post

The V-Spot: I’m So Excited and…

Hey Yana,

I just read a list of codependent behaviors on the internet and realized a ton of them describe the ways I have navigated/still navigate my relationships. Particularly: getting upset/stressed about other people’s problems and trauma, abandoning my needs to cater to others, and getting strong dips in my self-worth/self-confidence when the people in my life aren’t totally happy/excited about me.

I realize these issues can’t be fixed without tons of work but do you have any “in the moment” solutions that can at least stave off these responses/emotions when I feel overwhelmed by them?

I ask because I’m seeing someone new and I really like them, like they are so dang cute and the time I spend with them feels great so I’d really like to keep that going and I’m starting to worry that these behaviors could really get in the way!

With excitement,

I Just Can’t Hide It

 

Dear I Just Can’t,

Oftentimes the ways we relate to people we are romantically and/or sexually attracted to run along tracks that are deeply grooved in our minds, emotions, and bodies so it can be tough to change those patterns by just saying “Hey! Cut it out, self!”

The ways we learned to get our emotional and physical needs met as small infants (professionally dubbed our “attachment style” by the likes of psychologists Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby) carry over into our adult relationships in ways that can be both beneficial and/or problematic. Your tendency to abandon your own needs in order to cater to others, for example, may have been a great efficient strategy to get what you needed as a child in relation to your caregivers but in your present adulthood, it’s no longer serving you as well.

This doesn’t mean that this tendency is bad or wrong, but it does mean it’s maladaptive and is now causing you more harm than good, more unhealthy relationships than healthy, and so might be due for a tune-up. Working with a therapist might help this exploration and shift.

Meanwhile, if you want to learn more about attachment styles and how they factor into adult relationships, check out Stan Tatkin’s easy-to-digest book Wired for Love (though I don’t agree with ALL he says in that book, overall it’s an interesting read and breaks down attachment theory well).

As for quicker-to-apply strategies, I’m noticing that many of the things you’ve listed above as “codependent behaviors” are actually primarily feelings or thoughts that might be leading you to codependency…continue reading…

post

The V-Spot: My Partner is a Porn Addict, Now What?

Hi Yana,

My partner has struggled with a pornography/masturbation addiction since he was a teen. I’m not against self pleasure. In fact, I believe it’s important and wonderful for everyone to experience, even when partnered.

We’ve been together for 4 years, and our sex life is generally great. He was upfront with me about his issues with porn (his words) at an early point, but at the beginning he was contacting people outside of our monogamous relationship looking for sex. I was, as you’d expect, very hurt by this. He assured me that he would never have actually cheated but was just “seeking pleasure.”

Things have largely gotten better: he doesn’t contact people or seek interaction, but still indulges in porn on the regular. I find myself resenting this, despite believing that freedom of self pleasure is important. Our sex life is hugely affected by his masturbation habits and I’m afraid of how he’s sought out other people in the past.

I’m at a point now where I can’t help but wonder if it will ever change. Is it entirely wrong for me to want it to change at all? I’m trying to do right by him emotionally and sexually, but I’m also trying to do right by myself. Am I looking at it all wrong?

All the best,

Left Loveless

Dear Loveless,

Porn addiction (not officially included in the DSM-5, FYI) is a controversial animal in the therapeutic world. And without diving too deep into that debate here, I’ll tell you where my biases lie: I believe that porn — like many other substances and habits — can be used both in healthy and also in unhealthy ways. This unhealthiness, I believe, is largely in the eyes of the beholder and also in the impact it has on their lives.

Meaning, while there are more “traditional” addictions like those to alcohol and drugs, there are also many things we can use in unhealthy ways to cope with something/s that we feel like we currently can not cope with in other, perhaps healthier ways: sleeping, shopping, or even “socially acceptable” avenues like exercise or dieting, can all be used in compulsive or damaging ways without being labeled an official “addiction.”

Where my line is drawn in the sand around labeling this as problematic, Loveless, is here: Is the compulsive behavior causing distress for the person experiencing it and/or in that person’s significant relationships?

As you’ve described, this issue is at least certainly problematic: he himself considers his porn use an “issue” and you have clearly experienced some distress around the impact his porn use has on your relationship — a relationship that at one point he agreed to as being monogamous. He then broke that agreement when he secretly reached out to others…continue reading…

post

The V-Spot: How Do I Make Sexual Suggestions?

Dear Yana,

I’m a 30-something guy in a long-term relationship with a bisexual woman. She’s got a high sex drive and wants to have sex almost constantly. My desire doesn’t really match up with hers but I wonder if the issue is really that her sexual techniques don’t really line up with my tastes. Her confidence seems tenuous and I’m worried that my requests will deflate her.

How could I best make suggestions towards what I want her to do and request changes to her existing approach without making her retreat from me or feel bad?

Thanks for any advice,

Cautious Critiquer

 

Dear Cautious,

I know for some readers this might sound shocking, but I was once a church youth group director. Okay, well, it was a Unitarian Universalist church youth group but still. One thing that’s really great about working with teenagers in an intentional, pure, community-building setting such as a UU church youth group is that they teach you how to be a nice, ethics-forward, person in the world.

What does this have to do with your sex life, Cautious? Well, not all sex advice is sexual in nature. Sometimes, learning how to communicate directly and kindly is just the skill set you need to further your sexual satisfaction. And with that, I introduce to you the The Compliment Sandwich, courtesy of my former church youth group days.

The Compliment Sandwich is a technique great for delivering constructive feedback in a way that strikes a nice balance between honoring your partner’s/friend’s/co-worker’s strengths, and being direct and clear about what you’d like to see change. In a Compliment Sandwich, compliments are the bread and your request/suggestion/critique is the meat (or vegan meat substitute, as it were).

For example: … continue reading…

post

The V-Spot: Watching Porn in Public with Bella Vendetta

It’s not what you’d expect — this whole watching porn in a room full of strangers with your friends thing. On Saturday night, in an expansive room of the Eastworks building, about 50 of us did just that. And it was a wicked good time.

The Training of Poe is an award-winning documentary-style erotic film shot in the beautiful hills of Western Massachusetts. The indie porn/documentary hybrid (docuporn?) follows the two-day BDSM submissive training of Chelsea Poe at the instruction of local professional and lifestyle dominatrix Bella Vendetta.

Heavy on power play, and low on overt penetrative sex acts, the film takes viewers through a lovely arc of intentional consent negotiations, playfulness, tenderness, sexiness, and really at many points, downright humor.

Vulnerable and self-assured in both their work and in person, Chelsea Poe and Bella Vendetta nearly charmed the pants off us, and watching the film in their company complete with a Q&A was one of my favorite things I’ve done this fall. Lucky me, I got to have a little chat with Bella Vendetta afterwards.

Yana: What are three things you hope people take away from watching the Training of Poe?

Bella: 1.) That BDSM doesn’t always have to look like Fifty Shades of Grey.

2.) That sexuality and sex can go far beyond traditional orgasms.

3.) The natural beauty of Western Mass and how unique fetish films made here are.

Yana: How did you get started doing this work and what motivates you to keep doing it?

Bella: I got started by doing a formal training at the world’s oldest BDSM training chateau. Messages I get from students and retirees alike thanking me for opening their minds up to new ways of thinking about sex and sexuality is what makes me want to keep going.

Yana: What’s the hardest part of this work?

Bella: It’s just so much WORK — actual labor that’s exhausting. The stigma that goes along with this work because you’re a sex worker can get overwhelming. Then, most folks don’t view your work as actual work, so it’s a constant fight for legitimacy.

Yana: In what ways do you think watching smut is positively sex educational?

Bella: For the queer community, it’s one of the only places where we can see our sexualities being played out in an authentic way.

Yana: How do you prioritize consent in these projects and how can we apply that to our real, everyday sex lives?…continue reading on ValleyAdvocate.com where you can also watch a NSFW trailer of the Training of Poe…

post

The V-Spot: No Place for Your O-Face

Dear Yana,

I recently had an ~interesting~ first sexual encounter with a man. We had been talking for a couple weeks and it was our second date, and it was all going pretty well. So far we seem to connect pretty well on an intellectual level and there was some great intimacy build up (read: massive sexual tension-filled cuddling while watching a movie). Though it took us a second to kind of get on the same kissing level, after a while we got on the same groove and I was definitely pleasured.

And then he had an orgasm and it was honestly a turn-off for me. The sound and face he made were just super different than anything I have experienced before. I am naturally fairly quiet, and the few men I’ve been with in the past happen to have been rather conservative as well.

I don’t watch porn, so my past sexual experiences are all I have to go off of. I don’t want to judge people for what they want in bed and I certainly don’t want this to be something that puts a stop to what could potentially grow into a relationship. But at the same time, if I’m turned off by him orgasming, what does that mean for our sexual chemistry in the long term?

— Turned Off by his Turn On

Dear Turned Off,

I once heard a comic do this bit about making fun of other people’s laughs. He made some commentary about how you’re pretty much a total jerk if you scoff at somebody because of the way in which they express pure, unbridled joy and humor. That when you make fun of someone’s laugh, you’re telling them that when they’re tickled pink enough to let go and guffaw, or snort, or cackle, they actually shouldn’t feel joyful because they look real stupid when they do.

Does this rule apply here, Turned Off? Are you being a total jerk if you ditch this dude because he’s so good at leaning into his moment of pleasure that he looks pretty stupid when he does it? Is his looking real un-cute during his ecstatic climax more important than his sexual joy?

To be fair, Turned Off, I would imagine that if you looked yourself straight in the O-face in the mirror it might not be the prettiest selfie you’ve ever seen either. Losing control in a moment of pure pleasure looks and sounds funny sometimes, and that’s okay!

Of course, there are always two sides to every coin…continue reading…

post

The V-Spot: Jealous in a New Poly Triangle

Hi Yana,

I’m newly in a poly triangle with two dear friends. We’re all very open about how we view partnership and love in all forms, and I didn’t hold any jealousy for their relationship until recently.

Before I was a part of the relationship I wasn’t at all jealous that “Josie” was spending all her time with “Katie” and would hang out with me when convenient. Because to me they were in a relationship and I was a friend.

Now that they both consider me a partner, I feel like I’m a last thought. They have been setting up dates with other people for just the two of them. Hanging out together all the time without thinking to invite me, and only being truly affectionate towards me when they’re drunk or high.

I don’t know if I should be the one dealing with my jealous feelings and let them be, or if it’s something I should ask them to change. To add bonus complications, Josie is my roommate and we all three live in the same house.

None of us have sex because of some trauma stuff and my issues surrounding anxiety and control of my body, so our definition of a partner is someone who fulfills us in a way that other people don’t. So things are very fluid for us. I just don’t know if I have the right to be upset about this.

— Not Ready for This Jelly

Dear Jelly,

Have you ever heard of the phrase “Don’t shit where you eat”? Yeah, me neither. We do live in the Happy Valley, after all, where we keep our partners close, and our partners’ partners even closer. Is this is a bad thing? Not necessarily. But it sure does push us all to the limits of learning how to set clear boundaries and manage our stickiest emotions.

Made stickier by your close living quarters? Maybe. Impossible? Certainly not.

Managing the line between what are my emotions to self-regulate and what is in my partners’ jurisdiction to change is something that crops up in all relationships. However, this dilemma becomes especially apparent in non-monogamous relationships where management of one’s own jealously is considered part of the process.

Do you have the right to your feelings and emotions, Jelly? Of course. Feelings are feelings and stuffing them down or away typically just makes things worse. It’s what you do with them that counts.

There’s a tangible difference between “You better not do anything to upset me!” and “I’ve been feeling left out of our relationship lately and would like to discuss possible solutions”. If managing your jealous feelings looks like putting controls on your partners, that’s not the healthiest. If managing your jealous feelings looks like two-parts your individual work around the roots of your jealousy and one-part open communication with your partners about all three of your needs and desires, you’re moving towards a recipe for healthier coping!

Some of the issue here sounds like unclear expectations between the three of you. Have you told them that you want to be included in more of their couple dynamic? Has the topic of feelings about and hopes for their dates with others been properly sussed out or is it just something that’s happening willy-nilly?

Have an intentional sit-down where each of you can talk about what you want out of this relationship, where your boundaries are, and what you can say yes or no to in a way that feels like a balance between rewarding and challenging.

Sure, part of non-monogamy is facing the ick of jealousy, but no one should be gritting their teeth alone throughout their entire relationship.

Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.

post

The V-Spot: Healing an Ex-Shaped Hole in the Heart

Dear Yana,

It’s been over a year now since I got my heart stomped by my ex-girlfriend. We were together for 11 years and our relationship ended very badly. Even after such a long term relationship,

I’m still pretty young — in my mid-30s — and I’m pretty sure I’m a catch. But, every time I go out with someone from OKCupid, I never want to see them again. They all seem totally unhinged and just not like anyone I would want to date, casually or otherwise. I’m not even sure that I can do “casual,” now that I think about it.

But I feel like I should be out dating people to see what else is out there and fill this hole in my heart that seems like it’s just never going to go away. How do I let the dating duds down easy while not being a total asshole? What if my heart NEVER heals?

Oh, Holey Heart

 

Dear Holey,

The good news is, heartbreak does heal. Well, at least the agonizing part does. When it comes to long-term loves like the one you describe (an 11-year relationship before you hit 40 runs you through some critical life developments!), the heal time will certainly feel slower. Plus, people’s major loves in life often forever linger. And that’s normal.

The first thing to do, HH, is to stop looking for a replica of your ex. And I don’t mean physically, but more in the way that your specific relationship made you feel when you were first meeting in your 20s, deepening your connection towards your 30s, and whatever you were desperately trying to save towards the end.

A new relationship will not scratch the same itch in the same ways and you as an individual are not the same person you were during the relationship with your ex. Open yourself up to new possibilities of what makes for an attractive partner in the here and now rather than trying to fill the ex-shaped-hole in your heart. Trying to fit an OKCupid date into that shape will prove to be fruitless, frustrating, and a painful reminder that no one will be your ex. And they won’t! And that’s okay. But fighting it makes the healing harder.

Instead, find a new lil’ neighborhood in your heart and let your casual dates hang out there — see if they like it, see if you like it, see what parts of you they challenge, excite, or even point out to you for the first time ever!

Rope off a little place where casual dates are allowed to roam and if you find someone that sticks, you can expand the territory…continue reading…

post

The V-Spot: Real Sex-ed for Students

Hi Yana,

I recently moved into my aunt’s house, and I now live with my 16-year-old female cousin. Being in her life now makes me realize that I can give her advice on her first relationships and her first love … possibly. When I was 16, I wish I could have had someone in my life to give me advice on the mistakes I was making.

I also realize that 16-year-old me wouldn’t have listened to anything anyone said to me. My cousin is currently interested in a boy that I am not fond of. I don’t think he’s a good guy for her.

How do I warn my cousin of this inevitable heartbreak? How do I tell her to watch her back without ruining our close relationship? I’m pretty lost, but would love to give her some input on her current situation,

— Careful Cousin

Dear Careful,

I made a lot of relational mistakes when I was a teenager. To think about them now as an adult — and as an adult sex educator no less — is downright cringeworthy.

And yet every one of those cringeworthy moments has been a stepping stone on my path to where I am now, having (most of the time, at least) satisfying, healthy, and balanced adult romantic and sexual relationships.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t have valuable guides along the way, as I most certainly did. But rarely were those guides the adults in my life who attempted to control, micromanage, or protect me from ALL mistakes. More often, they were the adults or peers who empowered me to make my own decisions with confidence, self-care, information, and clarity.

They were the people who introduced me to Tapestry Health and how to maintain my sexual well-being without shame; they were the folks who taught me about consent; and sometimes they were completely temporary connections like my high school dean who once sheepishly handed me a “Healthy Relationships Checklist” on the sidewalk and subsequently changed my entire perspective on my budding sex life.

You can’t and shouldn’t try to protect your cousin from every heartbreak and mistake. But you can be an invaluable guide in her sex and relationship education. How? Keep the avenues of communication between you and your particular teen open, authentic, information-accurate, appropriate, and reliable. Here’s some tips everyone could use:

Open: Steer away from shame and towards talking to youth about whatever comes up for them. Keep the caveat that if they’re intending serious harm towards self or others, you will prioritize safety. It’s okay to draw hard ethical lines around issues important to the health and safety of all involved about topics such as abuse, safer-sex, and physical and mental well-being.

Authentic:….continue reading…

post

The V-Spot: Is My Romance Dead?

Dear Yana,

I know your column is mainly about sex, but for me, it’s all about the romance. I’ve been struggling for decades to balance my love of flowers, dancing, and candlelight with my love of a husband who struggles with intimacy (for good reasons) and who promises me these things after an increasingly strongly worded hint from me that it is the little things that matter. But he never follows it through.

The passion, friendship … everything else is there and over the years I have opened my spirit to a Zen-like acceptance for what he isn’t able to express. But there is no denying the fact that subtle seduction and the charm of being surprised is what lures me between the sheets. I have a very deep love of a man who is partly dense, partly lazy, but moreover I believe too wounded by his past to ever give of himself in a delicate way.

How do I smooth out the edges of my chafing heart? (I have in the past taken him dancing, on picnics, to unexpected places and so on, but I am beginning to pine to be led into the forest of romance.) Perhaps in the age of Trump chivalry is dead and the roses have shriveled away.

— In Love with a Non-Romantic

Dear In Love,

First, I love that you sent me this letter via mail. I myself feel romanced by your extra efforts in mailing me a real live letter rather than shooting off an email as you hurriedly slash your Monday morning inbox at the office. You’re clearly geared towards going the extra mile rather than taking a shortcut — and I love it.

I don’t know the specifics of your husband’s painful past. However, while it’s important to tread carefully around people’s traumas, I also believe that it’s equally important for all members of a relationship to put in the work it takes to make themselves and the relationship healthy.

Meaning, is your partner holding you at arm’s length in the name of past experiences and then simply shrugging and calling it a day? Or are his past hurts something that he is working on processing and existing alongside of in the relationship?

I’ll give you a personal example: I’ve always been open about the fact that I struggle with anxiety. High anxiety days typically (and understandably) aren’t my most “I feel sexy!” days. However, I also know that sticking to regular yoga, not overloading my work schedule, and attending weekly therapy all help me manage my anxiety.

This doesn’t mean anxiety will magically disappear from my life, but it does mean that I put in the work to manage it so that it doesn’t negatively impact me and/or intimacy in my relationship ALL the time…continue reading…

post

The V-Spot: IPAs Run My Sex Life

Editor’s Note: This column refers to sexual trauma responses.

Hi Yana,

My girlfriend and I have been together for four months, but lately I’ve been noticing we’ve only been having sex when we’re drinking. Nothing to put consent into question for either of us, of course, just a couple beers.

I asked her about it over dinner, and she said, “It’s nothing you’re doing wrong, I’ve just hated myself lately.” I know she struggles with depression and anxiety and has some trauma in her past, so I’m unsure how to proceed.

I know I can’t “solve” her problems or make her have a more positive body image, but I care about her and don’t want our sex life to be dependent on how many IPAs are available. I try to be supportive and complimentary because she’s gorgeous and has a great body, but I also get that my opinion isn’t enough to alter what she sees in herself.

— Seeking Happiness, Not Hoppiness

 

Dear Seeking Happiness,

It’s so great that you noticed this trend in your sex life and had the bravery to bring it up to your girlfriend in the way that you did. That your partner feels comfortable telling you what’s going on for her, even if it’s something painful like “I hate myself lately” makes me think that you all have a solid communication foundation which is invaluable.

When people have experienced sexual/relational trauma, a person’s body and brain can register all sexual touch as potentially dangerous as it attempts to protect them from a repeat experience. The body and mind can start responding to sexual touch in ways that either triggers flashbacks or shuts the body down in some way to avoid danger.

It’s possible that your girlfriend’s drinks requirements help her get past this discomfort in order to engage in sex and/or helps her numb out whatever unpleasant responses are happening for her mentally, emotionally, or physically. If she’s willing or able to work with a therapist around this trauma, the therapist might help her identify and explore her trauma and how else she might be able to cope with it besides drinking before sex.

You’re absolutely right that you can’t “fix” her and in fact it can be harmful to her, you, and your relationship if you should make that your mission. However, you’re an equal part of this sexual relationship and it can be painful to witness your sexual partner essentially taking steps to numb herself out or block herself from you when you’re having sex. Even when our partners have traumatic histories, it’s still okay to desire a connected and engaged sex life, even if it’s not immediately possible.

Show and tell her that you’re here to be supportive and that her mental health is important to you as it’s part of your shared relational space. Offer support but don’t push, blame, or take too much charge.

How?…continue reading…