Sexuality and Censorship

Earlier this month, UK anti-porn advocates won a monumental and far-reaching victory when the UK government passed the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014, in which a whole host of sexual acts are now banned from British porn, based on what the board deems as “content that is not acceptable.”  I will get into the list of taboo acts in a moment, but first I think it is important to take a look at what this ruling means. In my opinion, it sets an extremely dangerous precedent, in which some third party or government body can effectively censor anything that they may subjectively object to, even if the material is consensual and harms no one.

Avant-garde Yugoslav film director Dusan Makavejev created films in the 1970s focusing on the intersection between government, society, and sexuality. In his work, he raised a critical eye towards authority and its desire, or more like incessant drive, to eradicate and suppress all freedom and dissent. For his efforts, he was persecuted and eventually blacklisted. As Makavejev so deftly shows in his films, the first line of suppression for any authoritarian government is one of the key sources of our human creativity, inspiration, and personal sense of freedom– our sexuality. History shows that as soon as an authoritarian government rises to power, one of the first things to go is human sexual rights.

Take a look around at the world, and you can see for yourself the crackdown of human sexuality imposed by authoritarian and dictatorial regimes– Egypt’s gay community targeted by government crackdown , Russia’s institutional violence and discrimination towards gays , Uganda’s anti-homosexuality legislation , […]

Is it Possible to Eradicate a Fetish?

In a recent post, I wrote about how the field of sexology is uneven in its application and rife with regional and individual biases, largely due to general sex phobia and a subsequent lack of empirical research within the field. Recently, a debate on the mailing list of one of the sexological organizations to which I belong touched again upon discrepancies within the field. The discussion in question concerned whether or not it is possible to eradicate a fetish. Most respondents were in agreement that, like a sexual orientation, eradicating a sexual fetish is not only not possible, but particularly in fetishes that cause no harm, even unethical.

One clinician, however, stated not only that eradicating a fetish is possible, but then went on to describe exactly how (he/she believes) it is done. The methodology described was so disturbing, however, that I felt it necessary to challenge the ideas presented and to present both his/her perspective as well as my response here on my blog as a cautionary tale to individuals who may have questions regarding their own sexuality so that the know what to avoid in therapy. I have eliminated any details that could reveal the identify of the other clinician.

Below is what the clinician wrote in support of fetish eradication. I am highlighting and italicizing the most objectionable aspects:
I don’t see a fetish as similar to sexual orientation – it is something that does reflect “something wrong”, and in my own experience, DOES respond to therapy! One issue is that sexual fetishes – paraphilias – typically involve sexual activity with something that does not provide the […]

Another Word on Loss of Sexual Desire

Recently, I was interviewed in a Huffington Post article about the most common sexual issues that sex therapists see in their office. To see more on this article, you can click here. Anyway, since the interview response that they posted was a bit abridged, I wanted to spend a little more time exploring this difficulty since it is so prevalent.

When I work with individuals struggling with low libido, I first want to understand the context in which they are having this experience. For example, I would want to know answers to the following questions. What is the relationship status of the person– are they single, dating, in a committed relationship? If in a committed relationship, for how long? When did this problem begin? I would also want to rule out medical issues, so I will refer the individual to a physician for blood work to determine levels of testosterone and other hormones. Sometimes testosterone is a major player, but more often not. In my experience, with individuals low libido tends to be more emotional, rather than physical in nature, while with couples it is more often than not it stems from relational problems.  For more info on the relational aspects of low libido difficulties within couples, you can check out my article “Three Main Reasons Behind Loss of Sexual Desire in Couples”, which was picked up and syndicated by numerous other websites.

As I indicated in my response to the HuffPost journalist, relational issues include stuff like resentment (which is basically a euphemism for anger) and lack of trust, along with other elements I didn’t mention such as inequitable power […]

New Documentary about Mind/Body Connection

I don’t often endorse projects that come to my attention, but I feel so strongly about the subject matter of this upcoming documentary film, that I felt a strong desire to share it on my site with my readers. The film, All the Rage sheds light on one of the pioneers of mind/body medicine, Dr. John Sarno. Dr. Sarno, who worked for many years in the rehabilitation center of NYU Medical Hospital treating individuals who had various structural and back injuries due to vehicular collisions, slips and falls, and various other accidents.  At some point, he started noticing very interesting phenomena– some people who injured their back would get well rather quickly, while others never moved on past their back pain. In addition the severity of the pain had no correlation to the severity of the injury. And finally, there was absolutely no connection whatsoever between back pain and structural abnormalities discovered through x-ray imaging and MRIs. In other words, individuals with severe back pain would have nothing show up on an x-ray, while those with no pain at all would show multiple ruptured disks, and so on.

Dr. Sarno began to realize that most, if not all, of the chronic back pain that he was treating was not caused by structural abnormalities, but by other factors. Specifically, he noted that most of the chronic pain sufferers he treated shared many similar psychological commonalities. For example, they were more likely to be Type-A people, you know the type who are very perfectionistic and successful, but also very hard on themselves. He started realizing that perhaps the […]

New Study: “Unusual” Sexual Fantasies Not So Unusual

Earlier I wrote about how the term sexual “deviance” has absolutely no scientific merit, and now just a few weeks later a new study comes out in the prestigious Journal of Sexual Medicine, which surveyed over 1500 respondent about their sexual fantasies, and determined that almost none of them are really that unusual.

Let’s take a closer look at the nuts and bolts of this survey. It breaks down the sexual fantasies into very specific details and separates participants by gender. Most interestingly, only two of the fantasies were found to be rare and men and women were found to differ significantly in the amount and content of their fantasies. The two more rare fantasies were having sex with a child younger than 12 (pedophilia) at roughly 1.5% (0.8% women and 1.8% men) and having sex with animals (zoophilia) (3%women and 2.2% men). Remember, these numbers reflect the people who were willing to disclose these kinds of fantasies– self reports like these are notorious for underreporting.

More unusual, but by no means rare fantasies included fantasies around urination (water sports) for both women (7%) and men (9%) and the following fantasies only for women: wearing clothes of the opposite gender (6.9%), forcing someone to have sex (10.8%), abusing a person who is drunk, asleep, or unconscious (10.8%), having sex with a prostitute (12.5%), and having sex with a women who has very small breasts (10.8%). NONE of these were found to be unusual at all for men. In general men had way more fantasies than women, and indicated a higher desire to experience them in real […]

Study Seeking Participants: BDSM and Personality

As a sexologist and sex therapist, I am always on the lookout for projects that can help shed some light on the subject of human sexuality. Not only is there a dearth of research on sexuality in general, but the study of alternative sexualities, such as kink, is especially barren. You can read more of my thoughts on the field of sexology here.

Anyway, I wanted to pass along the info for a research study being conducted right here in NYC by a 5th year doctoral psychology student at Yeshiva University. It is intended to study the relationship between personality and BDSM and is open to anyone in the world through an online survey, as long as the individual fits the right criteria. I’ll just cut to the chase and copy all the pertinent info about this research study and you can click on the link to the survey and decide for yourself if participating in this project feels right to you. Disclaimer: I am not personally involved in any manner with this research study.

I am a 5th year psychology doctoral student at Yeshiva University completing my dissertation research exploring the relationship between individuals’ personalities and behaviors in different domains. This study has been approved by the Institutional Review Board of Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University, New York, NY (IRB Number: 2014-3480).

Participation involves completing a series of online questionnaires. The questionnaires will take roughly 15 minutes to complete. Questionnaires will ask about various demographic, social, and behavioral information. If you complete the questionnaires fully and provide your email address, you will be entered to win a $20 […]

Sexuality and Unresolved Grief

In previous posts, I addressed the relationship between sexual difficulties and such powerful negative emotions as guilt, shame, and rage. I briefly addressed the emotion of grief in this article, but I also wanted to take the opportunity to expand on the ways in which grief affects sexual functioning, particularly because it is such a prevalent experience for so many people.

When we experience grief, inevitably we are dealing with some kind of a loss. Grief is the emotional response to loss. Typically, we may think of the loss of a loved one, but loss doesn’t just have to be about the death of a person– it could be about the death of an idea, a hope, a dream, an identity, and so on.  In many ways, grief is a normative process in human development. We’ve all had to (or will have to) grieve the loss of childhood dreams and opportunities; we have to accept that we will never be an astronaut or professional ball player. And we also have to grieve the natural effects of the aging process– we cannot stay young and keep our looks and health forever. So grief is an inevitable experience for all of us in one way or another. We cannot escape it. But there is also a large gap between this kind of normative grief and the unresolved, perhaps pathological, grief that causes long-term difficulties.

When grief becomes unresolved it is typically because an individual is stricken with grief but does not allow him or herself to fully experience it. Essentially, the person is afraid to experience the grief, and develops something resembling […]

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    Sexually “Deviant” Fantasies: A Concept Without Credibility

Sexually “Deviant” Fantasies: A Concept Without Credibility

As a member of numerous sexuality organizations, I’m often involved in a variety of conversations, both online and in-person, with colleagues in my field. The truth is, even amongst professionals, the field of sexology is still dominated by regional biases, rather than dispassionate science. For example, a sex therapist in New York City, where I practice, is probably going to hold a more tolerant view of a broad spectrum of sexual practices than a sex therapist in more conservative regions. I suppose this is something that would be obvious to most readers, but unfortunately, this lack of uniformity is a black mark on the field of sexology. Case in point, a cardiologist in New York is likely to have the same level of knowledge and theoretical background as a cardiologist in Biloxi, Mississippi. An opthalmologist in Seattle will probably agree on mostly everything with an opthalmologist in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  That’s because these are medical practices ruled by scientific study. And sexology is a scientific discipline as well. But it is poorly funded, so there’s still a lot we don’t know about sexual practices from a scientific standpoint. As a result, sexology (and sex therapy) is still dominated by local mores, community standards, and personal prejudice.

As a case in point, I will briefly discuss an online conversation in one of the organizations I belong to. I don’t want to reveal anything too personal about anyone involved in the conversation, so I will just touch upon the main themes that I think are extremely important because they touch upon a major issue– the current state of the field of sexology […]

Why Sex is Just the Tip of the Iceberg

When people ask me what is sex therapy, my answer often comes as a surprise– sex therapy is simply regular talk therapy, which also includes a frank discussion of sexual issues and/or difficulties.  In other words, the skills necessary to be a good sex therapist cannot be separated from the skills of more general psychotherapy. And there is a specific reason for this– more often than not, the sex is just the tip of the iceberg.

Let me explain. An individual may come in to my office, complaining of a sexual difficulty, let’s say inability to enjoy sex, for example, but as we start working together it becomes apparent that this individual’s entire body is numb because he has shut himself off from ever having to feel intense, painful emotions again. So, in this instance, a deeper emotional issue has now begun to affect the individual’s sexual functioning, but the core issue isn’t the sex, it’s these nagging underlying painful emotions. The sex is merely the fire under someone’s butt to get him or her into the office, but the sexual issue will not and cannot be resolved unless the individual is willing to take a committed look at the deeper underlying issues.

This is just an example, and yes, sometimes sexual difficulties can be resolved without any of this deeper work. Often, because we live in a culture that is so confused about sex, just providing accurate sex education to dispel toxic and inaccurate beliefs is enough to send someone in the right direction. Or some behavioral interventions are sufficient when we are working with more […]

Some Additional Thoughts on Anger: The Three-Headed Monster

In numerous previous posts, I have gone into extensive length in discussing anger. For most of us, anger is such an uncomfortable emotion, that we have found elegant solutions to manage it, tolerate it, and push it away from our awareness. Unfortunately these defensive maneuvers, although at one time may have worked, often create more pain and suffering than benefit for us. Let’s take a look at the three most common strategies that people typically have found to manage anger along with the negative consequences that result from these strategies.

The first and most common strategy is called deflection. This is the typical “kick the dog” when you’re angry strategy. In other words, this is when we focus our anger on someone else, rather than the actual source of the anger, because this other entity is either more vulnerable in some way or just plainly a more easy target. So, for example, if a boss or supervisor has enraged the individual, it is far easier to take out the anger at home with one’s family, which is usually a captive audience, rather than deal with direct conflict at work, which may have unknown and terrifying consequences. When we are angry at someone and we have no idea why, it may be helpful to take a look at deflection as a potential culprit.

Second is projection. If it is too uncomfortable for us to tolerate the anger, we may project it unto another person, which means that instead of being aware of our anger, we instead believe that someone is angry at us. In essence, the end result of […]

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Huffington Post: Most Common Sex Problems

imgresI was recently interviewed for a piece in the Huffington Post about common sex problems. Entitled "The Most Common Problems People Have in Bed, According to Sex Experts", the article interviews a number of sex therapists about the most common cases they see in their practice. I indicated that lack of sexual desire rated pretty high, and they kind of bunched it up under the the umbrella of "mismatched sexual desires", which when it comes to couples is definitely fair enough. Solid piece all around, and written by a gifted writer who has a number of other interesting articles on the site. Definitely check it out:

Men’s Health- Building the Perfect Sex Machine

Men's HealthI was recently interviewed for a Men's Health article on sex toys designed for men. They wanted to know my take on these "robotic masturbators" (as they called them) and as always, I tried to take a fair and balanced view of things. I pointed out that they could be used as a way to get better acquainted with one's sexuality (as well as get some much needed relief), but an over-reliance on technology may also limit guys from developing the necessary skills that would help them form romantic relationships. At any rate, hurry on over to the article here-- Building the Perfect Sex Machine-- and you can form your own conclusions and decide for yourself.

Upscale Magazine- May 2014 Issue

SwingersGo check out a great, and I mean GREAT, absolutely fascinating article in the May issue of Upscale Magazine, entitled "Secret Lovers," in which I am interviewed regarding the hush hush world of the swinger subculture.  The writer does a really good job of trying to understand the psychology of folks who practice consensual non-monogamy and I think the piece is very even-handed, with some practical tips for couples who are curious about dipping their toes in the lifestyle. I'll leave you with a quote from one of the swingers profiled in the piece, which I think gives a good feel for the tone and depth of the article-- "I love to see her with two guys and two girls at once. I enjoy submissive women, and there is no sexier submission than to watch my wife please me by pleasing others."  If that sounds interesting, then I suggest you head out and grab a copy. It's well worth the read.

Cosmo- April 2014

cosmoI am featured in the Sex Q&A section of Cosmo's April 2014 issue, in which I get asked about BJs, Plan B, sex in hot tubs, and all kinds of other tittilating reader questions. They did a good job of adding all kinds of humor, including a silly picture of tea bags-- need I say more? It's a can't- miss hoot. Go and check it out at news stands now!

Sex For Smart People Podcast

sex for smart peopleI just recently did an interview for a cool podcast called Sex For Smart People. Here is their description of the show: Sex therapist/psychoanalyst Dr. Michael Aaron is our guest of honor this time. Hear his and our perspectives on things like: What to do when you feel less ravenous about sex than your partner feels? Is it really honestly possible to feel coziness/familiarity and also sexiness/mystery/excitement in a long term partnership? How do you begin to talk to your partner about your interest in power play? (Trigger warning, around the half hour mark, we talk explicitly about rape fantasies.) And did you know that *just this past year*, kinky behavior was officially de-pathologized in clinical psychology terms (we think it is about f*****g time)? Plus, Dave is super silly and time)? Plus, Dave is super silly and loopy on NyQuil, and he and Stephanie share their favorite pick-up lines. [audio mp3=""][/audio]