Because I specialise in sex, intimacy and relationships, my social media content is often all about sex.  My profile headshot is considered sexy by some because my cleavage is visible.    My bios clearly state that I am a coach, a therapist, an educator, a writer, a speaker, and a media host.  I listen, talk and write for a living.  Despite these clear descriptions, every day I receive personal and blatantly sexual messages on all of my social media accounts.   I get the most inappropriately blatant messages on LinkedIn.

The written messages are annoying.  The unsolicited pictures of penises and vulvas are infuriating.  I don’t know many people who like to receive genital pictures from total strangers.    Not many folks enjoy getting full-body nudes from strangers when they haven’t requested the picture on social media or anywhere else.  I am resilient, so the impact of these messages and photos is minor and quickly disappears.   For people who are less accustomed to receiving this type of social media message, people who have been traumatised, and people who suffer from anxiety, the impact is often intense and lasts for days.

social media

Most of these messages come from men.  I have spent time thinking about why these men believe that their behaviour is appropriate and what they are trying to achieve.  When I am feeling charitable, I think they simply have forgotten their basic manners or their impulse control has temporarily failed.   After all, when people are on the internet or on social media, they can be anonymous, and when anonymous believe that there are no consequences for their behaviour.    They can also feel safe behind a computer, pad or phone screen.  If there is a negative reaction to what they send or post, they simply disappear.   They don’t have to engage with the person they are intruding upon.

When I am feeling less charitable, I see these men as bullies.  They are seeking to shock, upset, degrade and objectify.  They don’t care about consent, have no boundaries and no empathy.  They want their needs met, and they want them met now, on their terms and without any reference to the needs of anyone else.    These are the same people who regularly gaslight others.  If confronted on their behaviour, they tell the recipient that it was just a joke or that it is no big deal and that they should relax.    

Women also engage in this type of behaviour but in my experience less often.  It may be that men on the receiving end of pictures of a stranger’s vulva or tits in their social media inboxes are not offended.   I suspect it doesn’t feel as objectifying or bullying.  In my clinical work, the complaints made by men and women who are targeted by women are usually about stalking behaviour including multiple messages, following on all social media accounts and anywhere else they can find the person.   The action is different, but it still violates consent and boundaries.

social media
Businessman taking a picture of his penis with a smart phone.

Here are a few choice examples of social media private messages sent to me on LinkedIn:

This one was sent out of the blue with no previous introduction when I accepted a connection (friend) request.

‘Good Morning in (name of country) now Dr Lori Beth, thank you accepting my invitation. Personally I Love Fingered my arse, then Fornicate my Arse Deep & Hard! I plan to marry a Transsexual!’

What’s wrong with that approach? To start, I have not consented to hear about his desires at all, let alone in detail.   He is not my client.  He is not a friend.  He is not even an acquaintance.  Even on a dating app, this would be considered a lack of consent.    He assumes that by being on any social media platform, being a sex & intimacy coach, writing about sex & relationships, I am consenting to hear about the details of anyone’s sex life.  It also illustrates an entire lack of boundaries.  He is either unable or unwilling to consider what it is appropriate to say to someone on a social media platform devoted to business and work relationships.  Honestly, this would be inappropriate on any social media platforms and dating apps, but it is even more inappropriate on LinkedIn.   

This one sent after I accepted a connection request – I have had many of this type.

‘Hello you are a sexy lady.  How are you?’

And this one, again when I accepted a connection request:

😘😘😘

Both of these illustrate a common assumption that women enjoy being flattered by random strangers.  In some ways, it is akin to construction workers whistling at a woman as she is walking down the street.   Many women don’t mind that type of flattery.  It doesn’t intrude much because the men are at a distance.    These social media messages and images are far more intrusive.  On a social media platform where a woman is showcasing her professional skills and expects to be interacting with professional peers, the objectification inherent in this approach is even more apparent and either annoying or upsetting or both.

boundaries

Then there is this type of message: After telling me he needs some help:

Will you show me how to make an orgasm? You are so sexy.’

Since I describe how I help people regularly on social media, I don’t see these messages as misunderstandings about how I work.  These people lack boundaries and have poor impulse control.   

And finally, I get lots of messages from men who want ‘to get to know me’.  These aren’t blatantly sexual, but they have nothing to do with seeking help, or peer relationships or business of any kind.  They are purely social messages from strangers who have connected to me solely for social reasons.  They speak about wanting to form friendships.  In some of these messages, it is clear that they want to create some sort of romantic or sexual connection. These men have enough impulse control to be cautious in their approach.    These are not people who I have been talking to in a group or who I interacted with in public on LinkedIn.  These are men who request a connection and then when it is accepted attempt to start a social or romantic relationship immediately.

I am sure that there are some women who do not mind this type of advance on LinkedIn or other social media; however most of the women I have spoken with find this extremely irritating.  We are not on LinkedIn to find partners, date or find husbands or wives.  We are on LinkedIn for our businesses or to find a new job or to keep up with work-related topics in our fields.   These messages and requests take time precious time away from our days, even if we are only deleting them.

social media
What a waste of time…

How should you approach someone on social media if you are interested in them?  

If you are on LinkedIn, don’t.  That isn’t what people are there for.   If you think this person is your soul mate, follow them on other social media and talk with them in public until you get to know them better.  

Always start by talking in public and watch the tone of your conversation.  Don’t make assumptions based on the person’s images or their social media bios that they will welcome connection with anyone they don’t already know.  Flirtatious banter is fine when you have already made a connection with someone, but blatantly sexual banter is rarely appropriate with someone you barely know.  If you have never had a private conversation, making sexual suggestions is beyond rude and intrusive – in public or in private.

Don’t overshare.  Most people don’t want to know the details of your sexual desires unless they are your lovers (or you and they have agreed to compare desires to see if you might be compatible).  I guarantee you that sex therapists, sex & intimacy coaches, relationship therapists, and clinical sexologists don’t want to know the details of your proclivities if you are not in a professional consultation (which means you have to book an appointment and expect to pay for the meeting). 

Don’t make assumptions. Jerry Belson coined the phrase ‘Never ASSUME because when you ASSUME you make an ASS out of U and ME’ in 1973 in a script for the Odd Couple (season 3, ‘My Strife in Court’).   This remains true.  Don’t make assumptions period.   No matter how open and familiar someone is in their posts, this does not mean they want to be free and familiar with you.  An open style in posting is not an invitation for you to contact a professional for social reasons.

If you don’t know how to set and keep healthy boundaries, learn them.   Boundaries are the lines we draw in our relationships with others that let them know what we are willing to share with them (information, affection, parts of ourselves, intimacy).  Boundaries also let others know what kind of behaviour is acceptable.    When we say that someone doesn’t have good boundaries, we often mean that they are not able to make sound judgements about what they should keep to themselves (information or behaviour) in each situation.   This type of boundary is a self-boundary.  When we talk about setting boundaries, we mean drawing that line in the relationship with another.

Why are boundaries important?  Boundaries allow us to feel safe to have relationships with others.  They allow us to feel comfortable in our interactions that our feelings won’t be trampled upon, that we can be ourselves without fear of judgement, that someone won’t act without our consent.    Dr Meg-John Barker, in an interview with Allure Magazine, says this ‘Most of us were brought up in families where we were made to eat food we didn’t like, to receive hugs and kisses we didn’t want, to pretend to enjoy presents or entertainments that didn’t feel good to us.  Most of us went to schools where the expectation was that we would learn what we were taught was important rather than what we enjoyed….. We were also probably taught to mistrust and/or hide certain important emotional responses like anger, sadness and fear: that we shouldn’t feel those things or that we should pretend we didn’t’.   As a result, we have not learned to identify our wants, needs, feelings and responses and value them enough to set boundaries in keeping with these.   Love Uncommon writes on self-consent, which is a great place to start learning boundaries as an adult (thank you to Dr Meg-John Barker for the suggestion).

Pretend that you are meeting someone in person instead of on the internet or social media.   Ask yourself if you would introduce yourself or start a conversation in this way if you met the person face to face in real life before you send that message, picture or make that comment.  In case this isn’t clear: Would you flash your penis or your breasts at a random attractive person in the street?  

boundaries
Picture of a handsome cock…

Apply the relative test before you send or post.  How would you feel if your sister, mother, wife, best friend – any person of any gender you love receives what you are about to send? Do you think they would be happy about receiving a comment, question, or request like this?  Would they enjoy receiving a picture of a stranger’s penis?  If you answer honestly, you won’t take that approach. 

If you only take away one thought from this article, please make it this: Unsolicited non-consensual sexual requests, messages, innuendo and images make you look like a wanker.  Don’t be a wanker.      

This is in update to my article done in January 2017. I have had more feedback on this blog post than on any other. Many people have written to get advice on their individual situations. This illustrates how complex it is to find an arrangement that works when dealing with a mixed poly/mono couple or poly/mono relationships. The short answer to the opening question is: Yes. It is possible to make polyamory with a monogamous partner to work. Both parties need lots of self-confidence and excellent communication and negotiation skills. Parties need to be secure about and in their relationship as well. Finally, they need the motivation to do the on going work to keep their relationship successful.

Poly/mono relationship

Often people who are monogamous don’t understand why a person would want to be non-monogamous and this can lead to feeling that a polyamorous partner is looking to replace them or that if they just work hard enough, the person will become monogamous.   If the relationship started as a monogamous one and one partner has changed, it is often very hard for the one who has remained monogamous to manage that shift to poly/mono relationships.

 It is the polyamorous person who will find themselves with the responsibility to help the monogamous person feel as safe and secure in the relationship as possible.   Good communication, the ability to set boundaries and stellar negotiation skills are essential to the relationship working at all.

Both parties will need to understand the other person’s world view. If they are truly committed to each other, they must spend time and work at understanding as fully as possible.   Relationships where each person’s goals and expectations are different are difficult relationships.  In order to make them work, both people will have to put in lots of effort.

poly/mono relationship
Macho cheating on his girlfriend with other woman

Essentials for a Poly/Mono relationships to work:

1 The poly partner is clear about what her version of poly entails.  

Not all non-monogamy is the same.  Some relationships are hierarchical – there is a central relationship that takes precedence and other relationships come after in the list of priorities.  Other polyamorous  relationships are egalitarian so priorities are juggled regularly.   Some polyamorous relationships involve only casual relationships outside of the original relationship.  If you want the type of polyamory where all of your partners and their other partners are friends you need to be clear with your monogamous partner that this is your expectation.     

To be friends with other partners requires a very high level of security as a person and also security in the relationship.  It is often easier to feel less threatened if you don’t see and talk to another person who is sexually involved with your partner if you are by nature monogamous.

2  The monogamous person understands that his partner is not seeking other  relationships  because something is missing in their relationship.Often the monogamous person feels that his partner would not be looking elsewhere if he was better at x, y or z or if he changed his body shape, hair or something else.  This has nothing to do with why the partner is polyamorous.   Understanding this leads to  feeling personally more secure. If you believe that your partner finds you lacking and that is why she is looking for another partner, your self-esteem will dip and you will find it hard to feel secure in the poly/mono relationships.  

3  The couple create rules and boundaries for their relationship and for the other  relationships that the polyamorous person enters into.   Lots of monogamous heterosexual couples do not create rules and boundaries for their relationships.  They  leave most things completely unspoken and have lots of expectations based on theirupbringings, previous relationships and societal influences.  This often leads to problems in relationships and difficulty working through issues that arise.      Relationships can work for many years before expectations and a lack of clear boundaries become a problem.  In poly/mono relationships issues arise quickly if these areas are not clearly discussed, negotiated and spelled out.     I see this as the blueprint for the relationship because blueprints are detailed plans with lots of boundaries, measurements, and rules.  

Plans can be changed as a building is being constructed.  Modifications are agreed upon because something won’t work in practice or because someone changes his mind.  The changes are discussed and agreed and added to the blueprint.  

4  Areas that form part of a good blueprint

Time management:  Will the relationship be prioritised?  Are there special days or events that need to be spent together?  Will you spend the night with other partners?  

Living arrangements:Are you living together or are you planning on living together? Can you bring other partners to spend the night in the home you share together if you share a home together?  If you don’t live together, will the poly partner possibly live with one of her other partners?   Is the plan to get married or form a civil partnership?

Children:If you already have children together, how will you manage other partners? Will the children meet them or spend time with them?  If you don’t have children, do either of you want them?  If one of you does and the other doesn’t how will that be managed in the relationship?  If the poly person is the one who wants children will she have them with another partner?

Sexual limits and boundaries:Are there activities you reserve only to the two of you? What will you do in relation to safe sex?  Will there be fluid bonding between the two of you and with no one else?  How often will you get tested for STD’s? 

Information sharing:Will you talk with each other about the other partners in detail? Does the mono person want to hear details?  Does the poly person feel comfortable sharing details?  How much information will be shared with other partners?

Public acknowledgement of the relationship:Will other partners be public?  What about social media?  What explanation will you give people like family and friends?

Partner choosing:Will the mono partner have the right to say no to a potential partner who feels threatening to him?  Are there limits on who can be chosen based on marital status, age or perceived complications?  

Desires, wishes, dreams:Draw a picture of how you wish the relationships will look in 3 months, 6 months, 1 year and 5 years.  Look at this plan for non-workable parts, issues that might arise, areas of potential problems and try to find solutions or alter the plans. 

There is a lot to consider when creating this blueprint.  If you aren’t great at communicating about difficult complex issues, I suggest having a number of  sessions with a sex and intimacy coach.  A coach can help you both find the language and build the negotiating and communication skills and this will give you a better chance of creating a relationship that works for both of you and any partners who come along in the future.  

Coaching can also help you gain strategies to manage any intense emotions that arises.  Many people have only a small set of emotional management strategies and this can be limiting.  You can expand your repertoire and with practice become an expert at managing emotions and stress.

You also need to take the time to work on any baggage you carry from past relationships so that you have a better chance of making this complex relationship work well. This can be done in coaching in some situations and in therapy in other situations. If you have a long history of problematic relationships, you are better off examining this history sooner so that you don’t repeat the same patterns in your current and future relationships.

poly/mono relationship
Sex Coach, word cloud concept on white background.

Poly/mono relationships can be rich and fulfilling as long as you are able to put in the work and you treat each other and the relationship with the respect and care it deserves.

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.

Bottom line…

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.

My weekly podcasts The A to Z of Sex and Sex Spoken Here can be found on iTunes.  Check out my free eBook 74 Hot Movies (that are not pornography) here and join my mailing list.  Got questions about sex, sexuality or relationships?  Ask them here.

The key to increasing relationship and sexual compatibility is self-knowledge.  The more you know about your self, your desires, your needs, the better.  If you are clear, you will communicate clearly with any potential partners. Self-knowledge + clear communication with a partner = more and more exciting sex. Most of us discover core sexual desires very young often before we know what is socially acceptable, considered right or ‘good’. It is only when we begin to communicate our desires and begin to learn about the desires of others, through friends and family, media, the internet and eventually lovers, that we start to censor our desires.  We make judgments based on the reactions or perceived reactions of others.  Those desires we feel are unacceptable to others, we often try to suppress.  This can lead to many years of tepid or boring sex at best and, at worst, bad sex combined with feelings of self-loathing. It takes many of us well into our middle lives before we know our own desires fully and are willing to express them.

Feroshia Knight is an incredible wholistic master coach and has a talent for thinking outside the box.  She puts her creative solutions to great use as a mentor and instructor helping people and heart centred business to create change and manifest the full lives they deserve. She has been an amazing mentor and in early 2016, she interviewed me for Coach Training World.

Please enjoy the video below… Join me Between the Sheets…   The full blog post can be found here.

I’d love to hear from you below.  Have you ever been in a sexless relationship?  How did you find the relationship that lights your fire?

Sharing our stories reminds us that none of us are alone and supports us to learn from each other.  Let’s turn sparks into a full blaze.

Dr Lori Beth