In this series, we’re talking about books! We try to cover as much as we can on this blog, but in the hopes of expanding your knowledge of gender and sexuality, we put together this list of books for you to reference as you need it. In this installment, we’re recommending books about kink, non-monogamy, and the trans experience.
Polyamory can seem like a daunting, radical relationship model for those of us who have only ever learned about or engaged in monogamous relationships. But there is a lot we can learn from consensual non-monogamy that we can apply to any relationship model to help strengthen & enrich it. Even if you know polyamory isn’t for you, here are 4 lessons you can take from a non-monogamous relationship model & use in your own relationship:
(And, if you haven’t explored non-monogamy, but are interested in learning, here are four things that may help you figure out if it’s right for you and your partner[s]!):
1. Communication is key
Healthy non-monogamous relationships function based off of communication. What are the parameters? How can each partner engage in relationships with others without violating boundaries? What’s on the table? What’s off limits?
Open relationships can cover a wide variety of relationship models, and it’s up to the partners to discuss and decide together what they are comfortable with. Will you be in multiple committed relationships? Will you and your partner have other partners in common? Is it just physical outside of your relationship?
Without the necessary communication, feelings would be overlooked and partners wouldn’t have the foundation needed to keep the relationship safe, consensual, and enjoyable.
If your needs or desires aren’t being met in your relationship, the best way to deal with it, is to get it out in the open. Talk to your partner(s), express what you need, what you desire, and come up with some creative solutions on how you can get it! You don’t need to open your relationship if that’s not something you’re comfortable with, but keeping communication as a main pillar of your relationship can help you make sure the needs of all partners are met while keeping the trust & strength of the relationship intact.
2. Attraction isn’t limited
Being in a monogamous relationship doesn’t automatically eliminate any attraction for others that you may have. And that doesn’t make your relationship with your partner any less significant! Even if you love your partner, are attracted to them, you may still find yourself attracted to someone new! And that doesn’t diminish your attraction for your partner. It’s completely common to feel attraction to more than one person, and it’s nothing to be ashamed about! Feeling attraction outside of your relationship doesn’t have to be a threat to your relationship–instead, it should be expected! Feeling it doesn’t mean you’re going to act on it, regardless of your relationship orientation.
3. Not all needs can be met in one relationship
Expecting one person to meet 100% of your needs can put a lot of pressure on your partner and add stress in your relationship. Desire & needs are different for every person–and your partners might not match yours all the time!
Instead of sacrificing needs you have because your partner can’t meet them (or vice versa) take some time to think and talk through your needs with your partner. See what they can give, what you can give, and identify the needs that aren’t met in your relationship. From there, explore about other ways you might be able to meet those needs, whether it’s from other platonic relationships, or from opening your relationship.
Accepting that your partner cannot meet all of your needs (and that you can’t meet all of your partners needs) can be a difficult realization, but it’s an important one! Addressing that can help take unfair pressure off of your relationship & allow you and your partner to have an open, honest discussion about your needs. Not being able to have one person meet 100% of your needs doesn’t make your relationship any less significant! It just means that you’re going to have to work out alternative ways to meet them. All partnerships include this in some way–some of us just talk about it more than others!
It might feel uncomfortable to let your partner know that they aren’t meeting your needs, but opening the conversation so that both of you can have an honest discussion of your relationship needs can help you strengthen your trust & communication. And taking the time to come up with alternative solutions with your partner will reassure them that they are a significant part of your life & an important component to your needs. If this conversation feels hard, try including all the wonderful ways your partner does meet your needs! Acknowledging strengths in the relationship is just as important as addressing needs that aren’t being met.
4. It’s all about trust
Many monogamous couples are wary of non-monogamy and non-monogamy is sometimes labeled as an excuse to cheat on their partner without consequences. Consensual non-monogamy is not that at all, and involves a lot of trust. It’s based in communication, with each partner expressing their needs & desires first, and discussing the parameters of the open relationship first before exploring it.
Rather than being the violation of trust that infidelity is, non-monogamy is based in trust. You trust your partner to hear your needs, to respect the agreed upon parameters and to explore needs without decreasing the significance of your relationship. Without trust, non-monogamy can’t function.
Authority-based relationships can provide us a space to explore and fulfill sexual fantasies, connect deeply with a partner, and explore our shadow selves within a safe and consensual environment. But what is an authority-based relationship? And what is important to know about this type of relationship before entering one?
What are authority-based relationships?
Authority based relationships are built on power exchange. They exist within the realm of BDSM and are commonly known as dominant/submissive or D/s relationships. Kinky people often identify as either a dominant or a submissive. Not everyone feels they fit into either of those roles all of the time, so the role of a switch–someone who enjoys both the dominant and submissive roles–can be just as common.
In authority based relationships, it’s crucial to understand that the dynamics of the relationships rely on power exchange, not on one partner having power over the other. Even if the dominant partner is the one giving the orders in bed, putting a collar on a submissive, or spanking their partner, that does not mean that the submissive partner is left powerless. Boundaries set up before play help in maintaining the submissive partner’s power & control, and safe words give either partner the ability to stop the play for whatever reason. Above all else, authority-based relationships are dependent on communication and trust.
How do you build the communication and trust necessary within an authority based relationship? Here are three questions to keep in mind & discuss with your partner:
What do you want?
If you’re experienced in D/S, you may already have a clear image of what an ideal relationship or arrangement looks like for you. However, if you’re new to the scene, clear your mind of any preconceived notions, especially if they came from 50 Shades of Grey.
For some partners, entering an authority-based relationship may just mean that you want to add more kink & play to your current relationship. Ask yourself and your partner: what are your fantasies? Bondage? Impact play? Orgasm denial? There are as many ways to explore dominance and submission as there are people. If you’re unsure where to start, browse the groups on FetLife for some inspiration & see what sparks your interest!
Some partners engage in 24/7 D/s relationships, which is based on total power exchange. Beyond the bedroom (or dungeon), the submissive hands over the keys (sometimes literally, in the case of chastity belts) to their dominant. Keep in mind that if you’re new to BDSM, we recommend not jumping directly into such a set-up, even if it turns you on. Start small, think about what turns you & your partner on, and try a few scenes first. If you want to work up to 24/7 play, go for it! But taking small steps to get there can help you & your partner build trust, communication, and figure out boundaries.
How can I communicate what I want?
Does the idea of keeping your penis locked in a chastity belt all day, until your domme lets you take it off, turn you on? Do you want an uber-masculine daddy to pay for everything and spank you like you’re his little girl? Before you can communicate to your partner what you want, you have to know what that is. Do some exploring, and think about what sorts of play turn you on.
After you’ve done your kinky soul searching, express your desires to your partner.. Talk to them about the fantasies you’re interested in exploring, ask them if they have any they’d like to try. Keeping the space open for all partners to share their fantasies will help in building your trust, and will help you feel more comfortable when you & your partner(s) actually get around to trying some of what you talk about!
What negotiations need to take place?
Within authority-based relationships, there are subjects that need to be tackled beyond what you want to try during sexual play. While it’s important to be open about what you want to try, it is equally important to communicate what things are off the table. All partners should make lists of their hard and soft limits and discuss safe words to use in play. While this may not seem like as much fun as talking about the new ideas you do want to try, it’s a crucial part of exploring a new type of play! Write down what excites you, what you want to try, and what your limits are. Once your boundaries are communicated, play will feel safer, more comfortable, and much more exciting.
It can also be important to address broader relationship questions. Are you monogamous? Is this a sexual set-up, or are you interested in something romantic as well? Do you want to play with one another on a short-term basis, or is this a long term arrangement? Are you going to openly discuss your lifestyle around vanilla friends, or only within the kink community? If you haven’t already connected with your local kink scene, how might meeting and connecting with others improve your relationship, teach you about kink, and open your mind to fun events and possibilities?
Keep in mind that communication shouldn’t stop after boundary negotiations! During & after play, all partners should feel comfortable expressing what works for them, what doesn’t, what they want to try again, etc. Make sure you & your partner(s) are feeling good during play & take time to reassess limits and boundaries as the need comes up.
With kink becoming more normalized & mainstream, people are starting to broaden their view of sex & sex play. Things like “BDSM,” “submissive,” and “dominant” are a common part of the conversation now, and people are able to experiment more freely in their sex lives without shame.. While kink becoming mainstream isn’t 100% perfect (no, your dom should not treat you like Christian Grey) kinky people are now able to be more open about their identity, if they want to be!
But even if kink isn’t your thing, the kinky community has a lot to offer that we can all learn from. Whether or not you have handcuffs in your dresser drawers, here are a few of the things anyone in a sexual relationship can learn from kink:
Consent is sexy.
Compared to vanilla sex, with kink comes added risk. Without making consent & communication a top priority in kinky activities, partners risk unwanted pain, bruising, boundary crossing & negative experiences.
Let’s use spanking as an example. Consider the risk for both bodily harm and emotional hurt ( a partner accidentally crosses your boundaries, etc.) all parties involved must talk before they play. Even better, take the time to do a little research on impact play–learn where is safe to hit (fleshy areas such as the butt and thighs) and where is not (anywhere near organs such as the kidneys, or the spine). Take time to talk about how the play will help your pleasure, what your boundaries are, your pain threshold, your safe words, and anything else you want included in the experience. Consent isn’t just a straight “yes” or “no”– it’s about making sure anyone involved in play knows what the limits are, knows what will increase their partner’s pleasure, and it always involves checking in during play.
Talking with your partner(s) about what they want in your sex life can be totally sexy, and not exclusive to kinky people. You’re making sure that their needs are met, that their pleasure is the best it can be, and you’re letting them know that you won’t try anything without making sure they’re cool with it first. Enjoy the communication! Take your time. Visualize it. Let the talk turn you on. When it’s go time, not only will you be excited, but having gained consent, you will be free from worries that you’ll mess up. Now, even in situations where slightly less discussion is likely involved, like how your partner enjoys their nipples touched, or if they want your fingers inside of them, open communication can become an incredibly erotic part of your sex life with your partner.
Preparation can be pretty hot, too.
Let’s imagine that you’re preparing for a scene involving spanking, but in this scene you’re also dressing up and role-playing as a teacher and a student. This sort of play might require you to go shopping, pick out special outfits, talk about how you’re going to do your hair, figure out where you want to play out the scene, and of course, get into character. All of this is prep that takes time, consideration and open communication.
In movies, sex happens in an instant. A couple passionately kisses, and within a moment, they are naked & climaxing. This is a quickie. And it can be hot, but that’s not always the mood you’re going for–and spontaneous sex isn’t the only way to keep your sex life exciting! Rather than focusing on whether or not your sex life is planned or in the moment, take time to make sure it’s fulfilling both you & your partner(s), and giving you the satisfaction & pleasure you crave.
Sometimes you want to take your time, set up a scene, and build anticipation. And anticipation can lead to some of the best orgasms. Maybe you’re not role-playing–that doesn’t mean you can’t build anticipation in your sex life! Getting ready for a night of romance, lighting candles, laying out rose petals, picking out sexy underwear, all of this is foreplay. And you can never have too much foreplay.
Rough sex doesn’t equal a lack of intimacy.
Kink isn’t always about pain play. But if we’re talking BDSM, or any relationship or play with an element of dominance and submission, there can be consensual discomfort that pushes us. Kink can include anything from name-calling, rope bondage, to just really rough consensual sex. With a partner that you trust, care about, and love, these sorts of play don’t degrade or weaken that bond, but strengthen it. In kink (and sex in general) we allow ourselves to be very vulnerable. If rougher activities aren’t for you, consider expanding your view of intimacy. Intimacy doesn’t always need to be soft and fluffy–it can be whatever fills the needs of you and your partner(s), and makes you feel closer together.
Aftercare is crucial.
Within the kink community, aftercare is a fancy name for checking in with one another after playing to make sure everyone feels good. It can range anywhere from placing ice on your partner’s bruises, to just cuddling and saying I love you. Use methods like verbal communication or consensual touch to check in with your partner(s) after sex to make sure they’re still feeling good. Give them the opportunity to let you know if anything was a little bit off, what they liked, what they didn’t & how they’re feeling now. And if everyone is happy, you can hold one another, relax, and doze off into a beautiful post-orgasmic slumber!
The pillars of communication, consent, & aftercare that exist in any sort of kink play are lessons that can be applied to any sort of sexual relationship to help increase pleasure, trust and comfort of all parties involved! Keeping the conversation open & fluid isn’t just for the kinky folks out there–making sure your partners are feeling good during sex & having all their needs met is important in all kinds of sexual relationships.
We talk a lot about the importance of having sex with other people, but rarely do we speak enough about the importance of sex on your own. Whether you’re single, dating, or partnered, making self-pleasure a regular part of your life comes with many benefits. Like what? Well, did you know orgasms stimulate the release of oxytocin, which is a hormone with many health benefits. So masturbation is literally good for you! Masturbation also gives you the opportunity to figure out how you like to be touched, which can help you communicate to your partner(s) later on what you like in bed & what you don’t. (An added bonus? You can’t transmit an STI or get pregnant from masturbating!)
Whether you’re already all about self pleasure, just starting to unlearn negative narratives about your body or self-pleasure, or avoid self-pleasure out of fear, masturbation can be very important and impact your life for the better!
Here are some tips on how to start or step up your masturbation game.
Masturbation helps you learn your anatomy.
Along with feeling good, masturbation is exceptionally safe. If masturbation was something that was celebrated, instead of something we mocked, shamed or feared, , groups such as high schoolers (who may not currently have information or access to safer sex resources) could experience sexual pleasure and learn about their own anatomy & pleasure in a safe & controlled environment. Many adults, often due to our inadequate sex education system, don’t have a relationship and understanding of their bodies and pleasure. If self pleasure was talked about openly, and encouraged, many of us would have been able to figure out what it is we like & what it is we don’t long before experimenting with a partner. If you feel extra daring, masturbate in front of a mirror to learn how your anatomy looks along with how you like to be touched! It’s never too late to learn!
Touching yourself is safe and healthy.
Along with not having to worry about pregnancy or STIs, masturbation is also emotionally safe. Maybe relationships, partners or casual hookups aren’t what you’re looking for right now. Sometimes, we just need to be single and on our own. But that doesn’t mean we have to be without pleasure!
So, when you feel like you need alone time, whether it’s just a night in or a much longer period of your life where you take a break from dating & partners, self pleasure can be a great addition. Orgasms release the “feel-good hormone” oxytocin. While oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the “cuddle hormone,” can facilitate bonding between people, it also works well on yourself. Oxytocin helps us relax, sleep well, relieve pain, and could even be good for your skin.
Try adding sex toys to your masturbation routine.
Switching it up can help keep things fun & exciting. Maybe you’re curious about anal pleasure, but are nervous about trying it with another person. Start on yourself!
If this is the case, remember that the anus isn’t self-lubricating, so you’ll need lots of lube. While water based lubricants are often recommended, a silicone-based lube, such as Uberlube, can be great for anal penetration, as it can be thicker and last longer than water-based. However, if you’re using a silicone toy, such as a butt plug (the Snug Plug is great for people of all experience levels), opt for water-based, such as Sustain Naturals water-based lube. Silicone lube can break down silicone toys, and you don’t want that.
If you’re new to sex toys, and anal stimulation, you might be looking for someplace a little milder to start. You don’t need to jump straight to butt plugs or anal beads. People of all bodies and genders can enjoy the stimulation of adding a vibrator to their masturbation routine. While handheld vibrators, such as the Unbound Squish, certainly can make people with clitorises come, they feel lovely on all erogenous zones. Try using a vibrator on the shaft of a penis, the perineum, nipples, or even on sore back muscles. (While the Hitachi Magic Wand may be able to get you off, it actually does work wonders as a back massager!)
Mutual masturbation is a safe way to learn how your partner likes to be touched.
While part of what makes self-pleasure so enjoyable is that it only requires yourself, if you are seeing someone, mutual masturbation is a safe way to explore how you & your partner(s) like to be touched. Instead of having penetrative or oral sex (or even touching one another) take a night for mutual masturbation & watch each other self pleasure.
“Mutual masturbation” may sound like a term straight out of health class, but it’s an intimate and sexy activity. Set the mood by adjusting music and lighting to whatever turns you on. Lie on the bed next to your partner (keep the lube nearby) and watch one another masturbate. Watch porn if you want to! Notice how your partner strokes their body. And likewise, allow your partner to watch you. We’re often the best at getting ourselves off and knowing what we like, so why not teach your partner to touch you exactly how you like?
At G&STC we’ve seen how meaningful self pleasure and unlearning shameful narratives about sexuality and self pleasure can be for our clients. Regardless of your current or future relationship to self pleasure, we believe everyone is entitled to have the sex life of their dreams. If your dream sex life involves self pleasure, we’re here to help you unlearn the shame & stigma and explore what brings you pleasure!
"Many people also call this kind of narrative transphobic, because it reinforces the idea that being transgender isn't real. "The idea is that we have to protect cis people from thinking they're mistakenly trans," says Jesse Kahn, LCSW, director of The Gender & Sexuality Therapy Collective. "When in actuality the folks that I work with that have done anything that resembles shifting their desires around transition are still trans." Maybe they decide not to take hormones anymore or realize that they don't actually want gender affirming surgeries, but they still consider themselves somewhere on the transgender spectrum. A person who transitions medically and then later realizes that they are cisgender (not non-binary or gender non-conforming or simply happily trans without hormones) is incredibly rare."
At G&STC, we deeply believe in co-creating a space with our clients to explore what self-actualizing looks like for them and challenging, pushing back and unlearning societal ideals that don't fit for them.
Ultimately, we believe and focus on pushing back on binary and cisnormative ideals placed on trans and gender non conforming people.
I’ve seen a lot of conversations and arguments lately about and questioning the validity of toxic masculinity. I’ve seen articles stating “toxic masculinity isn’t real,” expressing defensiveness and feelings of being attacked. Regardless of if you believe in the existence of the term or challenge what it’s called, I think it’s still an incredibly useful and relevant topic. And more importantly, incredibly useful as a therapist.
At G&STC we work with many men who come to us with relationship and sexuality-based issues such as shame about desire, shame about levels of desire, compulsive sexual behaviors, emotional isolation, and erectile functioning issues. Many clients arriving to our office with an erectile dysfunction diagnosis have tried a variety of medications. Many clients also have shame-based desires, and have gone to great lengths to hide those desires. This level of secrecy has often fed shame or deprived them of emotional intimacy. But most of all, the men coming to our office seem to have one thing in common: the consequences of toxic masculinity are painfully visible in their lives.
Toxic Masculinity (TM) is an exaggerated, narrow and binary gender construct, and describes certain masculine norms and behaviors that often cause harm to society, to men, to masculine genders, and to the people around them. Toxic masculinity is not synonymous with masculinity, nor with men. Some examples of norms and behaviors that fit in a description of TM include: non-consensual dominance; suppression of emotions; extreme self-reliance and autonomy; a belief that fearlessness is the ideal; hyper-masculinity; devaluation of women and misogyny; violence against transgender people; and promoting violence such as sexual assault and domestic violence.
Understandably so, conversations about toxic masculinity often focus on society and the targets, victims, and survivors of those who embody toxic masculinity. What is often not discussed is how toxic masculinity harms men and masculine people. TM contributes to depression, increased stress, shame, self-hate, body image issues, harmful substance use, and emotional and romantic isolation. What’s also missing from our collective understanding about toxic masculinity is its roots as psychological term.
When working with clients where symptoms of toxic masculinity are present, we focus on:
Defining it, then finding where toxic masculinity exists in their lives
Calling out the toxic narratives they’ve internalized
Identifying how those narratives live and thrive in their lives, self image, gender expression, sexuality and relationships
Challenging those narratives and creating new beliefs to live by
Changing behaviors and navigating what may come up with those changes
For our clients, naming and treating toxic masculinity has resulted in greater sexual satisfaction, more fulfilling emotional relationships, happier and more meaningful romantic relationships, and reduced problematic sexual behaviors or sexual functioning issues.
I. The Underground Digital Bathhouse
A recent article on Vox raises questions about the mental health implications of gay “dating” apps such as Grindr, Scruff, and Jack’d. The article, written by a gay psychiatrist in Boston, opens with what reads like a caveat regarding the “huge strides” that have been made in the last decade to “bring gay relationships into the mainstream,” including the Supreme Court recognition of gay marriage as a constitutional right.
From here, author Dr. Jack Turban, pivots to discuss what he calls “the rise of the underground digital bathhouse” - the proliferation and growing use of apps like Grindr, which now has 3 million active daily users. These apps provide users with a streamlined process of identifying and connecting with sexual partners who are available, quite literally, at their fingertips. Users have the ability to sort potential partners by age, body type, sexual position, and many other physical and behavioral characteristics.
II. The Good, the Bad, and the Uncertain
In many important respects, this is a great thing. Risks associated with visibility are reduced, adding an element of safety, especially in places still rife with homophobia and transphobia. Sex is easier to arrange, and compatible partners are easier to identify. And, since a big part of sex is pleasure, more sex is a good! Indeed, when Dr. Turban conducted an informal survey of approximately 50 men on Grindr, this - sex feels good and Grindr makes it more accessible - was the most common reason cited for using the app.
The primary purpose behind this survey, however, was to provide Dr. Turban - and by extension other members of the medical, mental health, and research communities - with a window into the mental health consequences of using these apps. While Dr. Turban acknowledges that 50 participants is a small sample size, it still provides meaningful insight. And these clues, he concludes, paint a picture that “doesn’t look good.”
Dr. Turban draws a number of conclusions about the mental health effects of gay dating apps based on the data he compiles. These include:
The use of variable ratio reinforcement (rewards - in this context, sex and the potential of orgasm - that come at unpredictable intervals) make the apps both very easy to start using, and very hard to stop.
The majority of Grindr users feel regret after engaging with the app (this from a recent survey from Time Well Spent), and some end up feeling more anxious, depressed, and isolated.
The emphasis on sex first may impede efforts for users to form and sustain lasting romantic relationships.
The lack of research about mental health effects means that the most effective therapy treatments for harmful app use are underdeveloped
III. The Role of Therapy
Dr. Turban points out that one of the challenges of identifying harmful app use is figuring out what motivates the behavior. On the surface, of course, users are most often looking for casual sex. But there are lots of different things that we can get from casual sex. Dr. Turban asks: “Are you self-soothing anxiety? Do you think you can’t attain love, so you’re settling for hookups? Did your parents tell you being gay is wrong and you’re searching for acceptance?” He also asks if participants are struggling with compulsive sexual behaviors or with attraction and desire in monogamous relationships. All of these are possible reasons a person might feel pulled toward casual sex.
And they are questions that a therapist can help identify and discuss. As Dr. Turban asserts, “Therapy can help clarify these kinds of thoughts and feelings and lead to insights that bring about a healthy change.” Here at G&STC, we wholeheartedly agree!
Therapy can be a helpful environment to separate two things that Dr. Turban seems to conflate in this article. As he lays it out, it isn’t clear where the anxiety, depression, and isolation that users feel after engaging with the app find their source. It might be in broader social narratives about who uses dating apps, what this says about them, and how this relates to more “appropriate”, or possibly, permitted, behavior. Or, it might be a consequence of the experience the user has on the app itself. Each case, once clearly identified, will have a different approach in terms of developing strategies for understanding and managing the feelings that emerge.
On a positive note, the article acknowledges that people do use the app in ways that are fulfilling and positive. Dr. Turban mentions a user who met his fiance on Grindr, as well as the many others who use the app for sex without any of the challenges outlined above.
One thing that we’re sensitive to at G&STC is how societal narratives about sex can create feelings of shame and disgust around behaviors that are, in reality, fun and rewarding. Enjoying a lot of sex is an admirable manifestation of one’s desire and doesn’t always have a correlation to someone’s desire for long term romantic endeavors, a need to soothe anxiety, a need for acceptance, compulsive sexual behaviors or someone’s relationship orientation.
Most of the information out there about kink is aimed at vanilla couples. So why aren’t there more resources for couples who are already comfortably kinky?
To start, kink communities can be pretty insular. For a long time, communities kept underground due to the stigma attached to kinky, polyamorous, and authority-based relationships. The throes of beginner information has played a tremendous part in destigmatizing kink—and that’s a good thing. But we want to go beyond Kink 101., starting with a question: How do you maintain long-term satisfaction if you’re beginning to get bored, but you’re already kinky?
Consider exploring a new kink
If you’re a couple practicing kink long before anyone heard the problematic name “Christian Grey,” how do you keep the spark alive? Buy a new pair of handcuffs? Not going to work if ceiling restraints were installed years ago.
Sometimes we can get stuck in routines that then turn to ruts. Let’s say you’re super into verbal humiliation, have you explored physical aspects of kink? If you’re most used to physical kink, perhaps it’s time to explore the psychological aspect.
Maybe there’s a sexual interest you haven’t heard of, or something you’ve been interested in but haven’t shared with your partner(s) or pursued. To start, spend some time browsing through the plethora of groups on FetLife to see what peaks your interests. Then, communicate it to your partner(s), or browse together!
If there’s one thing kinky people are good at, it is creativity, so even the most experienced can be surprised and excited by what other people get into.
Keep life exciting in other ways
You’re kinky, but we are going to give some vanilla-sounding advice: consider other areas of the relationship that needs spicing up, or other forms of adventure. Sometimes kinksters can get so into their sex lives (and for good reason, they’re fabulous) that we forget about devoting time and to other forms of bonding.
When was the last time you and your partner traveled somewhere new together and refrained from social media? Went out to dinner just the two of you? Rather than focusing on the next play party, considering scheduling weekend trip. Yes, bring your flogger and butt plug collection. Changing play locations can be a fun!
Check in with one another
When we become established in our sex lives, we can become stuck in routines in our relationships.
We may also incorrectly assume that we’re in touch with our partners’ desires and satisfaction level. Even if you consistently check in with your partner before and during scenes and practice aftercare, it can be helpful to sit down and see how the other is doing.
If you’re monogamous, are they continuing to want monogamy? Interested in opening up the relationship? Regardless of your relationship format, how are they feeling about your current level of intimacy? Do you have enough time together? Are there any new or recent fantasies they have?
Go back to the beginning
Do you remember why you first fell for one another?
For kinky couples, returning to the first few scenes you had together might elicit those memories. Perhaps you’ve mastered the single-tail whip, but when was the last time you enjoyed some simple spanking? Are there sex toys that you haven’t used in ages, now that you make more money and have moved on from small silicone anal beads to horse-tailed butt plugs?
Some couples return to the place they first had dinner, or where they were when someone said, “I love you.”
Yes, that might mean going back to the kink event you first met at, and breaking out the very first butt plug shared together.
Shame is a prominent emotion, possibly the most prominent to come in to our office. Because shame thrives in silence and secrecy, many of our clients don't know or see it.
When shame is so prominent, we may see feelings of disconnection, feeling unlovable, harsh self judgement, a lack of empathy for oneself, addictions, and relationship patterns that harm connections and create disconnection. Because shame is so powerful, we see a lot of our clients seeking evidence to support that they are indeed unlovable, deserving of harsh judgement, disconnection and a lack of compassion.
Part of the work we do is witnessing and shining a spotlight on shame, and showing love, care, compassion, empathy and connection. Many therapists have different experiences with the word love, whether that be due to our histories, beliefs about the word love, or beliefs about love in the context of professional relationships. Ultimately, though, therapists often love and deeply care for their clients. In an environment of love, care and connection, we can untangle and understand the roots of shame. Basically, we call out shame.
The goal of working with shame in therapy isn't necessarily to banish shame forever (not sure if that's possible!), but to be able to talk about shame, notice when and why you're feeling shame, understand your shame's birthplace, develop the tools to challenge shame, not allow shame to dominant your life, your relationships, and your decisions, and lastly get to a place to possibly even laugh about shame. The ultimate goal is to dismantle shame.
Brene Brown has done a tremendous amount of work around shame (we highly recommend you check out her TED talks and books). She cites Linda Hartling's work around the Strategies of Disconnection, which Brown refers to as “shame shields”.
Here are the shame shields, which is how we protect ourselves from shame, but unfortunately through that process facilitate, nourish and grow shame:
Moving away: withdrawing, hiding, silencing ourselves, and keeping secrets
Moving toward: seeking to appease and please
Moving against: trying to gain power over others, acting aggressively, and using shame to fight shame
Brene also explores shame resilience and what can increase shame resilience, including: empathy; courage; compassion; connection; understanding shame; understanding triggers; contextualizing; normalizing; reaching out to share experiences (increasing connectivity); and honestly speaking about shame and expressing feelings and needs in relation to shame.
We want to ask you a few questions:
1) What shame shield(s) do you use and how do you respond to feeling shame?
2) When did you learn to use those shields?
3) What activates your shields?
4) How have those shields protected you?
5) How have those shields harmed you?
6) What would it look like if you were to talk about your shame?
7) What impact could reducing shame have on your life?
8) What would it look like if you approached shame?
We recognize this is not easy work, but we also know it's possible and that you don't have to do it alone. Brene Brown has said that “shame is a universal experience.” And connection is a universal need.
Side note: Prior to Linda Hartling and Brene Brown, German psychoanalyst Karen Horney brought feminism into psychoanalysis and challenged freudian understandings of gender by focusing on social and cultural factors (rather than innate factors). In 1945, Karen Horney developed a theory of personality and interpersonal relationships into three "neurotic trends." Horney believed that a basic anxiety develops in childhood is connected to a sense of helplessness, influenced by how well or not well a child's needs are met. This eventually turns into a “basic attitude toward self and others” that help us adapt and survive to a hostile world and life situations. The three neurotic trends are self-effacing type/moving towards (the compliant type), expansive solution/moving against (the aggressive type), and resigned solution/moving away (detached type).
Sexual variety is key to satisfying partnerships, but doesn’t require multiple partners. For those in partnered relationships (monogamous or polyamorous), adding kink to your sex is an easy and safe (yes, safe!) way to energize your sex life. If you’re new to kink or simply curious, don’t worry! Kink doesn’t require a down payment on a dungeon. With just an open mind, you can turn the ordinary into an excitement that you may not have felt since the start of your relationship.
Why Kink Enhances Relationships
Kink allows us to explore parts of ourselves that we often must keep hidden in our day to day life. For instance, let’s say you have submissive fantasies (a partner spanking you, name-calling, or “forcing” you to lick their fee). During the day, you might operate from a more dominant position: you tell people what to do at work; perhaps you have children that need parenting. By adding kink into your relationship, you are enhancing not only sex, but your entire life.
You also get to see sides of your partner that may be foreign to you. Some partners take a more of a “submissive” role in their daily routine. They like it when you handle finances and travel planning. Yet in the bedroom, there may linger a secret side that wants to sit on your face and bark orders - hot, right?
Kink allows us to have sexual experiences that get our adrenaline going both mentally and physically. It allows us to act out scenarios in the bedroom that couldn’t exist in our everyday life (except for folks who live in a 24/7 dynamic). What about that fantasy of doctor/patient role-play? “Playing doctor”, performing an inappropriate medical examination? Hot!
When you’re New to Kink
As kink becomes more mainstream, more vanilla folks (non kinky people whose sex life is deemed “traditional”) have either recognized that they’re possibly more kinky, or have more interest in kink than they realized. Previously, kink often seemed like a dark and daunting sexually-awakened dungeon. For some it felt intimidating, and it might still feel that way. Small steps are often a great way to add kink to your sex life. An activity for those exploring is to create a spreadsheet with a column for “yes,” “maybe,” and “no.” The “maybe” represents what the kink community refers to as your “soft limits,” and the “no” your hard limits. (Some use “green,” “yellow,” and “red” when creating these lists.) Yes, or green, means things that you absolutely want to try. Maybe, or yellow, refers to what you’re curious about, but a little unsure of. And No, or red, is anything that’s off limits.
Whether it’s dirty talk, slapping, watersports…everyone’s limits are acceptable! Exchanging kinky spreadsheets (who knew Excel could be hot?) is an excellent way to share fantasies with your partner. And, if you need a guide, check out our recommended Yes/No/Maybe List
How to start
Once you’ve hashed out what turns you both on, it’s time to play.
Let’s start with bondage: does the more dominant partner want to tie up the submissive? Once you’ve decided, get to shopping. Now, while online retailers such as Babeland or the Kink Store sell top-notch products (and the employees at local adult shops tend to be extremely knowledgeable), you don’t have to break out the wallet yet. You can get kinky with what you have at home. A belt often works as great as handcuffs (and the act of removing a belt can be just as hot as handcuffs). Pro Tip: this works wonderfully with teacher/student or boss/secretary roleplay.
Likewise, if you’re curious about impact play, before you buy paddles or whips, try spanking with your hand, or a wooden kitchen spoon or spatula. Turning thoughts into reality before you go all-in with your money and products can help ease you into finding your kink.
For more guidance:
- Watching youtube instruction videos (such as “guide to spanking”)
- Reading kink or BDSM 101 books (such as The Ultimate Guide to Kink: BDSM, Role Play and the Erotic Edge by Tristan Taormino)
- Consulting with a sex therapist or sex educator
Kink Is Healthy
A note about consent and mutual care: At first, especially if you’re exploring D/S (dominance and submission), kink can seem counterintuitive for some with progressive views about how to treat someone. In particular, a common concern is something along the lines of, “How can I be a feminist and also want to be slapped and called a slut in bed?”
Sexuality has been so repressed by society that taking control of your desires and fantasies is really as feminist as it gets, regardless of your gender. We live in a sex-negative patriarchal society in which religions and customs have affected the way we view sex. Those systems want us to view sex in a rigid, controlled way (only between a cisgender man and a cisgender woman, in the dark, in missionary position, for the sole purpose of procreation).
Even if you challenge parts of that narrative, others problematic aspects may live and thrive within your beliefs about your own sexuality and sexual desires.
Regardless of if you want kids or your gender or sexual orientation, very few of us would be satisfied if that’s the only way we had sex.
Claiming your sexuality and kinks is more than simply a rebellious act. It’s brave, and it’s your right. You deserve to have the sex life of your dreams. To do so is not only sexually fulfilling, but it can make your relationships stronger than ever.
1. The science
A 2013 study done at the Centre for Studies on Human Stress at the Louis H. Lafontaine Hospital, which is affiliated with the University of Montreal, has concluded that lesbians, gay men, and people who are bisexual (LGBs), if out to others about their sexuality, show lower stress hormone levels and fewer symptoms of anxiety, depression, and burnout as compared to peers who are not out. More specifically, the researchers measured what is called allostatic load - encompassing the corrosion caused by cortisol, a stress hormone, across the body’s systems - among participants in the study. LGBs who were out to family and friends showed lower levels of psychiatric symptoms and lower morning cortisol levels, two of the many measures that make up the allostatic load assessment. (Interestingly, though not the focus of this post, gay and bisexual men had lower allostatic load levels than heterosexual men.)
2. Why doesn’t everyone just come out then?
So what keeps people who identify as LGB (in keeping things within the scope of the study here) from coming out sooner - or coming out at all? The lead author of the study, Robert-Paul Juster, wisely points out that “[c]oming out might only be beneficial for health when there are tolerant social policies that facilitate the disclosure process.” Juster makes the important point that institutional support can play a significant role in the decision to disclose this aspect of one’s identity. If one’s job security, custody rights, access to healthcare, and other institutionally-adjudicated features of one’s life are threatened by disclosure, the practical decision might entail remaining in the proverbial closet.
He goes on: “Societal intolerance during the disclosure process impairs one’s self-acceptance that generates increased distress and contributes to mental and physical health problems.” Juster makes an important distinction here between a more pragmatic assessment of the institutional realities one must consider when deciding when and how to come out and the lived experience of existing in relation to those realities and what affect this has on how one feels. In other words, living in a society where one’s job security, one’s custody rights, one’s access to healthcare might be at stake if one were to come out is a very real source of anxiety, depression, and other emotional and physical symptoms that have detrimental short- and long-term health consequences.
Additionally, one might carry feelings of shame, disappointment, fear, disgust and attendant (and supporting) thoughts inspired by environmental homophobia and/or transphobia. These thoughts and feelings, while inspired by external factors, are oriented inward and are self-reflexive in the sense that they animate how one thinks of oneself. This impacts whether one feels proud, confident, happy about oneself, or disappointed, disgusted, depressed. Whereas the anxiety and depression outlined in the previous paragraph has to do with the enemy “out there” - the hostile features of reality outside oneself - the lived experience we’re exploring here involves the enemy “inside” - the destructive voices, values, and perceptions that one holds about and within oneself.
3. The role of therapy
So what role can therapy play in all this? First and foremost, therapy creates a space where issues related to coming out can be shared and discussed without judgment, but instead with support, compassion, and affirmation. In many cases, the absence of opportunity to talk with another person is a powerful part of the problem facing folks considering coming out. Without any sort of outlet, one is forced to contain related thoughts and feelings alone, an exercise that is at best draining and often unsustainable.
Therapy also offers an opportunity to explore and challenge those destructive voices, values, and perceptions that exist inside - the enemy within. Explore in the sense that it can be helpful to identify where those ideas come from (and, perhaps more importantly, who they come from). And challenge in the sense that those ideas need not be accepted as truth, even if they have in the past. Undertaking this process with an LGBTQ affirming therapist ensures that the work is collaborative, supportive, and affirmative. In other words, a therapist can create a safer space to be vulnerable about how one thinks and feels about oneself and to think through the impact of those thoughts and feelings.
Finally, a therapist can provide perspective in relation to how and when one decides - or doesn’t - to come out. This conversation would encompass talking through the practical and emotional implications of coming out - to whom? what would be gained? what would be lost? The purpose would be to think through and prepare for the different outcomes that might come to be. It is important to note that the role of the therapist in this context would not be to encourage or discourage one for choosing to come out. The decision to do so is ultimately something that must be arbitrated on one’s own. But the therapist would provide support with respect to considering the consequences of various courses of action, both emotional and practical, and how one would cope.
At the Gender & Sexuality Collective, we work with many clients at different stages of deciding whether to come out. We’re thrilled to see the science back up what we’ve witnessed: that coming out can provide tremendous relief from stress. But we’re also sensitive to the powerful reasons people have for choosing not to do so. Ultimately, our goal is to ensure that whoever is making the decision feels affirmed and supported throughout the process!
The #metoo movement has so far been a powerful cry for accountability from women, who every day experience the systemic and personal effects of misogyny - sexual predation, harassment, coercion, and violence. The incidents that have surfaced have ranged from the blatantly reprehensible - Harvey Weinstein, for example - to the more complicated and nuanced in terms of consent and responsibility - Aziz Ansari, for example. While it might be asserted that the former are worse (morally, socially, legally) than the latter, what isn’t different from one incident to the next is the need for accountability.
The above point about accountability is important in order to underscore our commitment to that fact, which we believe overarches any conversation about the movement’s features and ambiguities. The focus of this post, however, is on the language that gets used to describe the offenders and, more specifically their behaviors. To frame this discussion, it’s helpful to start by drawing a distinction between behaviors and their context. In broad strokes, certain behaviors are suitable to certain contexts and highly unsuitable to others. Shouting excitedly, for example, is considered largely appropriate if one is attending a professional soccer game, especially after a goal is scored. Shouting excitedly in a quiet restaurant, on the other hand, is almost always inappropriate. The point here is that there is nothing inherently appropriate or inappropriate about shouting excitedly when evaluated apart from context. It is the context, rather, that determines what we make of someone engaging in that behavior.
Shifting back to the #metoo movement, this distinction helps provide more precise language for talking about offenders of sexual violence and assault, and their actions. For example, it isn’t Louis C. K.’s desire to masturbate in front of women that is reprehensible nor his behavior in doing so. In a different context - one where all parties were capable of and freely consenting - that behavior could be sexy, fun and fulfilling. Instead, when we hold Louis C. K. accountable, we hold him accountable for his failure to evaluate (or perhaps to care about) the inappropriateness of the context - the lack of consent, the undiscussed and imbalanced power dynamics, the setting.
The danger of focusing on and moralizing about his behavior - it’s weird, it’s disgusting, it’s pathetic - is that we reinforce sex negative attitudes about certain sorts of sexual activity apart from their context. With these attitudes, sexual behaviors become bad or monstrous or gross regardless of how they happen and with whom. Instead, we should celebrate the many different ways that people connect with themselves and with each other sexually. These connections can encompass sexual proclivities - including (but certainly not limited to!) rough sex, public sex, role play, power play - that, while regrettably underrepresented (and misrepresented) in mainstream media, are not only tremendous fun, but also important and healthy forms of self-expression and self-care when done with intention, communication, and consent.
In this sense, the distinction between behavior and context is an integral aspect of a sex positive perspective, celebrating the many exciting and unusual sexual behaviors that people engage in with themselves and with others while evaluating whether the context for those behaviors is appropriate. Here at G&STC, we work with all our clients from a sex positive perspective, supporting them in finding fun, safe ways to achieve sexual satisfaction.
Michel Foucault (1982) put it perfectly when stating that “sex is not a fatality: it’s a possibility for creative life.” The interview, “Sex, Power, and the Politics of Identity,” was published in Advocate, Los Angeles, in August of 1984, but the importance of its message withstands the wears of time today. It remains all too common that cultural narratives around sex are riddled with pleasure-negativity. While exploring issues related to sexuality, it is important to note that internalizing these narratives deeply hinders the possibility for healthy sexual expression. Without minimizing the harms these attitudes perpetuate, we at the G&STC hope to weave in more compassionate perspectives about what it means to both engage with and enjoy the full range of sexual expression.
It is our belief that human beings are capable of both holding the reality of their struggles while also acknowledging the parts of their experience that are not in struggle. With this in mind, a stuck point that often hinders folks’ ability to speak openly about sex and pleasure lies within the conflation of guilt and shame. Without understanding the difference, they begin thinking of themselves in a way that reinforces the harmful stereotypes we seek to combat.
One way to approach more useful conversations about this dilemma is to distinguish between guilt and shame. As discussed in the post from December 4th, guilt refers to behavior, while shame refers to an internal experience of the self. Prominent shame researcher, Brenè Brown, further clarifies this point when positing that guilt means ‘I did something bad,’ while shame means ‘I am bad.’ By deepening an understanding of this distinction, we can begin to identify and externalize the narratives that propagate shame and inauthenticity.
Navigating shame once it’s identified also requires us to understand that much of what we’ve been taught about sexuality is pleasure-phobic and oppressive. Human sexuality is rife with diverse forms of expression that, despite being consensual and pleasurable, are considered ‘bad’ because they are incongruent with dominant cultural norms. Sexual sadism and masochism, for example, are often thought of as behaviors associated with survivors of childhood sexual trauma. Disclaimer: there is no such correlation made in the research that would confirm this stereotype. On the contrary, not only can engaging in consensual amounts of pain be sexy to folks, it can also be cathartic and freeing. Conversely, feeling ashamed of these desires contributes to increased isolation, anxiety, self-negativity, and potential harm to partners.
At the G&STC, we aim to foster different conversations about pleasure-related shame, one that deepens our clients’ understanding of the harmful narratives they may be holding on to. It is through this process that we work towards a more authentic expression of sexuality, and build the foundation for a more self-affirming, pleasure-positive, and creative life.
Sustaining and maintaining desire in long term partnerships can be difficult. Many long term partnerships, whether monogamous and non-monogamous, come to treatment with desire-based difficulties and a longing for the return of eroticism in their relationships. Ester Perel encourages us to explore how conflicts between our desires for security and reliability and novelty and change can impact our relationships. Perel, in “Mating in Captivity,” encourages us to consider how we might "introduce risk in safety, mystery to the familiar, and novelty to the enduring."
Eroticism thrives in separateness, longing and newness while love and care thrives in security, emotional intimacy and familiarity, which can be oppositional. Many partnerships come in to therapy feeling too “merged” or too “separated,” struggling to find both closeness and separateness, and seeking both relationship harmony and sexual excitement.
It’s important for each member of a partnership to think about and know your relationship to closeness and to separateness. Does being close make you want to run away and/or feel like a threat to your individuality? Does being apart trigger an overwhelming amount of anxiety and/or feel like a threat to the certainty of your relationship? Understanding your “attachment style” can better help you understand your relationship to closeness and separateness and then may provide some insight into the impact that could be having on relationship harmony and sexual excitement.
Some, historically and in the present, focus on the impact emotional intimacy has on the sexual lives of partners (i.e.- if you feel emotionally safe in the relationship then your sex life will prosper). However, too much intimacy may harm an exciting sex life. Being loved and being desired are different and may exist simultaneously, but can certainly also exist without the other.
Here a few tips that we like to promote and that we’ve seen positively impact our client’s lives:
1. Finding a balance between having your lives together and having times apart. Having both shared and separate hobbies, passions or interests are important. Spending time apart and missing each other can have a positive impact on your sense of longing for the other. It’s important to have a self, your partner and then your shared space. Having this differentiation and individuation can look like having some hobbies, passions and interests that are different and/or socializing separately while in the same social space. Some people find watching their partner be charming with others or others desiring their partner to be a turn on and to generate desire.
2. Challenge your assumptions about what types of fantasies, desires and sex you can have with a partner. Respecting and caring for someone doesn’t mean that your sex can’t be wild, aggressive, degrading and/or rough. Seek and question assumptions you’ve held about sex, long term desire, sex with someone you love and sex in long term relationships. Challenge your assumptions about how sex is supposed to be initiated. “Spontaneous” sex, what many cite as how their sex was early on, is in many ways an illusion and was more planned and intentional than we admit. Planning and planning for sex can be erotic and doesn’t have to be mundane - brainstorm what that might look like for you.
3. Boring sex is not fun!! Explore ways to increase excitement and playfulness in your sexual lives and possibly modify a rigid repertoire. This could look like incorporating new toys, kinky/bdsm practices, role playing, sex parties, swinging, dirty talk, sexting, talking about your sexual fantasies, having sex in different locations (such as a car, your kitchen, the shower, etc), trying new positions, and/or attending a sex specific class together. While we don’t want any actual legal consequences, morality crisis, or to promote anything non-consensual, there is something exciting about illicit sex for a reason and exciting sex can exist in long term relationships.
4. We culturally place value on and find security in "knowing all there is to know" about our partners. However, our sense of predictability is an illusion and a fantasy, and a way to seek comfort. It also reduces curiosity we have for our partners over time as we think we know all there is to know and it doesn’t allow our partners to grow. In reality, there is a lot we don’t and can never really know about another person, and that’s okay! If we can accept this about our partners we can remain curios. If we trap our partners and our relationships in fixed narratives, it can be difficult to grow, express that growth, share newness and maintain excitement (and to do #2 and #3). People’s desires and fantasies can grow throughout their lives and that doesn’t have to be threatening - it can be exciting, invigorating and erotic!
5. Re-focus on eroticism and ask yourself what turns you on, what makes you feel pleasure, and what makes you feel desired.
6. Don't be afraid to think about and talk about the lack of sex - it's a common occurrence in long term relationships and ignoring it isn’t going to make it go away. When thinking and talking just remember that lulls in desire and caring about that lull can be an opportunity for change and expansion, to question the scripts of your relationship in ways that facilitate growth together, to share fantasies you’ve yet to share and to re-energize your sex life.
7. Be mindful of and challenge any narratives you've internalized in the context of the reduced sex and eroticism in your relationship. For example, have you created narratives about your own desirability or your partner’s?
8. Jumping from not having sex to having sex, regardless of if you intend on incorporating kink, can be intimidating. Try following sensate focus exercises and start with intentionally touching and massaging, and specifically not having sex.
9. Schedule a session with a sex therapist as an individual or within your partnership to work with you to challenge beliefs about sex and sexuality, unpack sexual shame, explore and incorporate desires and take steps to incorporate the above steps.
In many areas of the world, romantic relationships tend to be organized as monogamous, heterosexual cisgender dyads - two partners, one man and one woman, both unavailable for romantic or sexual experience outside the relationship. The development of this reality has been driven by economic, political, and religious forces. Like any rule, however, this one is not without its exceptions. As our name indicates, at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Collective we work with clients who do not fit within the constraints of heterosexuality or the gender binary - we support and celebrate all sexual orientations and gender identities.
We also work with clients who represent another type of exception to this rule: participation in consensually non-monogamous relationships, an umbrella category that covers polyamory, open relationships, swing relationships, and many other romantic and sexual relationship configurations. For the purposes of this blogpost, lets refer to these various relationship configurations as “different relationship structures.” In this sense, each relationship has a different structure - polyamory, monogamy, swinging, open - a sort of framework on which many other features of the relationship rest. The structure creates expectations and boundaries around how the partners in the relationship engage with each other and with other people - in other words, what is appropriate and what is not.
The purpose of establishing this concept is to address a clinical concern that - in our experience - many clients in consensually non-monogamous (CNM) relationships express. In some cases, this concern is a consequence of lived experiences and previous therapy attempts; in other cases, it is a fear about the possibility of having those same experiences that discourages couples in CNM relationships from seeking therapy altogether. The concern is that the structure of the relationship will be questioned, blamed, pathologized, undermined in a way that shifts focus away from relationship dynamics within the existing structure that are presenting challenges. Instead of exploring what is working and what isn’t within the structure, this clinical misstep scapegoats the structure itself, finding it responsible for any difficulties that exist.
The point here is not that clients never come in to discuss and work on the structure of their relationships - they certainly do! They might want support navigating how to open a relationship, to close it, or adjust particular expectations that comprise their specific structure. (And indeed, in these cases, the clinician ideally helps the clients have these conversations without coming down on one side or another, without lobbying for a particular answer or approach.) Instead, the point is that clinicians must be able to differentiate when clients are interested in working on the structure of their relationship and when they are interested in addressing challenging dynamics within that structure. In the latter case, if a therapist calls the structure into question (or blames or undermines it), they risk alienating - or worse, harming - clients who already face prejudice, judgement, and hostility outside of sessions for the ways they organize their sexual and romantic relationships.
Alternatively, by showing an understanding of and respect for the structure, whatever form it may take, therapists affirm the validity of any consensual romantic and sexual relationship configuration. Romantic and sexual relationships encompass so much more than monogamous, heterosexual cisgender dyads - at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Collective, we validate and celebrate the diversity of different relationship structures while helping our clients strengthen the dynamics of these relationships in ways that make them feel more connected, cared for, and fulfilled.
Published last year, in 2016, In the Darkroom is Susan Faludi’s account of reconnecting with her father in 2004 after she (Susan’s father) had undergone “sex reassignment surgery” (what we now more correctly call gender confirmation surgery). Stefanie, formerly Steven, has been an elusive figure all of Faludi’s life, and the animus of the book is her (Faludi’s) effort to more fully understand her father, as parent and person. The book digs into Stefanie’s past, growing up Jewish in Nazi-era Hungary and surviving the Holocaust, drawing parallels between the politics of that period and the present day. At the same time, Faludi - who has made a career of writing about the politics of gender in America - reflects on her own reactions and assumptions about her father’s transition.
When Faludi first meets her father at the airport in Budapest, “she (Stefanie) was wearing a red cabled sweater, gray flannel skirt, white heels, and a pair of pearl stud earrings. She had taken her white pocketbook off her shoulder and hung it from a hook on the cart. My first thought, and it shames, was: no woman would do that.” The book offers many episodes in this same vein, moments where Faludi recognizes her own - or others’, including her father - entrenched ideas about what it means to be a woman and how women behave. At one point, she asks (and at the same time admonishes) herself: “Since when had I become an essentialist?”
From a clinical perspective, Faludi’s book highlights how quickly our minds move to mobilize assumptions we carry about things like gender, even in those who have spent a lifetime unpacking, challenging, and rejecting these very assumptions - and when such assumptions escape, either into conscious thought or into spoken word, how often they inspire feelings of shame. With respect to the former, the point is not to rid ourselves entirely of these assumptions, for as it stands, there is no effective way to excise or erase certain aspects of our unconscious with the precision such an operation would require. Instead, the clinical work is to focus on slowing down, to acknowledge that these assumptions exist within us, but that they do not control or encompass us.
With respect to the latter, it is important to appreciate how the potential for shame can add pressure and anxiety to how we navigate situations where sensitivity is required (in some cases, leading to a full-fledged rejection of this need for sensitivity). While we make every effort to understand and respect others in the ways they want, the expectation cannot be that we will never err. Instead, we must feel comfortable (or perhaps more precisely, able to tolerate our discomfort) when this happens owning and learning from our mistake.
At the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Collective, we work hard to do both of these things - to slow down and catch our assumptions and to take ownership when we err - both with ourselves and with our clients.
Whether you’re just curious or already ingrained in the kink scene, you may be experiencing shame around your sexual interests and desires. Given how sex negative American culture can be, it’s no wonder that many experience it. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Shame can be a difficult emotion to experience, and it does a very good job at getting in the way between you and your authentic self. While shame is often used interchangeably with guilt, guilt refers specifically to negative emotions about something bad that we did, while shame refers to feeling bad about who we are. If your kink involves consenting adults—you’re good to go! Now: let’s get to the root of dismantling kink shame.
Know that Kink is not “Abnormal”
If you’re reading this, it means that you’re aware that you are or may be kinky—which puts you a step above many others. Addressing and putting a name on something helps take away the power shame has over you. While it may feel shameful at first to think of yourself as a kinky person, repression is what what tends to increase problems, where people bury and ignore their healthy sexual desires.
A study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine surveyed over 1,500 people and found that very few sexual fantasies are actually atypical. For instance, 64.6 percent of women-identified participants and 53.3 percent of men-identified participants shared fantasies related to kink. In fact, all sexual fantasies of dominance and submission were found to be common, meaning more than 50 percent of respondents shared them. While 50 Shades of Grey perpetuated some untrue myths about BDSM (for example: being asked to sign a contract is not expected; no research supports that kinky tendencies arise from childhood trauma, as is the case with Christian Grey), there’s no denying the series not only normalized kink, but also brought BDSM into the mainstream. So, rest assured, you are not alone in your kink!
Understand the Source of Shame
The U.S. is steeped in sex-negative culture. Even if you avoided an abstinence-only sex education in school, you likely grew up with some impression that sex is shameful or “dirty”. Many of us were taught that sex was solely for procreation—not pleasure, and only for monogamous and committed relationships. Many adults think that sex means intercourse done in the missionary position, with all the lights out, and that anything else perverted or risqué. If that’s how they want to have sex-fine- but everyone has the right to choose the sex that is best for them.
For many people, sex this means kinky sex. When you unpack the source of your shame, which is often rooted in deeply ingrained myths about sex learned as a child and adolescent, you can better understand and therefore free yourself from it. As sex-negativity is insidious and often deeply-ingrained, it’s often helpful to work with a sex-positive and pleasure-positive therapist to unpack sexual shame and learn coping techniques for managing sexual shame.
Life is too short to let shame hold you back from being yourself and having the type of sex and pleasure you want to have!
Connect with Like-Minded Individuals
From friends to lovers, there are other people out there who share your kink. Connecting with other kinky people is not only a great way to meet potential partners, but also build communities that understand and accept you. Of course, not all your friends will be kinky or a part of the scene. Likewise, you probably won’t want to be friends with every kinky person you meet, but having friends and partner(s) who accept you for who you are is crucial.
One wonderful, easy way to connect with others is FetLife on social media. There, you can join a group specifically created for your kink and discuss it with others. The site also usually lists as kink meet-ups or kink-friendly parties where you can meet up with others in person. Additionally there are kink/BDSM events listed on meetup.com and kink specific apps such as trykinkedin.com.
If you live in a bigger city like San Francisco or New York City, rest assured there is a vibrant, accepting, and welcoming kink scene waiting for you. If you live in a small city, suburb or rural communities, know that kinky people are everywhere and the internet can connect us beyond our geographical communities.
Practice Self Care
Developing a community of friends who accept and understand you is part of self-care, as is working with a sex-positive therapist to work through kink shame. Other forms of self-care and stress management are meditation, exercise, sleeping enough, and healthy eating. Not practicing self-care can reduce your patience or ability to manage internal and external stressors such as sexuality-based shame. It’s hard to feel good about anything, let alone your sexuality, if the rest of you isn’t well-cared for!
On Trans Day of Remembrance we honor the memory of those whose lives were lost due to anti-trans violence.
"The Transgender Day of Remembrance seeks to highlight the losses we face due to anti-transgender bigotry and violence. I am no stranger to the need to fight for our rights, and the right to simply exist is first and foremost. With so many seeking to erase transgender people -- sometimes in the most brutal ways possible -- it is vitally important that those we lose are remembered, and that we continue to fight for justice." - Transgender Day of Remembrance founder Gwendolyn Ann Smith
Check out this article for more information about TDOR include how to participate, the list of names (that is often read during vigils), events, and other resources.