6 Ways to Get Real About Relationships

Getting Read About Relationships Series – Part II

Also Appears on RoleReboot.org

1)Act How You Feel (Within Reason) – We’ve all been around those couples bickering violently in public or making nasty passive aggressive jabs all the time.  When we air our dirty laundry too readily, we make other folks so uncomfortable they may stop hanging out with us.  On the other hand, pretending your relationship is flawless is lame too.  We all do it at times.  We act like everything’s fine when it’s not.  We fight in the car and then get out and hold hands all through dinner until we get back in the car and go another round.  So how do we strike the right balance?

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When Good Partners Have Bad Sex

Getting Real About Relationships Series PART 1

Also featured on RoleReboot.org and Alternet

Does what's happening in bed tell us what's happening in a marriage?

The sexless marriage is much maligned in our culture.  Most of us, including a lot of mental health professionals, view a sexless marriage as a bad marriage.  But when you think about it, things that make us want to have sex are often not the same things we want in a long-term partner.  For a lot of us unpredictability, passion, spontaneity, and even conflict can be sexy.  However, in a long-term partner, we seek reliability, stability, safety, and trust.  Grrrr… doesn’t knowing someone will remember to take out the recycling every week just make you want to rip your clothes off?  In a wonderful book called Mating in Captivity, which in my opinion should be required reading for life as a human, psychoanalyst Esther Perel argues there are good reasons why sex drops off in long-term partnerships, even good ones.  In fact, these relationships are often quite stable and the partners extremely connected.  Perel argues that desire and lust are borne out of distance and difference.  We feel there is some space between us and another person and we long to physically unite.  Feeling very connected and similar to someone doesn’t stir up that desire.

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Sex… It’s Not All Good

It’s amazing to me in a culture that is so sexually saturated that we are still so bad at sex.  We’re bad at talking about it, and we’re bad at having it.  We are, however, really, really good at watching unrealistic portrayals of it in movies and on television.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons we are so bad at it.  It’s much the same as seeing stick thin models everywhere you look while our culture suffers a serious obesity problem.  If the cultural ideals are completely unattainable, our response is likely to be “eh, fuck it, pass the soda and chips.”

If you don’t have a different, more realistic ideal for yourself, you’re kind of stuck with giving up all together.  I, for one, used to be about 20-30 pounds heavier.  It wasn’t that I was satisfied with my weight and just accepted it, because that would have been fine.  I was never satisfied and always felt bad about myself.  I just had no idea that it was actually possible for me to be thin.  No one had taught me how to do it.  I hadn’t seen anyone else in my life do it in a way that seemed workable for me.  About three years ago, however, I educated myself in a variety of ways, and completely changed my lifestyle.  I lost weight in a slow, healthy way, and kept it off.

Since I began a postdoctoral program in sex therapy (an additional certification above and beyond my doctorate in psychology), I feel like the same thing has started to happen with sex.  It’s not that I ever really thought I was good at sex, I just didn’t know what to do about it.  It turned out there were obvious things I could do to make it way better.  A lot of jargon gets kicked around out there about sex, but we don’t necessarily know what it means or how to do it.  Foreplay, for example.  Most men and women will agree or at least think they are supposed to agree that “foreplay is important,” particularly for women to get off.  Well I always knew that.  And I thought I was doing it.  I really had no idea how much or how long was needed, though.  I would just wait until I was wet and then move on to intercourse or oral sex, partially because I was thinking my partner might lose his erection if I waited too long.

Interestingly, lubrication is not a sign that a woman is aroused enough for intercourse.  It is only a sign that she is beginning to become aroused.  Who knew.  Just because you can slide the penis in without a major issue, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time.  Same goes for oral sex.  Keep on going with the foreplay long after you think you might be ready – keep going until there is not a shred of doubt you’re ready.  The payoff is, after all that, you will cum a lot faster (happy partner).  And for those of you who don’t cum easily or at all, you will be way more likely to.

About that fear that a guy will lose his erection, it is actually normal for a man’s erection to soften and harden numerous times during a sexual encounter.  I was amazed to learn the “once it’s gone it’s gone” theory is totally wrong.  Of course if once it’s gone all partners involved become totally anxious that it’s gone, than it probably will be gone for good.

It’s amazing how easily we humans give up, at so many things.  Since starting my sex therapy training, I’ve seen so many couples who, after things started to go wrong sexually, just gave up… for years.  There are solutions to so many problems out there in the world, but so often we are more likely to stick to what we know and not seek them out.  In the area of sex, it’s probably worse than anywhere else, because we don’t talk to each other.

If every man with erectile dysfunction talked to his male friends about his erectile dysfunction, there would be very few men left with erectile dysfunction.  Most people don’t even know sex therapists exist, and yet we are equipped with a whole array of strategies to help with performance problems, low desire, sexual pain issues, and almost any sexual problem you can think of.  But honestly, if we talked to each other more about sex, sex therapists probably wouldn’t even be that needed.

Most of my clients can’t trade notes on curing depression, processing trauma, or solving other marital problems and alleviate the need for therapy.  Nor would I have been able to address my own anxiety just by chatting up my friends.  But we could be saying to each other “it’s okay if you lose your erection temporarily,” and “when we say foreplay, we mean like a very, very slow build, not shoving your tongue in someone’s mouth, removing their pants, fingering them for a minute, and then beginning intercourse or oral sex.”

So people, if you’re out there, and I know you are.  If you are not having sex at all, having bad sex, or avoiding painful sex, find a certified sex therapist.  Don’t be afraid, they are trained to make you feel comfortable and will conduct themselves with the utmost professionalism.  And for the rest of you, consider how much better your sex could be.  Educate yourself.  Read The Guide to Getting in On.  Watch porn.  Read erotica, or any number of sex books and blogs that will spice things up and teach you an infinite number of tricks.  Your partner(s) will thank you and you will too!

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