How Aftercare Can Improve Your Sex Life Today

One of the most common topics in sexuality writing is improving your sex life.  The internet is full of general advice covering a wide range of options: new techniques to try, talking about sex, asking for what you want in sex, selecting partners, and more.  Most of what you find, however, does not mention the concept of aftercare. 

Aftercare is commonly discussed in kinky spaces because it’s a foundational aspect of these types of relationships. However, aftercare can improve sex for anyone, kinky or not.

If you’re not familiar with aftercare, read on. If you already engage in aftercare, check out the end of the article for seven ideas to add to or reinforce within your personal practice.  

What is Aftercare? 

Considered a crucial aspect of kink, aftercare is caring for your partner(s) before, during, and after sexual activity. In these erotic spaces, love and care co-exist with power and aggression through the practice of aftercare. 

At its most basic, aftercare is a post-play check-in between partners. During aftercare, partners give time and attention to each other to wrap up the scene and make sure everyone is feeling safe and comfortable. 

There aren’t universal rules defining what you “have” to do for aftercare; everyone’s needs are different. The end goal of your aftercare practice should be to communicate and make sure everyone is feeling good and taken care of. 
It’s important to keep in mind is that aftercare isn’t exclusive to kinky encounters, and you can practice aftercare for a wide variety of sexual experiences. You can use aftercare after phone sex, hypnokink, BDSM scenes, or even after more vanilla type sex. Aftercare is not a practice specifically for more submissive partners or bottoms. Tops, doms, switches, and pretty much anyone who engages in sex can benefit from developing an aftercare practice. Even if kink isn’t your thing, aftercare is could be a wonderful practice to bring into your relationship and sex life.

Why Aftercare is Important 

Like any part of sex, aftercare can be pretty personal, and it’s something that you can talk about before engaging sexually with someone. Aftercare gives everyone involved a chance to return to their reality outside of the scene or sexual interaction. You can process what happened during the experience, including what you liked, what you didn’t like, what you would change, and any other thoughts that come up during the scene. 

Aftercare is also an opportunity to check back in with your partner(s) in the roles you normally occupy in your relationship (no assumptions here about what type of relationships you have!). If explicit power exchange isn’t normally part of your dynamic outside of sex, you can set that aside during aftercare and start shifting back to your typical dynamic. 

This time spent debriefing and caring for each other after sexual activity can help everyone to feel more grounded after what can often be an emotionally and physically strenuous experience. 

A goal of aftercare is to prevent “drop” after sexual activity. Intense sexual activity can lead to a kind of natural high because of the way sex often leads to increased endorphins or adrenaline in the bloodstream. Ending a scene or sexual experience too quickly can make that high disappear too quickly as well. This leads to an emotional state known as drop. Though commonly referred to as “subdrop”, people of all roles or dynamics can experience drop, whether immediately or several days afterward. By working to prevent drop, aftercare not only improves our sex, but our mental health as well. 

7 Ways To Practice Aftercare

Clean Up / Tend to Each Other

Sex can be messy!  Help each other clean up, whether that be toys, sheets, or each other. For kinky folks, tend to any injuries that occurred during a scene. You can even keep a dedicated aftercare first aid kit with commonly used items so you always have it handy.

Talk About the Experience

Aftercare is a great opportunity to discuss what just happened during the sexual experience or scene. You can debrief on things you liked or didn’t like, anything you’d like to change, and any notes you have for your partner(s). Great sexual encounters are all about communication, so this time you’ve set aside can not only help you process your experience while helping improve future encounters as well.

Eat Some Snacks 

Sex is often physically taxing; have a snack afterward! Everyone has their own preferences, of course, but some ideas: favorite candies or chocolates, fresh fruit or veggies, nuts, baked goods, chips, and energy bars. Whatever you settle on, make sure it’s a food that makes you feel good. Don’t forget to drink lots of water too!


Reflect on Your Thoughts

Is there a way you like to work through your own thoughts? Do you write in a journal or track your moods and activities on an app of some kind? If so, aftercare that involves processing your feelings might feel good to you. You can go over what happened and work out your feelings about it in a way that feels familiar. 

Soothe Your Senses

Smell is an extremely powerful sense. If there’s a scent that calms you down or makes you feel great, use it! Light a candle with the smell, burn incense, put on perfume, etc. You can also try listening to some calming music or touching something soft to ground yourself via your other senses.

Cuddling

Physical touch can be another way to feel grounded after sex or a scene. Try snuggling with your partner(s), wrapping yourself up in a favorite blanket, giving each other massages, holding hands, or spooning. 

Chill and Then Netflix

Getting lost in a TV show or movie is another option for aftercare. Try to pick something light that will make you feel good, but any favorite will do. You can also try listening to some of your favorite music or a podcast for a similar effect. 

Blog authors all hold positions at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center (G&STC). For more information about our therapists and services please contact us.


G&STC's Director Jesse Kahn and Therapist Liz Afton talk with Huffpost about Karezza

Check out G&STC's Director Jesse Kahn and Therapist Liz Afton talk with Kelsey Borresen Huffpost about Karezza and "how the sex technique could revive your stale relationship"

“Karezza’s goal is not about orgasming, nor is it about the tension and excitement that produces orgasms,” Jesse Kahn, a sex therapist and director of the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in New York, told HuffPost. “It’s much slower and low tension.”

“It’s a great option for couples rekindling a connection after some form of rupture has harmed trust in the relationship or for survivors of sexual trauma,” said Liz Afton, a psychotherapist at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center.

But given how intimate the experience can get, karezza might be better suited for people who have established trust, mutual respect and feel comfortable around each other, Afton said. “It’s not the best fit for a casual encounter, unless both parties are interested in getting an oxytocin bath that will likely accelerate the emotional bonding between partners,” she said. So Afton wouldn’t recommend trying karezza on a first date, with someone demonstrating red flag behavior, or anyone “your gut is telling you isn’t trustworthy.”

“Just like any other sex act, karezza requires enthusiastic consent at every stage of the experience,” Afton said.

“Consider what positions close or open the current of energy moving between you,” Afton said. “Placing each other’s hands on your hearts, layering limbs, mirroring positions and synching breath patterns can all heighten sensation and deepen your connection.”

As Kahn said: “There is not one set way to perform karezza — find what works for you.”

“Imagine your partner’s body as a conduit of energy because it is,” Afton said. “Infuse every motion with gentleness, curiosity and a desire to learn from the experience.”

How To Manage Differing Libidos In A Relationship

One of the most common sexual struggles in long term partnerships is managing mismatched libidos. At the beginning of a relationship, limerance (the state of being infatuated or obsessed with another person, also sometimes known as New Relationship Energy, or NRE) is running high, meaning the brain is pumping out large quantities of endogenous opiates. Limerence causes humans to become infatuated with new love interests, and while this is not inherently unhealthy, it does take intentional communication when limerence fades out of the relationship. This can especially impact people who have a naturally lower libido — they may experience a spike of sexual desire at the beginning of relationships. A byproduct of this can be realizing that you actually have different levels of desire than your partner. 

In fact, two people with perfectly matched libidos are incredibly rare. This is a reality most sexually active people will come against at some point — simply because our libidos have a natural ebb and flow throughout our lives. This desire debacle doesn’t mean a relationship is doomed — quite the opposite. Instead, it is an opportunity to invite more intention and communication into your sex life.

Here are 5 ways to manage differing libidos in a relationship:  

Redefine intimacy and sex. 

The definitions we’re given around intimacy and sex are often fueled by the sex negative society we live in. Unfortunately, that often means that the definitions we are given are difficult to relate to.  Take time to figure out exactly how you want to define intimacy and sex for yourself — maybe cooking a delicious meal with your partner is included in your definition of intimacy or cuddling naked is a part of what you consider to be sex. These very personal and sensual experiences are all yours to redefine and navigate in ways that feel nourishing for you. 

Foreplay all day. 

If you cohabitate with your partner or share different life responsibilities, it can be hard to feel sexy after a long day of just taking care of the necessities. Try to set aside at least one day a month where every interaction you share with your partner is infused with intimacy — have foreplay all day long. That means every text, conversation, or touch has an edge of flirtiness and playfulness to it. Conversation about the groceries and bills can go on pause for one day - the world will not come crashing down. Foreplay all day can build to you both feeling really sexy together at the end of the day. 

Learn from ethical non-monogamy. 

For some partners who experience mismatched libidos, exploring non-monogamy could be a great option. It allows the higher libido partner to feel sexually fulfilled and have their needs met. However, it’s also helpful for the lower libido partner as different sexual experiences may beget more desire or sexual exploration. If this is your first foray into non-monogamy because you’re trying to manage mismatched libidos, it could be helpful to do some research first or even find a polyamorous-aware relationship therapist. 

However, monogamy is a valid relationship orientation and non-monogamy might not suit your needs. There are still lessons from polyamory which can be infused into monogamous relationships to enhance communication and connection. For this specific issue, seeking intimacy with others could be an incredible lesson to pull from non-monogamy. It doesn’t have to mean sex, but cuddling with friends, going out dancing without your partner, and cooking delicious meals with your community could be helpful for both people. Seeking pleasure outside of the relationship may cultivate even more desire for one another. 

Explore the “why.”

People seek sex for many different reasons: to experience a rush of excitement, to feel connected, to relieve stress, to satisfy needs, to feel desired, to fall asleep more easily. The list could go on. So when the higher libido person is feeling the desire to have sex and the lower libido person is not, it can be helpful to ask yourself “why do I want to have sex right now?” If the answer is more along the lines of relieving stress or aiding in sleep — masturbation can be an option. However, if what the “why” is about connection and wanting to feel desired — communicate with your partner about other ways those needs can be met. You can work together to come up with playful and sensual acts that don’t revolve around sex for these exact moments. 

Prioritize solo play. 

Sometimes being in a relationship means we forget about masturbation, especially because our society often sends messages that solo sex is somehow less important or of less quality than partnered sex. The longest sexual relationship you will have is with yourself — that deserves nurturing whether or not you’re dating other people. Spend intentional time exploring your desires in the context of solo play. Treat yourself to a date night at your favorite dessert spot, take a bath to relax, give yourself a foot massage, pamper yourself. And end the date the way you might with a partner: sex. While your tried and true masturbation techniques are great, make an effort to spice it up and explore new positions or different toys every once in a while. Desiring yourself is vital to maintaining healthy sexual relationships with others. 

Blog authors all hold positions at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center (G&STC). For more information about our therapists and services please contact us.

G&STC's Director Talks with Allure About How to Discuss Sexual Boundaries and Consent

CHECK OUT G&STC DIRECTOR, JESSE KAHN TALK WITH KAI AT ALLURE ABOUT “HOW TO DISCUSS SEXUAL BOUNDARIES AND CONSENT

They (yes/no/maybe lists!) help start a healthy conversation about boundaries.

Usually, the dissonance between the sex you’re having and the sex you crave is fear of rejection or deep-rooted sexual shame. If you struggle to communicate with partners, Jesse Kahn, LCSW, CST, and Director/Sex Therapist at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center, advises to first explore why you’re having trouble: Is it because of fear or shame? “When we get clear on the subtext and meaning informing our struggles, we can start understanding and talk to those parts of ourselves with love, compassion, and support,” says Kahn. “It also creates space to understand the feelings as part of ourselves and part of our experiences, rather than all of ourselves.”

They can be used in the context of your masturbation practice.

While these lists are most often discussed in the context of partnered sex and enhancing consensual communication, I find them incredibly healing for individual practice as well. The longest and most important sexual relationship you will ever have is with yourself. That deserves the same attention you would give a partner. “[A yes/no/maybe list] can help distinguish between what we want versus what we think we're supposed to want, which is often an obstacle in creating satisfying and pleasurable sex,” explains Kahn.

They allow you to see your own growth over time.

“When we are self-aware of our own sexual desires and boundaries we can communicate them and engage in co-creating a satisfying and pleasurable sex life that is informed by one's desire,” explains Kahn. Sexual self-awareness not only eases the ability to communicate with partners but ensures that you don’t get stuck in a rut of having sex you are no longer excited by.

G&STC's Director Talks with mind body green raising children without enforcing harmful gendered narratives

CHECK OUT G&STC DIRECTOR, JESSE KAHN TALKING WITH KELLY GONSALVES AT MIND BODY GREEN ABOUT HOW TO RAISE CHILDREN, AND SPECIFICALLY BOYS, WITHOUT ENFORCING HARMFUL GENDERED NARRATIVES AND ASSUMPTIONS

AND HERE ARE SOME HIGHLIGHTS:

Remember that "boy" doesn't really tell us anything specific about someone's interests or habits.

"Listen to and stay curious about your child's interests; if they deviate from your gendered expectations, challenge yourself to both allow your child to engage in that activity as well as be supportive (as supportive as you would be of something you deem more acceptable)," Kahn says. "If a parent is non-responsive, appears uncomfortable, less interested, or less excited about something their child is doing that is considered nonconforming, the parent is reinforcing their beliefs regarding gendered expectations. Kids pick up on that information."

Watch your gendered language.

"When speaking to children, parents unconsciously use feminine adjectives to describe their daughters and masculine adjectives with their sons," Kahn adds. "Don't use language that boosts gendered expectations about how people of specific binary genders are 'supposed' to act."

Introduce your sons to people who are gender-nonconforming. 

Kahn also recommends introducing your kids to gender-nonconforming and trans people, whether in their lives, in history, or in the media or TV shows. That exposure can help kids start to understand gender for what it really is—not something set in stone based on body parts but rather something that's just about what behaviors and traits feel comfortable and authentic to any individual.

"Teach [your] children that gendered constructs are not facts, and successfully communicate that their interests, identities, [and] presentations don't have to be confined to an assigned gender or role," Kahn explains.

Keep educating yourself.

If you have no idea where to start, pick up a book about gender to read in your downtime. Kahn adds that seeing a gender-affirmative therapist can also be a really helpful way for parents to educate themselves and figure out how to best support their child, especially if their child is queer or trans.

Be an advocate in your community.

"I believe in focusing on changing the environments we live in so that a gender-nonconforming child doesn't have to fear being teased, bullied, or have to change as a means of protection from judgment," Kahn says. "That change starts at home."

Is it Time to Redefine Sex?

What is sex?

The definition of sex is dependent upon the individual. In sex ed classes, it’s often taught as penis-in-vagina intercourse, but that is extremely limiting. Sex can be penatritive or not, can involve a penis or not, can end in orgasm or not. 

The trouble is not necessarily the definition of sex but how we understand sex.

What are the limitations on the commonly accepted understanding of sex?

It’s difficult to discuss the complexities of our understanding of sex without touching on the construct of virginity. Because, for most, we are taught that you are a virgin until you have sex. And in this case, it typically means penetrative, PIV sex. So what does that mean for queer women & men? What does that mean for those who have engaged in other types of sexual intimacy (oral sex, anal sex, sex play with toys, mutual masturbation, etc)?

This idea of virginity leaves more questions than answers, and on top of that erases the experiences of queer & trans folks whose sexual experiences may not fall under penis-in-vagina penatrative sex. 

And what about solo pleasure? According to Joan Price, author and advocate for ageless sexuality, solo sex is totally real sex: 

“For those of you who would tell me (as people do, surprisingly), “Hey, masturbation is inferior to sex with a loving partner,” I would answer, “There’s nothing inferior about sex with the person who knows you best.” Plus the obvious — “How nice that you have a loving partner. Many of us don’t.”

Whether we’re pleasuring ourselves because it’s sex with ourselves or no sex, or we enjoy private sex, or maybe we just want to have fantasy sex with Jeffrey Dean Morgan, let’s agree that solo sex is not only real sex — it’s delightful sex.”

Can sex be defined through pleasure?

So what does that mean for the definition and understanding of sex? Does that mean that anything that ends in an orgasm is sex? 

This is a good way to begin to expand our understanding of sex, but it provides its own unique set of obstacles: 

What if you (or a partner) have trouble orgasming? (Lots of people can’t!)

Defining sex through orgasm can actually add pressure to the experience. It makes it a goal-oriented activity. It makes it pass / fail. If you achieve orgasm (and your partner[s] achieve orgasm) then you’ve succeeded! 

If you haven’t, then you didn’t do something right. 

But sexual pleasure can happen merely through the act of opening yourself up to sexual intimacy with your partner(s). If you’re only working toward the end goal, then the overall experience might not be all that pleasurable. Focusing instead on the pleasure and sensations you and your partner(s) feel throughout the sexual experience can alleviate this pressure, or need to perform. It refocuses the experience back on you, your body, and your pleasure, instead of giving you a finish line. 

Redefining sex: 

Forget the formula. Forget the idea of virginity. Forget sex as a goal-oriented activity. When it comes to redefining sex, we also have to redefine pleasure a bit. Accept that pleasure can mean an orgasm, but it doesn’t have to. Whether in solo play or with a partner (or more than one partner) pleasure should be about the experience. Are you listening to your body? Are you enjoying the experience? 

Refocus so that sex is an exploration and an experience, rather than a checklist that needs to be followed to be considered legitimate. 

Blog authors all hold positions at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center (G&STC). For more information about our therapists and services please contact us.


How to Know if You're Eligible for our Sliding Scale Appointments

We receive daily inquiries regarding our sliding scale, if we have openings and who is eligible.

Here is some information about G&STC’s sliding scale:

  1. All of our therapists have sliding scale appointments

  2. 25% of therapist’s caseloads are sliding scale appointments

  3. Sliding scale appointments fill up quickly

  4. Sliding scale appointments often remain full, as we primarily provide long term treatment

  5. Our sliding scale is a scale, so if you can afford in the middle the scale, please do

  6. If your financial situation changes while in treatment, we ask that you notify us we can collaboratively adjust your rate

  7. The range of the scale is dependent on the therapist

  8. Our sliding scale appointments are offered on an “honors” system, meaning we don’t ask for “proof” and we trust you to be truthful and honest with your assessment regarding what you can pay (please see visuals below regarding how to assess where you may be on a scale)

  9. Although we offer our sliding scale appointments on an honor system, we also have more in depth conversations.

  10. We understand money is complicated and there are differences between what we perceive we can afford vs what we can actually afford. This is why we don’t ask for proof, but still like to have a conversation.

To help think through your assessment of what you can afford and if you’d be eligible for our sliding scale appointments, we’ve attached visual guidances from Damien at Ride Free Fearless Money

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G&STC's Director Talks with Huff Post About Orgasming In Your Sleep

CHECK OUT G&STC DIRECTOR, JESSE KAHN TALKING WITH KELSEY BORRESEN AT HUFFPOST WELLNESS ABOUT IF YOU CAN ACTUALLY HAVE AN ORGASM IN YOUR SLEEP

Basically, the answer is yes. And, some people can only orgasm when they’re asleep.

“There is a major psychological component to orgasming,” said Jesse Kahn, a sex therapist and director of the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in New York. “So, if the reasons someone is unable to have an orgasm during sex are connected to anxiety, depression, stress, shame, internal or external cultural or relational pressures, it’s likely having an orgasm during sleep means those reasons cannot interfere.”

“Basically, sleep is a wonderful environment that can facilitate orgasms,” he added.

How To Embrace Sexuality Shifts After Having Children

Throughout life, there are constant shifts that impact our connection to sexuality. While this is not a commonly discussed topic, having an ebb and flow to your sexual desire is a completely natural part of life. Our libido may have a personal “norm,” but life events such as moving cities, the death of a loved one, a breakup, a shift in dietary needs, and of course parenthood will impact our access to sexual intimacy. Often referred to as the “fourth trimester”, the period after childbirth (or a new adoption) impacts every aspect of new parents’ lives. 

It’s not just people who give birth who experience these changes, it’s everyone who is a new parent from adoptive parents to new fathers and partners of those who gave birth. The medical approach to this topic often comes in the form of checking off boxes to simple questions like have you had sex since giving birth? Or what kind of birth control are you using, if any? 

The lack of resources for new parents re-navigating their sexual life with a newborn leaves people feeling isolated and alone in this issue. But you aren’t alone and there are ways you can reconfigure your sexual life to be fulfilling again! 

Acknowledge the changed role sex plays in your life. 

With parenthood comes a new schedule, different priorities, and fluctuating needs of the child. The role that sex plays in your life will likely evolve with being a new parent. It’s okay if sex used to always be spontaneous and playful but now is scheduled. Acknowledging the ways in which your relationship to sex has changed is vulnerable, but it will help you create a new journey towards pleasure. 

Keep the lines of communication open.

As you refigure the meaning sex has in your life, communicate with your partner(s) and ask them where they’re at in the process. Even if you’re not having sex yet post-pregnancy, keeping the dialogue open will help ease into sex when you’re ready. This practice also ensures the thread of intimacy in your relationship doesn’t get lost with this big life change. 

Be gentle with yourself and the changes you’re experiencing. 

The world is not very gentle with new parents, so allowing space for self-forgiveness and compassion for your process is vital. There is no rush to “get back” the sex life you once had. Try not to focus on your previous sex life or desires. Create space for new forms of expressing your sexuality. Be gentle with yourself as you rediscover your body and desires. Checking in with yourself by doing a yes, no, maybe list or pleasure mapping can be helpful ways to connect your sexual being. 

Take the goal out of sex.

When you feel ready to have sex again, there might be this unlying pressure to have it be the same as it used to, or you could possibly feel like there is a goal to orgasm. Decrease all of this external pressure by focusing on the intricacies and small pleasures of sex. The soft graze of your lover's hand on your thigh, the sensation you get when you press up against their naked body, the jolt from having your hair pulled or back scratched. Instead of focusing on the goal of orgasm, shift your intention to simply create a pleasurable experience together. 

Get intimate time on the calendar.

It may sound like the least sexy thing ever, but planning ahead can take away the pressure of who is going to initiate sex and will help you keep intimacy as a priority in your partnership. As new parents, it’s easy to let weeks — even months — go by without connecting with one another. 

Putting sexy time on the calendar doesn’t mean that sex absolutely *has* to happen on this day, it just means you’re setting an intention to be intimate with one another. That could mean taking a bath together, giving one another a massage, going out dancing, cooking a meal with aphrodisiacs in it, taking sexy pictures of or for one another. There’s the possibility for sex, but no pressure if it’s not where you’re at in the moment. 

There’s no shame in needing extra support. 

Our culture is not one that emphasizes collective care for families, so we have become very partitioned in that the nuclear family is seen as a unit by itself. There is no shame in calling on your friends, community, family (biological or chosen), and neighbors for added support. 

You can create a shared calendar where people can offer to cook meals for your family to take away that added task. Freeing up time from small tasks like cooking, cleaning, and running errands can allow new parents to keep a semblance of playfulness and fun in their lives. Not everything will feel like a draining task and this might open up some energy and time for sex and intimacy with one another. 

You might also call on additional support from a therapist if you’re struggling with postpartum depression. Taking care of yourself and your new child can be a collective task that invites in more joy than pressure to constantly do it all. As cliche as it sounds, raising children truly does take a village — you just have to figure out who is in yours. 

Blog authors all hold positions at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center (G&STC). For more information about our therapists and services please contact us.

G&STC's Director Talks with Huff Post Relationships About Books To Read about Relationships

CHECK OUT G&STC DIRECTOR, JESSE KAHN TALK WITH BRITTANY WONG AT HUFF POST RELATIONSHIPS ABOUT “15 BOOKS ALL COUPLES SHOULD READ, ACCORDING TO MARRIAGE THERAPISTS

JESSE’S BOOK RECOMMENDATION: Conscious Loving: The Journey to Co-Commitment

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"A lot of the individuals and partnerships that come into my office find themselves repeating patterns and struggling with harmful belief systems. They're caught in harmful and unconscious power struggles and believe they can keep agreements that are unrealistic (but maybe feel romantic). These couples have a lot of confusion around boundaries, intention and individuality vs. separateness. This book is practical, accessible, easy to relate to and apply, and provides clear examples to explain patterns and see the ways in which we all bring our projections to our relationships." -Jesse Kahn, LCSW, CST

What Is Trauma-Informed Therapy?

Most of us will go through life with some form of trauma or another. It sounds bleak, but the numbers back this up -  According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 61% of men and 51% of women in the US report experiencing at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. Trauma is extremely commonplace, and because of that it’s extremely crucial to take trauma into account when receiving therapy. 

As you may expect, the effects of trauma can be complicated and hard to manage. This is where trauma-informed therapy comes in.

What is trauma? 

SAMHSA defines trauma thus: “Individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening with lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.” Trauma can range from experiencing poverty and discrimination, neglect or abuse, to experiencing combat or torture. There’s no right or wrong way to experience trauma - if it was traumatic to you, even if you can’t name it, it’s trauma. 

Trauma-informed therapy, then, is when a therapist recognizes the complicated and complex ways that trauma influences all parts of someone’s life, body, and brain, and makes treatment decisions based on that framework. Trauma-informed therapists realize that most people have lived through some type of trauma because trauma is so common and understands treatment through that lens. 

Trauma triggers thoughts, desires, behaviors, emotions that are impossible to understand without a full grasp of how trauma plays a role. Trauma-informed therapists do understand the large role trauma plays in the daily lives of their clients. Going to therapy after suffering and surviving trauma requires trauma-informed care to get the best available treatment because trauma often has widespread effects that are more pervasive than many people understand. 

Trauma-informed therapy makes therapy more effective for folks who are living with the effects of trauma and can provide a container in which it can feel possible to heal (whatever healing means to each person!). Trauma informs many aspects of life, so understanding how trauma works plays a critical role in helping someone work through it. 

Obstacles to receiving trauma-informed therapy:

If trauma-informed care is so important, why would someone avoid trauma-informed care?

  • Don’t understand different kinds of therapy - Not everyone realizes that trauma-informed care is an option! It tends to be a buzzword that is thrown around a lot, but many people don’t actually know what it means. 

  • Not ready to face trauma - trauma is painful. Many folks simply aren’t ready to face their trauma yet. They may have developed coping strategies that make them feel like they’re doing fine without treatment for their trauma. However, for some this is may be putting off the inevitable - we can only do so much by ourselves, especially when dominant narratives around trauma are often victim/survivor blaming. Trauma-Informed therapy can step in when you need someone else’s support.

  • Embarrassed overall to need therapy -  there is still the idea that mental health issues are something to be ashamed of. Stigma can be powerful, and the shame many people feel about their mental illnesses can prevent them from seeking therapy. 

  • Don't understand what trauma really is - Trauma doesn’t just have to be war and death and destruction. It can be anything that makes you feel like you or someone you care about is in danger, or simply be a deeply distressing event. You don’t have to prove to anyone that you are traumatized enough to receive this type of care.

What are the characteristics of trauma-informed therapy? 

Now that we understand what Trauma-Informed Therapy does, let’s take a look at how it works. The hallmarks of Trauma-Informed Therapy are: 

  • A safe therapeutic environment emotionally and psychologically. 

    • Trauma makes you feel unsafe. In order to treat trauma, the therapeutic environment must be a safe one. The client should feel safe with the therapist. The room itself should be calm and relaxing and free of triggers. 

  • An understanding that behaviors developed to cope served an important purpose. 

    • Some people develop coping mechanisms that are overall detrimental to their health or wellbeing. A trauma-informed professional will help you to recognize that there’s nothing to be ashamed of for surviving. Your coping mechanisms have kept you alive and safe so far, and that is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, we can be grateful and honor those survival skills.

  • Recovering from trauma is a main goal of this type of treatment. 

    • Trauma-Informed care not only looks at the surface level behaviors but aims to heal the underlying issue that causes them: the original trauma. Healing the trauma can lead to reducing or eliminating the coping behaviors that are causing distress. 

  • Teaching new coping skills. 

    • Healing trauma often includes learning about trauma and the impact of trauma. After that, a trauma-informed therapist will work with you to develop new coping skills and new ways of relating to and soothing your nervous system’s response to being activated. 

  • Collaboration. 

    • Your therapist works with you to provide your care. They should ask you what your goals are for treatment, and then work with you to form a plan to achieve them. You are an active participant in this type of therapy. 

How to find out if your therapist is trauma-informed 

The best way to find out if your therapist is trauma-informed is to ask! Ask your potential therapist what kind of training they have. If they say they’re trauma-informed, they should have some sort of training and experience to demonstrate this competency.

You can also get a sense of if someone is trauma-informed by the way they discuss the therapeutic process. If they talk a lot about safety, boundaries, and self-care, they may be trauma-informed. Additionally, some trauma-informed therapies include Internal Family Systems (IFS), Somatic Experiencing, Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). These words and modalities can be an indicator that the therapist has been trained in trauma-informed therapy, but of course, it’s not definite. Again, the best way to find out if someone offers trauma-informed therapy is to ask. 

Trauma-informed therapy can be a total gamechanger for folks who have been managing their trauma without therapeutic help. Understanding the fundamental role that trauma plays in someone’s life, body, relationships, beliefs about themselves and the world, leads to more effective results and a safer environment for clients overall. 

Blog authors all hold positions at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center (G&STC). For more information about our therapists and services please contact us.

5 Tips For Managing Erectile Functioning Issues

It is likely that all of you reading this right now have consumed an erectile dysfunction advertisement in the past month — they’re everywhere from subway platforms to billboards and TV commercials. An older, cisgender man was likely displayed struggling with intimacy and suddenly able to reconnect after being prescribed medicine like Viagra or Cialis. This depiction is a tiny scratch on the surface around the topic of erectile functioning. 

There is a deep-rooted shame for many cisgender men who experience issues with erections — often because masculinity is directly linked to the ability to get an erection and have penetrative sex. Unpacking these shame imbued ideas allows us to not only give space for cis men to expand their sexual experiences but allows trans people in the dialogue around how to move through sexual functioning issues, as not all people with penises are men and not all men have a penis.

This statement is the groundwork for understanding how expansive sexual expression can be for people with penises. Popular culture has many of us working from the understanding that penises are crotch rockets meant to hammer into bodily holes for pleasure. That is an incredibly harmful and toxic belief not only for people with penises but their partners. While sexuality for people with penises is largely taught as one-dimensional — it is quite the opposite.

Re-understanding penises as a body part which can experience many different forms of pleasurable touch invites a dialogue around erectile functioning that begins to decrease shame and dysphoria. 

There are so many reasons beyond aging why someone might experience erectile functioning issues like premature ejaculation or difficulty obtaining/maintaining an erection. Some other reasons people experience erectile functioning changes could include trans women and non-binary people taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT), high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease damage, depression, anxiety, stress, or relationship tension. 

Here are 5 options for managing erectile functioning changes:

Sex toys 

Erectile functioning issues are caused by the lack of blood flow into the penis during arousal — which is directly impacted by the blood vessels ability to hold blood flow in the penis for an erection. A cock ring is a toy that can help do the work of the blood vessels when you need an extra boost. They are a silicone, rubber, or metal ring that sits at the base of the penis and wraps around the testicles — some have two parts to separately wrap around the penis and testicles. It’s up to you the type of cock ring you prefer. Using a bit of lube can help get the toy on and adjusted comfortably. This is a great option for people who are able to get a partial erection but not keep it for long — the cock ring constricts the blood in the shaft of the penis and keeps it there for an extended erection. They can also be used alongside a pump or ED vacuum which pulls blood into the penis for an erection. 

Moving through erectile functioning issues largely depends on whether or not you desire an erection during sex. Vibrators aren’t just for people with vulvas — integrating toys into solo and partnered sex can help increase pleasure and decrease performance anxiety. The Enby is a gender-neutral vibrator which has many functions. Redefining sex outside of penetration and opening conversation with your partner(s) about how you want to experience pleasure is a great starting point for working through any sexual shifts or stressors. 

Explore different kinds of play

There are so many ways to play and experience pleasure without an erection but it’s hard to imagine that when our sex education is so phallocentric. It’s also true that a boner is not an indicator of interest or consent to have sex. When we view hard penises as automatically sexual, we forget how important communication is in understanding someone’s body and how they like to have sex. An erection doesn’t equal consent nor does it mean that a person prefers penetrative sex to other forms of sex. And a soft penis is not an indicator that sexy time isn’t going to happen or that your lover isn’t interested. It’s simply an invitation to explore one another’s bodies with curiosity and communicate about desires.

The glans (or tip of the penis) is much like the clitoris and can be orally stimulated in similar ways. This is the most sensitive and nerve-packed part of the penis which can be sucked on, licked, lubed up and manually stimulated while a penis is erect or soft. The frenulum is the area about an inch long on the underside of the penis leading up to the tip which can feel great to play with, along with the corona which is the rim of the tip of the penis. All of that is a great surface area to explore with different strokes, sensations, pressures, and stimulations whether the penis is hard or soft. Penises may need a little extra lubricant to experience this intensely pleasurable sensitivity. 

The term muffing is used to describe to manually penetrating people with biological penises by “tucking” the testes/scrotum upwards into the inguinal canals to create two canals perfect for manual penetration. Both the ilioinguinal and genitofemoral nerves live within these canals, which is what creates such a pleasurable experience. This technique can seem quite complicated at first but becomes easier after some practice (either on your body or your partners). 

Taking care of your body

Erectile functioning is directly linked to blood flow so maintaining a healthy heart is key. The term “healthy” is a loaded one — so take time to define that for yourself. It could mean eating foods that bring you pleasure while integrating healthy heart foods like leafy greens, berries, and fish that increase nitric oxide. Making sure you’re getting enough sleep and doing some physical movement throughout the day is also important. These small shifts in daily routine can immensely help erectile health. Kegel exercises have also been known to give people with penises more control over their erections if you struggle with premature ejaculation. They help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, especially when integrated into your daily routine. 

Hormone therapy or medication

For some people struggling with erectile functioning issues, medication might be the right path to go down. Consulting a doctor before starting any treatment is important to figure out what will work best for your body. Some people use testosterone topical creams, medication injected into the penis, or pills like Viagra that increase nitric oxide in the blood vessels. 

Sex therapy 

Sexuality is holistic — meaning mental health can directly impact your sexual experiences. If you’re struggling with anxiety, depression, stress, or relationship tension finding professional support can help you work through these hard moments. Sex therapists are specifically trained to guide people at the intersection of sex and mental health. Be gentle with yourself as you create space to heal. 

Blog authors all hold positions at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center (G&STC). For more information about our therapists and services please contact us.

5 Tips For Managing Vaginal Sexual Pain

Experiencing sexual health issues can be especially distressing due to our culture of shame and silence around sex. Many people who feel pain during sex are isolated in their experience, and have little support or resources. Some common causes of vaginal pain during sex are vaginismus, endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, dyspareunia, vulvodynia, a UTI, or STIs. It’s important that you discuss your symptoms with your doctor to figure out if you need medication or other medical guidance. 

While an OBGYN can absolutely help you figure out your diagnosis, many medical professionals are ill-equipped to help people heal from vaginal pain during sex because it is still widely misunderstood. Historically, people with vulvas who experience pain are not believed, often dismissed, or told their pain is “all in their head”. Vaginal pain during sex is common and there are a few ways to manage and heal from this. 

Therapy

Mental health has a huge impact on sexual function. When someone is feeling off balance in their mental space -- whether because they’re burnt out or depressed or anxious or experiencing PTSD -- the body holds that energy as well. Many sexual dysfunctions like vaginismus are directly related to how someone is feeling in their relationship(s) or in their body. Trans and GNC folx may be prone to vaginal pain during sex because of body dysmorphia, depending on their relationship with their body. A therapist can help unpack the root causes of sexual pain. These sexual dysfunctions are also cyclical in nature. Depression could be the cause of vaginal pain, but experiencing chronic pain also amplifies mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. Having a support system to heal in this process is vital — a therapist can be one component of that. And having a support system to figure out what healing means to you is also vital.

Physical therapy

Physical vaginal pain during sex is typically  caused by muscle spasms in the pelvic floor. The vagina is “tightening” itself in order to self-protect (whether for emotional or physical reasons). Pelvic floor specialists can help guide you through a process of abdominal massages. Your partner(s) may be able to assist with gentle vaginal massages (non-sexual), or you can try vaginal dilating. All of these practices aid the vagina in learning to relax the muscles so they don’t involuntarily spasm when touched.  

Sex toys

People experiencing vaginal pain may still want to have penetrative sex. However, it can feel overwhelming when your body is not matching your conscious desires and not meeting your expectations. There are now sex toys that help people experiencing vaginal pain ease into penetration. Ohnut is a wearable toy (for the person penetrating) that serves as a buffer of sorts to ensure the penetration doesn’t go in too deep. The toy comes with four linkable rings to adjust the depth desired for each partner. Adding lube into sex is also incredibly helpful for easing into penetrative sex. 

Remember, you never have to engage in a certain kind of sex just because your partner wants to. If you’re experiencing pain during sex, it’s likely your body is communicating something to you. Don’t push yourself too far out of your comfort zone for someone else’s pleasure. Sex is about pleasure for everyone involved, so be sure to prioritize yours as well! 

Get to know your Vulva 

Bodily shame can play a role in painful sex and is an indicator that it’s time to get comfortable with your vulva. You are the author of your own sexual narrative — and you get to decide what words are used for your genitalia. It doesn’t have to be ‘vagina’ or ‘vulva’ if that word doesn’t fit your experience. Get creative and make up your own language if that feels exciting, sexy or comfortable. You can also begin to explore what your vulva looks like at different times by using a mirror. Look at them after you take a shower, before you go to bed, after you masturbate, or while you’re menstruating. Vulvas tend to change in shape or color depending on where someone is at in their cycle and how aroused they are. Building a positive relationship with your body — on your terms — is healing in and of itself. 

Context is everything 

While mainstream representations of sex often depict spontaneous desire, onset by a glance, kiss or touch, many people actually experience responsive or context-driven desire. This means that people get turned on by a build-up of events, or within a certain context or setting. You might be incredibly turned on by your partner touching you on the couch, but you’re simultaneously stressed about an exam you have tomorrow. That stress acts as a break on your sexual desire. Understanding the context in which you feel the safest and most comfortable to have sex is incredibly healing when working through sexual functioning issues or chronic pain. This is a personal process, and it may take some trial and error to figure out what works best for you. When you know this, try to communicate that with your partner(s) so you can work together to ensure positive sexual experiences where you feel relaxed and safe to explore with them. 

Blog authors all hold positions at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center (G&STC). For more information about our therapists and services please contact us.

Five Ways to Bring Sexual Newness & Excitement in an Intimate Relationship that You Can Try Tonight!

When we gain intimacy and comfort with a partner, we also commonly lose sexual desire.

We want to cuddle. Stay in for the night. We feel safe, but our bodies get confused about the relationship. We might start to wonder: is this only a deep friendship? A type of familial bond, and not a sexual one?

We can remind our bodies and sexual responses that the relationship can still be sexual.. Sex with this person is OK, and sex can come with safety and comfort. We don’t have to have one or the other.

Sometimes we have to re-discover someone as new, exciting, and unfamiliar. Below are some ideas that you and your partner(s) can try tonight to reignite that spark and bring more sexual creativity into your relationship(s).

Make a sex date, but don’t have sex.

Hear me out! On this date, go outside the house, the comfort of your bed and the normalcy of your space and just talk about sex. So often we forget that one of the hottest things to do is not have sex and just talk about it. Describe your latest fantasies. Discuss a sexual experience you had together in detail and talk about what made it so good.

Fill out a Yes/No/Maybe list!

This list has a bunch of different sexual experiences and a box for yes, no, or maybe. Fill it out without your partner and then compare notes.(do this on your sex date!). We like this list because it’s not super gendered and you can add your own: https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/yes-no-maybe-list-of-sexual-kinks

Go to a sex toy store, buy something new, go home, and try it.

New is exciting. Newness gets our heart rate up and takes us out of our routine or sexual script we usually follow.

Sext!

Sexting is not just for hook-ups or new dates. Sext your long term partner! Send them nudes! Record yourself masturbating and send it to them! Anything we did (or wished we did) at the start of relationships to show the person(s) we want them so badly is something we can incorporate later on..

Change the scenery.

Have sex or do something sexual somewhere new! Rent a hotel room, an Air BNB, or swap houses with a friend for the night. When we are out of our comfort zones, our bodies can interpret it as new and exciting. Get away from that stack of bills or pile of laundry at home.

If it’s hard to get connected, even with these tips, it is always a good idea to seek relationship or sex therapy with your partner(s). Sometimes we need some extra help to reconnect sexually, and that’s ok!

Blog authors all hold positions at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center (G&STC). For more information about our therapists and services please contact us.

G&STC's Director Talks with Allure About Polyamory & Monogamy

CHECK OUT G&STC DIRECTOR, JESSE KAHN TALK WITH ZACHARY ZANE AT ALLURE ABOUT HOW BEING IN A POLY RELATIONSHIP PREPARED ZACHARY FOR MONOGAMY

Jesse highlights a few points including:

  1. Jesse “tells his patients struggling with polyamory to “get back to the basics of why they're nonmonogamous, what that means to them, and what they want that to mean for their lives and the lives of their partners. [This] helps clear space for what feelings and obstacles are in the way of actualizing those beliefs and desires.”’

  2. Another important aspect of polyamory is having “compersion” for one’s partner instead of jealousy. “Compersion — the feeling of joy in someone else's joy — can be really helpful in reconciling the differences [between you and your partner’s desires],” says Kahn.


Some points Not included in the article:

  1. Anyone considering entering into their first polyamorous relationship "should" consider why they are currently wanting to be in a non-monogamous relationship, what their boundaries and needs are, what they want the boundaries of their poly relationships to look like, and how they can communicate their needs.

  2. Polyamory can teach us that it’s okay to be attracted to other people, communication is a crucial aspect of any relationship and primary tool in negotiating our boundaries in relationships, a variety of people can fulfill our needs and that’s great, and that it's is up to you to define your relationship(s). I've also worked with a lot of people who identify their relationships as monogamous who have conversations about what monogamy means for them and the definitions of monogamy for their relationships.

  3. One characteristic of many poly relationships is communication and communicating through really tough emotional states - that is an important skill that can deeply impact all of our relationships, including monogamous ones.

  4. At G&STC we don't use the term “couples therapy” to describe all the relationship we work, so we just say relationship therapy. We do this to be inclusive of all relationships regardless of the number of people involved.

Shopping Consciously for Pride

Happy Pride month everyone!

Pride began 50 years ago, but it took a much different form than it does today. In fact, the Pride Month we know now only happened as a result of a protest. Following a police raid of a gay bar in NYC, members of the queer community rioted, and what came to be known as the Stonewall Riots became the historical moment to be commemorated every June since, as what we know as Pride.

In recent years, Pride has become more of a celebration than a protest. However, this also means that businesses have been able to identify pride as a key marketing strategy. Businesses that ignore the queer community for 11 months out of the year suddenly proclaim themselves allies, slapping rainbows on their products, their social media, and profit, while in turn giving none of the proceeds to LGBTQ or LGBTQ affirming organizations.

But it’s Pride! We want to be proud, show our colors and celebrate our identities! So how can we shop consciously for the month of June? The key to Pride merch shopping is just a little bit of research. Find out what shops are queer owned, which shops donate money to queer organizations, and which shops just use the rainbow to make their business more profitable!

To help out, we’ve put together a list of queer owned stores to shop from this Pride month (and the 11 other months!) as well as shops that donate a portion of their profits to organizations that beneft the queer community.

Autostraddle:

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About Autostraddle: “Founded in March 2009 by Riese Bernard and Alexandra Vega and still run by a dedicated team of passionate weirdos, Autostraddle is an intelligent, hilarious & provocative voice and a progressively feminist online community for multiple generations of kickass lesbian, bisexual & otherwise inclined ladies (and their friends).”  

BetweenLinesClothing:

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About BetweenLinesClothing: “Between The Lines Clothing was created by one lesbian who loved buying men’s clothes. She got fed up having to buy in men’s sections and also finding all these fantastic clothes there that weren’t seen as being for females! She decided to come up with her own designs and clothes to wear, hoping to also bring some joy to other women, men and those who don’t identify with her clothes that are about whether they look great rather than who it is specified for!”


Revel & Riot:

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About Revel & Riot: “We provide a collection of resources on our website – everything from information about anti-oppression, transgender health, internalized homophobia, and LGBTQ+ art history. Every resource we have comes with references for further reading and links to other organizations where additional support can be found. We believe that the LGBTQ+ fight for equality is bound to all other struggles for social, economic and environmental justice and we try to reinforce that vision through our resources.”


Revel & Riot also donates a portion of their profits every year to different LGBTQ organization!

Queer Supply:

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About Queer Supply: “We began with conversations about identity. We believe that the rejection of oppressive social structures can be achieved through self-love and community support. Queer Supply is about celebrating the intersectionality that strengthens us. Crafting was a method to reconnect with and care for ourselves, and eventually grew into a community project. The work we create is designed to make space for marginalized people and our multifaceted identities. When we craft space to express ourselves, we create opportunities to connect with each other.

Each piece is a positive statement about our lives, relationships, identities, the right to love ourselves.”

FLAVNT:

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About FLAVNT: “FLAVNT Streetwear is an Austin-based independent clothing brand for everyone within and anyone who supports the LGBTQ+ community. Started with the goal of creating clothes that promote confidence and pride, FLAVNT is all about being comfortable with who you are and flaunting that to the world. We promote this message of self-love and confidence through our designs and actions by supporting the LGBTQ community as a whole, as well as impacting individual lives through our fundraising initiatives.”

Otherwild:

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About Otherwild: “Otherwild is committed to utilizing our resources to provide sustained support to our staff, vendors and suppliers, as well as grassroots and national social justice and health care organizations. We dedicate means within our business model to support ethical practices, advocacy and activism as we continue to evolve within an exploitative, extractive, extreme and excessive consumer capitalist culture.”

**10% of the proceeds on this shirt is used to fund queer history research.

The Phluid Project:

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About The Phluid Project: “Retail and community, free of gender norms and full of possibilities”

ASOS X GLAAD:

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While not a queer owned business itself, ASOS has teamed up with GLAAD for their pride line, and every dollar made from this collection will be donated to GLAAD.

Express:

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Another non-queer brand with a pride colelction that isn’t just talking the talk! 25% of the profit made from their Love Unites collection will be donated to GLAAD.

Blog authors all hold positions at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center (G&STC). For more information about our therapists and services please contact us.

10 Myths About Monogamy To Leave Behind

With the insurgence of information and resources about ethical non-monogamy, our culture has shifted a more critical lens towards monogamy. A growing skepticism (particularly in queer and trans communities) around monogamous relationship structures is valid after decades of being told this is the only “right” way to exist in romantic relationships. Monogamy itself isn’t inherently harmful — but the view of it as compulsory that society has established it as is. Much of what is critiqued or labeled as toxic within monogamy comes from societal expectations for romantic relationships. By inviting nuance into the dialogue we can separate out the differences between compulsory and intentional monogamy.

So what are these myths?

“Jealousy is an indicator of true love.”

This is one of the main scripts of compulsory monogamy: if you aren’t feeling jealous or making your partner feel jealous, it’s not true love. Toxic monogamy upholds the idea that if your partner doesn’t get jealous, they don’t really love you or possibly that they don’t love you as much as you love them. This idea is rooted in an ownership mindset, that partners own our attention, time, and energy. While jealousy is definitely not an indicator of love, it’s also not an inherently negative emotion.  Jealousy at its core can also be about insecurity, fear of loss, fear of rejection, or fear of being replaced. Intentional relationships can leave space to communicate through moments of jealousy with compassion for all partners involved.

“Commitment can only exist between two people.”

Compulsory monogamy leads us to believe that any kind of relationship structure outside of monogamy is unhealthy and not “true” commitment. However, ethical non-monogamy teaches us the vast ways in which humans can structure intimate relationships. We are driven by connection with one another and commitment to others will look different for everyone. This might include lovers, friends, family, or community. Intentional monogamy allows room for these truths to co-exist.

“Monogamy only looks one way.”

Being in a relationship is an incredibly personal experience and the only people who get a say in the boundaries, growth edges, and expectations of a relationship are the people present in it. No two relationships will be alike, even if they are both identified as monogamous. Some monogamous people create space for flirting, sex or flings outside of their partnership. Others don’t. The most important thing is that these decisions are made mutually and consensually through intentional and negotiated communication.

“Intimacy is only for romantic relationships.”

The societal pressure to find “the one” is only amplified by the ways in which intimacy is often closed off in non-romantic relationships. However, that doesn’t have to be the case. Intimacy doesn’t just mean physical touch or sex — it can look like holding one another’s truths, taking care of one another, or being tender/loving with friends. When intimacy is expanded to exist in platonic relationships as well as romantic, it reduces the pressure to be in a romantic relationship and allows people to explore dating with more curiosity and less out of necessity.

“Romantic relationships need to follow a script to be validated.”

Often referred to as the “relationships escalator” compulsory monogamy has a very specific idea of what a relationship should look like over time. Usually, that means dating, moving in together, getting a pet, getting engaged, buying a house, having an extravagant wedding, and having children. This narrative is amplified by heteronormativity and many people don’t feel aligned with these relationship expectations. Defying these societal norms happens within monogamous and non-monogamous relationships because there is no right or wrong way to live your life within a partnership.

“One person can meet all of your needs.”

This sentiment is romanticized by mainstream media representations of relationships that make it seem as though your partner should also be your best friend, therapist, caretaker, confidant, and family. That’s simply not realistic and it places far too much pressure on one person or the relationship. However, just because you accept the truth that one person cannot meet all of your needs doesn’t mean you have to be non-monogamous. Creating networks of care and support within communities allows this pressure on romantic partners to be alleviated. It’s okay to lean on others and call on support from friends or a therapist. A romantic partner can be an additive in life, a safe space to feel held, and not the only person for support in times of need.

“Monogamy means you don’t experience other attractions.”

Being monogamous doesn’t mean that all attractions for other people simply turn off. Intentional monogamy recognizes the fact that both partners likely experience attraction, or even crushes, on other people. That is healthy and valid. Moving through these moments with communication and compassion can allow for relationships to grow stronger.

“Monogamous relationships don’t need boundaries/check-ins.”

There are so many assumptions made about monogamous relationships and oftentimes people are led to believe that monogamy doesn’t require regular check-ins or communication about boundaries. All relationships benefit from communication around boundaries, expectations, and growth edges — even platonic relationships can deepen from this intentional work! Without this level of communication, things go left unsaid and tension can build up causing unnecessary resentment or misunderstandings.

“If you don’t get married, the relationship is a failure.”

Many people have been asked the question, “So when are you getting married?” by an older person or family member in their life. This is a common expectation of romantic relationships, particularly monogamous ones. While marriage is seen as the ultimate level of commitment in our society, it’s not something desirable for a lot of people for a variety of valid reasons. Not wanting to get married doesn’t need an explanation. It can simply be someone’s truth and that doesn’t make their relationship (no matter the structure) a failure.

Learning to unpack the toxic myths around monogamy can help us take stock of our own personal & relationship needs, and allow us to be more intentional with relationships moving forward.

Blog authors all hold positions at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center (G&STC). For more information about our therapists and services please contact us.

G&STC's Director Talk with Marriage.com About Best Sex Advice for a Healthy Sex Life

CHECK OUT G&STC DIRECTOR, JESSE KAHN TALK WITH MARRIAGE.COM ABOUT THE BEST SEX ADVICE FOR A HEALTH SEX LIFE

1. Challenge your assumptions about what types of fantasies, desires and sex you can have with a partner. Respecting and caring for someone doesn’t mean that your sex can’t be wild, aggressive, degrading and/or rough (of course, all of this is discussed and consensual). Seek and question assumptions you’ve held about sex, long term desire, and sex with someone you love.

Challenge your assumptions about how sex is supposed to be initiated. Opening up your mind to the idea that there isn’t one “right” way to have sex with your partner(s) can be liberating. It gives you space to explore fantasies, figure out what you are into, and above all communicate with your partner(s) about your sex.

2. Explore ways to increase excitement and playfulness in your sexual lives and possibly modify a rigid repertoire. This could look like incorporating new toys, kinky/bdsm practices, role-playing, dirty talk, sexting, talking about your sexual fantasies, having sex in different locations (such as a car, your kitchen, the shower, etc), trying new positions, and/or attending a sex specific class together.

3. Stay curious about your sexuality and your partner’s sexuality. Re-focus on eroticism and ask yourself what turns you on, what makes you feel pleasure, and what makes you feel desired. And then ask and share with your partner(s)!

4. Plan the types of sex you want to have. In movies, and in many people’s fantasies, sex happens in an instant, but spontaneous sex isn’t the only way to keep your sex life exciting. Putting time and energy into planning the type of sex you want to have can shift what your sex is like, can help create different types of sexual experiences, different types of erotic environments, can help shift your sex life towards the sex life you want, and can build anticipation.

If you really think about it, even our sex that feels spontaneous is often not. Specific actions and intentions led to those moments. Planning sex can be equally hot once we expand our definition of what “planning” means. When we create an erotic environment, incorporate new toys, re-visit our turn-ons, or explore different fantasies, we are planning sex. Using this perspective, we redefine rigidity and spontaneity.

What Can Polyamory Teach Us About Relationships?

As we’ve discussed before on this blog, there is a lot we can learn from folks who are different from us. Even when we think we don’t have much in common, there are lessons we can draw from many types of experiences, lifestyles, and communities. Today, we’re talking about what we can learn from polyamorous people, even if we’re not poly ourselves!

For folks who aren’t familiar, a person who is polyamorous is someone who desires consensual and ethical non-monogamy. Ethical non-monogamy is when someone is a member of multiple sexual and/or romantic relationships at the same time with the consent of everyone involved, and is not to be confused with infidelity. Ethical monogamy includes agreements and negotiations that allow for multiple sexual and/or romantic connections and relationships. Polyamorous folks are often referred to as “poly” or “polyam” in sex positive spaces.

Just like with monogamy, polyamory isn’t for everyone, but it is often misunderstood or misrepresented in media. There are many different ways to structure poly relationships, and there is no one “right” way to be polyamorous. So, even though we might not all practice polyamory, there is still a lot we can learn about love, desire, and relationships from polyamorous people.

It’s okay to be attracted to other people

One big lesson we can all learn from poly people is that being attracted to someone else doesn’t have to be a threat to your relationship. We’re all human, and we’re allowed to be (and are going to be) attracted to more than one person at a time. Love and attraction are not finite resources. Your feelings for someone else do not cancel out the feelings you have for your partner, and vice versa. Many of us experience attraction to more than one person at a time (even if it’s just fleeting!), but the difference is that poly people acknowledge that it’s important to experience and talk about these feelings instead of burying them under shame and guilt. Also, poly people have space to engage with consciously thinking about and deciding whether to engage in that attraction in an open and honest way, where monogamous people may not feel they have that space.  

Communication with a capital C

A huge part of poly relationships is communication. This is a topic we return to frequently because it really is the foundation of relationships! Poly folks communicate constantly. Not only is there the logistical side of coordinating schedules and making time for all partners, but there is the emotional side of communication as well. When feelings of jealousy, abandonment, or fear come up, communication is a large part of working through those feelings

These emotions are not just reserved for poly people, either. They are present for most of us at some point or another, but often they go undiscussed. Poly folks understand that the way to work through these feelings and keep the relationship healthy and satisfying for all parties is to recognize the feelings, soothe themselves, and talk about the tough feelings coming up. Even when it’s hard. Even when you feel like you can’t do it. It’s important to get those feelings out on the table so everyone is on the same page. It takes practice, but, for many, it feels worth it.

Other people can fulfill your needs, and that’s okay

It’s a lot of pressure to be everything to someone. Poly folks understand the strength of a support network, whether it is through romantic partners, sexual partners, friends, or family. Think about it this way: you probably have different friends who fulfill a variety of needs for you. You may have a friend you go to bars with, a friend you talk about books with, and a friend you go to the gym with. You probably don’t have just one friend who meets all of your needs all the time, and that’s okay! The same idea is true for poly folks, except some of those relationships can include multiple romantic and sexual relationships. Different relationships can fulfill different needs for you without taking away from each other.

It is up to you to define your relationship

It’s nobody’s business what goes on in your relationship except for the people in the relationship. Polyamory can be confusing to some people because there are so many ways to approach it (hierarchical vs. nonhierarchical, is one example). One of the biggest takeaways from polyamory that anyone can benefit from is that you get to set up your relationship in any way you want to - there are no rules, except for the rules and boundaries that you co-create. Relationships take time and effort, no matter what type of relationship structure you choose, so you may as well explore what works for you and your partner(s).

Remember, these aren’t ideas you can implement overnight. They take practice, commitment, and communication. Poly people aren’t born knowing everything there is to know about polyamory, because polyamory is an experience that varies from person to person. Even if you are content in a monogamous relationship, we can still learn from poly folks.

Blog authors all hold positions at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center (G&STC). For more information about our therapists and services please contact us.

How Kink Can Help Ease Sexual Anxiety

Even in spaces focused on sexual liberation, one thing that often goes undiscussed is how to navigate sex in a healthy, pleasurable way when you or your partner experiences sexual anxiety or functioning issues. It can be hard to relate to articles and tips about making the most of your pleasure when you have trouble performing with or experiencing pleasure at all.

One thing that might surprise you? Kink + play can actually help sexual anxiety and performance issues! According to a study from Northern Illinois University “BDSM sex can help increase mindfullness, reduce stress, make you hyperaware, and help people stay in the moment.”

So how can kink help ease sexual anxiety? When we add kink into our sex lives, we give ourselves the opportunity to:

Set the pace we’re comfortable with:

When setting and negotiating a scene, navigating boundaries is a crucial step. This means before we try anything new, we have to make sure all partners are comfortable and excited to try whatever we want to introduce into our play. Whether this means taking it slow or jumping in, it gives the power back to us to determine the pace we want in our sex life.

Take it slow without missing out on the fun:

Taking it slow doesn’t have to be a chore! Often, within kink, taking it slow is an important part. The play is thorough and involved and, crucially: focused on pleasure + consent! Instead of feeling awkward and fumbling, not knowing what to do, kink play provides an avenue to go as slow as you want to without compromising our pleasure.

Keep consent an active part of the conversation:

As we’ve said before: Consent isn’t just a straight “yes” or “no”– it’s about making sure anyone involved in play knows what the limits are, knows what will increase their partner’s pleasure, and it always involves checking in during play.

When we engage with kink, we give ourselves a new understanding of what consent really is. While some people see it as an awkward conversation that can take you out of the moment, kinksters know that it is actually a vital and sexy part of the process. When you stop and start in kink play you’re not taking yourself out of the moment, you’re checking back in with yourself, your body, your partner(s) and making sure that you’re experiencing pleasure out of whatever you’re doing. Kink helps make conversations about consent open and easy gateways to talk about how each partner best experiences pleasure.

Knowing that your partner is aware and mindful about your pleasure can help ease some of the anxiety that goes along with sex! You won’t have to worry about doing something “wrong” or not getting what you need out of it because those conversations are built into kink play.  

Expand the definition of sex:

Sex isn’t just about penetration! And, often times, a lot of sexual anxiety comes from the notion that penetration is the most important part of sex. But with kink, partners are able to explore so many other ways to both give and receive pleasure with their partners.

With this, partners who have anxiety regarding performance or penetration are given outlets to express their desire and experience pleasure without the anxiety that comes with penetration. Learning how to fuel and feed our desires through a variety of sexual activities can strengthen our sex lives and help manage our sexual anxieties without forgetting about pleasure!

That’s not to say that kink is the only way to experience pleasure when dealing with sexual anxiety–but learning the pillars of what makes kink fun & functional can help us explore the needs we have in our own sex lives!

Blog authors all hold positions at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center (G&STC). For more information about our therapists and services please contact us.