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What I Learned About Sex: It’s Almost All In Your Mind

WHOLE-sex

The mind is the most powerful  sex organ of all.

I’m a very sensual and sexual person. In the Love Languages book, my picture represents the Touch-centered person. So when my sexual interest and prowess began to wane, in my early 50’s I got a little concerned. I mean, I had never needed any help catching an erection, and as if all at once I was having a problem even with an eager and willing partner. So I started doing some reading.

 

As it began to happen, my erectile non-cooperation, I started looking for answers. I wasn’t sure if it was my age, my mental state (I was a bit depressed), or the woman I was with. I was flat-out confused. Several factors that I was clearly aware of were at play.

  1. I was recently divorced
  2. I was depressed
  3. I had started some SSRI medication to help with the depression
  4. I was in the first relationship since my divorce, and my partner was enthusiastic and joyful

ANNNND, I couldn’t get a hard on on demand. WTF? Or should I say, WT(no)F?

The first few things I learned.

  1. A good portion of sex is in my own mind.
  2. SSRIs have a huge incidence of sexual side effects. (More on the second level of this issue, in a bit.)
  3. A sexually aware partner is equally into getting themselves off as getting you off. When you can’t perform they might begin to doubt their attractiveness to you, or even question the relationship over all.
  4. My issue was not ED and I was not in need of the little blue dick helpers.

But a longer period of exploration and education was needed in order to get me in the position I am today. (Happy, well fkd, and joyfully engaged with or without erection and orgasm)

As I moved through this first sexual-and-engaged relationship I passed through several phases.

Relationship Phase One:  I’m depressed. I have no idea what I like. I don’t even crave ice cream. So, I don’t desire her, it’s probably just the blues talking. (This was the first month.)

Relationship Phase Two: Okay, it’s not all me. I can learn to love her, to be into her, and my mind is the key. (This was the second month.) I started reading Sexual Intelligence and really giving some thought to my situation: both to myself and to this lovely woman, who really liked me.

Relationship Phase Three: Well, perhaps I’m just not that into her. Sometimes that happens. There was a chemistry mismatch. Nobody’s fault. I developed my Dog Rule of Dating from at this point. But I began to explore the idea of not being in this relationship. (The third month.)

And it was an amazing discussion we had the morning after I broke it off. We had breakfast at a Denny’s. Sitting across from her I realized how much I loved her. I loved her, but I wasn’t sexually aroused by her. It wasn’t porn, or unreal youthful ambitions, or some other disconnect. I was simply a mediocre response sexually to my reptilian brain. I wanted a greyhound and she was a fancy poodle. (My apologies to her for the analogy.)

MOVING ON

The next relationship I had was highly sexual. In fact, the sex was about all we had. She would have knee-jerk reactions every few weeks, just as we were getting close, and break up with me. All my doubts of sexual dysfunction on my part evaporated with this lovely and intelligent woman, who was not ready for a relationship, much less a relationship with me. We didn’t last very long, but long enough to show me that SEX is not everything. In fact, our sexual chemistry got in the way of me seeing early on that she was not right for me. So we screwed our way into the Summer before the 5th breakup finally broke through my sexual-fueled denial.

AND ONWARD THROUGH THE FOG OF SINGLE DADHOOD

So in the first relationship I learned about TOUCH (I had never experienced someone so touch-centric) and I knew I would never put up with anything less. In the second relationship I learned that SEX could be awesome but the relationship could be super bad. And that set up my quest for the next love of my life.

GOAL: TOUCH + GOOD SEX + EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE.

When this woman showed up I was overwhelmed with the passion and connection we experienced from the first kiss. We both stripped away our inhibitions and hesitation in the heat of our connection: intellectual, sexual, spiritual. Sure, there were/are things we need to work through, but this woman was on a different level all together. So many things were ON that I was really dismayed when my mental state collapsed under the stress of a new job, new house, ANNNND new girlfriend.

That’s when things got really interesting. Given every opportunity to run away, declare me a perfect mess, she didn’t run away at all. She stepped in, stepped up, and engaged with me on all levels. I don’t know how she did it. I don’t know if it was the chemistry and amazing connection we had in the first 45 days, or if she had already fallen in love with me, but I can tell you that I was feeling totally unworthy and unlovable. And yet SHE LOVED ME ANYWAY.

Then the issues with my sexuality returned in spades. Yes, a new round of SSRIs was inserted to cut off my looming fall into depression. And YES, the Lexapro-generic created a new set of problems, that I had not experienced before. And the depression was also interfering with my ability to focus or stay focused on sex. Even while an amazingly sexual woman was dancing naked in-front of me, I was unable to work up the erection to get into it. At this point I was really concerned, that even beyond the SSRI side-effects I was dealing with something deeper.

Turns out it was deep. This is where the Sexual Intelligence book came into play.

What started happening in this case was first, absolutely the best sex of my life, and second my inability to orgasm over the course of 5 – 10 “sessions.” WHAT? This had never happened. Talking to my psychiatrist I was happy to observe, “Well, I’ve never had such a sexualized girlfriend at the same time that ramped up the SSRIs. It makes a huge difference.”

And I began to learn more about sex than I thought possible. I was pretty sure I was the most sexual/sensual person on the planet. But I had to learn that MY ORGASM was unimportant in the larger scheme of things. What I learned in this few months of confusion was this: SEX is everything that happens before, during, and after orgasm, and orgasm is not the goal, nor required for an amazing sex life. I mean, I love orgasms, but I had to either get over that expectation or get into some funk about sex. And I’ll tell you again, I was having the best sex of my life. What? I was confused and a bit frustrated.

A few new tools I learned at this time, besides the deferred focus on my own orgasm, was that men are quite adept at masturbation.

First New Learning: Our hand is the most familiar sexual partner we will ever have. Sometimes the friction, speed, and unpredictability of sex with a partner makes it more hard to orgasm. Sounds like heresy. Jacking off might be better than making love. But the function of orgasm as a release and the hand as the vehicle is pretty mechanical.

Second New Learning: By showing my partner what it looks like when I do masturbate gives her clues about how I like to be touched. I had a bit of resistance to showing her. But as we experimented and talked about all that was going on, I read the “Men Fake It” book and learned about our practice with our hands is sort of like our sexual training. So showing her what it looked like when I was doing myself, was very good information for her. Good information indeed.

Third New Learning: Anorgasmia is a thing. And for a while it was amazing how often I was ready to go again. Without the release of orgasm I had no refractory period. She loved that. But eventually she also grew concerned with our sex, if I wasn’t coming.

Fourth New Learning: As far as sexual experience and my own sexual training is concerned, I was hyper-tuned to her pleasure. Most of my sex life was about extending my time doing her so she could have orgasms. AFTER she was DONE I’d go for my own. Her-centric sex is fine, but it’s a bit shallow. By focusing on her body, her orgasm, and her experience, I was kind of leaving my own enjoyment out for a good portion of our sex. I learned to let myself feel my own body, at this point. Just feel, don’t do.

Fifth New Learning: The connection is everything. As I had to learn to focus on my pleasure I also learned that really tuning into the WE of sex, rather than the SHE and ME, was a way of really enjoying things at a deeper level. And we both have some learning to do around pleasing the other person simply for enjoyment rather than our own release.

SUMMING UP GOOD SEX

The connection between the two of you during sex (foreplay, function, and afterplay) is more important that any goal of orgasm.

When orgasm is an issue, sex can still have all the fantastic qualities. In fact, I have been able to have more sex, and have sex longer, which was something I was missing in my normally functioning sex life. (BTW I’m off the SSRI and the effortless orgasm has returned for me.)

Know what does it for you and being able to show or tell your partner is a key ingredient for evolved sex. As we can let go of traditional SEX as the goal and open up to the full range of erotic experiences, we can expand our pleasure and our sexual vocabularies.

The mind is the most powerful  sex organ of all.

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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At the End of Sex and My Marriage

WHOLE-winter

Let me set a few ground rules, as this is a 100% positive blog, sex and sexual dysfunction is a partner thing. It wasn’t her fault. It was our fault. And sex, in my opinion, and the opinion of a lot of relationship experts (though I’m not one), is very important to a marriage.

For me, sex bonds me, it makes me feel connected, close, warm, loving, proud. Sex is like the glow on the relationship. It’s both reward and gift. Sex can be about giving and focused on the other partner. Or sex can be about receiving, and doing your best to shut down the mental rap sheet of expectations and performance. Or sex can be a dance between two people, like a tango, or waltz, or punk rock slam dance.

It’s all good. It’s all about sex, baby, it’s all about you. and. me. Let’s talk about sex.

Early in my courtship sex was magical. The moment my  emerging girlfriend candidate told me, “I went to the doctor today.” She was grinning ear to ear. She knew what she was about to give me. “I got a prescription for birth control.”

The moment we decided, and had newly unprotected sex again, with the intention of bringing a child into the world, well, the sex took on a whole new level of awesome.

Oh my. I might have been hooked in to marrying her from that very second that the warm glow rushed into my body. “We still have to wait about a month, for my cycle, but it’s a start.”

I was thrilled. We were thrilled. She was saying YES PLEASE, let’s do it.

And things early on were just as good as that first rush. Playful. Exploratory. Loving. Fun. And somewhat frequent. All was right with the world, with my sex life (as a man), and all was heading in upward direction. The “Life is Good” shirt applies here, and was worn frequently, as was my just-done-it smile.

Another magical milestone was crossed on our honeymoon. We were getting married in an ancient church in a tiny French town, and the night after a major lunar eclipse, we decided to start having sex unprotected and without birth control. She had been off the pill for two months or so…

We knew what we wanted. But the moment we decided, and had newly unprotected sex again, with the intention of bringing a child into the world, well, the sex took on a whole new level of awesome. It was as if a spiritual purpose had taken the joy and expression of our love to another level.

Onward we sailed into the newly married bliss of frequent and unprotected procreational sex. It sounds like a mouthful. It was heaven.

Our son was born less than a year later. And with a few months of off-limits self-reliance, we were back in the bedroom making up fun stuff to do with her newly arrived breasts. More joy. More interruptions and laughter and coupling. And more unprotected, sure-let’s-have-another-kid, sex. More play, more connection, more fantastic sex.

I’m going to skip the drama around our daughter’s medical issues, and the fact that 9-11 ripped out all the joy from the world. I covered this elsewhere. But the stress of the world took its toll on our joyful sex. We still attempted it, we were told not to go for a third child, and we were okay with a perfect pair, boy and girl. And the closeness was still there, when we found the windows for alone time, when neither of us was too exhausted to do it.

And of course that’s a thing. Marriage, kids, financial obligations and chores really wear down both parents. And it’s typical for one parent to take on the worry and stress more than the other parent. (Often men are picked on for being less responsible, or not growing up, but I can assure you that’s not what was going on between us.) I was 100% present and accounted for. I did the working-for-a-living dance. I mowed the lawn, picked up toys and rooms, did some cooking, and loaded and unloaded the dishwasher, and we were both still tired.

Marriage, kids, financial obligations and chores really wear down both parents. And it’s typical for one parent to take on the worry and stress more than the other parent.

Now, more often than not (a lot more often) any indication of sexual readiness on my part was met with a sigh or an eye-roll depending on her level of exhaustion.

I learned new ways to ask. The playful, “Hey, how about I give YOU a blow job tonight?” The suggestive, “I’d love to give you a back rub as soon as I get the dishes done.” And the supportive, “Is there anything I can do to make things less stressful for you, at this moment?”

But somewhere in her hard wiring, the stress had shut down her sensual response. We went to counseling, but mostly that was about some crisis or another that we needed to work through. We never really addressed the sex thing, I was trying to be a standup and self-less husband in support of his wife. I have no idea what she was doing. But we were doing it together and not “doing it” very much.

And then one last magical thing happened. With the full-insurance of my job, I got a vasectomy. Hallelujah. It was like a new ON switch for our sex life, perhaps not how you might think.

The mechanics of a vasectomy have one similarity to birth control for women. Once you have the procedure (get on the pill) you have several months to wait before enjoying your newfound freedom. In the case of a vasectomy, it’s not time, but ejaculations that count down towards the miracle of unprotected non-procreational sex.

And it was as if my then-wife’s libido had suddenly been jump started back into gear. We didn’t have a schedule or chart or anything like that, but the mental count in our heads, once I was healed enough to be back in action, was like a shining green number above my head. 40 ejaculations. Then you had to see the doctor again, give a specimen and have it examined for viable swimmers.

It was as if the mythical Spanish Fly was being introduced to my wife’s tea and coffee every day. We treated it like a sport. In the shower. BOOM. In the morning before getting out of bed. DING. And any time the kids had dropped off before us. BINGO.

It couldn’t have been more than 45 days and we were making our appointment with Dr. Let’s-Get-It-On again. We leapt into the world of parents with small children who can now do it as often as they like and not worry about having any more kids. It was a maturing process for sure. I was pretty young to be getting a vasectomy. WE WERE INTO SEX, AND WE WERE GOING TO HAVE A LOT OF IT. That’s what I imagined the vaz was saying about us and our future love life.

But…

If I have demanded that my wife find her sexual center again, rather than being so nice and self-consoling, I might have penetrated the fog that had taken her intimacy out of the relationship.

Well, I’m sure you can guess the story. Things fizzled after a few months with no goal. We joked about setting another objective, a milestone to “shoot for.” But it never happened. And, in fact, without going to far into the intimate details, it started to go way South rather than back towards loving, touching, squeezing.

We checked everyone’s meds. I read a few books, tried a few things, asked in more creative ways. Nothing.

Now, the real story, is probably much deeper than the sex. And I have tried to ask, both in real-time while the collapse was happening, and later in therapy when things were really bleak. We didn’t talk about sex anymore, even in therapy, because the “issues” have become seemingly insurmountable.

But I still wonder, if I had protested more. If I have demanded that my wife find her sexual center again, rather than being so nice and self-consoling, I might have penetrated the fog that had taken her intimacy out of the relationship.

Again, please understand, I AM taking responsibility for my part in the dance that began to come apart. And again, I’m really not saying that sex was the primary ingredient that caused us to get divorced.

What I am saying is at the end of sex our marriage was also closing down. The sex might have been a conduit for us to rekindle the loving feelings for one another. The love-making was certainly a part of my DNA (see Love Languages) and the primary way I felt loved. Well, not just sex, but physical touch. And we did have some of that. But when a back rub is the only way you get to be touched by your beautiful wife, even when you are jumping through every hoop introduced, things can begin to get a bit off track, distant, disconnected.

I believe there was some fracture that happened during the course of our financial and medical struggles that broke some trust inside my wife. And while I can’t put my finger on it, and I am merely projecting my hindsight reflection, which is most definitely NOT 20/20, I know she closed down her sexuality. She might not have done it consciously. But as she began to contemplate or imagine life beyond our marriage, it was necessary for her to stop giving herself to me in a sexual way.

The first time when we were making love during this period, that I noticed things were off, I caught her looking out the window, seemingly bored. “Are you okay?” I asked.

She napped back. But the moment was despairing. And we were done. And maybe, in some internal way, for her, we were done at that moment. Done in a much bigger way.

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Nothing Is As Exciting As New Love, Right?

WHOLE-blueangel

The first step to recovery is admitting there’s a problem.

Preamble: When the animal intoxication of chemical romance hits, our brains go on stun. We are no longer thinking like a human, we’re more like a dog.

I’m not a greener pastures guy. I loved my wife. I loved my last girlfriend. Those relationships are over, in the romantic sense, so I prop my hopes backup and set off again on the epic quest. The chivalrous knight’s journey. ARGGGH. I’m a bit exhausted from all the questing and leaping off after any romantic potential. I’m most tired of my optimistic fool’s trait that keeps my heart engaged long after the true colors have been shown.

All we have is hope. When things go wrong, when disappointments happen, when “bad things happen to good people,” all we have is our ability to imagine a better place, a new hope, a delayed gratification dream. Thank goodness for that, but good grief for all the times we have to fail to find another human to grow and evolve with. We keep trying.

Today I will try again. I will hope that “love” with the little “l” is out there, and perhaps nearby. The last quest led to a brilliant woman, who dialed in my number physically and sexually, for some unknown reason. We don’t really understand chemistry. We try to rationalize the “opposites attract” theme, but it doesn’t make rational sense when we look at our preferences. I use a dog metaphor sometimes to illustrate, even to myself, the simple mystery of physical attraction.

Two dogs meet in a dog park. Either
1. One tail is wagging
2. Two tails are wagging
3. No tails are wagging

There is also potential for overlooking some egregious problems, some unfinished issues that are as plain as day to anyone standing nearby.

I think it has a lot less to do with our conscious brains and a lot more to do with something subconscious, sub-lingual, and more dog-like. I might think I have a thing for poodles and pitbulls. But when a fancy, just-my-type, boxer enters the park, all my previous ideas of who/why/what I wanted are thrown to the wind. A whimsy of hormones, eye signals, body language, and something else… Magic. That’s the only explanation for it. When magic happens we are up for the pursuit. Our animal instincts kick in, and even across a room, we can spot the “potential” and feel the tiniest rush. If we are open to the signals, we might close in on the deal, attempt a proud display, and engage in courtship.

When both tails are wagging, there is a potential for magic. There is also potential for overlooking some egregious problems, some unfinished issues that are as plain as day to anyone standing nearby, but we’ve fallen into some other state. An altered state, and not always for the better. When the hit of sexual chemistry arrives, we are also vulnerable to euphoria, rushing into things, and premature sexual engagement. Fine. If you feel it, go for it. If you have insatiable lust and passion, go, do the animal thing, rut, pounce, devour. It’s wonderful. But be aware, it’s like an intoxication. And while you’re intoxicated you should not operate heavy machinery nor get pregnant. (A joke and subtle safe-sex hint.)

So, let’s say for illustration, you’ve got the ‘chemistry’ with someone and the rushing blood in your head and heart is an indication that you are getting intoxicated. Notice. Appreciate. And take a long drink of it. BUT… PLEASE… PAUSE…

Sorry. The headlong rush into sex and animal passions is awesome and fun and … Dangerous. I know I sound dramatic. But I am being dramatic on purpose. Let’s see how I can make this more clear, less metaphorical.  I’ll get more personal and tell a little bit about my experience with the drug of love.

I have gone headlong into the night of intoxicated coupling. And with two exceptions (in college, sort of one-night-stand variations) all of these rushed relationships have ended in fiery disasters. Hear me. Nothing is as exciting as new love. YES. I agree. And nothing is as blinding as the animal chemistry that kicks in somewhere below our human intelligence, and that blindness lasts for weeks, months, years if we’re… that “lucky”? or “tragically deceived?”

Let me try again from the beginning. My first marriage was initiated by such flames and synchronicity that I spent the first 45 days of our “relationship” either in her bed or mine. Of course, we were just finishing college, we had time, we had the uncertainty of “what’s next” in our lives. We had time and chemistry to burn. I knew on my honeymoon, however, when the fieriness showed up aimed at me rather than with me, that I had made a huge mistake marrying this woman. STRIKE ONE for hot sex.

When the female of the animal species is showing unhealthy signs they are either ostracized and left behind, or driven from the herd.

My second marriage was a bit more stable, but the chemistry was no less mind-altering. I was still wounded from the flame-out of my first marriage and the wreckage that was left behind after she did her business of “divorcing me.” So I fell effortlessly into romantic reverie when I ran into an old high school friend. And she was/is still beautiful to me. And we attempted to be smart, we attempted to be honest and go slowly. The stars were already in place, and we were negotiating with seriously impaired intellect. Such is the role of the intoxication. We partner and mate for the good of the species.

So my second RUSH went that way. We spawned two beautiful children. Still, I should have never consummated this relationship. There were red flags and issues within the first weeks that should’ve could’ve would’ve made a more sober man say, “no thank you.” I was sober of any artificial intoxicants, but I was as addicted to her beauty and body like a garden variety addict.  I saw the danger. I responded to the warnings. I proceeded onward and inward. We married. Altered everything about our lives. Had kids. And things went off the rails, in part due to the disconnects I was getting warning signals about, in those first few love-addled weeks, even before we’d ever slept together. I was too far gone to pull up from the terminal velocity nose dive. I gave it all. I put it all in. We both did.

The third RUSH ended last night. It should’ve ended months ago, when she calmly and forcefully broke up with me. But I was on the trail of exciting love. I was in the quest mode. I had gotten a taste of hot sex and I was no more sober than a male tomcat around a female in heat. And I’m not making any judgements about her or the warning flares she was firing straight at me. I was well aware of the danger as I moved in for the conquest. I was as hungry as I’ve ever been, maybe still (of course still) wounded. But more lonely and ready and energetic.

If we’re addicted and activated we’re at risk of slipping back into our unhealthy patterns of addiction, intoxication, regret, withdrawal, and repeat.

When the female of the animal species is showing unhealthy signs they are either ostracized and left behind, or driven from the herd. I even had a friend telling me, “She’s in no shape for a relationship.” I had all the information I needed. Heck, when the woman is saying, “No, nope, nada, don’t do it,” while still welcoming you into her arms… well, that’s your problem right there.

New love is a drug, that might be more powerful than heroin. If we’re addicted and activated we’re at risk of slipping back into unhealthy patterns of addiction, intoxication, regret, withdrawal, and repeat. Not a fun or survivable path. Addiction eventually kills us, if we don’t get help.

I’m on my own for this one. I walked in “eyes wide shut” as they say. Knowing, seeing, being told, “This one is not for you,” and going for it anyway. And five or six breakups later, it’s hard to count them now, I’m finally sober enough to admit my problem.

The first step to recovery is admitting there’s a problem.

Yep. (hand raised) I have a problem with love.

Always Love (responsibly),

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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