Passionate Marriage

My clinical supervisor recommended I pick up one of David Schnarch’s books, so when I found Passionate Marriage in an Ashland bookstore, I decided I’d give it a try.

Main points:

  • I couldn’t finish it. I found his tone pretentious, and lines that insinuated the AIDS epidemic to be a good thing for its encouragement of monogamy to be in poor taste. 
  • His infused sex and marital therapy model is based on the construct of differentiation, as utilized in Bowen’s family systems theory. Basically: the more that each partner in a relationship is differentiated (able to truly speak their minds and be themselves in a relationship, and able to self-soothe and self-regulate) the likelier it is that a couple’s erotic and sex life will be truly intimate and passionate. I buy some of this, for sure. He also argues an interesting point: the more important a partner becomes in one’s life, one’s level of differentiation must also increase. Otherwise, a relationship will inevitably become “emotionally fused” which leads to a whole host of issues.
  • He argues that intimacy is NOT “good communication”, reciprocal disclosure, and other-validation. Rather, he argues intimacy comes from and includes conflict, unilateral disclosure, and self-validation. Expanding from the concept of differentiation, he argues that we are not actually intimate with our partners if we are constantly relying on them for validation and to always be in agreement; true intimacy comes when we are brave enough to be ourselves even when our partners do not agree with us. We experience intimacy when we can stand to be truly seen and to truly see our partners. 
  • The whole middle section is when I lost my momentum with the book. He describes three or four methods in which couples can begin to experiment with methods to increase intimacy in erotic and sexual situations. I got bored, honestly.
  • There was no discussion of nonmonogamy, and implicit in his description of “emotionally intimate” relationships is the assumption that those relationships are also monogamous.

Pick it up if you’re interested. I give it a 3/5 for for some thought-provoking insights, and for the recognition that I think some of the book that I didn’t like could be quite compelling to others. Maybe I’ll pick it up again in a few years.

Come As You Are

I started and finished Emily Nagoski’s book this past week, and it was incredibly refreshing. While there were pieces here and there that did not resonate with my experience or perspectives, overall her thesis validated some of the twists and turns that I have been experiencing with my sex life recently.

Her book is intended for cisgender women, as most of the research she pulls from uses cis women as participants. I think the information is likely interesting to many people.

Helpful and interesting pieces worth sharing (some of which are completely obvious but were inspiring to read nonetheless):

  • Her book encourages the reader to explore some of their greatest and less-great sexual experiences and to identify specific pieces that made those experiences great and less-great. While I have a fairly deep awareness of what gets me going, it was nice to see so many similarities across my experiences: newness, sex outside, built-up attraction and desire, and deep emotional connection to my partner. Not all of those things need to be present for me at all, but they are some of the foundational characteristics of a great sexual encounter for me.
  • The book is based on the dual control mode of sexual desire. Different from Masters and Johnson’s four phase model and Kaplan’s triphasic model, the dual control model recognizes that one must have desire before one can become aroused and experience any kind of climax. It conceptualizes desire as a system of brakes and accelerators: we all have the same parts organized in different ways which means that we all have different experiences with what will hit our brakes and hit our accelerators. Stress, both from internal and external sources, hits the brakes for most people.
  • She discusses the concepts of expectedness, enjoyment, and eagerness as distinct components of sexual arousal and desire. We will see, smell, hear a sexual stimulus and our body will expect sex, but this does not mean we enjoy it or are eager for it. We become desirous when we expect, enjoy, and are eager for something sexy.
  • Many more women than men (according to her research) experience responsive desire as opposed to spontaneous desire. Others experience context-dependent desire, or a mix of responsive and context-dependent desire. This piece in particular was very validating for me: recognizing that it is perfectly normal that I have to work to and have help from a partner to create a context and environment that eases up on my brakes and hits my accelerators more. For me, this means time to nurture our emotional and mental connection and to reconnect emotionally, physical touch that isn’t necessarily sexual, and letting go of daily stress together. I think I have always had these tendencies, but it is relatively new that I’m needing this kind of intentionality more and more.
  • Reading this book further emphasized to me that I feel sexier and more in the mood for sex when I feel good about myself, physically and emotionally. This is something that I’m still working on, and expect that I will always be working on.
  • Her book emphasizes mindfulness, emotion coaching, and the Health at Every Size movement as lenses through which to gain self awareness and self compassion, thereby decreasing stress and increasing desire. All are highly valuable concepts.

I wish that she had the space in the book to address the ebb and flow of desire in nonmonogamous relationships, or to touch more on casual sex. Otherwise, it is a great read. Please comment if you have read it and what you thought!

My dream last night 

It was stressful!

We were having a threesome. You were making me so hot. For some reason she was there. We were all drunk. And we were all happy and smiling and laughing. For a moment it was just her and I. She slid her cock inside me, and she came. I felt full and sticky. All of a sudden I felt myself come out of my reverie and I realized, Oh shit! We didn’t use a condom! How did that happen? You smiled at me, not realizing what had just happened. Slowly you made your way over to me, and started tracing your fingers along my legs. I realized you wanted to go down on me, but I couldn’t let you see how much cum I had in my pussy; you would be so hurt. I told you to hold on a minute, I need to go to the bathroom.

And then I made myself wake up.

Negotiating boundaries in new relationships has been super interesting for me. I’m so used to my relationship agreements and boundaries with J, that I’m having a hard time reigning myself in to be “more monogamous” with my new partner (if “more monogamous” is even a thing- maybe “less slutty” is more appropriate).

And it’s resulting in some interesting dreams- ones I think about all day.

✌️

HPV & Genital Warts

I was recently diagnosed with genital warts (caused by a non cancer causing strain of HPV). It was highly confusing (how long have I had HPV? why did the warts show up where they did?), and a bit distressing (what will my new partner say? how will future conversations go with future partners?). There isn’t a lot of great and solid information out there about genital warts (even my doctor was like “Yeah, it’s always risky to have genital-genital contact. I don’t know what you should tell your partners”), and it was even more stressful having to talk to my new partner about it. Luckily for me, both J and my new partner S are communicative, loving, and flexible, and I didn’t have to go through any additional relationship stress.

Like herpes, genital warts are pretty dang harmless. If you see them early and treat them quickly (usually with a topical cream), they go away pretty fast. But people don’t want them. “STI” connotes something scary and dangerous, and even while genital warts are harmless and non-life threatening, because they fall under that STI umbrella, I think may of us think of them as scary.

The reality is, the majority of us are exposed to various HPV strains causing genital warts by the time we are middle aged. Many people will have one outbreak and never have another, and many people don’t even realize they have an outbreak before their body clears the virus. Some people have the virus their whole life and never experience an outbreak. It spreads like nobody’s business, and it can be such a mild (or nonexistent) experience for many, many people; many sexual health websites say that genital warts and HPV are the common cold of STIs.

Do I have an obligation and responsibility to tell new partners that I have had one outbreak and that it was treated successfully? I lean towards yes, but I don’t really know.

The risk of transmission is much lower when there are no warts present (much like how the transmission of herpes is much lower when there are no sores present), but there’s always a risk- unless my body clears the virus completely. But I won’t ever really know, so it seems like a tough thing to be able to communicate to partners and to know how to support people in figuring out how they want to calculate risk-taking for themselves.

An aside: dental dams suck. They just do. I wish there was a better way to use a barrier on a pussy, because god damn it, dental dams just stink. I want to like dental dams and I want to be a reliable, consistent, and perfect user of them with new partners. But I don’t and I’m not.

Another aside: it has been truly hysterical and amazing how the clients I work with have come in with mirroring experiences to my own. I had a client a few weeks ago talking about her distressing week from being diagnosed with genital herpes. I wanted to be like “Omg, girl! I get you!!” but I obviously cannot do that. Instead, I nodded my head and validated her fears and concerns and worries, and helped her explore why she had such a strong reaction to her own diagnosis.

I experienced some self-shaming with my diagnosis: I’ve had sex with so many people, this is what I get, right? A frickin’ STI that may never go away? I’m so terrible! I should have done better talking to new partners about their sexual history, I should have done better using barrier methods.

Luckily, that self-shaming went away pretty quickly. I’m proud of my sexual history, adventuring, and gallivanting, and all of the communication I have had with past partners, and I don’t expect much of that to change.

Superstitious

I’m sitting/sweating in my 83* kitchen, with a bowl of orange chicken courtesy of Costco, listening to Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious.”

Something deep has shifted for me this summer. Something deep inside has shifted in a way that will never shift back to a “before.” There is only “now” (and the “future,” which I could never predict anyway).

This week I’ve eaten: Chicken burrito. BshelovesmeshelovesmenotBQ kettle chips. A truly insane amount of 85% dark chocolate. Green chile chicken sausages. A disgusting amount of mac ‘n cheese. Malted ice cream. And now the orange chicken. I’m PMSing, to be sure, but also going through the most unique “break up” that I’ve experienced.

Pretty much everyone who cares about me could have (and did) predicted that I’d be here now, three months later, a bit heartbroken and (yes, still) confused as fuck. It was still worth it, and maybe it’s not entirely over. (If she’d text me back, I could get on with that conversation).

Besides feeling heartbreak over someone who didn’t even think of us as “dating,” (despite sleepovers, falling asleep in each other’s arms, kissing, having emotionally and mentally intimate conversations, and being treated like each other’s “daters”- introductions to friends and families and touching lower backs in front of people) this summer has also been a witness to:

-My desire to have my own bedroom. I’m moving up into the attic! J, you can do whatever you want with that front bedroom.

-Conversations with our best friends about them moving into our basement. Communal living has never been more appealing to me.

-My concrete realization that touch and time are too important to me to go without in relationships.

-My sister and her girlfriend becoming engaged, and several other friends getting married or engaged.

-My decision to leave my full time job in lieu of teaching (continuing on with Human Sexuality and adding Women’s Reproductive Health) and dancing and continuing on with school.

-Intense community (dis)engagement in my local sex worker community.

-The closing of Club Sesso in Portland. So so so so much sadness over that.

-Further questioning of what it means to be queer, poly, communicative, assertive, and respectful. Why have I now met so many, and felt the attitude from others, that you can’t really be a woman who loves other women if you also love men? I don’t like it.

-Questioning unhealthy and abusive dynamics in relationships that are close to me.

-Some continued self-acceptance, appreciation, and love for myself and my physical body.

-Questioning of the importance of sex (shocking perhaps- especially if you are a longtime reader of mine). Specifically- witnessing the development of the feeling of romantic love without sex happening in a relationship. I’m still letting that sift through my brain.

-Reading a few books, all of which I would recommend- Janet Mock’s memoir on growing up trans, Redefining Realness; Sarah Katherine Lewis’ memoir on her work in the sex industry, Indecent; and local Sarah Mirk’s Sex From Scratch. I’m also in the middle of both of Brene Brown’s Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly.

-My overhaul of my OKC account. I even bought the stupid A-list membership so I could change my username.

When I opened my computer, I felt excited- I haven’t let myself have this kind of down-time in so long. And enough down-time to where I have the energy and interest in blogging. I want to do it like I used to do it. And maybe I will, but like I said at the beginning, there can never be a “before.” There is only “now,” and for today, right now I am doing this thing that I love.

I hope all of your summers have been rich and full heart-achey and full of learning and longing and love. Hopefully I will see you all soon.

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crushed

Lots of feelings right now:

There is a lot of embarrassed, a lot of sadness, a little rejection, quite a bit of loss, confusion, and frustration.

I have many thoughts, like:

How can you say the sex part feels off when we have both done such a poor job talking about sex? If sexual chemistry feels missing, that is one thing to me. But if it’s the way that the sex works, the mechanics of it- I don’t think we ever gave that a fair shot.

and

I told so many people about how excited I was. The thought of talking about how disappointed I now am is too much.

and

I haven’t been held or touched that way in a long time. I feel grateful for last week, and just so, so, so sad that it is gone.

and

The last woman I was interested in and with whom I tried dating also said she wanted to be friends and to have me in her life. That didn’t happen. I feel skeptical that it will in this case. I also don’t know if keeping this relationship at a platonic level feels right to me.

and

I don’t know why I let myself be so fucking vulnerable with people I don’t even know that well. And I don’t know that I would want to be less vulnerable, either. I just wish that it didn’t hurt so much.

and

There are just so many parts of this person that I admire so much. Her honesty, her ability to express her feelings and experiences, her smarts about social justice and domestic violence, her snarkiness, her obvious internal strength. I am trying to let of that just be, without being touched by all of the other above thoughts and feelings.

I think all of that can just be summed up with one word right now:

Ugh.