We are honored to have sex therapist and bestselling author Dr. Gina Ogden take a spin as a guest blogger here on Kinsey Confidential.
Q: My marriage never was very sexual but deep down I feel very sensual and erotic. I feel it is deep shame which holds me locked. How do I take responsibility to be a sexual being? I have done therapy but nothing changed, now I try to educate myself. Do you have any advice?
A: You raise issues I hear from women everywhere who feel there must be something wrong with them because sex isn’t working, or because they long to fill deep erotic desires they may find difficult to admit even to themselves. The truth is, sex is complex, and there are usually multiple causes for sexual problems—and bliss.
Sexual Response as a Wheel….
Imagine sexual response as an interactive Wheel that includes more than intercourse and orgasm, even more than physical sensation. Sex also includes what we feel emotionally—excitement and love, also perhaps fear, anger, and the crippling sense of shame you mention. It includes our thoughts—messages such as “good girls don’t” and “real men score,” which are stereotypical, and sexist! ways of framing what we “should” experience. Finally, it includes spirituality—the unseen connection and meaning we crave from intimacy with our partners, and also ourselves.
This complex story of sexual response is affirmed by neuroscience, which shows that our brains register a multiplicity of information regarding sexual issues. Sometimes a simple diagram can help you acknowledge your own stories, and see where you might begin to explore them in new ways.
What Can You Do to Help Change Your Sexual Story?
Begin by telling your story from the perspective of each quadrant of your Wheel. Differentiating your issues like this can help unlock your woundedness and shame, affirm your sense of self, and expand your sexual options beyond the present limitations in your marriage.
Read helpful books. Sex Matters for Women offers accessible, positive self-help from sex therapists Sallie Foley and Sally Kope. In Come as You Are , Emily Nagoski tells a user-friendly version of the science about how what we want sometimes doesn’t match how our bodies respond. If religious messages play a part in your story, try Sex, God, and the Conservative Church: Erasing Shame from Sexual Intimacy, by couples therapist Tina Schermer Sellers.
Visit websites that directly address your issues. Healthysex.com is based on the work of sex therapist Wendy Maltz, author of the classic Sexual Healing Journey, a guide for abuse survivors. You’ll find videos, such as “Learning Touch,” in which she teaches couples to move beyond shame through non-threatening physical exercises. Theanatomyoflove.com highlights the work of neuroscientists Helen Fisher and Lucy Brown with videos, quizzes, and blogs that shed light on romance, love, attraction, and deep spiritual yearning.
If you try therapy again, interview the therapist first. Therapy is most likely to help when your therapist is a) trained to deal with sexual issues, and b) flexible enough to focus on you and your whole Wheel of experiences, rather than trying to fit you into the behavioral goals of sexual performance.
Above all know that you’re not alone. And that there’s a huge range and variety of what women want—from honesty to dirty dancing, and from foreplay to fair play. And that sometimes the sexiest thing your mate can say is, “I’ll do the dishes tonight honey.”
ABOUT GINA OGDEN, PhD, LMFT
Gina Ogden is an award-winning sex therapist, family therapist, researcher, and founder of the 4-D Network for Body, Mind, Heart, and Spirit, an international consortium of practitioners whose mission is to expand sex therapy beyond behavioral goals. She conducted the only nationwide survey to investigate sexuality and spirituality. Her latest books include The Return of Desire and Expanding the Practice of Sex Therapy. Her site is www.4-DNetwork.com