Sexual Wisdom, Not Advice

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I’ve always said I’m not one of those sex therapists who gives advice. I don’t tell you who you shouldn’t marry, whether to have that second child, which sex position “most women” like, or if you should try a threesome—questions I’m asked regularly, including just this past week.

Rather, I see my job focusing more on education: providing facts about biology, laying out competing ideas about how to make decisions, and sharing my accumulated experience of how things tend to work. Not so much what to do as how to think about what to do.

In that light, here are a few things I’ve said lately that seemed pretty valuable to my patients. Take what makes sense, and be a bit curious about the rest.

~ The “average man” (and “average woman”) is an idea, not a person.

Since the average man or woman doesn’t actually exist, no one can be exactly like him or her. However the “average” man/woman is described, some of us may be more similar or less similar, but none of is exactly average.

How often does the “average man” want sex? How long does the “average man” stay erect? How much oral sex does the “average woman” like? It doesn’t matter—because the “average man/woman” is a statistical creation, not an actual person.

Think of it this way: if an “average man” and “average woman” are sitting in a car, the “average person” in the car has one testicle and one ovary. That’s absolutely accurate—and absolutely meaningless.

So when someone is wondering about themselves (perhaps at the urging of a frustrated partner), referring to a statistical invention like “average” is a bad thing to do. We’re better off understanding—and generally accepting—ourselves as unique individuals (or a unique couple), keeping in mind that every aspect of sexuality is expressed in a wide, wide range of ways.

When two people disagree about what they want, the worst strategy—and most common one—is a defensive, blaming conversation in which each one tries to persuade the other that they’re wrong or abnormal—and therefore should change.

~ Once you fake one orgasm, it’s hard to stop—and stopping gets increasingly difficult the more you fake it, because you’ll have more and more to explain if you finally do come clean.

There is absolutely no good reason to ever fake an orgasm. People do it (mostly women, but sometimes men) for predictable reasons:
–they want a “legitimate” reason to stop the sex
–they want to prove to their partner that he or she is adequate
–they want to pretend they’ve enjoyed the sex more than they did
–they’ve learned that if they’re honest about not climaxing (even if they don’t mind at all), they’ll have to go through a long talk or an argument afterwards

Each one of these predictable reasons is poor, because each presents a perfectly alternative to deception—communication. Negotiating how that’s going to work in a given relationship, and the discomfort doing so, is part of what we pay for the privilege of connecting with someone.

Maybe you’ve seen that bumper sticker, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” Well, I favor “If you think communication is awkward, try deception, assumption, and isolation.”

~ Most people who don’t initiate sex think they have good reasons. Do you know what your partner’s are?

Like every sex therapist, I handle cases of low desire, high desire, and desire discrepancy every week. And while I sympathize with the frustration of someone wanting sex with a partner who doesn’t want sex as much, it’s surprising how primitive these frustrated people can get in their approach.

“How come I always have to be the one to initiate? And even when I do, how come you say no so often?”

People don’t initiate when they don’t expect to enjoy the experience—whether it’s eating in a particular café, going to a particular concert, or having sex. So the answer to “why don’t you initiate sex?” is usually some version of “I don’t expect to enjoy it.”

Clearly, the next question should be “Oh, in what ways?” But instead, the person feeling rejected or frustrated usually tries to persuade the other person that he or she is wrong. And that never works.
If you’re sexually frustrated, ask more questions. And listen to the answers.

~ You can prevent children from masturbating—as long as you don’t mind damaging them with guilt, shame, and fear.

It’s 2019: the planet is melting, capitalism has destroyed our public education system—and people are still frantic about their kids masturbating. I do wish parents would have a better sense of proportion about this.

Assuming that kids are not hurting their bodies (say, inserting something dirty or dangerous into the vagina, or rubbing their penis raw), there’s nothing wrong with them masturbating. In fact, it’s a healthy activity in a number of ways.

The only time parents might need to intervene is if young kids are doing it in inappropriate places—say, Church or at grandma’s dinner table. A gentle “that’s OK dear, but save it for home” is all that’s necessary. Sooner or later, kids will stop stroking themselves in front of grownups.

When parents ask my advice on getting kids to stop doing it, I ask them why they want to. It’s usually out of well-meaning concern, but typically from a misguided religious direction. I always figure that if God didn’t want us to masturbate, God would have made our arms shorter. But some parents need to hear this: since kids know that touching themselves erotically feels good and hurts no one, the only way to stop them from doing it is to terrorize them.

I’ve actually heard parents say that that’s preferable to their kids literally going to hell, or their kids being separated from the parents when they all go to heaven. I’d say that kind of terror—and the willingness to inflict that terror on children—means that people are in hell already.

~ Instead of deciding what your sexual identity is, get to know yourself better as a unique individual.

Some people come in and tell me what their hard-won sexual identity is: demi-sexual. Polyamorous. Asexual. Monogomish. Trans-friendly bisexual. Lately, a few have claimed that they’re “unlabeled”—which is their actual label.

Some people ask my advice on how to decide what their sexual identity is. How do they know if they’re gay, or “just” bisexual? How do they know if they’re kinky, or poly, or furry—or just a little curious? Some young people are kind of in a hurry to decide, so they can decide who their sexual “community” is.

Bonding over the kind of stimulation you like during sex, or the kind of sex toy you use, or the fact that you (currently) don’t like sex at all seems an odd way to choose an affinity group. For one thing, our sexual interests often change over time.

And besides, while our sexual expression or configuration sometime feels central to our sense of self, it doesn’t predict anything else about us. There are policemen who like being spanked, bankers who love orgasms from fantasy, gay Republicans, people who hate real-life Latinos but love Latino porn stars.

These days, identity politics is stronger than anytime in decades. I’ve seen identity focus on one’s relationship to the military and flag; on whether someone smokes pot; and we’ve all seen it focus on race, ethnicity, and city of origin (as if all New Yawkers were like each other).

You don’t need a label for your sexuality. Your definition of “kinky” may be very different from the next person’s anyway. I think what most people need is fewer labels, not more. Instead of looking for our community based on the details of our sexual expression, I think we’d all be better off if we just let people get to know us, and decide if they liked us based on how we treated them, and who we seemed to be.

These days, we need to focus more on our commonalities than on our tribal separateness.

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