Sex, Secrets, & Shame

July 27, 2016

As an everyday therapist, shame isn’t some abstract idea—it’s quite real to me. It’s why people keep secrets. It’s why they do exactly the opposite of what they want to—to prove that they don’t want it. It’s a big reason people behave self-destructively—unable to talk about their impulses, their feelings, or their curiosity, they act them out, despite the consequences.

(Note: When the behavior involves sex, this may be mistaken as “addiction.” Nonsense.)

There is no part of being human about which Americans feel more shame than sex. Predictably, that leads to sexual secrets, sexual violence, sexual acting out, and dramatic sexual inhibitions.

And it’s intertwined with sexual exceptionalism—the idea that sex is different than everything else, and needs special rules to govern it. For example:

You go to Mary’s house for dinner, you tell her how you like your chicken cooked. You go to bed with Mary, you don’t tell her you’d like less fingernails on your back.

You go hiking with John and you tell him to slow down a bit. You go to bed with John and you don’t tell him you wish he’d slow down a bit.

You’ve seen the musical Cats a dozen times—which you know other people think is odd, but that’s OK with you. You like a finger in your butt during sex—which you imagine other people think is odd, and that’s definitely not OK with you.

You watch a NASCAR race knowing that the thought of someone crashing is actually kind of exciting. You go to bed knowing that the thought of your husband slapping you is kind of exciting—and you’re terrified of what it “means” about you.

Enter the Internet.

On the Internet, we can be ourselves. We can also be someone other than ourselves: Shy people can be flirtatious or even aggressive. Females can be male. The old can be young, the young old, and everyone can have blue eyes and a flat stomach. Many people find these adventures to be liberating.

But there are games the government won’t allow you to play, even within the relative safety of the Internet. Adults are not allowed to talk about sex with unrelated minors (it can look like grooming for abuse). Adults are not allowed to photoshop children’s heads on nude adult bodies. Adults are not allowed to go to chatrooms where other adults pretend to be minors and talk with them about having pretend sex together.

You better not do that last one—what participants call erotic age-play or age role-play—because the government has planted detectives in these chatrooms to pose as adults pretending to be minors. If the adult you’re involved with in age-play turns out to be a cop, you’ll be accused of believing that the adult you’ve been playing with is an actual minor, and your life will be ruined.

Yes, it’s that simple.

If the point of age-play is to pretend as believably as you can (“Is your mom home? No? Great! What are you wearing, honey?”), it’s almost impossible to prove that you didn’t believe you were talking to an actual minor (as opposed to an adult pretending to be a minor). And while the burden of proof rests with the government, juries play better-safe-than-sorry when confronted with someone who just might be a predator.

Which brings us back to shame: shame that we have the sexual fantasies we do, that we yearn to play the sex games we love, that our body parts are wired for pleasure a little differently than some others’ (you know, “normal” others).

Learning about it hour after hour, decade after decade, as a sex therapist I’m privileged to know exactly how kinky the human family is. Are my patients super-strange? Nah—when I compare what I hear with what my colleagues hear, it’s pretty much the same.

Age-play. Fetishes. Erogenous zones that no one would dream of (except for the millions of people with the same one). And fantasies: ranging from Cleopatra to Henry Kissinger, from a lonely farmhouse to a not-so-lonely space capsule, from the most violent and cruel to the most docile and eerily innocent.

If people weren’t ashamed of their idiosyncratic eroticism, if we all had a more accurate sense of human sexual desire, fantasy, imagination, and curiosity, we’d each realize just how gloriously ordinary our sexuality is. We wouldn’t have to hide in the anonymous bulrushes of the internet, wouldn’t have to suffer silently through others’ irritating sexual techniques, wouldn’t need special sexual etiquette. As in other things, paying attention, being respectful, and keeping a sense of humor would cover most situations.

Until then, people will keep sexual secrets from their mate (and their therapist). They’ll stop having sex with their partner, or they’ll compulsively pursue their partner every day, regardless of practicality (“I and the baby and both sick, Mario, do you really think I want sex?”). They’ll drop out of therapy rather than risk my judgement about how weird they are.

A terrified patient once said, “I bet if I tell you my story, it’ll be the weirdest thing you ever heard in this room.” “Listen,” I replied, “I’ll bet it wouldn’t even be the oddest story I’ve heard since lunch.”

And that’s the day he started changing his life.

Republicans: Porn a “Public Health Crisis”

July 11, 2016

As delegates land in Cleveland International Airport for the Republican convention next week, they can expect to hear the following announcement: “As our plane descends into Cleveland, passengers are reminded to set their watches back 15 years.”

Yes, the proposed Republican Party platform is seriously behind the times. It urges that the legalization of same-gender marriage be reversed; endorses the professionally-discredited “conversion therapy” (attempting to “cure” GLBT children); wants transgendered people barred from bathrooms that don’t match their birth gender; and of course demands that abortion be criminalized—or made so onerous that no actual person could get one.

And it declares that pornography is a Public Health Crisis, especially for children, which “is destroying the life of millions;” and it urges states to fight this “public menace,” pledging their “commitment to children’s safety and well-being.”

Them’s fightin’ words.

It’s words we didn’t hear forty years ago, and it’s not because Playboy was considered good for the soul back then. Preachers and civic leaders everywhere were talking about it: it was immoral, it was “smut,” and users were ostracized (and vendors were sometimes jailed). It was said the Bible condemned porn and the lust it encouraged, and that masturbation was sinful (a deliberate misreading of Genesis 38, in which Onan is struck down for refusing to participate in levirate marriage—not for masturbation).

These days critiques of pornography don’t mention masturbation much, don’t mention sin much, and rarely discuss morality. The anti-pornography narrative has changed.

It’s no longer about immorality; it’s about public welfare and public danger. The porn user is no longer seen as endangering just himself, but his family, his community, and millions of children across the country as well. Porn itself is dangerous, and porn users are supposedly converting this dangerous substance into public danger.

In this critique, porn use has been converted from a private activity to a public activity. As a result, the number of stakeholders who can legitimately oppose it has skyrocketed, and now include those who oppose human trafficking, domestic violence, child abuse, sex work, rape, the exploitation of women, and anything that “demeans women.”

Other new stakeholders include those promoting covenant marriage, those who treat “porn addiction,” and those who believe masturbating to porn creates sexual dysfunction or a lack of interest in real women.

These various parties now talk about pornography with great authority and passion, as if they suddenly know something about it (their bizarre statistics, extreme examples, and unproven associations show otherwise).

These new stakeholders all talk about internet porn as if it is a completely new creature about which we must develop entirely new concepts of human beings. Internet porn—with us less than twenty years–is seen as somehow responsible for social ills that have been with us for centuries, like rape and disrespect for women.

And yet according to the FBI, the rate of rape has gone down steadily since broadband internet brought porn into everyone’s home. And who wants to argue that respect and opportunities for women were higher in the 1950s, the 1930s, the 1890s, or any other decade in human history? Of course we want things to improve. That doesn’t mean things haven’t improved at all.

Internet porn does have a problematic impact—boys and young men, and therefore girls and young women, are learning about sex from it. But don’t blame porn for that.

American parents have completely abandoned the idea of effective school sex education, and they run screaming from any actual conversation with their kids about porn—its unrealistic bodies, its stylized version of sex without affection, its portrayal of sex games without the label “this is a sex game—don’t take it literally.”

If your neighbor gave his teen a car without teaching him how to drive, you wouldn’t blame the car if the kid had an accident. If we give our kids access to porn either personally (by giving them smartphones) or culturally (via a wide-open internet) and don’t give them instruction in this complex adult product, it’s unfair to blame them for their unsophisticated interpretation of what they see. It’s ludicrous and irresponsible to blame the porn—yet that’s what most grownups opposing porn do.

Sure, Republicans, keep trying to turn the clock back on regulating our private sexuality. Some of you are already trying to criminalize birth control, and your local zoning commissions keep attempting to eliminate adult entertainment—which judges keep reminding you is illegal. Keep shutting down performances of Vagina Monologues, as if that will stop people from acknowledging their vaginas. Keep insisting that discrimination is OK when directed at others’ sexual choices—cab drivers refusing to take people to abortion clinics, bakers refusing to bake wedding cakes for gays.

Americans are frightened by ISIS, paralyzed by climate change, disgusted with their government, crippled by second-rate public education, and increasingly overweight and overworked.

So good work, Republicans, coming together in these complex times to give Americans what they really need: restrictions on other people’s sexual expression.

Indiana Can’t Make Abortion a Thought Crime

July 3, 2016

This spring Indiana criminalized abortion if the reason is the genetic abnormality of the fetus (for example, Down Syndrome). Last week a federal judge declared the law unconstitutional.

Even if you believe legal abortion should be limited to a certain time period—say, likely fetal viability—this overturned law attempted a staggering intrusion into the private decision-making of Americans contemplating a legal behavior. It empowered the state to judge residents’ thinking, values, and lifestyle. It allowed the state to withhold a legal right if it doesn’t like someone’s reason for exercising that right.

Any “conservative” would protest if such a law involved driving a car, getting surgery, or buying a gun: “You can have breast implants to help you keep your husband, but not to help your lingerie modelling career;” “You can get a blood transfusion if you want to get healthy and return to your job as a go-go dancer, but not if you’re just going to be a homemaker,” etc.

This law said the state could decide if your reason for exercising your right to an abortion is good enough—and it named one reason as simply not good enough.

A real “conservative” can only support such government intrusion by being completely dishonest or by admitting that he/she value something more than logic and the rule of law. Note that two-thirds of Indiana’s overwhelmingly Republican state legislature are supported by the National Right to Life Committee, and draw your own conclusions about civic treachery.

A handful of states ban otherwise-legal abortion if it’s based on the gender, race, or ethnicity of the fetus. Such laws show the anti-choice movement’s cynical opportunism. They say they want to ban all abortions at all times. To market this position and make it more palatable, they cut intellectual corners—tolerating abortion in the case of pregnancy following rape (why? Isn’t it still an “innocent unborn child?”), or trying to limit abortion for reasons of which they don’t approve (trying to shape the gender balance of a family, or prevent the lifelong responsibility of a Down Syndrome birth).

But why bother to pass a law about Down Syndrome fetuses? There are less than 10,000 such pregnancies in America each year; in addition to the roughly 800 that die without intervention, less than half are aborted. Indiana, with 2% of the country’s population, would expect less than 200 such abortions per year.

One anti-choice website laments the loss of Down Syndrome children—“Aborting Babies With Down Syndrome Has Wiped Out 30% of the Down Syndrome Community,” it cries.

 Putting aside the fact that these abortions aren’t done on “babies” (a willful medical, legal, and moral distortion that isn’t even worth discussing) it’s fascinating to note the concept that a bigger Down Syndrome Community is better than a smaller one. Um, no: while it’s great that there’s a source of support between families who choose this jaw-dropping, lifelong responsibility, creating more such challenged families is not a positive thing.

One might as well say that since Alcoholics Anonymous helps people and families deal with problem drinkers, creating more and more alcoholics who can be helped this way is a good thing.

The overturned Indiana law also required that all aborted fetuses be buried or cremated, rather than be routinely incinerated along with other medical tissue. This is another attempt to regulate how people deal with the consequences of their private decisions.

If someone electing a legal abortion conceptualizes her choice as “losing a child” whom she wants to commemorate, she can do a wide range of things, including giving the “child” a name or observing the “child’s” death anniversary. On the other hand, if a woman sees her abortion as ending an unwanted pregnancy, the state has no right to force her to deal with the fetus as if it were a person.

As a marriage & family therapist, I have dealt with many cases in which people felt they had to expand their families and their life narratives to include the “lost child” forever—invariably compromising the quality of life of themselves and their other children. If real people in the real world don’t want to elevate a fetus into the status of personhood, the state should not force them to do so with unwanted burials—and the inevitable emotional meanings and attachments that follow. Shame on Indiana for attempting to manipulate its own citizens doing something perfectly legal.

Most states now make the experience of a simple abortion as miserable as possible for residents who have the nerve to pursue a safe, legal medical procedure. States continue to throw tantrums and just invent reasons that people can’t have abortions, or that health care providers can’t provide them.

These phony “conservatives” want to shrink “Big Government” just small enough to fit under people’s bedroom doors. Have they no shame?


Premature Ejaculation—All About Time?

June 23, 2016

Just about every week, a man or a couple come in and ask about treatment for “Premature Ejaculation” (PE). People used to say “I come too fast” or “He comes too fast.” After a few minutes on the internet, people have learned they have a condition, with a name, diagnostic criteria, and prognosis. That’s not necessarily a good thing.

People can also discover that the DSM-5 (the insurance industry’s bible of mental & sexual problems) classifies the severity of the problem thus:

* Mild, in which ejaculation occurs 30-60 seconds after vaginal penetration
* Moderate, when ejaculation occurs 15-30 seconds after vaginal penetration
* Severe, in which ejaculation occurs prior to, upon, or less than 15 seconds after vaginal penetration.

There is so much wrong with that powerful little paragraph.

“Vaginal penetration” is not an expression I use. I prefer “insertion” to “penetration.” In fact, I prefer “vaginal envelopment” or “containment.” These all sound nicer and easier than “penetration.” You can make up your own phrase to describe the experience.

Then there’s the idea that these increments of 15 seconds are meaningful to people. No one likes to come involuntarily upon entering a vagina. But virtually no one would be grateful—or feel their problem were solved—if they had 14 extra seconds of intercourse. That’s about two, maybe three thrusts. Two or three anxiety-filled, guilt-ridden, about-to-be-disappointed thrusts. So the DSM’s alleged differences between “mild”, “moderate”, and “severe” are pointless.

And by the way, try telling a guy who comes in 31 seconds (or his partner) that his problem is “mild.”

The DSM-5 is about two decades behind the times on this. There isn’t a sex therapist in a thousand who would agree with the time delineations. Most sex therapists say “rapid ejaculation” instead of “premature” anyway; to see what I call it, keep reading.

The DSM also says that as many as 30% of men “report concern” about PE, yet they say that according to their dandy new criteria, “only 1-3% of men would be diagnosed with the disorder.” I’m certain that’s not accurate; in any case, it’s a bizarre contrast. The DSM also says that PE “may increase with age” which is absolutely, positively wrong. Ask a hundred middle-aged men about their ejaculations, and the big complaint won’t be how quickly they come, but how slowly—when they come at all.

In a brief fit of thoughtfulness, the DSM notes the existence of culture-related issues, which is a big understatement. If a couple is upset that he comes after “only” 12 minutes, does he have PE? In the old Soviet Union, women would get insulted if a guy didn’t come after a minute or two—“Don’t you find me exciting?” I would translate the DSM’s “culture” as “expectations, beliefs, and self-image” as a way of overriding the silly time dimensions.

I know that physicians in general don’t have much time to discuss sex (or anything else) with patients. Hence many prescribe Viagra without knowing whether the guy has an actual problem, whether he’s drinking, having an affair, hates his wife, or hates his penis. Similarly, if a guy says “I have PE,” an MD or psychologist would ideally ask NOT “how fast is too fast” (although that’s better than nothing), but rather “and what’s the problem with that?”

Because PE isn’t a problem. People turn it into a problem by withdrawing in disappointment, or blaming their partner, or having affairs, or refusing to try other ways of being sexual or intimate. And then they (or their partner) blame the PE.

My experience in treating PE is that half the time I don’t treat it at all. I treat power struggles, shame, unrealistic expectations, fear of conception, discomfort talking about sex, and myths about “real sex.” The rest of the time I treat anxiety and/or depression, which are the typical physiological triggers of the unwanted ejaculation—as opposed to too much pleasure, which is what a lot of people assume it is.

A combination of these various interventions usually reverses the PE. More importantly, people often start enjoying sex again. That’s the goal of sex, you know—to enjoy sex, not to last a long time.

Some practitioners prescribe anti-depressants like Zoloft to slow down ejaculation. It often works, but doing that without a thorough psycho-social evaluation is like giving someone Vicodin for physical pain without finding out about any structural problems (e.g., spinal stenosis) or lifestyle issues (e.g., jogging when injured). It may provide short-term relief, but it could be laying the foundation for bigger problems later.

So if I don’t say PE and I don’t even like the gentler “Rapid Ejaculation,” what do I call it? I encourage patients to say “I come faster than I want to” (if they do). That helps us focus on the real problem—not the “I come faster…” but the “…than I want to.” It creates the expectation that we’re going to talk about expectations, communication, arousal, the relationship, and the meaning of sex.

Yeah, I know “I come faster than I want to” is a lot of words, and it doesn’t have a quick acronym like PE. That’s OK—there’s plenty of time.

National Men’s Health Week

June 14, 2016

National Men’s Health Week is June 13-19, 2016. Guys, here are 6 tips for better sexual health. Ladies, feel free to listen in.

* Don’t have sex drunk

While drinking, your judgment is compromised, your sensitivity to others is reduced, and your penis slows WAY down. As Shakespeare tells MacDuff in Macbeth, “drinking stimulates desire but hinders performance.” Every year, dozens of men come to see me for supposed erection problems that are simply penises functioning normally when their owners are hammered.

And let’s be honest—sex while drunk doesn’t even feel good. It’s usually the idea of sex that people desire when drunk; the actual experience is typically sloppy, uncomfortable, and unsatisfying.

You know about “beer goggles,” right? The scientific term is “We do crazy stuff after drinking.” Be smarter than that. Remember, people are held accountable for what they do while drinking, even if they don’t care at the time.

* Don’t take contraceptive risks

Short of vehicular manslaughter, nothing will change your life like an unintended pregnancy. For a healthy future, don’t risk it—either use birth control, or enjoy sexual activities other than intercourse. Withdrawal? That’s the method used by many people who become parents when they hadn’t planned to. Besides, trying desperately to enjoy sex while not ejaculating can really get on your nerves, and even exacerbate sexual difficulties.

For a healthy present, find a reliable birth control method. And remember that vasectomy is inexpensive, simple, virtually 100% effective, and it has absolutely no effect on sexual function. Except to make sex a lot more relaxed.

* If you watch porn, don’t neglect your partner or her feelings

If your partner doesn’t like you watching porn, discuss this with her (I rarely hear gay couples argue about porn), find out exactly what her objections are—and address them, rather than blowing them off. Most couples arguing about porn are actually arguing about something else—sometimes sexual, sometimes not. Even if the two of you agree to disagree, it’s vital that your partner feels understand rather than dismissed.

If your partner wants more sex with you than you do with her, you might want to discuss that, too—although most couples would rather walk across the Sahara barefoot than discuss that incredibly sensitive topic. But that’s often what the porn argument is really about.

* Don’t proceed to intercourse if you’re not ready

The reasons that men proceed to intercourse when they’re not ready include: fear of losing their erection; boredom with the erotic activities that precede intercourse; fear that the woman will change her mind; assumptions about what a woman wants.

Of course, sex doesn’t always have to include intercourse. More to the point, if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing before it, discuss that with your partner. Engaging in “foreplay” as an unpleasant but mandatory cost to getting laid is a terrible waste. It can also create resentment and make your penis unenthusiastic.

If you start fooling around and you realize you’re just too tired, too worried, too angry, or you’ve had too much to drink, look at your partner in a friendly way and say so. She may be disappointed, but at least she won’t be having lousy sex and wondering why.

* Have realistic expectations of your body

Our bodies are not like ATMs, ready to deliver 24/7, rain or shine. It’s unrealistic to think we can get erect when we’re worried, can slide a penis into anything without lubrication, can ignore lower back pain while thrusting, or climax when we’re not excited.

Our bodies can be the site of wonderful sexual feelings. If we expect miracles, or if we forget that emotions affect our sexual functioning, we’re inviting disappointment. Don’t blame your body for working perfectly when you don’t give it the right conditions to do what you want it to.

* Remember, real sex doesn’t feel like porn looks

While partner sex can be wonderful, most of the time it isn’t an incredibly intense experience like porn portrays. Nor do most people feel as confident, as uninhibited, as spontaneous, as self-accepting, or as physically powerful as the characters portrayed in porn.

People who try to recreate in real life the emotional experiences that fictional characters portray (whether in porn, James Bond films, or car commercials) will always feel disappointed. Don’t try to create fantasy sex. Relax and create real sex.

* * *

Why haven’t I mentioned STDs?

All the information anyone needs about the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of STDs is available on a jillion websites. Millions of people pay lip service to “awareness” and “protection,” although far fewer people actually consider STDs when making sexual decisions. Whether safer-sex behaviors include outercourse, condoms, or honest conversation, one more professional’s encouragement probably won’t make much difference.

So here’s what I’d say: If you have an STD, tell your partner. Preferably yesterday. Definitely today. This isn’t an issue of sexuality. It’s a matter of personal integrity and trust. And at the end of the day, that’s way more important than one less sexual encounter.


Sexual Policy Questions for Candidates

June 2, 2016

As the California primary beckons, bringing the season to a climax, the would-be candidates have been asked questions about practically everything. I suppose we should be grateful that Hillary hasn’t been asked about the size of her hands.

As usual, there have been almost no questions regarding sexually-oriented policy. In our continuing effort to educate the media and politicians along with the public, here are 10 questions that serious candidates should answer:

* Will you encourage states to have a humane policy about sexting by minors? Especially if a state has an age of consent under 18 (half the states do)—so that people who can have sex legally can’t be prosecuted for taking nude selfies?

* Will you make sure that there’s enough funding so that anyone can get tested for an STI or potential pregnancy confidentially and anonymously within a two-hour bus ride of their house?

* Will you encourage the Congress to pass a law requiring all sex education to be medically accurate? After all, we expect geography and chemistry curricula to be accurate.

* Will you state that there is a clear difference between abortion and contraception, and that while people may differ about the ideal availability of abortion, science shows us the difference between the two? And that as a country we stand squarely for people’s access to contraception?

* Will you instruct the DOJ, HHS, and other relevant agencies that clitoridectomy of anyone under 18 (which is 100% of the cases) constitutes child neglect-abuse-endangerment (take your pick), and let every religious and ethnic community know this is American law? (Let’s not confuse the issue by bringing up circumcision, please.)

* Will you take sexual violence on campus seriously enough to come up with dependable, replicable figures on its occurrence—not the bizarre, demonstrably inaccurate “1 in 5” meme that your predecessor, some Senators, and so many activists toss around?

* Will you challenge state attorneys general to require local communities to prove they have a good reason to shut down strip clubs, swing clubs, and sex toy stores? Will you instruct the Department of Justice to examine the legality of cities inventing a Sexually Oriented Business category to create punitive zoning and taxation policies? Taxing a strip club differently than the ballet is clearly unconstitutional.

* Will you instruct the FBI to treat violence committed against clinics that offer legal abortion in the same way that they treat any organized violence against legal enterprises—i.e., as potential racketeering activity?

* Will you challenge the Department of Education to give new instructions to college campuses, requiring that all cases of alleged sexual violence be referred to local police and due process judicial proceedings, rather than instructing colleges to throw together “courts” of non-trained administrators to, um, do their best?

* When consulting religious figures about policies involving so-called morality issues—such as pornography, unwed pregnancies, taxes on condoms—will you consult representatives of the atheist/humanist community? (And will you promise never to say, on behalf of our nation, “Our prayers go out to the victims and their families”?)





Watching His Wife With Other Guys

May 21, 2016

In a world where jealousy seems “normal,” and where so many men talk about women who cheat, there’s another kind of man. He’s the one who fantasizes about his wife or girlfriend with another guy. He may even try to make it happen in real life.

Call them cuckolds or hot-wifers (as in, ‘hey guys, check out my hot wife’); these guys are generally not really swingers, because they aren’t usually after another sexual partner for themselves. There’s more of these guys out there than you may realize.

With some cuckolds, humiliation is part of the desired experience. The script may include demeaning hubby’s penis, his lovemaking, or his attractiveness. The other gentleman may be prompted to tease him cruelly as well. In some cases, the husband may be “forced” to suck the other guy’s penis, lick his semen, or submit in other ways.

Hot-wifers, on the other hand, like to feel proud rather than degraded. They like to show off wifey, sometimes in exhibitionistic games (such as deliberate wardrobe malfunctions or exposed body parts). Unsuspecting gas station attendants, room service delivery guys, even nearby drivers or freeway truckers may get a surprised eyeful. Glass hotel elevators were made for these couples.

So why do men do this? Why do they yearn to see their wives have pleasure (or intimate talking, or even consensually rough treatment) with someone else?

Freud would have a field day with these guys: repressed homosexuality, low self-esteem, fear of rejection or abandonment (and unconsciously arranging to feel in charge of it), performance anxiety (and out-sourcing responsibility to the other guy).

And in a minority of cases, maybe the guy actually doesn’t care for his wife.

On the other hand, it can be a gift to the woman, or a demonstration of trust. It can make the couple feel closer by sharing a taboo adventure (fantasy or real). It can be the ultimate treat for an actual voyeur—not just watching, but watching something meaningful, with no fear of getting caught. It can be a way of creating a safe environment for wifey to have flings with others, whether friends or strangers. There can be a sexy emotional bonding between the two men, not to mention tangible erotic possibilities.

As the saying goes, it’s all fun and games until (unless) someone gets hurt. Wifey might become too enthusiastic about non-monogamy to suit her husband. Hubby might push wifey to do things she later regrets; she may feel his voyeuristic pleasure was more important to him than her comfort or safety. Some innocent bystanders might protest that they’re being used without their consent. And of course there’s always the chance that the extra guy turns out to be a little nutty.

Content people rarely go to therapy, so the couples discussing this in my office are generally in conflict. Frequently, it’s because he can’t take ‘no’ for an answer. That’s generally not about sex—when people can’t hear the word ‘no,’ it’s typically about power. And if the ‘no’ is about something you really, really want? There are ways to discuss it collaboratively rather than being a huge pain in the butt. And if two people can’t work something out, eventually someone has to let it go or leave the relationship. Or quarrel about it forever.

Another reason people come to therapy about this is because she wants to ‘understand’ his quirky thing. When he explains it, she may still not get it–and then imagine it’s because he doesn’t love her enough to be possessive. Or that he secretly wants the same privilege—one or more outside partners—for himself, and won’t say so directly.

Some guys don’t want any more men in their bedroom, but they love talking about the fantasy: what would it be like? What would you wear for the guy? What would you like him to do? Wouldn’t it be great if he had a huge erection, or a skillful tongue?

While some women enjoy playing the fantasy game, others find it intrusive and distracting. Or artificial and theatrical. Worse, they may assume it’s because they’re not sufficiently attractive on their own, and hubby needs to imagine and talk about crazy scenes to get excited. No one likes to think that’s true.

Some women would be fine about the fantasy game occasionally—they just don’t want it every time they have sex. That’s understandable, as so many people are trying to get away from routine in sex, rather than reinforcing it. And some women would be fine about the fantasy game if they felt confident it would stay on the fantasy level. But they’re suspicious that while they’re getting accustomed to the fantasy, hubby is plotting the next move in a longer project—ultimately acting out the fantasies they discuss.

Couples who come to see me about this subject often think they’re the only ones dealing with it. My first contribution is to be non-reactive, accept what they’re saying, and treat it like any other couples conflict. I help them talk, help them listen, help them express their fears that they won’t be able to work this out. I don’t tell them what to do, I don’t take sides, and I don’t say that these ideas are either ‘normal’ or ‘not normal.’

That’s never my job. People never need my help in arguing about who’s the normal one, who’s the kinky one, and who’s the selfish one. My job is to gently wean them off those unproductive conversations and onto more honest and productive ones.

That’s my fantasy.

Candye Kane Obituary: Blues + Sex = Red-Hot Mama

May 18, 2016

I started publishing Sexual Intelligence monthly in 2000, which included an annual Awards issue.

The following year my pal Betty Dodson introduced me to an enormous, vibrant, and very talented blues singer named Candye Kane. I loved her music, she loved my books, and we became friends. I went to many of her Bay Area shows; when I did, she’d invariably introduce me to the crowd as her favorite sex therapist, always as a preamble to one of her many songs about sexuality.

In 2005 Candye Kane was honored with a Sexual Intelligence Award.

Last week she died of cancer, a defiant, talented young woman of 54. As her obituary, here’s the announcement of her award.

candye kane

2005 SI Award winner: Candye Kane, Red-Hot Musician

A voice like Janis Joplin, a life story like Billie Holliday, a soul like Etta James, and the eroticism of the girl next door–if the girl next door is a 200-pound bisexual ex-stripper.

Born in East Los Angeles, taught by her parents to shoplift at the age of 9, Candye Kane has lived the classic blues life. At 16, she abandoned a music scholarship when she became an unwed mother involved in gang culture. On welfare to support herself and her young son, she became a sex worker. She appeared on the covers of skin magazines such as HustlerJuggs, and Floppers.

But she never lost her devotion to music. Using money from her lucrative sex work, she hired musicians, wrote songs, and booked studio time. In 1986, Kane finally signed a development deal with CBS and recorded a demo. But the label dropped her when they found out about her “inappropriate” experiences. Managers and agents encouraged her to lose weight, renounce her past, and reinvent herself as a wholesome country singer.

Kane continued writing songs, and accidentally discovered brash blues women like Big Mama Thornton and Bessie Smith. She found a universe where women had colorful pasts, and were often plus-sized like her. Most had grown up in oppressive circumstances, which they turned into passionate music, celebrating their sexuality. Candye Kane found a home in the blues.

With even more resolve not to change or hide her Dionysian character, Kane finally recorded her first commercial CD in 1994–and has made six more since then. She has played with or supported B.B.King, Ray Charles, Etta James, Johnny Lang, Jerry Lee Lewis, k.d. lang, Van Morrison and many more.

Candye’s live show honors the bold blues women of the past and today’s modern sexual woman (and man). She delivers barrelhouse blues and soulful ballads, often laced with sexual innuendo. She sometimes says she’s a black drag queen trapped in a white woman’s body; in her low-cut gowns, she sometimes strides over to the piano to “play the 88s with my 44s.” No one in the audience can miss her message: everyone needs love, everyone deserves respect, and everyone should enjoy their body and sexuality. No wonder she’s especially loved by the disenfranchised, such as bikers, porn fans, the overweight, the kinky, and the misunderstood.

At this point, Candye Kane doesn’t apologize for anything–and offers the best damn blues show money can buy. She sings about sex, love, sex, loss, sex, desire, and sex, never far from the many forms of sexual imagination. When she sings that she’s 200 pounds of fun, she obviously means it (although she passed 200 a few years ago). Unwilling to renounce her sexuality as the price of a career, building her success around her sexual integrity (sure, a fantastic voice and band help, too), feeling and being sexy in her own way–no matter what she looks like or what we think–those add up to Sexual Intelligence, which we’re glad to recognize.

For some good clean fun, catch one of her shows or albums. Her website is

The Need For the Sexual “Other”

May 3, 2016

It seems like most human beings need an “Other” through which they demonize aspects of sexuality they fear, obsess about, or feel guilty about.

That Other may be considered slightly less than fully human; more or less out of control; immoral, uncaring about the consequences of his/her/its actions; dangerous, either in its coercive power or (just as often) its seductive power; ultimately, Not Like Us.

For much of history that Other has been homosexuality. But at various times, the Sexual Other has been Too-Sexual Woman; Masturbating Child; Adulterer; Perverted Child Molester; Pornographer; Compulsive Rapist (recently updated to Campus Rapist and Internet Predator); even the Drug Dealer whose goal is/was to get you so high that you couldn’t resist doing sexual things you shouldn’t.

As The Homosexual has gained respectability—as he/she has become more like “us” (even getting married and shopping at Ikea)—the Sex Addict and Porn Addict have become an Other. They can’t be trusted with sex—they use it for the wrong reasons (to escape from their cares, to feel young or attractive or desired), mocking “real” or “adult” sex (attached, monogamous, non-kinky). We’re even told their sex/porn activity makes their brains different! That’s as Other as you can get.

The latest Sexual Other, of course, is TransPerson. He/She/It/Them is so different from “us” that “we” don’t even know what to call him/her/it/them. And apparently we are so disoriented by these alien people that the deepest question we can ask about them, the most important policy issue they inspire is…WHAT BATHROOM WILL THEY USE?

Indeed, America is different from other countries when it comes to public bathrooms. For starters, we don’t have a fraction of the public bathrooms that Europe, Canada, Australia, and Japan have. Even if you’re in downtown America, surrounded by bars and restaurants, you have to apologize or even lie in order to walk in off the street and use their bathroom. You know you’ve done it: “My wife is pregnant, we need the bathroom;” “My kid’s diabetic, we need the bathroom;” “The FBI has declared our house a crime scene, we need the bathroom.”

In civilized countries, you don’t need to obfuscate or prevaricate for the privilege to urinate. Public toilets are everywhere, and toilets in places serving the public are open to, um, the public.

There are always demands to limit the rights of Sexual Others—to limit their ability to hurt everyone else (or themselves). Because they’re seen as Different, however, the way this is done typically ranges from tragic to comic.

We withhold accurate information (including words, for heavens sake!) from teens to prevent them from being sexual, which hasn’t worked since the beginning of time (does the lack of information prevent you from doing what you want?). We withhold civil rights from gay people (and used to actively punish them) to discourage homosexuality, which hasn’t worked since the beginning of time. The federal government now demands that unwanted sexual jokes on campus be investigated by the university—a cruise missile aimed at a flea—which undermines male-female empathy rather than promote it.

Yes, on campus, Heterosexual Male is the Other. Especially if he’s stupid or naïve enough to have sex with a woman who’s been drinking. Now that unwanted kissing and non-physical, non-coercive pressure to have sex are enough to get someone thrown out of college and labelled a sexual wrongdoer for life (forget about grad school, forget about scholarships, forget about internships), people will believe anything about Heterosexual Male. Even the President will believe that 1 in 5 college women is sexually assaulted, higher than the rate in the hellish Congo civil wars or the barbaric wars that tore apart Yugoslavia 20 years ago.

As the father of two college-bound daughters, the President should have checked how the researchers came to their conclusion. It’s pretty simple—they didn’t ask women if they’d been sexually assaulted, they asked them to check a list of experiences, and the RESEARCHERS decided which constituted “sexual assault.” Like unwanted kissing. Like insistent pressure to have sex. As unpleasant as these experiences are, would you call them sexual assault?

Any group can find itself marginalized, demonized, and persecuted for its sexual practices or beliefs. You can have your legal medication withheld from you; your hospital visiting privileges limited; your physician forced to recite (under pain of prosecution) “facts” s/he knows to be false; you can be forced to endure such recitations, or even forced to endure an unnecessary vaginal ultrasound probe as the price of getting a legal abortion. You can have your private place of sexual recreation closed down as (an unproven) public health hazard. You can have your group’s medical problems deemed insufficiently “normal” to warrant a place in physician training (“if you’d use your butt only for what it was intended, you wouldn’t be in the Emergency Room right now”).

You could even find people who want to be the U.S. President, the leader of the Free World, demanding laws determining which bathroom you can use. Because one in five women who use a public bathroom are sexually assaulted, you know. I read it on the Internet.

Michelle, Her Breasts, & the Male Gaze

April 29, 2016

I have a close friend in Santa Cruz, a therapist named Michelle, with whom I have lunch once a month. It’s usually pretty glorious, with several conversations going on at once—professional, personal, political, and mmm-this-bagel-is-perfect-isn’t-it.

Yesterday we talked about women’s breasts.

We were talking about breasts as symbols of sexuality—whether their owner wants that or not. We reminisced back to junior high school—when Michelle (in California) already had adult-sized breasts, and I (in New York) just gawked at such things wherever they were, whenever I could.

Like a large number of early-teen boys, I was so overwhelmed by how amazing breasts were that I could hardly relate to the humans they were attached to. It was much easier back then to talk to girls who weren’t fully developed. Their humanity wasn’t obscured by the very breasts to which I was so attracted.

Michelle, of course, had the reverse experience growing up—way, way more attention than she wanted, and too much of it on those big things on her chest rather than on her as a person. Of course she continually had to deal with the assumption that she wanted sexual attention. I remember thinking (if you can call it that) the very same thing—that girls with big breasts were obviously very sexual. If that wasn’t true, and they didn’t want that kind of attention, why did they grow those big breasts? Like I said, I was 12.

Michelle also recalled how some individual boys were perfectly nice to her—until they were in a group of 4 or 5 guys. “You could count on teasing when guys were in groups,” she recalls. “They all must have felt pressure to prove themselves in front of each other. And of course being in a group allowed some of them to say things they couldn’t say as individuals while relating to me one-to-one.”

As she spoke, I remembered all this like it was yesterday. Does any heterosexual man ever forget his initial encounters with those glorious, magical, desirable, unattainable, mysterious treasures? If only access to them wasn’t controlled by alien creatures—girls!

Ah, if only we could all just talk about it. If only boys could be allowed to look, really look at some breasts for a few moments, without guilt or shame; eyes ablaze, jaws slack, no shame or deceit.

If only girls could talk about how complicated it is to have those things—the combination of pride, responsibility, frustration, and even alienation. The new burden of having to administer something with enormous social value—when just a child, with limited administrative skills. If only boys and girls could sit down and connect with the humans behind the banter, the intrusive looks, the defensiveness, the sensitivity.

Call me dense, but at 12 and 13 it never occurred to me to ask a girl my age what it was like to be the focus of desire. It never occurred to me to talk about the insane desire I felt, how respect and empathy were so far away when driven mad by a lust I didn’t understand—and hadn’t asked for either, by the way.

Eventually Michelle turned our conversation to “the male gaze.” I’d been hearing the term a lot while researching my forthcoming book on pornography, and Michelle had been receiving it almost her whole life. She reminded me that even in a perfectly safe situation, the full attention of a male almost twice her size could be intimidating. She suggested that most men don’t know the impact their own gaze has on most women.

She’s right about this. Most men eventually learn exactly how to look at women in public—how long you can look, how explicitly you can look, when you have to look away, etc.. At the airport or supermarket, competent adult men don’t compliment strange women on their nice butt—it’s much better to admire a woman’s shoes. Mentioning your wife while doing so gets you bonus points.

On the other hand, heterosexual men are always looking at women in public, and of course women know this. Michelle says women have to learn to forget this, at least temporarily; the inability to forget that you’re being looked at by strange men can make going out a nightmare. It’s not so much that the male gaze promises violence or even mild intrusion. It’s that it requires women in public to be engaged with the men around them whether they want to be or not. The male gaze can be a bully, even when not intended that way.

Of course, some men and women are so self-conscious that being out in public is unnerving; sitting in a waiting room or standing in a long bathroom line can be challenging. It would be nice if such people could soothe their anxiety about being “seen” by others. Regardless of the male (or generalized strangers’) gaze, some people really are way too sensitive about others’ (alleged) perceptions, and they paralyze themselves.

Women’s bodies are the screen onto which men project our hunger, loneliness, uncertainty, innocence, humiliation, and narcissism. Most women don’t ask for this, although they eventually resign themselves to it. In a really adult relationship you can even discuss this.

We men may know that our male gaze can be scary or discomfiting to others. We can think about our participation in this unfortunate dynamic, even consider the unintentionally hurtful results of our way of looking.  Or we can say “not my problem” and stick women with it. And then complain about the results.

Well excuse me, I have some apologies to write. If only there were some way to contact people you haven’t seen in a half-century. Meanwhile, I have to think about my next layover at the airport.






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