, as well, and that fidelity and monogamy are actually two very different conversations altogether. I happen to agree.

All that said, there is one thing that Perel gets wrong in her talk – or, rather, she doesn’t go deep enough for my liking.

She says we have this romantic ideal that in a monogamous relationship one person will meet all of our exhaustive list of needs.

This is true, but it’s not the whole story.

In my experience, when a monogamous couple is made up of individuals who are self-aware and consciously choosing this for themselves (instead of allowing monogamy to be their default or a blind assumption), they have no such illusions about their partner.

Rather than this fairytale myth, I see people who rely on their family and friends for many of their needs – emotional support, personal development, intimacy, love, physical comfort, adventure, etc.

They create a community that supports their relationship.

Healthy non-monogamous couples do the same thing, except they often include sexual experiences and/or romantic feelings with some of their support network, too.

I also see these same people having a strong sense of self requiring a fair amount of autonomy – the people in the relationship see themselves as complete people with their own hobbies, interests, and friends.

This is a critical distinction. It may not be common, but it’s important to note that it exists.

Back to Perel’s talk…

The bottom line is cheating creates a crisis of identity and a crisis of trust. It’s deeply upsetting and threatening.

We live in a culture where we believe we deserve happiness and that we owe it to ourselves to chase desire.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it does make it so much easier and so much more tempting to stray.

Perel says we used to divorce because we were unhappy. Today we divorce because we could be happier.

The advice from friends and advice columnists is to leave if you’re unhappy, to throw in the towel if there is a transgression. And yes, if you’re truly miserable then you should leave.

We live in a commodity culture where anything that no longer serves us or becomes too much trouble is easily discarded in favor of something newer and easier. The same has become true for our relationships.

But surprisingly, most couples who experience infidelity actually stay together, which often leads to a great deal of internalized shame for the wronged partner.

If we can easily divorce, without any cultural shame, then why do we have affairs at all?

Perel’s book, “Mating in Captivity”, covers this at length, and it’s a book that I recommend to many of my clients.

In her new TED talk, she expands on her previous work and says that affairs are an expression of longing and loss.

It’s not necessarily that something is wrong with your relationship or with you, but that something has gone missing and an affair helps to reclaim that thing.

What is that thing?

Often it’s “an emotional connection, a novelty, freedom, autonomy, sexual intensity, a wish to recapture lost parts of ourselves, or an attempt to bring back vitality in the face of loss and tragedy.”

Perel tells the story of one client who has an affair with her gardener because she’d always been the good girl, taking care of everyone but herself, and she felt compelled to experience some of that lost adolescence, to be carefree and reckless, that she’d never had.

“It isn’t always our partner we are turning away from, but the person that we have become.”

Affairs make people feel alive. Cheating often helps individuals who feel stuck to experience the thrill of newness again.

The most important point in Perel’s talk is this:

Affairs are rarely about sex.

They are usually about desire – desire for attention, to feel special or important, and that endless wanting for something you can’t have.

It’s about the power of the forbidden.

Perel has a hopeful message. You can heal, and even thrive, after an affair, but this is where we’ll leave her talk and turn to look at some ideas for what these things mean to you.

What can you do about infidelity in your own relationship?

While there are no guarantees, there are things you can do that help create a space where everyone involved has an opportunity to thrive.

Define what fidelity means in your relationship – and keep revisiting that definition regularly.

Many people in relationships establish loose rules around infidelity – don’t do anything that would hurt me or don’t do anything stupid. Not terribly specific, since two people may have vastly different assumptions about what would hurt the other, so this is potentially problematic.

So, let’s say you actually take the time to really examine what the both of you want and need when it comes to the boundaries of your relationship – flirting is fine, watching porn, going to strip clubs as long as there’s no sex. If you start developing feelings for someone, talk to me first. Something like that.

The thing that most people miss?

Revisiting those boundaries regularly. I recommend annually, at a minimum, but also leave flexibility in between check-ins for conversations to happen at different intervals.

This is not a set it and forget it process.

Your needs will change. Your partner’s needs will change. You will both grow in new directions. Perhaps you want to expand the boundaries of your relationship at some point, and at other points to pull them in.

But, both of you need to be open, honest, and brave enough to examine the rules.

One other note: sometimes one person will want more freedom than the other.

That’s OK. You two can decide if that’s a deal breaker or if one person is willing to be patient while the other explores what that means.

Therapists, counselors, and coaches can help you a great deal in this space, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Infuse your relationship with excitement and mystery.

In her first TED talk in 2013, Perel touches on the importance of maintaining eroticism in your relationship. She posits that there is a continuum (I like to imagine a teeter totter) for relationships with intimacy on one end and eroticism on the other.

Many couples slide along this scale until they’re deep in the intimacy realm. With all of the weight on the intimacy end, things fall out of balance. Eroticism dies or becomes incredibly rare (enter low libidos, dull sex lives, and only having sex on someone’s birthday).

And therein lies the problem.

Too much intimacy kills erotic energy.

Why? Because eroticism needs air and mystery and heat in order to burn.

(Conversely, if you have a relationship that is entirely erotic, then it’s risky and thrilling and dangerous, but lacks intimacy and trust. These relationships tend to be dramatic, hot, and short.)

Perel calls this concept erotic intelligence.

This is also one of the main things I recommend to my clients when libidos are waning and sex isn’t what it used to be.

Desire thrives on the unknown, on surprises, and on the unexpected.

This, in turn, makes people feel wanted, seen, craved, and needed. Which, from what you saw up above, is one of the main reasons people have affairs – they feel like they are no longer desirable.

I’ve created a list with some ideas for injecting your relationship with fun, fresh energy. You can download it at the end of this post.

Allow your partner a chance to be their own person.

Autonomy is critical if you want your relationship to thrive. Both of you need to have time and space to do the things that you love doing.

Go out with your friends without your partner.

Let your partner go golfing or fishing or crafting for an afternoon.

Do weekends away to the spa on your own.

Schedule time on the calendar for you to have the house to yourself for a few hours so that you can take a bubble bath or watch an erotic film or masturbate or read a book in silence.

Whatever it is, cultivate a sense of self and nurture that through acts of self-care. Taking care of yourself is necessary and attractive.

Not only will that space help with the erotic energy, but it will also ensure that both of you have a clear sense of self and an identity outside of your relationship.

Practice gratitude for your partner.

What you focus on grows.

Are you focusing on all of the things your partner does that drive you nuts? Or are you focusing on all of the things they do that make your life a little better for having them in it?

If someone feels taken for granted or invisible, it’s so much easier for them to feel drawn towards situations where they will feel appreciated and seen.

Be that person for them, and ask for them to do that for you.

Perel says she tells most of her patients that if they put half as much energy into their relationship as they did into their affair, they wouldn’t have had the affair in the first place. Preach, Esther. Preach!

Develop little gratitude rituals. Maybe it’s daily text messages or hand written notes. Perhaps it’s a weekly date night where you both make an effort to talk about what’s going well.

Before bed each night, think of 3-5 things your partner did that day that you were grateful for. Some days it will be really difficult to come up with nice things to say, so even if it’s super small – they put their socks in the hamper and ate everything you cooked for dinner – find something you can be grateful for.

If you do this often enough, you’ll find that the way you view your partner becomes much more kind and appreciative, which helps to create a relationship where everyone feels valued.

What are your favorite ways to keep desire alive? What’s your biggest struggle? Comment below with your thoughts.

Ready for your free download? Just click the button to open it. Be sure to join my email list for exclusive videos and worksheets, too.

14 Life after sexual assault or rape, my personal story

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I am a survivor of multiple sexual assaults and rapes.

I wasn’t planning on talking about this on the blog just yet, but there’s a reason I share this now.

Several months ago I did an interview with a podcast called Ending the Sexual Dark Age. One of their listeners wrote in saying she’d been raped and was asking for help. In a moment of bravery, I saw their call on Facebook for people to interview and reached out.

JV and Shara were wonderfully generous and kind. To be honest, I didn’t remember much from the actual interview because of adrenaline and being in my on-air head space.

Well, the episode went live today. You can listen to it here.

I will say BIG OL’ TRIGGER WARNING on that link. I speak pretty bluntly about my rapes and my triggers, and it won’t be easy for some of you to listen to.

You can hear the listener question at 6:25. I come on at 14:18 and speak for about 20 minutes.

One quick note – towards the end of my interview it sounds like I’m getting choked up. In fact I was choking. I’m not crying when you hear my raspy, gaspy voice. That is me having trouble swallowing. Ever the professional, eh?

I am very proud of this interview even though it feels scary to be so public about something so personal.

That said, I conducted this interview wearing my sex coach and sex educator hat.

I sound formal and put together (I think), and I wanted to share something else with you that creates a more comprehensive picture.

I happen to put on a really good show.

The truth is that my journey is on-going and complicated and scary. It’s scary as hell.

Some days I don’t think about it at all – the trauma. Actually, most days are like that. But the days when I do think about it, I get angry and so sick to my stomach.

My body doesn’t feel damaged, but my mind does in those moments.

Because rape and sexual trauma are the ultimate mind fuck.

Know when it’s the worst? When I’m in a sexually charged situation – like a play party I recently attended with my partner or when I’m in a dungeon watching all the fun, kinky things going on.

It’s like all the most broken pieces of me rush to the surface and I can’t make sense of what’s real and what’s not.

I didn’t want to admit that that was my truth because fuck that sucks.

I teach sex for a living! I talk about it every day! With my clients, it’s barely a blip on the radar. On my podcast where I talk about all sorts of sex and sex acts, nothin’.

And yet, when I’m in a sexual setting with other people? I feel something ugly and dark stir in my belly. Even sitting here now, in a coffee shop in broad daylight typing about it, I can feel it uncoiling. It is cold and long and heavy and dark.

I don’t want this to be my truth or my story.

But there it is.

I am sexual assault and rape survivor, and these things have fundamentally changed who I am as a person.

In many ways, they’ve made me stronger. I have learned that my courage and bravery know no bounds. I know I am a warrior in spirit and in mind.

I also know a deeper and more profound empathy than I thought possible, towards other survivors, towards other’s suffering.

I have learned how to cope. I am allowing myself to heal at my own pace. I sit in the feelings that feel really yucky. I don’t deny myself the discomfort or the horror, but I also don’t let myself get stuck in it. I know how to let them drift in and then drift away.

That feels good. I know I’m not static or stuck. That I’m becoming something new.

I’ve also found power in communities of people like me, I’ve heard my own story echoed by others in online forums and being able to lend support feels like I’m reaching out to myself in a way.

And I find the things I do not have words for in the art of others.

This piece on PTSD captures the bizarre new reality following a traumatic event perfectly. Share it widely and liberally. PTSD: The Wound that Never Heals.

I also really love Laura Weiner’s paintings on PTSD, which you can view on her website (please note, some of the images are disturbing).

The reason I’m sharing this with you is because as important as my interview was, I feel like it was only half of the story. It was the half that is put together and objective and able to create distance.

The untold half, the half I’m writing about here, is that I will never be the woman I was before that last rape (which was the most traumatic for me).

I will probably never be able to skip into a sexual situation and feel unburdened and carefree and safe. I would love that, but I’m not going to force myself to get there. Not until I’m ready.

Right now, I feel safe with my partner in ways I haven’t felt safe in my whole life. And at some point, I hope to experience that kind of safety with others.

But I know this is not a linear journey.

There is no timestamp on trauma. There isn’t a formula that you can insert yourself into to get from horror to healed.

If you have suffered any kind of trauma or PTSD, but especially sexual trauma, I want you to know that you are not alone.

I want you to know that you are lovable and valuable and powerful.

I want you to know that it’s OK if you have bad days or if you get triggered or if you thought you were past it and then you step on a land mine and everything crumbles again.

I want you to know that it was not your fault, no matter what the voices in your head tell you or the people in your life.

I want you to know that all of your feelings are important, so please allow yourself to feel them all. And if you need professional help or support so that you can do that safely, let me know. I know some awesome therapists and counselors who can put you in contact with people.

I want you to know that you don’t have to rush to heal, but you also don’t have to stay broken.

Healing and taking back your power do not make the horrors you experienced any less horrible, just like forgiving your attackers does not make their actions OK. It simply helps to ease your burden.

And that is something I continue to work on for myself – forgiveness.

So here I am – imperfect and vulnerable and uncomfortable because I want every single person who reads this to know life after trauma can be pretty damn spectacular.

Because of my rapes, I learned the power of consent and teach it far and wide and unapologetically.

Because of my trauma, I finally allowed myself permission to become a full time sex educator and coach because I knew the world needed to hear what I have to offer.

Because of my story, I fell in love with one of the most amazing human beings on earth.

Your life is not over after tragedy.

It simply takes on a new meaning with new rules, and stumbling your way through that can and will happen – be patient and gentle with yourself.

If you want to share your story privately, I am here to listen. If you want to share anything publicly, please comment below. This is a safe space for us all.

10 You don’t need to love your body to have amazing sex

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I don’t know how you feel about your body, but the relationship that I have with my body is deep, complex, and not at all consistent. Over the years, I’ve been quite mean to both my body and myself.

In fact, there was a time when I believed myself to be so undesirable that I almost cried when a lover said he wanted to touch me after seeing me naked.

The fear and the self-disgust were paralyzing.

Thoughts around body love and sex have been swirling in my head for months, but last week I watched a new documentary called “Inside Her Sex”. One of the women in the film, Elle Chase, said something incredibly profound about not needing to love your body in order to feel sexy, and I realized THAT’S what I’ve been wanting to say.

 

Your relationship with your body can be a work-in-progress

Feeling comfortable in your skin is important. Being kind to yourself, regardless of what your body looks like or feels like, means moving through life with less stress, less anxiety, and a lot more gratitude.

But, if you are still working on finding that acceptance, it’s OK.

What so many people in the body-love movement gloss over is that even when you’ve moved mountains to transform the way you think about and experience your body, there will still be days when all you can see are the things you don’t like.

Growth and healing are not linear acts – they don’t happen in a straight, consistent, predictable line. Think of it like this success graph. Simply replace “success” with your path to body acceptance.

Success isn't a linear line. You may love your body certain days and on others really struggle to say anything nice at all.

If that’s true, you cannot afford put your pleasure on hold until you reach some specific and often-shifting body ideal.

Your body is capable of delicious sensations and sensual experiences right now.

Whether you’re 130 pounds or 430 pounds, your skin still tingles at a light touch or shivers at an ice cube being dragged slowly across it.

Whether you’re walking with ease or walking with a cane, you can grab your Hitachi Wand or the detachable shower head and give yourself an orgasm (with or without a partner).

Pleasure isn’t dependent on body size or fitness level or flexibility. You can experience unbelievable yumminess exactly as you are, in this moment.

The trick is to give yourself permission to experience it.

But how?

Decide that you deserve this.

More than the voices in your head pointing out all of the parts of yourself that aren’t fit to be seen. More than you’re worried about how you look. You deserve this.

On my journey, after years without sex, I got so fed up and so mad that I was missing out on the sex I dreamed of that I stubbornly decided to just go for it, even if my lover ran for the hills when he saw me naked. It was an act of bravery and I was terrified. But dammit, I wanted it. I deserved it.

Sometimes it will feel like the scariest thing in the world, but just remember you deserve to feel all of the things you’re craving and dreaming about.

Fake it ’til you make it.

This is something I recommend to many of my clients for a wide variety of problems, but it works like a charm.

First, imagine how you’d behave if you were the fiercest, most confident person you can think of. How would you walk into the room? How would you climb onto the bed? What would you say if every single inch of you dripped with sexual confidence?

Now put on your acting hat and embody that person. Pretend you ARE that confident and sensual.

You don’t have to force some big gesture. Simply imagine feeling totally at ease in your body for a few minutes, and then step into the shower with your partner or climb sensually on the bed and ask for what you want or crawl across the floor like a tiger and watch yourself in the mirror before seducing yourself.

Remember that you are MUCH harder on yourself than the people you choose to play with (if you choose to play with others).

When you see yourself in the mirror, it’s easy to focus on all the things you want to change – the scars, the stretch marks, the saggy skin, the too-bony spots, the grey hair – whatever it is.

This used to paralyze me. I would spend so much time trying to hide my big, round belly and my thick thighs from my lovers.

One day I realized that no matter what, they could still see the things I was trying to hide. Plus, I never focused on the tiny imperfections littering their bodies. I couldn’t tell you if they had scars or stretch marks or uneven anything. Even if I could, it was a passing thought, not something I cared about at all.

Instead of all of that, I could tell you in graphic detail what their hands felt like, how they kissed me, how their bodies felt against mine.

And that was such a wake-up call.

Your lover(s) won’t see the things you hate most about yourself. They’ll see the things they love and pass over the rest in their quest to enjoy YOU.

So while you may not love yourself, try adopting a “well, fuck it and let’s do this” attitude. The more you focus on having fun and soaking up those lovely sensations the more you’ll forget about the way your body looks.

The trick is to get lost in how your body feels.

You have permission to have throw caution to the wind, to have amazing sex, and to roll in the pleasure you’re capable of without loving your body.

If you get stuck in your head obsessing about some part of your body you’re really insecure about? Focus all of your attention on your lover or drop into a juicy fantasy in your head and redirect yourself gently.

You can’t be too distracted by your uneven boobs if you’re totally lost in the driving your lover crazy with your tongue, right?

You can have amazing sex even if you don’t love your body. Don’t let that hold you back any longer. Throw caution to the wind, get a little brave, and focus on how everything feels rather than how everything looks. Your lover only cares about sending you to the moon with their skill, not whether you forgot to shave your legs or how many rolls are on your tummy.*

Looking for some kick-ass inspiration?

Check out these badass resources that inspire me on my worst days.

Militant Baker. Read her amazing piece Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls So I Will.

The inspiration for this piece, Elle Chase, talking about feeling sexy at 45 in a fat body.

This Mind Body Green piece on not having to love your body.

Find boards on Pinterest about all bodies being beautiful. I love this Tess Holliday look book and this awesome infographic showing different body shapes and sizes and even a gorgeous disabled body.

[callout title=”Let’s chat” link=”https://www.dawnserra.com/lets-chat/” class=”hb-aligncenter”]Want to talk about moving towards self-love or having great sex in the body you’re in? That’s what I’m here for. [/callout]

So, what do you think? What do you struggle with the most? Let’s share where we get stuck and support each other in the comments.

*If you have a partner who does comment on your body or points out things that you don’t feel great about, confront them immediately. If it’s a casual relationship, end it. Now. If it’s a committed relationship, make it clear that you deserve better and ask them to stop. If they don’t, it may be time to move on. Cruelty and passive-aggressive comments about how you look is bullying. 

5 Are you ready to claim your pleasure and create a better sex life?

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I have a confession.

It’s personal and involves years of embarrassment on my part, so I hope you’ll be patient with me as my story of self discovery unfolds.

From the time I was in my early teens, I loved pleasuring myself.

I don’t remember exactly when I made the discovery, but I distinctly remember wishing for time alone at the house in middle school and high school so that I could get naked and take care of business. It was usually a rushed, shameful little affair – never lasting more than a few minutes, waiting for that warm rush of pleasure to hit, and then I’d hurriedly put myself back together.

I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone about it because my friends would proudly declare that they didn’t need to masturbate because they had boyfriends, and of course, why would you ever masturbate if you could have a real person?

Since I didn’t date much in high school, but was very sexually charged, I took care of business myself.

On the day I turned 18, I took myself to a sex toy store and bought my first vibrator. It was a long, flexible wand with a little bullet on the end so that I could get into all sorts of positions and still reach my clit.

I graduated to an internal vibrator not long after that (for some reason I thought dildos were only for perverts – I don’t know where that idea came from, but it was there). In the early 2000’s, I even owned my own sex toy business for a few years, selling all manner of vibrators and lube and stimulants to my customers.

Through it all, I never used my hands on myself. It was always a toy. Always kind of rushed. Always goal-oriented.

And when I was in relationships, I didn’t realize I could bring toys into the mix and I certainly didn’t know how to share what I liked, so as a result, sex was decent, but it wasn’t mind-blowing.

One day in my mid-to-late 20’s, I was laying around and started casually touching myself with my hand. I’m pretty sure my favorite vibe wasn’t working (dead batteries), so I started exploring myself. At first, it was simply a gentle exploration of my skin, comforting and sweet. But I found my body responding and I rolled with it.

It was a much slower process since my hands didn’t offer the same intensity that my vibrators did, but I became more and more aroused and when I finally came it was a glorious burst of colors and warmth, and went on and on and on.

A new world opened up for me.

In that moment, I realized how disconnected I’d been from my body. I would grab a toy, orgasm as quickly as possible without really thinking about what I was doing, clean up and pretend nothing happened.

This new world of my beautifully dextrous hands meant slowing down and exploring. It allowed me to start a dialog with my body that changed everything.

I found that even when I went back to toys, it was a much more intentional experience. I found I could orgasm over and over again when I gave myself permission to settle in and be in the moment. It was a masturbatory awakening.

Like so many people, I grew up thinking that sex was this very singular thing – PIV (or penis-in-vagina). And I know I wasn’t alone. At my high school in southern California, so many of the kids believed that oral sex and anal sex weren’t REALLY sex, so they engaged in it frequently and without any guilt or shame around losing their virginity.

Along with all of that mess, I (we) believed masturbation was something you did until you met someone. It was a placeholder for “real” sex. Friends echoed this belief, and no one ever told me otherwise in my sex ed classes or in the pages of Cosmo.

Thankfully, through my own exploration I learned just how powerful and freeing masturbation could be. By claiming my pleasure and understanding my body, it led to a better sex life, and a much more pleasurable one for me and my partners.

Sadly, many people see self-pleasure as a pathetic stand-in for “real sex”. This attitude, paired with the shame that most people internalize around masturbation, means way too many folks are missing out on one of the most powerful (and free) pleasurable tools we have in our sex toolbox.

You have my enthusiastic permission to get your hand (or your favorite toy) in your pants and go to town.

When you prioritize your own pleasure on a regular basis, you not only start to form an intimate and powerful relationship with your body, but you begin to understand that you deserve pleasure during other sexual activities.

It might seem like a given – the importance of getting to know your body and enjoying all of the delicious sensations it’s capable of – but too often people (women especially) sacrifice their pleasure out of fear of taking too long, of being selfish, of being seen, of doing something wrong or gross, or of asking too much of their lovers. This self-induced silence can lead to a pretty unsatisfying sex life.

That’s not to say you have to masturbate. But, if you’re curious or if you like bringing yourself pleasure, then make it a priority and have fun with your gorgeous self.

Regular self-pleasure sessions can not only release stress (even if it doesn’t end in orgasm), but they create a dialog between you and your body and they give you a way to answer honestly when a lover asks how to please you.

Try it! You’ll like it.

Self-pleasure is normal, healthy, powerful, sexy, and fun. Don’t worry about being politically correct, either. Any fantasy or desire that you use to get off is perfectly OK (even if it’s really really taboo or unacceptable in real life).

Treat masturbation like a juicy experiment. It’s not about succeeding or failing, it’s about gathering information so that each time something happens, you have more and more data to guide yourself the next time.

The more variety you embrace, the more you’ll learn about all of the things your body likes or doesn’t like.

What does it feel like to use your fingers? What about rubbing yourself while laying with a pile of pillows under your tummy? Or standing, bent over the side of the bed with a dildo? How does the shower massager feel or a new vibrator or nipple clamps? It’s all healthy and normal and fun.

As you get more and more comfortable experimenting with yourself and creating that dialog with your body, you’ll become more relaxed and confident when it comes to claiming your pleasure – both by yourself and with a partner.

Instead of feeling pressured to perform, you’ll be ready to relax into the bliss that is all of your favorite sensations, and you’ll be more prepared to instruct and ask for exactly what you want.

One tool. Many uses.

You cannot do masturbation wrong. If it feels good, you’re doing it right, even if it doesn’t end in an orgasm.

Follow your arousal down the rabbit hole of pleasure, and see where you end up. If you treat your pleasure like a curiosity, without expectation or a goal in mind, you can end up all sorts of wild places.

Beyond self-pleasure when you’re solo, it can be fun to mutually masturbate with a partner. Because let’s be real – sometimes you need to take matters into your own hands if you’re craving something specific. Plus, watching your partner touch themselves can be wonderfully erotic and teach you a thing or two about how to touch them.

No matter how you do it, self-pleasure is a beautiful way to honor yourself and your body and all those sensations you’re capable of. When you take matters into your own hands (pun intended), it not only means you have a more intimate relationship with your body, but you’ll also experience a better sex life when you find new ways to ask for what you want and what feels good.

Because in the end, the only person who is responsible for your pleasure is yourself.

I cooked up a fun list of 50 ways to experiment with self-pleasure.

Psst. Did you know that May is Masturbation Month? It is! So use that as a reason to celebrate solo.

And one other thing, if you haven’t heard, I’m creating a beautiful and very exclusive online sex boutique. It will have the best products in the world, and I hope to launch late this summer. So stay tuned. The store will have some very unique twists that you haven’t seen before like a personal shopper option and suggestion cards with each and every item.

Ready to explore some one-on-one coaching? I have spots available.

8 A new frontier for relationships and happiness?

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A few nights ago, I attended a fantastic workshop called “Dating Your Species” by the amazing and fabulous Reid Mihalko and Monique Darling. I had selfish reasons for attending. Reid is a master at workshop facilitation when it comes to relationships and sex, and I wanted to observe him in his natural habitat.

But beyond that, the content of the workshop was phenomenal, as well.

I don’t want to give away all of Reid’s secrets, and I actually have a different system for finding great partners to date, but the main point I took away from last night is something I’ve been trying to find the words for and Reid said it perfectly:

The way we measure the success of a relationship is no longer duration, but instead, depth and honesty.

For the past several generations, the length of a relationship was all that mattered. Reid pointed out that being married 70 years even if you were miserable was considered a win.

But times are changing.

We all prize happiness in our lives more than ever. Ending a relationship that no longer makes us happy makes sense.

Reid asked how many of us had been to a divorce celebration. I raised my hand. A dear friend of mine threw a huge party on the day her divorce was final. But he then asked, how many of us had been to a divorce party where BOTH parties were in attendance and happy about it. All hands, including mine, went down.

What if, when a relationship no longer made us happy, we had the maturity and the courage to say, “I love you. This seems to have run its course. So before we start hating each other and before we get totally miserable, can we part ways while there’s still love?” Wouldn’t that be cause for a huge celebration?

This concept is something I’ve brought up over the past year or two to some friends, and I always get strange looks. I suspect it’s because I hadn’t found a way to articulate it so that it made sense.

But I don’t have to. Because Reid did it for me.

What if we stay together for as long as we’re both happy and agree going in to have the integrity to speak up when things aren’t working anymore?

How many of your exes are still in your life? How many would you consider your friend? Someone you care about and can rely on?

Wouldn’t it be extraordinary if we chose more wisely going in and behaved more maturely on the way out?

What if instead of breaking up, we called it transitioning?

Just because we decide our intimate relationship has run its course, who’s to say we can’t transition our connection into that of a dear friend? After all, you thought this person was special enough to date, mate, or partner with… wouldn’t they be special enough to be called a friend?

But here’s where it gets scary…

In order to do this, you have to show up, be seen, be honest, and have scary conversations.

I’m a HUGE advocate for saying the scary stuff. So much so that I’m developing an entire program around it.

Because when you say the scary stuff, you get your needs met.

When you say the scary stuff, you release resentment and offer each other the opportunity to step up.

When you say the scary stuff, you know once and for all whether this person is capable or willing to meet you where you need to be met.

And the sooner you know the answer to that question, the sooner you can move towards happiness – either together or on your own.

Life is too short for staying together out of sheer determination.

You deserve more than getting by, hanging in there, making it work, muscling through, gritting your teeth, or doing the best that you can.

You deserve bliss and passion and a “hell yes!” from your partner, and from yourself.

This isn’t about running away, either.

Relationships take work. Sometimes things suck. Sometimes it takes years to work through problems or to reach the place you want to be in.

But there is a difference between deeply loving someone and wanting to put in the work versus trying to put band-aids on a gaping wound out of a fear of being alone or of hurting someone’s feelings.

So, I propose a new frontier for relationships and happiness:

  • Instead of using relationships to fix us or work through our crap, we do the work on ourselves before we enter a relationship to ensure we know what we want, what we need, why it’s important to us, and how to communicate it well.
  • Instead of trying to fix someone or “seeing potential” in someone, we only enter into a relationship with someone who has done the work and has the basic skills to communicate openly and truthfully.
  • Instead of sticking it out because that’s what you’re supposed to do and instead of ignoring that little voice that says you’re not really very happy, we respect ourselves and the other person enough to mindfully enter into a relationship or end things as soon as you realize it’s not working.
  • Instead of assuming what worked then still works now and coasting/ignoring/denying issues, we find the courage to check in regularly, to have scary conversations, to address issues as they arise in a loving and open way, and to keep doing this over and over and over again throughout the lifetime of the relationship.
  • Instead of blaming and hiding and judging our partners when they do something we don’t like, we take responsibility for asking for what we want, create a safe space to say the tough stuff, and focus on creating joy together as often as possible.
  • Instead of waiting until everyone is miserable and it’s nothing but passive aggressive digs and fights and deception, we agree to respectfully transition the relationship into something else when you find you’re no longer happy or meeting each other’s needs, and doing so like grown-ups (yes it will hurt and yes it will suck and feeling bad is OK – creating unnecessary drama is not).
  • Instead of manipulation and codependence, we do it all from a place of respect, honesty, vulnerability, and integrity.
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Imagine a world where we all embrace this new paradigm.

No more senseless drama. No more manipulation or lying. No more cheating. No more waiting for someone to read your mind. No more wondering why relationships are so damn hard but never putting in the work to show up.

Because you can be you AND you can be happy.

When you step back and consider this new world order, what scares you most?

Wouldn’t you rather be happy and living a big, bold life on your terms than feeling trapped inside a relationship that makes you feel small and unappreciated?

The worst thing in life is not being alone. It’s being in a relationship with someone and feeling utterly lonely.

What would you like to change in order to find that happiness in this new frontier of relationship success?

Would you rather look back and say “I had several deep, profound loves in my life, all of which taught me something incredible and we’re all still friends” or “we were married 65 years and we couldn’t stand each other for the last 30″?

I invite you to share this post with your partner, if you have one, and have a conversation about it.

No pressure to change anything. No expectations. Just use it as a way to start having new conversations about what you want and what that might look like.

Be patient with each other. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but giving yourself permission to explore new thoughts and ideas is a powerful practice for keeping you both happy and connected.

[callout title=”Let’s chat” link=”https://www.dawnserra.com/lets-chat/” class=”hb-aligncenter”]Need to talk? I can help. [/callout]

 

1 Eliminate these three words to improve your sexual confidence

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I’ve noticed an epidemic in my life and in the lives of my clients. The more I look and listen, the more I realize it’s everywhere. We’re all suffocating beneath layers of guilt, shame, comparison, and fear all because of three little words.

This is especially true when it comes to sex and the way we view our bodies.

You may not even realize they’re showing up in your life, but I can guarantee you that if these words creep up when you’re talking about your body, your sexual confidence, your sex life, or your partner, then your pleasure and enjoyment are probably being hijacked.

Are you ready for them?

“Should” and “supposed to”.

And here’s how these dangerous words tend to show themselves:

— “I/My partner should want sex more often.”

— “I’m supposed to feel something when he touches me.”

— “Shouldn’t it feel good when you do this?”

— “He should seduce me rather than expecting me to just turn it on.”

— “Isn’t the best part of sex supposed to be having an orgasm?”

— “Everyone says I’m supposed to masturbate, but isn’t it a lesser form of sex?”

— “I should feel happy about this.”

Do you hear yourself in any of these phrases or questions?

They come up in my self-talk a lot, and when I’m meeting with a client, especially someone who is in distress, these words are usually littered throughout their entire description of what’s wrong and why they’re so frustrated or lost.

So, let’s do something radical together.

Let’s ban “should” and “supposed to” from our vocabulary and from our thoughts. When you catch them creeping up on you, karate chop those jerks right into next week and don’t give them the energy they so desperately want.

Doing this one thing can drastically shift your perspective in the most profound ways and immediately boost your sexual confidence.

Because “should” is a refusal of what is. “Supposed to” is a denial of the truth. Both take you right out of the present and plunk you down somewhere else.

And I can tell you with 100% certainty that pleasure and joy and delirious happiness and deep desire live in the here and now.

You know what else these words do?

They place blame. They make the internal into an external problem. Something that’s over there, rather than something you can control and own up to and CHANGE.

Stop worrying about what SHOULD be happening, focus instead on what IS happening.

Instead of wondering if this is how something is supposed to feel, marvel at how it actually does (because even if it’s not great, at least you’re being honest about it and can do something about it).

When you are anywhere but in the present moment, you can’t give yourself the gift of changing the circumstances, of speaking up, of saying “this doesn’t work for me, so let’s do something else!”

In fact, when you have “should” and “supposed to” hanging out on your shoulders, whispering in your ear, they’re pretty much sucking the joy right out of whatever it is you’re doing and turning it into a burden instead of an adventure.

One more note on flipping the script on yourself.

When you take these words out of rotation, it’s going to require you to show up.

You’re going to be seen. You’ll have to learn to speak up. And, there’s a certain vulnerability in that. But, I promise, you can do this.

You deserve this. You really do.

So, let’s take those god awful phrases from up above and make a few of them into something useful, shall we? (I have a fun little worksheet for you at the end, too, so you can practice reframing a few on your own.)

1. I/My partner should want sex more often.

So many powerful alternatives to this one. How about “I want to want sex more often.”

That shows a desire for change, and it reflects the truth of where you are now and where you’d like to go. Now you have a concrete point A and point B.

You want to go from here to there. From not wanting sex very often to wanting sex more. A very achievable goal, I might add.

Another version could be “My partner does not want sex more often.”

Terrific! Now you know specifically what your partner does not want, and you can explore what you DO want.

Maybe your partner not wanting more sex is a good thing, because you don’t either. But if you want more sex and your partner does not, now you can actually sit down and have a loving conversation about your options. Or you can adjust your expectations.

Taking this more active approach is scary as hell, but now you aren’t burying your head in the sand or avoiding what is. Trust me – facing what is might be tough, but avoiding it for weeks, months, or years is so much more damaging and exhausting.

2. I’m supposed to feel something when he touches me.

Can you feel the obligation in that sentence? The guilt, the exhaustion, the wanting to be anywhere but here-ness?

What are some options?

“I don’t feel aroused when he touches me.”

Definitive. Concrete. Vulnerable and honest. You aren’t feeling aroused. That’s a vital acknowledgement if you want to change where you are.

Now that you’re admitting to yourself that you don’t feel aroused, what needs to change so that you do feel aroused? Or, does the change need to involve who is doing the touching?

The options may seem scary, but this statement breaks you out of the never-ending loop that is “supposed to”.

It could also become “I want to feel something when he touches me.”

Can you feel that desire for change in those words? There’s a longing or a wistfulness. It’s the beginning of a story.

And the amazing news is that you get to write your own story, but only when face your own truth.

From this place of wanting to feel something, you have so many choices to consider.

Did you used to feel something and it’s changed? What did it used to feel like? Did you never feel it and now you’re finally giving that truth a voice? Have your circumstances shifted (perhaps from having kids or taking on a new stressful job)?

Your words hold tremendous power over your happiness and experiences in life.

When you give yourself permission to exist in your own truth, you open the door to unbelievable beauty (and yes, sometimes that beauty comes after you work through something painful or difficult, but it’s so much better than the alternative).

Let’s do one more together.

3. He should seduce me rather than expecting me to just turn it on.

Ouch. This feels like a fight that’s played out many times, doesn’t it? The accusation and the hurt and the feelings of being so fed up that nothing ever changes…

“I want him to seduce me rather than expecting me to just turn it on.”

WOW. Can you feel the shift?

One of the things so many of us struggle with is stating our wants, needs, and desires. By removing “should”, suddenly you’ve stumbled across a want, which means you can lovingly ask for it from a place of power. This is where your assertive voice lives. This is how needs get met and you create a relationship based on openness and vulnerability.

What happens if our statement becomes “He doesn’t seduce me. It feels like he expects me to just turn it on.”

You’re observing what isn’t happening, which means you’re focused on actual behaviors, and now you’ve voiced a feeling of expectation of performance. There’s a certain burden or stress in that expectation, isn’t there?

Now you can have a conversation with him about your feelings (which cannot be denied because they’re your truth) and your observation. This has also given you insight into some of your wants – you don’t want to feel like sex is expected of you and you want to be seduced.

And just like that, you’ve found your voice.

You aren’t taught how to talk about your needs and wants at any point in your life. Maybe you were raised in a household that valued your voice and your experiences, but it’s rare that I meet someone who was so lucky.

To this day, I struggle to use my voice. When I learned this little trick, it made a tremendous difference for me in how I was experiencing my own voice and how I was experiencing sex.

Remember that sex and connecting with other people is fun and exciting and it feels good. So, approach this like an experiment.

See if you can catch yourself saying “should” or “supposed to” ten times this week and reframe the sentence or question in a new way, and then reflect on how it feels. It can be little things rather than great big things, but the more you practice, the easier it becomes to see the way these words show up for you.

One final thought on “should” and “supposed to”…

Often these words are used to pass judgment on others or to passive-aggressively share your disapproval. “Should you really be watching that?” or “You should really think about what that’s doing to the kids.”

When you’re on the receiving end of those words, it can be incredibly degrading, disrespectful, and irritating.

You deserve better and so do the people in your life that you love.

Let’s start a campaign to ban these words from everyone’s vocabulary. Let’s ask ourselves to show up and live our truths, and let’s ask the same of the people in our lives.

Having an accountability buddy can be incredibly helpful, too. As your partner to gently point out when you use these words. Something as simple as, “You just used ‘should’. What do you really want?”

Is there anything more supportive than someone inviting you to use your voice and speak your truth?

OK. So, now it’s your turn. Click to grab a little worksheet I created. Once you go through it, be sure to drop me a line letting me know what “should” statements came up for you.

2 The Power of Words: A Missive for Sexperts, Sex Therapists, & Educators

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Disclaimer: I realize that not all sex therapists, sex educators, sex workers, or sex professionals want to be inclusive and accepting. If that is you, I honor your path and encourage you to stop reading. This article isn’t for you.

I’ll admit that I struggle to use inclusive language sometimes. Being deliberate in my word choices can feel like a chore because I’m such a passionate, off-the-cuff, energetic person. Thinking about my words requires self-awareness, examining my motivations, and shining a light on my privilege and assumptions. It also means being as plugged in as I can with communities that may not be my own.

Honestly, until a few months ago, I considered myself a really open and accepting sex professional.

In my heart of hearts, I didn’t have any restrictions or judgments about people who were different from me, and it seemed like too much work to labor to change my words all the damn time to be super inclusive.

My heart was in the right place, my love and acceptance was limitless, so it was just me being a little careless with my words from time to time. No big deal, right?

That all changed when I attended the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit in August 2014.

First came the panel on sex worker’s rights. Holy shit, I thought. I’ve been using so many phases that shame sex workers and sex work.

I took copious notes and circled all the words and phrases I wanted to let go of.

Then, came a panel of sexperts including Nina Hartley, Buck Angel, and S. Bear Bergman. Bear started talking about how so many sex educators stress the importance of being in your body for a really powerful sexual experience.

As a trans man, he said, often the last place he wants to be is in his body. Being in his head, focusing on the other person – that’s where release was for him, escape. He also pointed out that masturbation for a lot of trans people isn’t an enjoyable experience the way it can be for cis folks. I scribbled more in my notebook and made a mental note to chew on that a lot more.

But it was during Cory Silverberg’s keynote speech that it all came crashing down around me.

He read his book, “What Makes a Baby,” and then talked about how much thought and effort he put into a story that would include all genders, all family units, all lifestyles and races and bodies, so that children from all backgrounds would feel like the story was there’s.

Cory talked about the power of words to change lives, to create powerful shifts, and to stimulate change – not just out in the world, but within ourselves. His speech was beautiful and moving.

To quote Cory,

“Language matters. If I use language that gets in the way, it doesn’t work.”

As an educator and coach, that struck a chord. I couldn’t let it go.

Admittedly, I spent the first half of his speech feeling angry and ashamed of my own resistance to change. The anger came from a place of discomfort. I was hearing an undeniable truth, and my excuses just didn’t hold up in the face of his eloquence and logic.

My ego was screaming, “But I don’t want to change! Change is scary!”

And then, I heard myself. I heard what a privileged asshole I was being.

There I was, enjoying the luxury of sitting at this conference with some of the greatest minds in the sex industry, with access to incredible resources and knowledge, and while I do suffer injustice and discrimination as a fat, cisgendered woman and someone who is queer, I was using DISCOMFORT as my excuse for not changing?

That was my a-ha moment.

Cory kept talking and I kept my head down, scribbling notes about his speech, but I was actually hiding the tears running down my cheeks. The wall of fear, the resistance to change crumbled, and suddenly, I understood.

I understood how my words shape the world around me. Not just the ones I say to clients, but the ones I say to myself and to colleagues.

I understood that my heart might be open to people who are different from myself, but my actions weren’t demonstrating that same acceptance.

I understood that as a sex coach, sex podcaster, and a sex writer, I hold tremendous influence to stimulate change, and I wasn’t using that power very responsibly.

I understood that inclusion isn’t about losing something of mine but gaining something of theirs – trust. Instead of being an island to myself I could become a part of a much larger world, and all it would take was being a little more deliberate in my word choice.

My journey is far from over.

The words I use and the way I frame the world are changing, but I still catch myself using language that might exclude or shame others. The awareness, though, is a part of me, and I hold myself accountable as often as possible. Ignorance is no longer an option.

It isn’t easy, but then, being an expert isn’t supposed to be easy. It takes work and constant growth and continual learning.

I’m up for the task. (I hope.)

You might be wondering why I’m writing this. The truth is I have seen some troubling trends from fellow sexperts in recent months, including a challenging conversation I had a few nights ago with someone who was using misogynistic language but claiming to be a feminist. And even after I called him out in a loving way, he refused to listen.

So, I’m putting my foot down. I’m drawing my line in the sand.

—————————–   <– line in the sand

This is my plea that we, as an industry, push ourselves to up the ante on inclusion and intention. Many of us are already doing this, so let’s keep that going.

Personality and flair can be a huge part of our success in this field, so I’m certainly not asking anyone to temper their sass or mute their persona.

Rather, I’m challenging all of us to be more creative by keeping our volume and passion the same while making a few small tweaks to the way we use our words.

After all, how many people will hear what we have to say and internalize those words and lessons and use them to influence others (their friends or children, for example)? Talk about a butterfly effect!

If one word might shame someone and leave them carrying a wound while another word might empower someone and give them a sense of acceptance and freedom, as professionals, why wouldn’t we opt for the more inclusive and healing word?

At first, opening myself up to receive feedback and to listen to voices that were different from my own felt exhausting. When I saw stories about white privilege or cis privilege or ableism, it felt like a personal attack.

Was I so wrong all of the time?

But, learning new skills doesn’t happen over night. As professionals, we all know that the path to success and wholeness isn’t a linear, straight progression, but a bumpy, twisty, wild ride.

I started listening and absorbing. I set my ego aside as much as I could and tried to listen. The more I listened, the more people were willing to open up and share.

My list of words and phrases to avoid grew, but in their place I learned new phrases and new frameworks that were more inclusive of different types of bodies, different relationship models, and I became more sensitive to race and culture issues, ableism, classism, transmisogyny… The list goes on.

Instead of shrinking my world, though, this awareness allowed it to expand.

Despite being in lesbian/queer relationships for 11 years, I’m in relationships with cis men right now. I still default to heteronormative language when I talk about sex because that’s where I am – if I’m sharing a personal story, that’s not a problem. But if I use my personal experience and then broadcast that to the world as the way things are for everyone, that’s problematic.

Another example is that sometimes I forget that not all women have vulvas and not all men have penises. Or forgetting to ask someone’s preferred pronoun because mine has always been such a given.

I still have to remind myself (sometimes after making a gaff) that not everyone wants or is capable of a genital orgasm. Not everyone who looks feminine uses female pronouns. And like Bear said, that not everyone wants to be in their body for the ultimate ecstatic experience.

I want this industry to be at the forefront of social change and radical acceptance, and often we are. The people I met at Woodhull are a shining example of that. I hope to be so inclusive and inspiring someday.

As professionals, we certainly can’t serve or appeal to everyone (nor do we really want to), but we can still make an effort to examine our language to find ways to eliminate words and phrases that scream judgment, exclusion, and otherness.

We are setting an example for every client, every reader, every viewer who interacts with us.

Becoming aware of my blindspots and privilege hasn’t been easy, but it’s been necessary. It’s also been a road filled with mistakes and missed opportunities.

Let’s forgive ourselves for our missteps and be patient when we’re struggling, but let’s also push each other to do better, to think bigger, to create a sex-positive environment that embraces all of our beautiful diversity. If anyone is skilled in tough conversations, we are.

So let’s not be afraid to call each other out – lovingly and respectfully – to make sure we’re all doing the best we can.

As we’ve seen with the deaths in Paris this week, words wield tremendous power.

To follow Cory’s lead, I don’t want my language to get in the way, to shut someone down, to make them feel like they don’t belong.

I want my words to create space and to reach across the divide.

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What words or phrases do you struggle with? What have you heard that’s been cringe-worthy, so that we can educate each other on stuff that might be ouchie?

If you’re not a sex educator or sex professional, what words have you heard that made you feel excluded or uncertain or left out?