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An Ode to Hedonism

An ode to hedonism? What?!? That might seem like an unusual posting coming from a therapist, particularly in a field which usually pathologizes behavior we might consider to be too extreme. Too commonly, when we think of the word “hedonism,” we conjure up images more akin to a similar, yet different word, “debauchery,” symbolic of sexual, alcoholic, or drug excess. In other words, being out of control, unbalanced, and again, just too extreme. But when you look at the dictionary definition for hedonism, the first thing that comes up is simply, “the pursuit of pleasure,” and with no further commentary on how unbalanced or extreme that pleasure is experienced.

It is this more pure definition of hedonism, as simply meaning “pleasure” that I would now like to focus on, because far often than not, unhappiness, depression, anxiety, and sexual difficulties are more correlated with too little pleasure, rather than too much. For, far too often, when we are stuck on a negative cycle, we lose all perspective and only notice the negative. The things that trouble us, that worry us, that cause us pain and anxiety. And that negative cycle continues unabated in part precisely because we lose sight of the other areas of life that bring us pleasure.

Look at it this way. Imagine a magnet, it has two poles, one negative, the other positive. That negative pole symbolizes all the things that cause us pain. These are the things we seek to avoid. The positive pole on the other hand symbolizes all that which provides us pleasure, these are the things that we strive […]

The Intersection of Buddhist Psychology and Sexuality

I have written much about mindfulness practices and sexuality here in this blog, but I would like to expand a bit more on it to also include a discussion of a broader Buddhist psychological perspective on sexuality, especially as it has so much to offer on the subject. Before I begin though, I would like to point out that by discussing Buddhism, I am approaching it more from a philosophical and psychological perspective rather than as anything spiritual or religious. My viewpoints here are purely secular, and in no way am I endorsing any specific religious or spiritual viewpoint or way of life. Indeed, Buddha himself (who was a real person) did not view his teachings as spiritual, but rather a middle ground between purely idealistic and materialistic viewpoints.

Anyway, let’s get on with it, and take a look at one of the first major points, which is that in Buddhism, there exists no concept of sin. Sure, there are various precepts of proper behavior, and the eight-fold path encompasses such elements as “right speech,” “right action,” “and right intention,” but these principles are meant to be contextual and much different from our Western views of what constitutes “sin.” In Buddhist thought, there is the concept of determining what is the right action or speech for the specific situation at hand. These are considered matters of wisdom and self-development, rather than some rigid notions of good and evil. Why this is important is that, in Buddhist psychology, there is no concept of evil thoughts or evil behaviors, there are simply right thoughts and right behaviors. A thought […]

Book Finished and Other News

I was in the middle of writing another post, this time about the intersection of Buddhist psychology and sexuality, but then I figured, you know it’s the holidays and the end of the year, I got so much other news to share, so why not save it for the New Year. So, with that thought process in mind, I’ve decided to hold back on that post and others, and instead share it with you in the coming months. In the meanwhile, there’s a ton other stuff going on, so let’s try to prioritize for a moment, and start at the top.

First, I’m finally finished with my book! Well, at least the first draft. But my editor has already gotten back to me with her comments on the first half of the book, all with mostly positive feedback, so I think it’s safe to say we’re coming down the home stretch. I still think we have a few rounds of technical edits and then picking out the cover and title, etc., but the main ideas are there, the chapters with the possibility of some tweaks are on the page in black and white. Looks like we are headed to a late 2016 launch, so I’ll keep everyone posted. Be sure to sign up for the mailing list on the right sidebar to keep updated about the book’s release date.

Next, I’m putting together a conference on alternative sexuality, the first of its kind in NYC, with my colleague therapist Dulcinea Pitagora on April 22, 2016. Here’s a quick rundown of the sessions below and if you’re interested in […]

Sexuality and Radical Self-Acceptance

In an earlier post, I discussed the importance of self-compassion, and as I progress further in my work, I become more and more certain that it is the cultivation of compassion, rather than the absence of painful emotions and anxiety, that is the hallmark of mental health. I want to expand a bit more on that here, as one integral aspect of compassion towards oneself is self-acceptance. In fact, I’m describing a self-acceptance so complete and pervasive that I call it a radical self-acceptance. What do I mean by this, and what does this have to do with sexuality?

In brief, let me first state before diving deeper, that our culture, at least when it comes to sexuality (and I would extend it further than that) is a shame-based culture. I have much more to say about that in my upcoming book (be sure to subscribe below to the blog or in the sidebar to the newsletter to stay updated on its release), but for now, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that a country has a sexually shame-based culture when same sex marriage was only nationally legalized a few months ago and people still have their children taken away in custody proceedings due to the nature of their sexuality. My colleague, Joe Kort, has written about the institutional trauma of growing up gay in this country; I would also add that there is an institutional trauma of growing up anything beyond normative and “vanilla.”

Unfortunately, the mental health field, while providing support and relief for millions of people, has also carried within its […]

Undoing the Effects of Sexual Trauma

Perhaps no form of personal trauma is as painful and nefarious in its impact as sexual trauma. I have written extensively on this topic before, and my research in the area of impact of childhood sexual trauma on adult sexuality has won an award and been published in a peer reviewed academic journal. For those interested, you can read the journal article here- Pathways.

In my work with adult survivors of sexual trauma, I invariably encounter a cluster of difficulties that must be worked through. Specifically, the trauma is often internalized, which means that the affected individual may often place blame on themselves or make generalized assumptions about their own sexuality or identity. A boy, for example who has been assaulted may question his own orientation, wondering what made him vulnerable to attack. Of course, orientation never has anything to do with it, as violent hands-on sexual offenses are an indicator of sociopathy, which is marked by a lack of empathy and remorse. Or the survivor may often develop a phobia of sex, and a negative body image to boot.

It’s this phobia, this specific fear response that I want to focus in on in this article. After working with countless trauma survivors, I have found that at the root of their sexual difficulties, which may run the gamut from performance difficulties to pain syndromes to the inability to experience pleasure, is that an automatic fear response has become associated with their natural sexual response. In other words, fear and arousal become co-mingled. And as a result, one of our most important tasks is to create some separation […]

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    Gray Areas in Sexuality: When Is a Fetish “Too Extreme?”

Gray Areas in Sexuality: When Is a Fetish “Too Extreme?”

I was inspired to write this article following my interview on Vice.com about “Cash Slaves.” This documentary examines the edgy, underground world of Financial Domination, or “Findom.” Basically what this entails is an authority-based relationship where one individual experiences pleasure, and perhaps arousal, by being financially dominated (ie controlled, used, possibly exploited) by another. I would categorize this under “psychological edge-play” because it does touch upon some thorny, gray areas. For example, what if someone desired to be drained to the point of bankruptcy, what do we make of that? Is it ever healthy to be financially dominated in this way? These are all indeed tough questions and lead to an even bigger question– is a sexual fetish or desire ever too extreme or unhealthy? This video examines all of these questions, and then some, and pins the question of what it means to have this kind of a fetish up against the backdrop of living in an age of extreme capitalism. Brilliantly produced, directed, and edited, you can check out the video below, and after you watch it continue reading for my additional commentary.

When I agreed to participate in this documentary, I told the producers that I wanted to make sure that it did not portray any kind of non-normative sexual template in a pathological light. Along those lines, I made a point out of clearing up some misconceptions. Most of the individuals who participate in this do so in a controlled manner and have money to burn. Second, there are certainly a bevy of individuals wanting to jump into the findom game […]

Three Types of Couples’ Communication

When I work with couples in distress, I often first need to put out some fires and get the couple out of crises before we can make any steps forward. If they are having sexual problems but have also built up so much resentment that they are fighting like cats and dogs, we can’t even begin to get to the sex stuff until we address the overall relational dynamic. I’ve written about this before in this article about why sex therapists must also be good couples therapists.

What I want to address in this piece are some of the mechanisms of how we can get a couple out of dire conflict and into a place where we can get some real work done. This requires achieving a safe space for both individuals, a sanctuary if you will. And it’s not small feat as we are in effect trying to transform a battlefield into a sanctuary. Wow, even writing that, it feels so daunting, like it would take something miraculous to pull off. But it doesn’t require miracles, but simply a process in which both partners are equally committed to putting aside attachments to who is right and wrong and putting in the necessary work to communicate more collaboratively.

There, that’s the magic word– collaboration. Which is so difficult for folks to pull off when they feel flooded and go into fight or flight response. Let’s talk more about collaboration and the fight of flight response when it comes to the way that couples communicate. I am indebted to the work of Dan Wile, and his writings on collaborative […]

The Three Types of Fear

Some of the most common issues I work with are sexual performance difficulties and sexual fears and anxiety. In this particular post, I want to open up the discussion a bit more to include a broader review of the types of fears that I most commonly encounter in my practice. For simplicity’s sake, I will break it down into the 3 most common types of fears that I see my clients struggling with. These are, in no particular order, the fear of failing, fear of the unknown, and fear of emotions. These are all quite ubiquitous, but can create devastating effects, and so I would like to briefly touch upon each one in turn. And although they are uniquely different, they also have much in common.

Let’s start with fear of failing first. This fear is so common, there is a word to describe it– atychiphobia. In the older heyday of psychoanalysis, a common way of seeing clients who were struggling to make progress was that they were just simply resistant. This viewpoint assumes a kind of oppositional stance, with the client somehow working or fighting against the therapist to make change or progress. Rather than trying to push up against this so-called “resistance,” I take what I call a “pro-symptom” approach, which basically means that I want to try to understand what are the benefits of holding onto these problems or symptoms, rather than discarding them at once. This goes back to the harm reduction model that I advocate and have written about in the past; rather than try to push someone into something they are not ready yet […]

Self-Compassion and Sexuality

As I continue working on my upcoming book, I find myself naturally shifting my focus a bit more away from larger sociological constructs (although there is still plenty of that) and more towards the essential work that I do with my clients on a day-to-day basis. As I’ve written about before (here and here and here), one of the main missions of my work is to help individuals rid themselves of unnecessary internal shame, and sexuality is one of those areas that folks may often may feel the most shamed about.

And the further I go in my work, the more I become certain that self-compassion is one of the key ingredients that allows us to resolve that shame. Indeed, if I were to now be asked what is the most important takeaway that I can provide anyone through psychotherapy, I would answer that it would be the tools to cultivate self-compassion. When it really comes to it, I believe that self-compassion is one of the quintessential hallmarks of mental health.

So what is self-compassion and how do we cultivate it? First, I think it’s important to point out that it’s something that’s poorly understand. If I ask a client, for example, if they are able to experience self-compassion for themselves, they will invariably draw a blank look and state that of course they have self-compassion, or something to that effect. And this may be a client who struggles mightily with self-criticism, depression, anxiety, or any other internal conflict that would create distress.

I’ll say, let’s imagine that there is a distressed child standing on the corner of 5th Ave and […]

Book Review– Sex Addiction: A Critical History

On the heels of the controversial Myth of Sex Addiction comes a new just released book entitled Sex Addiction: A Critical History by Reay, Attwood and Gooder. My colleague, Dr. David Ley, a therapist and author of several book including Insatiable Wives and the aforementioned The Myth of Sex Addiction had an extra copy laying about and I said I would be happy to receive it in exchange for an honest review of the book. Putting that piece of full disclosure out of the way, I should also mention that this is a version of a fuller review I have written that will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, in which I have a standing outlet for book reviews.  On to the review.

For those unfamiliar with the sex addiction debate, this book is as thorough of an introduction and analysis of the key concepts as one could find anywhere. Even for those like myself, who is up on the latest in sex research, reads all the journals and is keyed in to dialogue with all of the thought leaders, there is still a significant amount of new information to be learned. Typically, when reading a new sexological book, I find myself thoroughly reading the first few chapters and then skimming the rest because either I already know most of what is being presented or the rest of the book simply repeats the ideas from the beginning but in a variety of different ways. Not the case here. The book is strong from beginning to end, and is as much a referendum on our […]

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“The Sex Files”: My New Monthly Q&A Column in Men’s Fitness Magazine

jan-feb-cover-matt-bomer-mainHead out to the newsstands and grab a copy of the Jan 2016 issue of Men's Fitness Magazine to see the premier of the new monthly "Sex Files" column in which I answer readers' sex questions. In this month's issue I answer a question in which a guy is looking to help his girlfriend enjoy more pleasure when she is having sex on top. Check out the screenshot below to see my response: AskSexJan-Feb

CNN: What It Means to Be Pansexual

CNNI was asked by CNN to weigh in on what it means to be "pansexual." Here's an excerpt from my interview:

"It is a broad word, and that is because people want to have the freedom to self-identify any way they want without being labeled by anyone else," said psychotherapist and sex therapist Michael Aaron.

"It has cultural resonance because it is so broad and allows for so much flexibility and choice."

For the entire story click here: http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/09/living/pansexual-feat/

Love&- 5 Things Wives Want Their Husbands to Know about Sex

Love&Love& is a new magazine about relationships and sex. They interviewed me about common things that women may want their guys to improve upon in the bedroom. One of the big ones is touch, as a lot of men are way too rough and don't know how to adjust their touch to what their partner wants. For more on this, and other pointers, check out the article itself below: http://loveand.com/sex/5-things-wives-want-their-husbands-to-know-about-sex/

Thrillist: 5 “Terrifying” Sexual Disorders You Didn’t Know Existed

thrillistDespite the alarming headline, I was asked by lifestyle website the Thrillist to discuss a bunch of sexual issues that folks out there may encounter, such as Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder (PGAD), sexsomnia and phimosis (when the foreskin does not fully retract and may cause pain). Much of what I said was cut out (as sometimes happens) but I get in a few good points on phimosis at the tail end. Phimosis is an issue I've encountered frequently enough with my male clients, so it's definitely worth a read. https://www.thrillist.com/sex-dating/nation/5-terrifying-sexual-disorders-you-didnt-know-existed

Vice.com: Cash Slaves

Vice_Media_Logo_2015I am featured in the newly released Vice documentary, "Cash Slaves." This is a very edgy and provocative look at the underground world of Financial Domination (Findom). As usual, I wanted to provide a fair and balanced portrait of the subject matter and make sure that the material was not pathologized. Findom is regarded by many to be an extreme fetish and definitely touches upon some very gray areas. Take a look at the video below and you can come to your own conclusions!  

Men’s Fitness Magazine Advisory Board

mens-fitnessI have recently been chosen to be on the Advisory Board of Men's Fitness Magazine. As part of that, I will be popping in now and then to answer reader questions. It's possible my role will expand in the future, and there have been discussions to that effect, but for the meantime, I will keep everyone posted when they can pick up an issue to see my responses in print.

Wall St Journal: The Future of Virtual Reality Porn

Wall-Street-Journal-LogoMarket analysts predict that new virtual reality technology will revolutionize the way we experience media, and will specifically boost the porn industry to unprecedented levels. This detailed article covers a lot of ground, addressing both the technology, business and social ramifications of virtual reality porn. I was asked to give my take on the issue and somehow a 20 minute phone conversation was distilled to a brief paragraph at the end of the piece, but nonetheless, it is still a worthwhile read. http://www.marketwatch.com/story/how-the-future-of-virtual-reality-depends-on-porn-2015-07-15?

NY Times: Women of the World

ny times logoDoes Bill Cosby have a fetish for unconscious women? Who knows? He's not a client and I've never met him, so I cannot say for sure, but this provocative piece in the NY Times tries to get to the bottom of his alleged bizarre behavior. The reporter did a great job dealing with some uncomfortable material,  so be sure to click the link below to see what I had to say on this issue: http://nytlive.nytimes.com/womenintheworld/2015/07/10/why-did-bill-cosby-want-to-have-sex-with-comatose-women/

Men’s Fitness- July 2015

men's fitnessI was recently asked by a reporter from Men's Fitness magazine to discuss reasons why a heterosexual man might refrain from having sex with a willing woman. The questions were basically soft balls, seemingly aimed at a younger, more inexperienced, male audience, but hey, I managed to drop a few decent pointers, relating to finding out if the woman is in a relationship, and if so, what kind of relationship she is in before diving in. If you want to take a look and poke around more, you can go directly to the article below. You are going to have to click to page 3 to see my quotes, btw. http://www.mensfitness.com/women/dating-advice/5-reasons-you-shouldnt-have-sex-her/slide/2

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: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/03/common-sex-problems-experts_n_5978560.html?1415023230

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="http://www.drmichaelaaronnyc.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Episode-7-Relationships-Are-Something-You-Do-Not-Something-You-Have.mp3"][/audio]