We experience shame when we cannot own something we have thought, felt, or done or some part of ourselves. Guilt can be appropriate when we have done something we know is wrong and harmed ourselves and/or others. It serves the purpose of getting us to look at the wrong and highlighting the wrong so that we can make amends, change our behaviour.
Answers to FAQ in all areas of sex, intimacy, relationships, sexuality, including short ‘how to’ blogs
I ask this question of clients a lot and surprisingly, people often cannot answer it. Many people look to others to turn them on. Their expectations are that partners will somehow know what to do. Many people are still brought up to think of sexual self-exploration as shameful. Women are often taught to attend to their partner’s pleasure and that if they make a partner happy they will be happy too. Sadly, though making your partner happy will make you feel good, it won’t often give you sexual satisfaction.
If you want to learn what turns you on, first learn to take responsibility for your own pleasure.
Serious as this sounds, it is actually lots of fun. The first step is to pay attention to your body and notice the things that make you tingle, hum, or purr. If you are not used to pleasuring yourself, you might find it more comfortable to have a partner touch your body in different ways while you focus on your response to see what makes you tingle, hum or purr. If you are going to do this with a partner, start by telling them that you are doing this experiment to learn more about what turns you on, that you would like their help in doing so. Tell them that you would like them to touch you sensually and sexually in a variety of different ways and that you will be focussing on your own responses. Make sure that they don’t expect you to start focussing on their pleasure.
If you are happy with masturbation and self-pleasure, explore on your own. Take the time to stroke your body in different places, in different ways. Use a variety of toys as well as your hands and notice your body’s myriad responses. Pay attention to the sensations that make you take in your breath sharply and the sensations that cause you to say ‘ahhh’. The goal is not necessarily to reach orgasm but rather to see what gets you so turned on that you are close. Feel free to use erotica, pornography, other movies and anything that you find stimulating. Spend this time with yourself daily over at least a week. Notice how you feel about taking the time to just enjoy yourself. Taking responsibility for your pleasure is empowering. When you know what turns you on, you can ask for what turns you on. When you are able to provide yourself with pleasure, you need not look to someone else to give you that sexual satisfaction. You can choose to be with a partner to gain sexual pleasure or you can choose to pleasure yourself. If you find yourself becoming turned on, you can see to your own needs.
Extend your exploration from noticing your reactions in your body, your feelings and your thoughts about what turns you on to looking at what turns you on in other people. When you know this as well you will make better relationship choices. What type of sex turns you on? For many people the answer is many types of sex. Pay attention to what you like and when you like it. Give yourself permission to push your own boundaries and try something new.
So many people have been brought up with shame around sex and sexuality.
They have been brought up hearing ‘no’ repeatedly, being told that sexual feelings and activities are shameful, wrong and sinful. So many women have been told that their pleasure is not a priority. Sexual pleasure is not wrong or sinful. Sexual pleasure is part of healthy sexual activity and relationships. Your body is made to give you pleasure. Give yourself permission to experience pleasure and particularly to experience sexual pleasure.
Try to remember the first time you felt turned on. Can you remember the event in detail? Leslie said ‘The first time I remember feeling turned on I was about 10 and I was watching a movie with a really sexy actor. There was a scene where he was in bed with the leading lady. I felt tingling and my breathing was faster. I didn’t really understand why I was feeling that way but it did feel good. It felt so good that I watched the movie four times so I could feel that way again.’ Roger describes the first time he felt turned on. ‘I was 9 and I was in bed and having a really good dream. I woke up with my hand on myself and it felt really great until I remember the nuns telling us that it was a sin and then I was afraid I was going to hell. I stopped for a while and thought about the nuns. But the next night I was touching myself again. This time I didn’t stop but felt guilty after. It took a couple more years before I stopped feeling sure I was going to hell.’
Do you know what turns you on? If you want some help exploring, schedule a free discovery session with me here
The theory was when prostitution (and brothels) were legalized, the criminals (especially organized crime – responsible for most trafficking) would find some other easier more lucrative way to earn money. In turn, sex workers, on the street and in brothels, would be safer, healthier and paid better. Prostitution was legalized in 2000. People who own a sex business need a license and to follow the local rules and sex workers now have to pay taxes.
Despite legalization, Amsterdam’s sex industry has continued to be inundated with the victims of trafficking most of which is being done through eastern Europe.
For those who choose to be sex workers, the environment did not get better financially. They have to pay taxes and the rent for their premises (the ubiquitous windows in the Red Light district) went up because there were fewer available. The city council of Amsterdam started an initiative to create a brothel space that is designed and managed by the sex workers themselves.
They set up a foundation called My Red Light and their first brothel has just been opened. It has room for 40 sex workers to work and occupies 14 windows across four buildings in the Red Light District. The sex workers have been involved in everything from creating the laws that govern opening, taxes, licenses through to the decoration and styles of the windows.
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What makes My Red Light different from other places sex workers work?
There is a client free lounge space in the buildings where the sex workers can meet, talk, have coffee, tea and light refreshment. The rooms are lighter and more spacious than the typical rooms used by sex workers.
The people who designed this space hope this will combat some of the isolation that has existed and that women will be able to give each other advice about things like dealing with difficult clients. It also encourages the workers to become self-employed, allowing them to choose when, where and how they work.
The hope is that they will become less dependent upon pimps and others who seek to control and exploit them. By building a space together, they will learn about all aspects of business and will be able to share what they learn and potentially provide newcomers with personal and professional development paths.
There are plans to provide courses for the sex workers from massage to finance. A large Dutch bank gave the Red Light Foundation a start-up loan and they are also being given business advice. Additionally, the Red Light Foundation is leasing the space from local government so they do not have ownership of their own space.
But not everyone is happy about this project. There are many who believe that the sex industry should be expelled from the Red Light District and that government sanctioning initiatives will only benefit the buyer of sexual services, not the sex workers. They are concerned that pimps will benefit instead of sex workers.
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So why aren’t people happy about this…
One of the biggest objections to sex work is that so many people who become sex workers are coerced into doing so and/or the victims of trafficking. These people live lives full of violence and misery.
The argument goes that if there was no pornography and there were no sex workers (e.g. there was no demand for such) then the trafficking would not occur. I am afraid I must disagree with this logic. Legalization decreases the amount of value to be gained by trafficking but on its own does not do enough.Until we see sex workers as providing a valuable service, shame will be the primary emotion experienced by both those seeking out the services and the workers themselves. And where there is a lot of shame, there is potential to control and humiliate.
Until we see sex workers as providing a valuable service, shame will be the primary emotion experienced by both those seeking out the services and the workers themselves. And where there is a lot of shame, there is potential to control and humiliate.
Shame becomes toxic when internalized. This type of shame produces feelings of disgust and pain that are intense and is triggered and retriggered by our own thoughts. Shame of this type convinces people that they don’t have a right to their own bodies and therefore to say what is done to their bodies or what they do with their bodies. In particular, women’s sexual experiences are often
In particular, women’s sexual experiences are often stigmatized. Women are told that to enjoy sexuality is shameful, to enjoy their bodies is shameful. Women who choose sex work are stigmatized even further and through this learn that their health and even their consent does not matter.
Perhaps creating a sex worker run workspace and learning space goes some way to de-stigmatising sex work and decreases shame for the workers as well as for the customers. If it does, this is another step towards shifting attitudes around sexuality so that we begin to see sexuality as a necessary, joyful part of our lives.
Sex workers provide an invaluable service for people who are without sexual partners in the short, medium and long term. I have worked with many clients over the years who were so socially phobic that the only way they could manage sexual contact was to see a sex worker. Some were able to increase their social and sexual skills to the point where they found life partners and were forever grateful to the sex workers who helped them reach their romantic goals.
These sex workers helped the clients to embrace sexuality and to leave shame behind. Other clients never moved beyond their contact with the sex workers. In these cases, sex workers were even more important to the client’s well-being. Long term lack of physical contact has long been known to be psychologically and sometimes even physically damaging.
Sex workers can provide a safe space for some clients to talk about and enact fantasies that they fear to discuss with their partners (or potential partners). When sex workers are happy in their work, are well paid, have good health care and are treated with respect, they are better able to help clients let go of sexual shame.
This experiment will work best if the sex workers continue to have a large voice in creating the rules and procuring the education that they want. If their voice is valued their esteem will rise. If they are given more ownership over their business practices perhaps they will take more ownership over the totality of their work environment. In turn, valuing themselves enough to institute a policy for standard health care (where it is highlighted that the sex workers are valuing their bodies rather than framing it only in terms of protecting customers as it often is framed).
Economic pressure will always be a large factor in choosing to be a sex worker. Many people making this choice have few other options to earn money that pay even close to a living wage. However, there are many sex workers who choose sex work because they enjoy it. Many who do so for limited periods of time (such as working their way through university).
There are also many forms of sex work. Perhaps the people running Red Light Foundation will create space for sex workers to work online or via telephone as well as working directly. Having choice is the mark of having control over life. Choice increases your sense of esteem and agency in the world. Choice makes consent real whereas when there is no choice consent is simply words.
When pimps are involved and violence is threatened, there is no choice and therefore no consent. When sex workers are given agency to create their own working lives, shame and humiliation decrease while pride and self-belief increase.
It is my belief that societal attitudes towards sex workers can reflect attitudes towards sexuality in general. Where society views sex for pleasure as shameful, sinful or wrong in some way, sex work is viewed as dirty, shameful and degrading. As society begins to view sex for pleasure as an integral part of life, sex work begins to be seen in terms of economics rather than morality.
If the Dutch government is able to make sure that the Red Light Foundation has the muscle it needs to make sure that windows are only rented to sex workers who have chosen their profession and not to pimps and traffickers, this initiative will benefit sex workers, clients and society.
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Not too long ago there was a huge outcry when it was discovered that some sex workers were hiring places using Airbnb and setting up short term brothels. People were upset about the sex work in general and also about the thought of people having sex in their homes. On the one hand, it is understandable that people would be concerned about their homes being known as brothels and have worries about people returning to their homes after the sex workers had left, looking for the brothel. On the other hand, people use Airbnb the same way they use hotels and so have lots of sex in the places they rent. This is one of the things you can expect if you are selling space in your home to people who are on holiday.
This set of incidents started me thinking again about why culturally selling sex is seen as such an outrage and all of the objections and prejudice that sex workers face. I have known lots of sex workers over the years (and still know quite a few). There are as wide a variety of people who are sex workers as there are people.
One of the biggest objections to sex work is that so many people who become sex workers are coerced into doing so and/or the victims of trafficking. These women (and some men) live lives full of violence and misery. The argument goes that if there was no pornography and there were no sex workers (e.g. there was no demand for such) then the trafficking would not occur. I am afraid I must disagree with this logic. This is the same argument about the drug trade – that demand is what causes the trade to be full of violence. When drugs are no longer criminalised and they are regulated by the state, the violence decreases. Where sex work is regulated, the workers are there by choice and receive the benefits (like health screening) that other workers receive. There is ethical pornography made with sex workers who are there because they want to be as well.
I believe our attitudes towards sex work need to be examined. For some men and women, they only way that they can experience sexual contact regularly is to patronise sex workers. I remember one client who was so socially phobic that even engaging in regular email exchange with a woman was painfully difficult. He came to see me because he had never had a romantic relationship and didn’t even have friendships. He enjoyed a close relationship with his parents who were getting older and his only sibling lived in Australia. Jacob realised that his parents would not be there forever and he did not want to end up on his own. He decided to come to see me to help him get ready to ‘find a wife’.
Jacob was 44 years old and he had never kissed a woman or had any other sexual experience with another person. He was clear that he was attracted to women but he was petrified to talk to them. For sexual satisfaction, he admitted to masturbating and said that he had watched some pornography that he defined as ‘normal stuff’. Upon questioning, it was clear this was heterosexual pornography and that there was no kink involved.
Jacob wanted to find a wife but he was afraid that if he waited until he met someone and then had a first sexual experience, he would lose the person because of his inexperience. He also wanted to practice talking to a woman about romantic things and sexual desires.
We spent a few months working together just getting Jacob used to talking with me and talking through all the steps he would need to take in order to have a sexual encounter with a woman. Jacob then began to look for a professional to see. He spoke with a number of escort services over the phone until he found one that met his requirements. He wanted the escort to know in advance that he wanted to see her more than once so that he could practice social skills and then hopefully practice sexual skills. He was clear that he wanted the professional to know that he was a virgin and he wanted to learn how to please a woman. I asked Jacob if he didn’t want to wait and have his first experiences with a woman that he had developed a relationship with and he was clear that this was far too anxiety provoking. He also considered a sexual surrogate but was unable to find someone in his local area.
Jacob’s experiences with the sex worker he engaged increased his confidence 1000-fold. He felt ready to approach dating. After a few months, Jacob met someone online and then in person. One year after his experiences with the escort, Jacob became engaged to be married.
Jacob used his interaction with escorts in order to build confidence and build skills. Other people never move on to relationships that are not with professionals. A professional dominatrix I know has a number of long term clients who have never managed relationships with non-professionals. The men she describes have specific fetishes and also have high levels of anxiety as well as specific fears around actual sexual contact. They have regular contact with her weekly and have done so for years. She is the closest thing they have to a romantic partner. They are unwilling to consider therapy or counselling and find this solution allows them to have full satisfied lives. Were there no sex workers willing and able to form relationships with them, they would have no relationships or romantic companionship.
Sex workers come in many types. There are strippers, glamour models, women and men who act in pornographic films, prostitutes/call girls/escorts (male and female), dominatrices, dominant men, professional slaves, phone sex workers, those who work via the internet performing live shows, those who work in theatres doing peep shows, live sex shows.
Statistics, on the other hand, are very hard to quote. As this article in the Washington Post highlights, much of the research has been done without actually interviewing a single sex worker.
‘Imagine a study of the alcohol industry which interviewed not a single brewer, wine expert, liquor store owner or drinker, but instead relied solely on the statements of ATF agents, dry-county politicians and members of Alcoholics Anonymous and Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Or how about a report on restaurants which treated the opinions of failed hot dog stand operators as the basis for broad statements about every kind of food business from convenience stores to food trucks to McDonald’s to five-star restaurants?
You’d probably surmise that this sort of research would be biased and one-sided to the point of unreliable. And you’d be correct. But change the topic to sex work, and such methods are not only the norm, they’re accepted uncritically by the media and the majority of those who the resulting studies. In fact, many of those who represent themselves as sex work researchers don’t even try to get good data. They simply present their opinions as fact, occasionally bolstered by pseudo-studies designed to produce pre-determined results. Well-known and easily-contacted sex workers are rarely consulted. There’s no peer review. And when sex workers are consulted at all, they’re recruited from jails and substance abuse programs, resulting in a sample skewed heavily toward the desperate, the disadvantaged and the marginalized.’
Most of the discussion around sex work assumes that the customers are men. This is assumed whether or not the sex worker is male or female. In fact, there is evidence that quite a few women seek out the company of male escorts. Middle aged women who choose to use male escorts report doing so to get their own sexual needs met without having to worry about the needs of others, for companionship when they are not in relationships and to avoid ‘the hassle’ of dating when they have otherwise very busy lives.
Sometimes people choose to see a professional in order to explore a kink in a setting where they can call the shots and only have to attend to their own needs. This allows exploration at their own pace so that if they choose to involve a partner, they are clear where their limits are and how to explain what they enjoy. Other times people see a professional when their partner does not wish to participate in certain types of sexual activity. When this is done ethically, it can provide a relief for the partner who doesn’t wish to engage in the activity and relief for the partner who has the desire as it is now being met.
Much of the discussion around sex work comes from the perspectives that either it is morally wrong or that all sex workers are exploited. I have tried to present some other perspectives where sex workers provide a valuable service and are paid well and treated with respect for doing so.
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20 years ago, Sandra came to see me because she had never had an orgasm and she was sure that she was going to lose her marriage as a result. She was 35 years old and had been married for 10 years. She described her marriage as happy but told me that recently her husband had been unhappy with their sexual life because she was unable to have an orgasm.
I ask Sandra whether she had been able to have an orgasm during masturbation. She was embarrassed as she admitted that she found masturbation incredibly difficult so she did not persist. We spent some time talking about the things she found difficult about masturbation and after a while she was willing to try again.
After a couple of weeks, Sandra told me she was enjoying having a better time and feeling more but that she still was unable to have an orgasm. I suggested she might try using a vibrator. Sandra responded ‘But his penis doesn’t vibrate!’. I explained that sex toys were not necessarily made to mimic our actual sexual parts but rather were created to help with particular sexual activities in mind often. I explained that the vibration can intensify the sensations making orgasm easier depending upon where you use the vibrator.
Sandra asked me to help her choose a vibrator. She told me the first time she saw a vibrator it was very large and she felt frightened. I suggested that it would be better to go on a trip to a shop so that she could actually touch the vibrators and see the real size. Though she was really embarrassed, she agreed. We went to a shop that is primarily run by women. ‘Sandra’ I said, ‘there are lots of different types of sex toys. It would be great if we could have a look at a few different types while we are here.’ She agreed and started down the first aisle where the vibrators were. We started by looking at the vibrators that are insertables. Sandra was amazed at how many sizes, shapes and materials these come in. She found one from Lelo that she enjoyed the feel of in her hand and said, ‘It isn’t so big that it is scary’.
Then we went to look at some of the new items – the Womanizer which uses air and suction and Fiera for women which primarily uses suction. She found these unusual but could see why a women would try them. She tested them on her arm and found the Womanizer to be the most interesting.
Next we entered the aisle where the dildos were and she found some of these quite shocking. Sandra preferred the ones that did not look like penises. Sandra asked, ‘Why would you use a dildo instead of a vibrator?’ I replied ‘If you are using it alone, you might prefer the texture and the fullness. You would use a dildo when you wanted the feeling of a penis fucking you because most vibrators are not as naturalistic.’ Sandra decided that she liked the vibrator and did not get a dildo.
We tested clitoral vibrators. ‘One of the nice things about some of these like the We-Vibe 4 or the Eva or the Je Joue Mio is that you can use them with your partner while you are having sex. So you get additional clitoral stimulation and because they are between you, he gets stimulation too. The Je Joue Mio is a cock ring with a clitoral vibratory protruding and cock rings can help a man keep his erection for a longer period.’ Sandra replied ‘I’m not sure that Warren would be happy with me using a vibrator while we were having sex. I think he would feel that I was saying he wasn’t good enough’. I said ‘Since Warren has been upset because you are not reaching orgasm with what he is doing now, he probably already feels he isn’t good enough. If a vibrator can make the difference and help you have an orgasm, he may welcome you using one. Are you going to share your purchases with him?’ Sandra replied ‘Not right away. I am worried that he will treat me like a science experiment. Watching closely to see what might work, spending hours trying to get me to have an orgasm. I don’t want the pressure’. I said ‘Pressure definitely won’t help. The more pressure, the more elusive the orgasm will become. This is about relaxing and enjoying. You can tell Warren that you want to practice on your own for a while.’
One wall in the store is filled with floggers, canes, riding crops, chains, restraints and hand cuffs – all the toys to engage in BDSM from a light flirtation to hard core sadism and masochism. Sandra asked ‘Are these the 50 shades toys?’ I replied ‘Those are toys used when engaging in BDSM play. Is something grabbing your attention?’ Sandra shivered and replied ‘No. They look scary.’ I said ‘Let’s skip most of that section then. But here is one thing I want to show you.’ I took Sandra over to where the sensation toys – feathers, floggers made of fur that are designed to stroke someone with rather than to strike them with, Wartenberg wheel, clawed gloves. ‘Sensation play’ I explained ‘allows you to experience different textures, different types of sensations on different parts of your body. Sensation play can be very exciting. You can build up arousal slowly and this can make orgasm easier.’ Sandra stroked her arm with the clawed glove. ‘Oooh. That feels so delicious. I know it could hurt a bit, but this is divine.’ She put the glove in her basket along with the vibrators.
Sandra paid for her purchases and we left the store. We made an appointment for the following week and went our separate ways. The next week, Sandra came in with a smile on her face. ‘I haven’t had an orgasm yet, but I had so much fun with the vibrators’ she exclaimed. ‘I got really close to orgasm and then I got stuck in my head and just couldn’t let go.’ We talked about this for a while and Sandra admitted how frightening she found letting go over control and said she knew that she couldn’t have an orgasm without surrendering. The rest of the session was spent exploring these issues.
Sandra came to see me for another 6 months while we worked on the things that made surrender difficult, learning her most intense desires – the ones that get her close to orgasm before she even touches herself or anyone touches her – and then working on how she could talk with Warren about what she needs. She started having regular orgasms from month 3. Sandra came back in with Warren, 2 months after she finished her work with me to work on communicating desires with each other and helping Warren learn what she needs to reach orgasm so he could bring her to orgasm.
Only 28% of women reach orgasm through penetration and 30% of women have trouble reaching orgasm all together. If you are finding it difficult or want to improve your sexual life in other ways, book a 30 minute free strategy session here.