Reflections on Esther Perel at CIIS

As I counted the days to ‘A Workshop on Modern Relationships’ with Esther Perel I had flashbacks to my introduction to the world famous psychologist. I remember I was house-sitting and therefore had access to a television where I would binge watch anything striking my fancy. On came The Colbert Report with Perel as the guest focusing on her first book, Mating in Captivity, and yes, I was captivated. I have struggled with my balance between partnership and exploring my sexual freedom most of my adult life and this book, and the author, were speaking right to my heart. I quickly ordered the book and remember leaving Santa Cruz’s only wifi-free cafe ‘Hidden Peak Teahouse’ one day with the book nearly completed in one sitting. This book gave the possibility of hope that I could maintain a long term partnership because I now knew there are clues as to why so many of us wallow in dysfunction or preemptively self sabotage our partnerships. This new information was a spark that contributed, years later, to my continuing education through The Somatica® Institute.

Hosted by California Institute of Integral Studies in San Fransisco, this one day event was not only a privilege for me to attend but to attend with my life partner, my Somatica®  teachers, peers and colleagues was something I wouldn’t have even imagined watching that t.v.  screen a few years prior. If you haven’t gathered this yet I’m a bit of a fan. The elegant way Esther flows from the broad and quickly changing dynamics of our societal structures and expectations around gender to specifics within a single relationship really is impressive and her charisma is contagious. Her sweeping consolidation of history summarizes the general trend of the collectivist cultures becoming more rare and the impact it has on our reliance of capitalism and networking to get our needs met. As a result, at least in the United States, many of us are becoming entrenched deeper and deeper into ambiguous loneliness. We rely on our life partner to meet all of our intimacy needs and capitalism for miscellaneous needs when we’ve evolved with a village of support. After spending the better part of my twenties in a commune in the mountains of Santa Cruz I became privy to this awareness and how we really are co-dependent on unsustainable societal structures. I was also raised to be very independent, for autonomy as opposed to loyalty as Perel puts it, and this has also contributed to my committed non-monogamy organization style. I do not proselytize polyamory or non-monogamy; the emphasis is that our culture does run on monogamy as a modus operandi and this reality has contributed to many hardships in intimacy due to our affinity toward assumptions and lack of options. I do agree so deeply with Perel that if there’s one thing the monogamous community can learn from the other side is that we need to be in relationships that are chockfull of choice. This doesn’t necessarily mean being open to sharing physical intimacy with a third person rather, what is shared is shared because it is a consensual agreement. Far too often do we find ourselves involved for years after the waves of lust hormones have long worn off wondering what we’re doing in this relationship or submerged in a vestigial assumptive mindset that was inherited from generations past. Fortunately there are many resources now that can help individuals, partners and communities gain greater capacity and clarity around options, generational trauma and self awareness. 

My reflections on the event do include disappointment and an unexpected feeling of detachment. I had no idea what to expect, especially since in the registration email reply there was no description on what this gathering, labeled as a ‘workshop’, would entail. There were some interactive moments where we were prompted to share a bit about ourselves with our neighbor. There was also a heart warming display of attachment styles exampled by a variety of volunteer pairs, going on stage two by two, standing on either end of the stage and then one person silently requesting the other to come over to them. Seeing the myriad of responses, amplified by stage and crowd jitters, was profound, touching and a genuine example of raw, human vulnerability. My disappointment came from the lack of embodiment and connection I was hoping to feel during this eventful day. I am so cultured at this point by the Somatica®  method to be having embodied, felt, experiences that to be lectured at by someone I’ve idealized was almost shocking. Just one more lesson for me on the idea of idealizing and my own expectations on the unknown. I have no regret whatsoever for having been there and the experience is engrained as an overall positive transformation. I am grateful for the experience and also to have the variety of empowered female teachers supporting this culture of love we are embracing. 

I intend to continue learning from this purveyor of relational intelligence and I’m already ready to read a third book by this living legend. Her messages, influence and empowering energy are sorely needed in this time of great cultural shift and with the layered environmental change happening right now we are sorely needing influencers like her. I highly recommend reading her books, listening to the audiobooks and, if you’re able, attending a live event. May we all find meaningful relations, deepen our creativity within them, and build resilience along the way. 

Rewriting school-based sexual education

Sexual education in schools varies greatly from generation to generation and perhaps even more so by state standards. Growing up near Atlanta, Georgia I did not have much sexual education before middle school and the fifth grade was the first year we had a special health class where sexual health was introduced to us in preparation of puberty. A school nurse led the introduction into sexual health class and we were not separated by sex/gender, we all stayed in the same room and the lecture was brief. At some point between sixth and eighth grade we had a couple of health classes that went into more depth around sexuality which included separation of boys and girls for a few of the class meetings. There wasn’t any availability in the early 2000’s growing up in the south for gender discussions or education around sex and gender being different parts of ourselves so boys and girls were distinctly separated. All I remember from these class meetings where we females were separated from the males was watching a video of a birth. Looking back on this now and I feel irked that little boys and little girls were likely taught different things about sex. Of course, becoming familiar with our differing anatomy and creating space where young adults are most likely to be comfortable asking questions is useful however, watching a birth for example, relates to all people. 

I remember a thick layer of energetic fear and general uptightness around the middle school sex-ed class. There was a focus on abstinence only education and a lot of talk about STD/STI transmission and the dangers of sexual contact. There was no conversation whatsoever around how to communicate with a potential sexual partner, boundaries (besides avoidance), or the fact that sex is a desirable act of consensual adults and young adults respectively. Pleasure being left out of the discussion is an integral part of how this type of reduced and shameful sexual education feeds rape culture. How are we supposed to know what feels bad if we’re not able to recognize the pleasurable feelings? I am not sure if i was given any useful information about sexual expression in school. I suppose the fear of getting pregnant was instilled and I am grateful for my intentional perspective around creating life. Although, exposing young adults to birthing videos in the hopes that this will instill a fear of becoming impregnated is coercive and is founded in shame and inability to have straight-forward conversations. The air of shame around sex did not empower me to speak up as I matured and this led to me engaging in risky behavior in my early 20’s. I did not contract any venereal diseases or infections I did, however become impregnated once unintentionally, chose to have an abortion and I am happy that I made this choice for myself. I do consider these types of choices innately personal and respect others’ choices in this matter however, due to socialization and pernicious religious shame I do question if people truly are at choice. I understand being truly ‘at choice’ is a somewhat deep philosophical matter and that curbing abortion rates comes down to proper sexual education and intelligence.  

In my personal development, the double standard of education between boys and girls was compounded by the fact that the subject of sexuality existed in a void in my home life. Not only did I not receive any ‘sex talk’ but affection between my parents was expressed minimally. In my upbringing, my parents decided it was my Father’s responsibility to have ‘the talk’ with my brother and my Mother’s responsibility to talk with me. Because of my Mother’s uncomfortable relationship with sexuality, I never got the sex talk. As a young adult I was able to talk with my brother about this as our relationship matured and learned that his version of the sex talk, which did actually happen, consisted of encouragement to ‘play the field’ before settling in a relationship. Fortunately, because of my close relationship with my sibling, we were able to share this information fairly early on and learn from each other. My perspective has involved a reactionary bias from being raised in a religious culture and I am trained through the Somatica® Method, and other inter-personal communications education, to be hyper-aware of my biases, process them with my teachers and my therapist and prevent them from influencing my relationship with clients. Growing up in the bible belt and in a home where sexual affection was not visible between my parents, I am biased towards proactively creating a sex positive culture in my personal and professional life. Sexual positivity mindset allows for individuals to be aware of their choices in sexual relationships, feel good about their choices and to not infringe on others’ right to pleasure or to have consensual adult exchanges. I have faith in our society’s ability to flourish in a sex positive culture thanks to the Somatica® Institute, Esther Perel, and many others’ awesome work around sexual intelligence and somatic awareness.

We could benefit from sexual education starting at a much earlier age, especially because young girls are more likely to start their cycles earlier in life now (possibly due to increased hormones in processed foods and xenoestrogens in plastics). Also, since children are hopefully exposed to adults expressing loving affection to each other, they deserve a relatively simple explanation of what is going on. Sex can be introduced to young people with tact and age appropriate language. This will create a strong foundation of effective communication and awareness that they have a right to feel good and to celebrate bodily sensations. This right to have celebrated sensuality can start very young because sensuality, awareness and embodiment of sensation and our senses, is ageless. This will also create empowerment for young people as it sends a message that they have a right to know about the world, they are capable of understanding basic human behaviors, and that their curiosity deserves an age appropriate and informed response. I am trained as a triangle speaker for The Diversity Center of Santa Cruz and I was drawn to this group because I am bi-sexual and non-monogamous. I have worked with foster youth, co-parented and co-housed with children and I desire support a healthy education for young people around sexual empowerment so I am very grateful for organizations such as this center and their triangle speaker program. I had the privilege to speak with a class of third graders about myself as a bi-sexual and non-monogamous person oriented around committed relationships, regenerative farming practices and communal living. As a part of the triangle speakers training, we are given the health standards for primary schools so we can use grade-appropriate language. This was extremely empowering and it was a deeply healing experience for me to be able to speak with eight and nine year olds about sexuality in a way that was welcomed by the teachers. I am so happy that there are schools here in central coastal California that are changing the standards for sexual education. 

Foundations of sexual experiences should be introduced between first and third grades and perhaps younger if the child expresses curiosity. This would include information about entering into puberty and that way if there are a few children who start puberty earlier than the average, peers will know this is normal and okay. At this age there would also be an introduction around what sexual exploration might look like before becoming an adult. This is helpful because it is very common that sexual explorations happen at early age, adults are unsure how to respond and may create shame, and this can impact one’s sexual life for many years. Since the integrity of this proactive approach would involve parental awareness there could be a half-day (or one class period) where parents are brought in and are directly involved with this positive foundation of sexual education. Once young folks are in middle school there ought to be more in-depth conversations and education around pleasure, consent, the use of protective barriers such as condoms, and birth control options. This enforces the attitude that sex is normal and should be continuously talked about so that we can amplify safety and pleasure. Ideally a combination of teacher, nurses and sex coaches could be a team for sex-ed bringing nurses and sex experts in for specific conversations. Involving the regular teachers for the majority of the class will help normalize sexual awareness and bringing in experts will help ensure proper information is delivered. Using a team like this also gives the message that sexuality is normal for most adults and will allow for young folks to have options for whom they ask questions.

In consideration of being wired as socially complex creatures and how sexual oppression overlaps with other manifestations of cultural oppression, requiring community school gardens to be implemented & maintained is a multifaceted solution for proper sexual education. Because the regenerative garden space contains all the elements of primary education and is a solution to socio-economic, social justice and environmental issues, they ought to be required as a part of basic infrastructure in schools and, what better way to learn about the birds and the bees other than through actual birds and bees? Seeing sex happen in other species will add yet another layer of normality to our human sexuality and relational conversations can happen in the garden space that will ease the pressure and awkwardness that individuals might feel around this subject. Bay Area urban farmer Wanda Stewart, of Common Vision, is currently working on an administrative structure so that once school gardens are in place they can be properly maintained considering the school seasons and the labor intensity. As another added benefit, young children get healthy food to eat at their schools and can be a part of the sustainable food movement. Feeling good about ourselves, including the food we eat and authentic community connectedness, is an integral part of a healthy sex life. To be clear, this does not include certain ideas of stereotypical ‘fitness’ or falling into superfood consumerism as this is just another extension of capitalism and body shape idealism. There are many options for how we  can continue to improve sex education in schools and implementing school gardens addresses multiple issues.

To get sexual education up to modern-day standards, the more ways we can be proactive about removing shame from the mindset that has permeated for generations the better. Silence around any subject can easily be harmful to young people growing up. The more we put sexuality in a special category of human behavior the more easily certain aspects might be overlooked or avoided. Spaciousness for people to develop their own relationship with sexuality is optimal and ought to be available for all. This includes ways to relate through sacred sexuality, tantra, to sex as a mundane self-care act, BDSM, kink and what ever other labels and orientations adults resonate around. I am grateful I found partners and friends as a young adult who encourage me to explore my sexuality . I wish for people to be introduced to a similar, age-appropriate, sense of sexual empowerment at a much earlier age and I am happy to know this is the trend that is gaining momentum. This will feed empowerment in all of their relationships, sexual and platonic, for the entirety of their lives. 

Resources:

Article from the Center for American Progress on Sex-Ed https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/education-k-12/reports/2018/05/09/450158/sex-education-standards-across-states/?fbclid=IwAR1ENBP01dfqIQHMQ8ZkZeTC6TEqReSvS9SSECSkBdKMqidfv2wNP8boOyQ

Sex Positive Families Organization https://sexpositivefamilies.com/?fbclid=IwAR3NNOchMiD9mqGkE7EbhhhsWSh8LUjSo3vR2ehmjNdqTB2228GDeVAJ6tQ

Wanda Stewart and Common Vision http://www.commonvision.org/index.php?id=72

Asking to be Met


Art by Chloe Henning. Please contact hierochloe7@gmail.com for purchase inquiries.

Continuing on this thread of needs and desires (from now on I will use these two terms interchangeably), we acknowledge that in order to have good sex ad relationships one must be able to ask for their needs to be met. This will be much easier to do once we’ve recognized, to ourselves first, what it is we do need. Communicating that need to a lover, spouse or potential partner is the next step. To feel more confident in communicating our desires we must first sit with the fact that the response from our lover is completely out of our control and we may be disappointed. Deep breathe, and I repeat, we may be disappointed. This may be obvious to our brains but it is not so obvious to our emotions. Far to not-so-often do we allow ourselves to be in disappointment. Its uncomfortable and, by the way, isn’t half the reason we have this so-called-lover is to fulfill all of our needs and desires!?!?!? I would say in your dreams but this message that ‘the one’ ought to satisfy all of our most intimate desires comes from culture, religion, media, etc. and is COMPLETELY UNREALISTIC. On the flip side, being the disappointer is not any more comfortable and many of us have not built the tolerance or resiliency to sit in either one of these positions while staying in connection to our partner(s). The emphasis being with ‘while staying in connection’. Insert The Somatica Method. All of us have the ability exercise our emotional muscles and Somatica offers the precise space to efficiently and safely continue this process. This method incorporates patients and empathy in order to create a safe space that welcomes all feelings from all sides. It allows for enough space to where sides, hopefully, eventually dissipate. Having had the last 3 out of 3 partners, over the course of nine years, want to separate from me due to my overly-promiscuous behavior, I know very well the feeling of disappointing others. Although, through all those years I never gave time to sit with how terrible that felt because I was too preoccupied with my resentment for feeling unfree. I am looking forward to a new era of my life where I can have space for all of my double-dipped emotions. This disappointment can come along with changing physical bodies, gender identity, E.D., early ejaculation, and low libido. I am also looking forward to sharing the Somatica Method now as Santa Cruz’s first Certified Somatica Practitioner! 

Is that a Need or a Desire?

One thing that people need in order to have good sex and relationships is that it is okay to have needs and desires. It is also convenient if needs and desires are both equally valued because, how we feel in our body is important no matter how we label it. One part of understanding our desires/needs and how important they are is, giving space for our eroticism. When we are in our fully embodied eroticism, we can feel okay with having our needs and desires. This is a full circle of positive reinforcement and a good example of how we can be in an intimate connection and communicate from a place of love. Our ideas, sub-conscious or conscious, of what our needs or desire are is heavily influenced by our childhood and culture. E.g. men are providers of physical/structural safety and women have many needs and are the emotional caretakers. I personally have responded to this conundrum by being a rebellious female and magically having little to no needs, clears throat…Knowing what you want is essential for healthy relationships! It is very difficult to know what You want when you’re focused on the other . When we learn to put ourselves first, knowing it will be best of service to all involved, the ripple effect is delightful. No shame if we are not there, life is this process.

Art by Chloe Henning. Please contact hierochloe7@gmail.com for purchase inquiries.

What is Honesty, Honestly

As I come the completion of Esther Perel’s “The State of Affairs”, I am celebrating the new-found sense of relaxation that comes with a greater understanding of how we are all relating in the world. I myself have never been a part of a legal ‘affair’, to my knowledge anyways, however I have had my fair share of infidelities being on every point of the triangle. It is not the best feeling no matter what part you play. Infidelities, or at least the discovery or admittance of, are often a cornerstone on the trajectory of a relationship regardless of the specifics. Trust being broken, emotional and possibly physical safety being put at risk is an happening that many people cannot recover from or, there is no chance given for recovery. It is an end-all for many. However, affairs, cheating and other slights of the ilk happen ALL THE TIME!!! Like right now…a bunch are happening all over the place. Esther’s book is humbling, empathic, thorough, and intellectually and emotionally provocative. Being honest is not necessarily as simple of a concept as it sounds. Often we are honest with others in sacrifice of being honest with ourselves. We crave acceptance and dominant culture controls by shame. Esther adds perspective to our internal dilemma. Example -Culture B – third party finds out about affair and chooses not to tell anyone because they (the third party) knows it will break up the entire family and bring shame reigning down upon the participants. Culture A – third party finds out about affair and chooses to tell their friend because individual knowing reigns all. Their friend is devastated and chooses to respond to said affair by leaving their partner immediately and severing years of bonding efforts. Both of these decisions by the third party are legitimate and they are culturally relational. One purpose behind somatic sex and relationship coaching is to offer a nurturing, empathetic and connected space where clients have an embodied emotional experience. We can all be grateful for a confidential and judgement-free space especially around sexuality. Esther Perel is a great leader in relational psychology and I attribute much of my inspiration to her!

Blogalicious

Thanks for joining me!

A good place to start when exploring feelings around sharing intimate partners…
There are a lot of resources out there on the topic of non-monogamy or polyamory. Out of the books I have read, the one I recommend to start off with is ‘Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships’ by Tristan Taormino. This book should be at the top of your list because it introduces the idea of open relating in such a gentle way and provides helpful guidance for those dealing with non-monogamous-related issues even while orienting in a monogamous way. If you are curious about opening up your relationship but not yet convinced or ready to start actualizing that exploration, start with this book! There are quizzes at the end of the chapters to help guide you to learn about how you relate to relating. Interesting concept, right? Tristan does a great job of introducing the concepts and work that goes along with non-monogamous orientation while not trying to convince anyone that this way of orienting is somehow superior, better or more evolved (a very common mind-set especially among us new-age hippies ; ). There are infinite ways of co-creating relationships and it’s books like this that helps create cultural space for all the options to be shame-free and intellectually available to anyone. If you are monogamously oriented but want to have a better understanding of open relationships so you can be a more supportive platonic friend, this is also a great resource for you!
When I was first exploring open relationships and coupling that exploration with books, ‘The Ethical Slut’ by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy was one of the first I read. This is also a great read and is geared more for those who are already fully interested in an alternatively-oriented relationship structure.
Thank you for helping co-create a more cooperative culture starting with your most personal relationships!