One question I get a lot in my Sex Therapy practice is "how do I go about changing these things that bother me?" Maybe it's unwanted thoughts that interrupt your flow when you're in the middle of love making. Maybe it's unwanted stereotypes or messaging you no longer want influencing you. Maybe it's letting go of shame and negative dialogue. Maybe it's becoming more comfortable with certain sexual acts or thoughts you want to enjoy. Maybe it's overcoming triggers from sexual trauma.
Regardless of what we want to see change, intellectual information is only the first step. It's a good step. Informing and educating ourselves, gathering trusted resources, shifting cognitions and biases... these are all wonderful intellectual processes that get the ball rolling. But we are much bigger than our intellectual selves. There are emotional and subconscious forces that are much stronger and persistent that reside within our bodies, our memories and our psyches. These will take time to budge and manipulate differently. We know through the science of neuroplasticity that new wiring is possible. We can develop new habits... new ways of experiencing the world... and new ways of experiencing our sexuality. But just like water will find the path of least resistance... if we want the water to go a different direction, we need to build new levees, dams and pathways.
Here are 5 ideas of how you can go about the practicing piece:
1. Mindfulness. I know this is kind of an "it" word these days... and for good reason. At the heart of mindful approaches lies acceptance. If you can think of the mantra, what we resist persists, it gives you the wisdom and perspective to be patient with yourself, to ride the wave of whatever is annoying you, to take a grace approach to things you are frustrated with. All of this helps relax your system. Relaxation is a wonderful tool towards shifts. Whether you use mindful techniques to deal with unwanted things that pop up at the most inopportune times (right in the middle of a sexual encounter)... or if you develop a daily practice of mindful exercise... these are two good ways to use this tool.
2. Lean into discomfort. Sometimes when we are uncomfortable with something (especially in the sexual realm) we avoid all together. Connect with the idea that all growth and change comes with a certain level of discomfort. Rate your discomfort on a scale from 1-10. If you're at a 7-10 in anxiety, avoid and take a step back. But if you're at 3-5... this can be optimal space to learn about yourself, practice new things, and acclimate to the territory you want to explore. As your mind sends up red flags... again, as long as your discomfort is manageable... you can soothe yourself in the moment. "I'm okay. This is something I want to try. I'm probably not going to be good at or comfortable with something I'm just starting to explore. What about this is pleasurable, even if some of it is not? Look at me doing something new!" These are all scripts you can have prepared for dealing with uncomfortable feelings or unwanted thoughts that can happen during sex.
3. Take note and give yourself credit for any positive steps... even if they seem tiny. Taking a strengths based approach, with optimism and pride... this sets you up for more positive effects. It builds your confidence... your self-compassion and even your self-esteem.
4. Journal. The power of writing is often overlooked. Writing accesses other parts of our systems and people are often surprised by what themes emerge when they give themselves the time to express in this way. Related to this approach can also be drawing or doodling concepts that come to mind. When you come across a time you felt you dealt with a sexual difficulty or discomfort... take some time later that day or week to journal about. See what thoughts come up as you write.
5. Breathe. Taking the time to learn and develop some breathing exercises that you can use anywhere you are can be a really useful way to center yourself and give yourself some time to emotionally regulate or self-soothe. There are apps that can teach you some basic techniques that once learned can be used anytime you need a quick pick me up. You can breathe through sexual experiences you are trying to engage in. And you can let your partner(s) know that you need some time to breathe. Pause buttons during sexual play are wonderful ways to take needed breaks without feeling you have to abandon ship.
Change is possible and you can be hopeful about your prospects in these desires and wishes you have of moving towards healthy, pleasurable, sustainable and satisfying sexuality. It will take time and practice. And that's okay. You're okay.
Natasha Helfer Parker, LCMFT, CST, CSTS
Natasha is the owner and founder of Symmetry Solutions. She is a Licensed Clinical Marriage & Family Therapist in the states of Kansas and Wisconsin and a Certified Sex Therapist. Natasha has been in practice for over 20 years and works with adults and adolescents. She specializes in mental health therapy, sex therapy and sexuality concerns, family/couples services and faith transitions within spiritual journeys.
*Article originally posted here: sextalkwithnatasha.com/blog