Self-Pleasure That’s Really About Pleasure

Self-pleasure is a particularly relevant topic right now, as COVID-19 reshapes the way we conduct our lives, including our intimate lives. Many of us are quarantined, sheltering in place, or socially-isolated, and most of us are avoiding unnecessary contact with others, even if we’re still going to a physical workplace. Some are separated from partners, others are not. Either way, this moment in history is an opportunity to explore your own sense of what is erotic. I’ve gotten some questions about this topic, so today, I’m going to focus on self-pleasure and how to build a stronger erotic connection with yourself. 

In our culture, we tend to assume that desire comes from outside ourselves: we see a sexy person walk by, and we get turned on. But the truth is that desire comes from within: when that sexy person walks by, it leads to a thought, and that thought comes from within you. It’s your interpretation of any given stumulus that makes it erotic, and results in you feeling turned on. It’s not a “bolt from the blue;” it comes from your own erotic self. 

Why is this important? This is the point I want to make: because sexual desire is essentially seated with you, it is something that you can nurture. This is where building a positive relationship with your erotic self starts. Could you build the ability, within yourself, to turn yourself on because you want to be turned on? To feel sexy because you want to feel sexy? To create a sexual vibe within yourself, because you want to experience that? 

In our culture, self-pleasure is called masturbation, and it’s seen as a sin, or as somehow harmful. We’re subjected to tons of propaganda about the dangers of self-pleasure, social, religious, and otherwise. I want to reframe that: self-pleasure is simply that, pleasure you create for yourself. It doesn’t matter whether you have one partner or multiple, whether you’re in the same home or in different homes, or whether you’re sheltering in place separately or together. Everyone has access to their own feelings of desire and arousal within themselves, and this is a great opportunity to explore that.

When we talk about masturbation, the implication seems to be that it’s a quick and somewhat shameful thing you do in secret. Maybe you do it for a purpose: 

  • to manage anxiety
  • because you’re bored and it gives you something to do
  • as a study break or a work break
  • to relieve your menstrual cramps
  • to help you go to sleep
  • to relieve intense feelings of desire

Now, all of those are great reasons for self-pleasure, but it seems to be that the “pleasure” part is strangely absent. If this is a sneaky, shameful thing we do as quickly as possible, just to get it over with, I think we are selling ourselves short. 

What if you really treated self-pleasure as a form of pleasure? What would make it luxurious and lovely? Think about it for a minute. 

  • Would you light candles? 
  • Would you take your time? 
  • Would you tease a little? 
  • Would you bring in some other things that are sexy to you? Maybe some props or a sexy story? 
  • Maybe a sexy phone call with your beloved? 
  • Would you explore your body more broadly?

Whatever you would choose to bring in to make your self-love deeply pleasurable and erotic is wonderful; it’s all about discovering your inner eroticism and following where it leads. 

If you missed last week’s blog, check it out here; it’s all about self-pleasure strategies partners can use to stay connected while they’re self-isolating. I’m going to be vlogging and writing a lot more in the coming weeks about the impact of COVID-19 on sex, intimacy, and relationships, so stay tuned!

How Self-Pleasure Can Help Partners Stay Close in the face of COVID-19

Last week, I blogged about how COVID-19 has impacted people’s romantic and sexual lives. Today, I’m following up by offering some practical advice for how people can maintain a fulfilling intimate connection and a joyful sex life, even when they’re socially distanced from their partners. I’m going to be focusing on self-pleasure, because it’s one of the most useful skills you can have for maintaining a satisfying erotic life. 

Contrary to popular belief, self-pleasure can be immensely useful for strengthening your sexual connection with your partner. This is more true than ever right now, when many people are socially distanced from their partners, either because they’re living in separate households or because they’re trying to avoid sharing germs within the same household. It can be very disappointing and frustrating to be unable to physically connect with your partner in person. Right now, if you are socially distanced from your partner, you can’t have partnered sex, but that doesn’t mean you can’t share erotic experiences, or experience intimacy and closeness. That’s where self-pleasure comes in. 

If you have clients who are socially distanced from their partners, now might be a good time for you to get comfortable discussing the concept of self-pleasure with your clients. They may need your help to think creatively about the possibilities for connection that are still open to them, even in this time of social distancing. They will also need your encouragement: it’s hard, but they can get through this. It’s going to be okay. In fact, I think there are some ways that partners can actually take advantage of this situation to build skills that will help them to create a stronger sexual connection now, and in the future. 

In our culture, we tend to assume that sexual touch should be from one person to another person. I don’t agree with that idea. In my experience, one of the most powerful sexual skills you can possibly have is the ability to touch yourself for pleasure when your partner is with you, and for you to find it erotic to watch your partner do the same. 

That’s because, over the course of their life, there are almost certainly going to be situations where partnered sex is off the table. We’re living through a very dramatic example of that principle right now, but this will probably not be the last time that your clients find themselves in a situation where their typical ways of having sex aren’t working for them. 

When that happens, you don’t want them to have to shut the door to intimacy entirely. Self-pleasure is an incredibly useful, and versatile, skill. Being able to experience pleasure in tandem with your partner, without worrying about giving them an orgasm, or about triggering sex pain, or about having an orgasm too quickly or too slowly, can really reduce anxiety, and therefore free up more psychic energy for pleasure and connection. It can allow partners to have a joyful, connected sexual experience, when otherwise they may have had a stressful, disappointing experience, or given up on having sex entirely. 

The key to having great sex over a lifetime is flexibility. If you want to maintain a fulfilling sexual connection over the many changing circumstances of a lifespan, you’ll need to be able to respond creatively to new challenges. Now is a perfect moment to practice that skill. Let’s imagine that you’re on some kind of videoconference platform with your partner, and you’re having an intimate interlude. You’re going to have to touch yourself if you want there to be genital touch, because your partner is far away, on the other side of a screen. This is the same for phone sex and sexting. Of course, if you just want fun, juicy flirtation, you can totally do that without touching your genitals. But if what you want is genital touch, I’m here to remind you that you can do that. Just put your hand on your genitals, and enjoy the vibe you can build with your partner when they’re doing the same. 

This as an opportunity to for your clients to build their repertoire of ways to experience erotic connection with one another. If they can respond to this moment with creativity and flexibility, it will certainly pay off in their relationship down the road.

Working With Undisclosed Sex Pain: Vivian’s Story

In my last post, I told you about one of my experiences working with sex pain and desire discrepancy in therapy. Today’s story from the therapy room comes from Vivian, who lives and practices in Sydney, Australia. Vivian recently took my 16-week online course “Assessing and Treating Sex Issues in Psychotherapy.”  Vivian writes:

I would describe my skill level with sex issues before I took your class as intermediate. I was comfortable asking about sex issues and I could help couples use those discussions to support more intimacy and healing of wounds. And I still got so much out of your course!

Since taking your course, I use your script to open the topic of sex with every new client, both couples and individuals. What an easy way to introduce this topic right in the first session! In the majority of cases, clients tell me there is something about sex they want to discuss, and then I use your brief assessment tool as a non-threatening, normalizing way to delve into the issues. This usually opens up a conversation between us, which in itself is diagnostic in that I get a good sense of their comfort with the topic and their interactional patterns.

It’s been surprising to me to see how often sex pain is an issue, and has so often never been revealed let alone discussed. For example, a young woman I saw last week said that pain happens “sometimes” during penetration and that she’d never told her partner. After unpacking this a bit, I was able to give them some psychoeducation, make a recommendation about how to proceed, and ask them to stop any activities that resulted in pain until it could be resolved; I was able to let them know that continuing to have painful sex can cause other problems both physically and emotionally.

With the same couple, I used several other tools and techniques I learned in your course and was able to help her be able to tell him that there were things she’d like him to do which she hadn’t been able to say. Although those were difficult conversations, and they both had to stretch to have them, I had the tools, knowledge, and the confidence to help them get there.

I am still exploring the wealth of information included in your course, and reveling in all the resources too. Thank you so much!

Kind regards,

Vivian.

www.vivianbaruch.com