Category Archives: books

Intimacy & Desire by David Schnarch — Book Review for “Contemporary Sexuality”

JSJ Therapy was recently published in AASECT  “Contemporary Sexuality” with a review of Dr. David Schnarch’s book  Intimacy & Desire: Awaken the Passion in Your Relationship.

Schnarch’s ideas on adult differentiation are often used in our therapy sessions to help clients handle the anxiety of partner’s pressuring with a differing point of view. This most recent book also brings forth the newly structured Differentiation Scale published first in the Journal of Marriage and Family Therapy. The scale is also implemented in session as a measure of couple’s ability to tolerate discomfort for growth’s sake.

You can read a brief excerpt of the December 2011 review on the Highbeam Research site.

As usual, if you are interested in the full review you can contact me and I’d be happy to send you a copy.

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Seducing the Seducer — Part 1

I spend a ton of time reading, thinking, discussing, and implementing topics that have to do with power dynamics, evolutionary psychology, seduction, mental health, and emotional authenticity.  They all flow for me into a sex positive approach to therapy.

I have been a student of Ericksonian hypnosis and NLP for over 10 years. From those trance-induction building blocks,  I learned about Speed Seduction (the older term).  Ross Jefferies was really the only person at that juncture combining the ideas of natural rapport with sexuality. I was intrigued and actually am proud to say that I had numerous conversations  with him.  At the time, it was ground breaking concept formation to marry these two obviously similar seeming schools of thought.

Yet, there was a problem area with all this new exciting information. The thorn in my psychological side with Speed Seduction was often the same concern  I later had with the emerging  PUA communities. It all seemed so harshly negatively based. I would read these people (mostly men at that point) talking about picking up women and it was a very pump-em-and-dump-em kind of system. There was little to no discussion about seducing from an emotionally authentic way.  The focus was to build a man up by diminishing the self-esteem of a woman (remember this was all single hetero male focused).

Side Rant for clarification —  I have no problem with people engaging in sex casually or otherwise. I’m all for being primal- spiritual- kinky -romantic (or a zillion other variations) sexually.  I’m even an avid supporter of using your personal skill set, trance-rapport techniques, science, and any positive physical features one has to attract another person. In fact, I often work with many clients on these very things.  However, the difference is I specifically do so  from a positive-consent-based foundation.

Everything I saw was focused on feeling good about yourself by making another person feel less than.  I’m all about the truth of determining value based on your own personal values and social mores. Yet, when you are acting in a way to belittle another person to get them to have sex with you it  just seems shady. I’m not saying it doesn’t work, but I am saying there is some lack of personal integrity. If one is working to establish high-value (as most seduction techniques express as a goal) I never saw the high value in lying or being cruel. It feels a bit like a crude hack as opposed to a well thought out positive sculpting process.

It seemed obvious to me that you would want to be seduced or seduce another by lifting up their self respect…even if your intent is for a one night stand.  I just kept thinking that if you can’t seduce someone into wanting to date or have sex with you and have them feel better about you and themselves afterward, it doesn’t seem like you did a very good job.  However, I appeared to be the only one thinking this. And basically the hetero female population that was paying attention to seduction culture was just outraged and dismissed it all.  Both sides seemed to say it was an all or nothing system. I felt stuck within my own world of knowing the value of these ideas but still not having a delivery system that was uplifting.

So time went on and The Game was published. Pick up artistry began to gather a bit more attention. By this point Mystery and a few others were riding on the coattails and creating a more up-to-date community for seduction. The trend was to make things look a more palatable for the general public and even open up the marketplace to women. It was a step in the right direction as far as I was concerned.   I felt personally intrigued and continued to use many of the techniques in situations…but nothing felt healthy and positive enough to share with clients.

Then a friend, who also studies seduction personally and for business use, recommended The Authentic Man Program. I was thrilled to see people using the  rapport skills in a non-shaming way. They were taking all the NLP, psychology, and sexuality concepts and rolling them together. It made my heart sing. Finally, there was something I could recommend to clients.  I took the courses online and learned a lot. I really enjoyed Bryan and Decker. They felt like honest people using these ideas in a healthy way. I recommended the classes in person or online to clients.  One small problem is that it is expensive. Not every client that could benefit from their ideas was able to be exposed to them.  The search continued.

More time passed and another friend was looking into David Deida’s work,  so I happily joined in the fun. Deida’s ideas had a wonderful sensual and spiritual feeling to them.  They were direct in the evolutionary psych components and incorporated the piece of creating a higher sense of purpose as a way to seduce. He also came from a perspective of being in a long-term relationship.  I loved stitching as many elements as possible into the fold.  And now I had at least one author that I could recommend and felt comfortable sharing with clients.  However, there were a few small concerns.  If the client was not naturally leaning towards being introspective, open to some spiritual elements, or already had a base for seduction skills …it was a bit too much to take on for the first round. Clients reported that there was some good stuff but didn’t exactly resonate.

I had yet more conversations  (well really me complaining) about this weird gap in teaching these ideas to others. A friend came to the rescue and started a blog  about seduction within long-term relationships.  I felt like I was finally able to reliably send clients to a site that I trusted would be smart, relationship safe, and that was teaching these combined principles.  Then due to the very hectic schedule of the author, the blog was simply not going to continue due to lack of time to commit to it properly. My heart sank… would I ever find the right mix for this approach to suggest to my clients?

It was becoming some sort of personal mission without consciously realizing it.  However,  now I was fully aware and had no idea where I was going to find the time to write this book, but I figured it would need to be done.  It would go on the list with the other projects I’m working on.

Then one day it happened…. there was this blog…. Married Man Sex Life by Athol Kay.  A man saying  the things that my clients had said:  all the things that they were afraid to admit to themselves,  all the things they felt shame about expressing to others, and all the things they resented and loved about dating and sex and marriage.  It was a real person who happened to be so smart and honest that it was almost impossible not to side with him. He wasn’t a jerk, he wasn’t single, and he didn’t naturally come to all this understanding with a dominant personality.  Kay was providing this knowledge base and it felt worthy of suggesting to a few clients.  The feedback was awesome and I just kept thinking about how great it would be if this guy would just write a book.   These core ideas are actually really important and of course it would make my life easier if someone would put all of it together nicely packaged so I could just tell clients to go get the book.

And then just like that… there was word that his blog was going to be turned into a book.  I began to get more and more eager for the release of The Married Man Sex Life Primer.   It was going to happen,  I was finally really and truly going to have material worthy enough for clients.  My standards are exceedingly high and so were my expectations of his work. Athol Kay had managed to seduce this therapist who loves  teaching seduction into wanting to read his book,  review it, and hopefully recommend it to clients.

In Part 2 of Seducing the Seducer … I’ll share how I read the book in record time,  got to talk with Athol Kay about his work,  and my review of the book The Married Man Sex Life Primer. And for the record, no one paid, asked me to, or even encouraged me to ever seek out this information, interview, or blog posts.  This is all about my interest in the field, being a therapist, and knowing that many of these ideas help others.

Authenticity

I think most of us understand the basics of being an authentic person in conceptual terms.

In therapy you will hear me say the word “authenticity” a lot.  I will stress the crucial nature of being true to yourself, your values, your ideas, and your desires.  This is an empowering step for many who have felt betrayed, slighted, or disenfranchised. Taking ownership of your sense of self moves you forward into having the kind of conversations, connections, and life you hope to live.  All of this sounds like something we want for ourselves and others, right?  But what does it really mean?

Authenticity –” actual character not counterfeited or adulterated — refers to the truthfulness of origins, attributions, sincerity, and intentions. ”

Dr. Harville Hendrix has some great ideas on the subject, he talks about being authentic  in his work Keeping The Love You Find. “When your fear abates, you will be more capable of examining and dismantling your character defenses so that your authentic self can emerge.” When we allow ourselves to come forward in a real way, there is a purity about our ideas and intention. We don’t have to hide who we are but rather openly express who we are at our more core level.

Of course, when you are getting all the praise for being yourself, it is much easier to let your strength shine. However, there is no pretending here in the land of being authentic.  It is scary to be real when you think people won’t like you, when they will judge you, and/or mock you . Being present with your own emotions in a situation takes work and even then it can be hard to come forth.  Hendrix goes on to explain: “Rejecting your authentic selfyou bury it in the underground and instead present to others only a substitute self that you thinks will win their approval.” We naturally want to be like and accepted, this is a beautiful human understanding. AND yet when we sacrifice our authenticity for the sake of false acceptance we strip away the opportunity for the very connection we so deeply crave.

Once all that is figured out, there is one more  layer of being authentic that requires a bit more work to accept. We tout the virtues of such on an almost daily basis by phrases like “be true to yourself, just listen to yourself, be who you want to be, I accept you as you are.” Yet, if we were to be truly honest to ourselves, we often only mean this when this authenticity moves in our favor. This is not a criticism, it is just a fact of most human interactions. I would say we “authentically want what we want” and when we don’t know how to express it, how to get it, or don’t get it at all… difficulty arises.  Hence, being authentic isn’t just about encouraging other people to live their dreams, or being honest with yourself.  It also requires a consideration of the process of what you create together.  Hendrix notes,  that once we “start modeling how to let go, how to say set boundaries,and  how to be authentic about with our own needs, we begin to take care of ourselves and others more fully.

You may not always like your authentic responses of yourself or those of others. However the beautiful part of this process is you become strong enough to embrace them as real without needing to push them aside or diminish others. And once you have taken that leap of true honesty you can also begin to work on changing how you respond to those situations.  The key to being authentic is not just identifying your wants and needs (and those of others) but beginning to create an authentic connection together of acceptance even within your difference.

Your life will change dramatically the moment you risk being brave enough to be your authentic self.

What makes life fulfilling? Flow!

I have been a long time fan of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I read his work, way back when, in undergrad… interestingly enough it was my Taoism professor that assigned his books. Looking back with my understanding of Taoism and Csikszentmihalyi’s work, Flow, it all makes more sense now.  I am still grateful for my prof bring this man’s ideas to my consciousness. Added to this my affection for natural trance/hypnotic states that we experience everyday, I am drawn to Csikszentmihalyi’s ideas on life fulfillment.

So what is this guy with the really long name talking about with Flow? Well, if you consider what it is like to be totally focused in a way that there is no room for anything other than being engrossed in the process… that is flow. Sometimes it is called “being in the zone” where you feel engaged, alive, and ready to move in your thought/action of choice.  To be really fulfilled Csikszentmihalyi believes that we must find these areas of our being/life and create as many more as possible. You can read the wiki on the 9 elements of Flow.

The key for me about Csikszentmihalyi’s work is that with other approaches it requires a person to have stimulation outside of themselves. But with Flow a person is using who they are to find satisfaction. It all sounds like a rather basic concept at this point but when Csikszentmihalyi was bringing it forth, it was controversial.

Take a few minutes and push through Csikszentmihalyi’s accent and listen/watch to his intro talk on the idea of Flow when he was at TED.

Psyche Today had a great intro article to Flow, from years back, that I would also suggest you read if you are interested … but truthfully reading the book is well worth the effort.

Tristan Taormino — Sexual Empowerment

I have been a long time fan of Tristan Taormino. She has done amazing work in the area of sexual positivity. She writes insightful books, creates a witty blog, and presents workshops. She was here in 2008  (and brought together our own locals like Minx and Gray ) so I wasn’t sure she would be here as part of her book tour or not. But she is going to be the keynote speaker for UW Madison Sexual Health Week — Date: Friday April 24, 2009  at 7pm.  Location: 2650 Humanities, University of Wisconsin, Madison Admission: Free

Tristan’s most recent book Opening Up is a great look into the why, how, and real life approach into an open relationship — everything from jealousy, honesty, and reality of exploring non-monagamy.  Having read just about any and all works that are out there on polyamory, I feel a specific connection to Taormino’s work. She takes on multiple perspectives on the topic. She is not out to convince anyone that open relationships are easy or perfect.

Many people feel the need to shout the virtues of open relationships as if there is nothing but glory to be found within the relationship dyanmics. On the other end, it seems as if many want to villify the the alternative sexual/relationship approach.  It is hard to find a balance and I believe that Tristan manages to strike it.

Without going into the details of pro and cons of non-monagamy here in this post. I will say that  I think that Taormino provides a great look at  open relationships.  If you are curious about if you might be interested in an open relationship, looking for basics on the ideas, or just wondering what the topic is all about then Opening Up is a wonderful book to start with!

Here is a quote that I specifically enjoyed because I often need to help clients through the understanding that they create their own relationship that works for them not set by standards of others:

“Some people have confused equality with symmetry, making the assumption that everyone should have the same thing…. Sometimes setting the same rules for both partners simply doesn’t make sense because you are different people who want different things.   In attempting to give each person equality you could lose sight of what each person actually wants.  Work to achieve balance rather than equality.

I would highly recommend you go and see Tristan speak. She is fun, energetic, honest, and very smart. You will enjoy yourself if you take the time to go hear her speak this Friday.

One small side note, with all relationships, if you are looking for support, direct help, or specific questions then seeking out an alternative sexuality therapist, like myself, is a recommended.

Amazon.com and lgbt — truths

I have gotten a lot of personal and professional questions about the recent issues concerning Amazon.com and lgbt literature. My basic understanding after having read numerous articles from friends, bloggers, and journalists from all sides of the controversy is that …

Well the facts are that amazon has some sort of system for filing lgbt and other (swing/poly etc) works under a system of “adult content.” They claim to do this because they reach a large audience. Okay, from a purely marketing standpoint I can understand it. You are running a business that caters to a ton of people and you want to be as boring as possible as not to freak any potential customers out. I’m with you on that one for a business profit ideal.

However, if you are going to do this to “protect children” for instance then 1) Perhaps you should screen the whole internet 2) take away the responsibility of parents to be responsible 3) allow for each family/person to make their own choice if they want this information censored.

I realize that I am an intense person who dramatically supports individual rights and those of sexuality.  I am also a marketing minded person who understand the necessity of certain choices for business-sake. Still, I think that censoring for everyone on the basis of “adult content” doesn’t make much sense.  We are not even talking about artistic nudes here. We are talking about non-fictional works (as well as fictional) about ideas surrounding gender and sexuality. How are these not educational?  Aren’t we past the whole burning book phases in our American society? Perhaps … we are not and it is just the circles I run in.

However, I do understand catering to the larger audience. So allowing you an individual or family to “opt out” of any content makes sense. For instance, I would opt out for books being shown books about poppy seeds. I’m allergic to them and pretty much hold no interest at all for me.  However, if for some reason I did want to search them I want the ability to opt back in for those results to come up in my searches and rankings.

Treating us like adults or adults of young children goes a long way. It allows you as a company to be respectful of the fact that not everyone wants to view (or have their children view) material they dislike or find offense. Also it allows the company to not think we are a bunch of idiots that can’t take care of ourselves.

Will there always be children and adults using the internet for unhealthy or inappropriate means? The answer of course is yes. However, we are not in the need of a large company dictating to us what literature (or anything else for that matter) we should or not be viewing. Let us make our own choices for ourselves and our family.

Now to directly address the questions I have been asked.  I do not actively think that amazon.com hates lgbt literature. I do not think they are directly trying to keep information away from people. I do think that either they were/are misguided in “adult content” choices as a rather big-brother business move OR that it was truly a glitch that happens a while ago and was not dealt with properly OR others took advantage of the system with ranking and other attributes as a means for dealing with their own personal agenda OR it is something else entirely that we are unaware of.

It doesn’t make sense for a company as large as amazon.com to damage their reputation with the lgbt community. I don’t think it is some hugely sinister plot as others may state. I think it is a poor choice in coding, some of the employees not handling the situation correctly, some mix up, some others exploting the system, or some combination there of.

I think the matter should be dealt with and corrected. I do think people (those authors specifically) should be upset by this and some actions be taken (what those actions are exactly I’m not sure).  I do think that amazon.com has hurt their reputation for a good while and will suffer some for it. However, I do not think they hate the lgbt community. Companies mess up, they make poor choices, and the market lets them know it… just like they have in this case.

I applaud the lgbt community for standing up and being heard… but I don’t think the heads of amazon.com should be put on sticks and marched around the town square. Just like I don’t think amazon.com is out to be evil. There is a gray area and we all live within it. Let’s try to remember that while the demonizing from all sides continues.  It takes all of us to make the truth.

Sex and Gender

I finished reading the widely acclaimed book, She’s Not The Man I Married, by Helen Boyd. And like most books I read on the topic it takes us on a journey of self discovery. There is more than sexuality, gender, marriage, romance, children, family, or wok involved. When any one of us look more deeply at what we accept of ourselves and others and attempt to widen the lens a lot of emotions will come to the surface.

I have more than a few clients to are curious about transitioning, some just cross dresser, and others who are in the process of transitioning. There are so many intricate levels combined with the discussion of personal sexuality and gender understanding that most times we find ourselves with more questions than answers. Furthermore, when a client of mine has a spouse, as many of them do, the complexities become almost mind boggling.

There was one specific part of Helen Boyd’s book that really made me smile. It reads ” We are a heterosexual couple who are simultanesouly a butch/femme couple… Coming from a straight world, where the culture assumed that Betty had to be butch because she was a man and I was femme because I am a woman. A relationship based on roles for the relationship and not the system around them … gave me permission to figure out what my own gender is all about.”

The author points out an amazing twist that not only did her husband become her wife she (the author) also was always the more masculine one in the relationship. In stereotypical lesbian terms, the author was butch and her husband/wife was femme. One can see just how sexuality and gender are fluid and finding a balance for whatever works for those involved is what is key.  There is no set rules, it comes down to what makes those involved happy.

As a therapist, I am not here to tell anyone how to believe, feel, or think. I am here to help each client meet their goals. For a good number of clients the dreams they have can appear at odds. Yet, as with most things in life there is more than the black or white and we tend to live in the gray. I don’t convince clients to transition, cross dress, or be gay nor do I convince their partners/family to accept a client’s desire to do any of the above. I am here to help each person work through the confusing process of parting ways or staying together with as little pain as possible.

Beyond all else I have found with working with alternative sexuality clients, is that they are brave. They are willing to risk it all to find out what makes them real. They have an honest desire to create a life for themselves (and with others) that provides full ownership of self.  More often then not, I am awe-struck by the courage that an alternative sexuality client has even by walking in the door to come in and talk with me.