Relationships are Hard, So Let’s Stop Pretending They Aren’t (Relationship Series Part III)

Ever feel this way? Ever let anybody know?

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A few years back my husband and I went away for the weekend with another couple.  We’ll call them Kyle and Shari.  We had a great time, introducing each other to great music, enjoying grilled Brie and blueberry wine by the camp-fire, and talking intimately about our lives and relationships – or so my husband and I thought.  Shari and Kyle were one of those couples who had experienced love at first sight and been inseparable ever since.  They never failed to call each other by nauseating pet names and seemed to have endless patience for one another.  We were shocked a few months later when they not only told us that they were divorcing, but that that weekend had been “the beginning of the end.”  Seth and I were stunned.  How could our impression of Kyle and Shari have been so wrong?

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6 Ways to Get Real About Relationships

Getting Read About Relationships Series – Part II

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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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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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Sleeping with the Enemy (Not my Mother, Part I)

I got married for one reason.  I found someone I wanted to marry.  I didn’t decide I wanted to marry and then find a man.  In fact it just as easily could have been a woman… or no one at all.  And yet, here we are.  The relationship I am in is nothing of what I pictured when I envisioned marriage – probably because I was envisioning my parents’ marriage (shudder).

My parents’ marriage was not only traditional in terms of gender roles, it was abusive.  So for me, demanding to be treated as an equal wasn’t just a preference, it was a way to ensure I wouldn’t be a victim.

For a long time, when I thought about who I wanted to be, the answer was a resounding, “Not my mother!”  I utilized many strategies to accomplish this goal including pretending boys didn’t exist, wishing I could take a pill to make myself a lesbian, and repressing any and all sexual or desirous impulses and feelings.

Many expensive years of therapy later, I was ready for an experiment.  I had finally started dating, not seriously, just getting my feet wet.  Then I met this kind of vile guy.  He was arrogant and thought he was a huge stud.  We’ll call him Russell.  Let me provide some examples to illustrate his ridiculousness.

1) He lived in a filthy apartment with a kitchen where everything was covered in a layer of crust.  Pots lay on the stove with rotting month-old food.

2) He had the nerve to tell me my sink was “disgusting” and need to be cleaned.  (He was absolutely right, it was the double standard that got me.)

3) After staying over the night at his place, he failed to offer me any food or drink in the morning, but proceeded to make coffee for himself.  When I pointed this out, he sent me across the street to a convenience store.

4) He believed as the man, he should always drive.  (Uh, hell no).

5) This is the funniest one.  He did not believe in waiting longer than three dates to have sex.

This was the kind of person I had always feared, as though somehow his mere existence would turn me into my mother.  And yet I ventured courageously into his web of double standards and sheets that had gone way too long without being washed.

I did this to prove something to myself.  Russell wasn’t like some kind of disease that could be caught and turn me into someone else.  Dating him taught me that I didn’t have to hide away because my self-respect could be lost just by his presence…  I compromised some, and so did he.  I let him drive a lot of the time, but you can be damn sure he waited longer than three dates.  In fact, I would venture to say he learned something from all that waiting.  Most importantly, when it was over, and I always knew it would be (poor guy, I don’t think he realized it was merely an experiment) I was still me.

A few months later I met my husband.  On our third date I told him I never wanted to have a television in my house, that I could never wear a diamond engagement ring, and that I was only interested in raising children if my partner shared the childrearing 50/50.  Nothing I said seemed to scare him off.  He took me bowling with his sister and some friends.  His sister showed me her tattoos.  He lost miserably.  I had never seen a man so comfortable sucking at something.  He had a blast.  He let me drive.  On our third date I blurted out aggressively, “I’m not going to have sex with you.”  He told me I was presumptuous.  The rest is history.

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Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Lyla Cicero