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 […]

Sexuality and Self Destructive Behavior

I’ve written many times before about all of the wonderfully positive aspects of sexuality, but I cannot examine the totality of sexual experience without acknowledging that some individuals can and do use sexuality for destructive purposes. Often as clinicians, we will see these destructive acts in the form of self-destruction– risky sexual behaviors in which the individual can end up badly hurt, dead, or in jail. Often these destructive behaviors are compulsively performed in the face of, and even due to the threat, of these dangers. In other words, the danger itself is what makes the behavior so arousing. I don’t think it’s enough though to simply understand that self-destruction is arousing. That makes it seem like any other kind of fetish or sexual proclivity. Rather, I think the other salient point to understand about this behavior, is that the individual believes that they are worthy of self-destruction. In other words, the individual may be aroused by destruction (or the “death drive” as Freud called it), but for him to continue seeking self-destruction, he must believe that this is what he deserves. So, fundamentally, if we are to try and change this individual’s self-destructive behavior, we must seek to change his relationship to himself.

Destructive behaviors of any kind, whether they are sexual or not, usually if not always involve underlying aggression. And as I’ve discussed in numerous other posts, aggression is fueled by anger and rage. So, destruction of any kind is fueled by anger, which is a simple enough observation. But it becomes an important consideration to keep in mind when understanding destructive […]

Is Couples Therapy Right For You?

Deciding to see a couple’s therapist is never easy. It can bring up many painful and scary questions. For example, is going to see a therapist an admission that both I and my relationship are failures? What if couples therapy doesn’t work, will that mean the end of my relationship? And what if it does work, will that too push my relationship to the brink? Will I discover things that I am not ready to deal with? These are all normal and typical questions that folks may find themselves dealing with when pondering whether or not they should seek out the services of a couples therapist.

So, let’s talk about what someone can expect in couples therapy, when couples therapy makes sense, and when it can prove to be less than effective.

First, I think that any good couples therapist will help the couple to realize and understand dynamics within the relationship that can be undermining it. A couples therapist can act as a neutral facilitator to help couples overcome disagreements and impasses, embark on life transitions, and make important relationship decisions. Here are some specific instances where couples therapy can do a whole lot of good for a couple:

Resolving ineffective communication strategies
Resolving differences in expectations of and attitudes about the relationship
Resolving discrepancies in sexual desire and/or sexual interests
Deciding whether to make important life decisions, including whether or not to stay in the relationship
Overcoming infidelity and deceit

The common denominator in these situations is that a couple is so lost in the weeds, that they cannot step outside of the conflict or disagreement to see the bigger picture. This is why it can […]

Mindfulness and Sexuality

One of the most important topics that I address with clients is the subject of mindfulness. To understand the importance of mindfulness, particularly when it comes to sexuality, let’s first take a look at what it is and what it isn’t. Many people confuse mindfulness with some sort of meditation practice, such as Zen or Vipassana. While it is true that meditation builds and fosters mindfulness, one can practice mindfulness without engaging in any of the meditative traditions. So what is mindfulness? It is defined as “the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment.” This can occur within a meditative practice, or just throughout the day, as one observes oneself while at work, sitting on the train, eating, or engaging in interactions with others. The most important aspect of this kind of self-observation is acceptance and non-judgmentalness. I’ll say this once more, because it bears repeating. Acceptance. Non-judgmentalness.

What does this have to do with sexuality? Everything. Often when we find ourselves struggling with some aspect of our sexuality, what is actually going on is that we are fighting ourselves. What I mean is that sexual performance, sexual desire, sexual arousal, and so on, come naturally. We don’t have to think about it. It just happens. But when we are experiencing sexual difficulties, we may be pressing too hard, putting undue pressure and stress on results, tensing our pelvis and surrounding muscles, or just fighting off the natural emotions that arise. In other words, we are going against the current, and not allowing ourselves the experience […]

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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]