Does Intimacy Enhance Sexuality or Destroy it?

December 25th, 2009 • By: Arlene Kahn Therapy Couples' Communication, Desire in Relationships, Erotic Desire, Intimacy, Meaning of Love, Passion, Sexuality

Esther Perel writes in her new book Mating in Captivity that there is a paradox of intimacy and sexuality in relationships. For many people, the paradox is that the more intimate, close and secure we feel, the less erotic desire is present in long-term committed relationships. It raises the question, “What is the meaning of love and sexuality in long term relationships?”

Paradoxically, erotic desire often flourishes when there is separateness,  a sense of danger, when it is forbidden. It begs the question, why is the forbiddencouple_yab_yum.intimacy so erotic? Why is the man or woman we’re not married to the one where the most powerful attractions can be felt?  Many of the answers can be found in cultural mandates, our individual childhood messages and the changing demands we make of marriage today.  There are fewer arranged marriages, political alliances in marriage and more being asked of the marital union.  We want our marriage to be sexual, loving, committed, monogamous, romantic, secure, stable, prosperous, adventurous and exciting.  All of this with one person.  It’s a tall order.  And the infidelity rates show how difficult it is.

Instead of exploring the facts of sexual techniques when sex isn’t working, Perel suggests the importance of asking ourselves questions about our sexuality and our  eroticism.  For instance, following are a few sample questions from her question list to clarify your thoughts and feelings about the role of sex in your life:

*  What is the role of sex in your life?

*   Think of your most intense (best) sexual experience.  Has it happened or is it still to come?

*   What turns you off?  What turns you on?

*   When do you feel most beautiful?

*   What is your relation to your body?

*   What do you like to experience in sex:   Tenderness?  Aggression? Surrender?       Dominance?

*   Among the five senses, which one is the most sexual for you:    Seeing?  Smelling?  Hearing?  Touching?  Tasting?

*   How do you think differently about sex and about love?

Answering these questions for yourself and sharing them with your partner can be a start to better understand the meaning of love and sexuality in your relationship.    What are often referred to as “intimacy issues” may simply indicate a need for more “breathing room”  between you and your partner.  It is the task of every couple to negotiate the need for security, closeness and dependability with the need for autonomy, adventure and spontaneity.   This delicate balance often has a strong effect on  couples’ sexual desires.

For additional information, you may be interested in reading Esther Perel’s book “Mating in Captivity.

Marriage: Is There a Place for Infidelity?

couple at nargile lounge

Image by j.o.h.n. walker via Flickr

What a question?!  Is there room in your relationship to ask that question? Should there be?

Yet, that’s the question being asked by Mark Oppenheimer in his New York Times magazine article, Married, With Infidelities ( Sun. July 3, 2011).  He reviews the position of Dan Savage, who says that for many couples,  monogamy is not right, that it’s not natural. Savage says we’re not honest about how hard marriage is, how hard monogamy is.   Oppenheimer  quotes Savage in stating that “the goal of marriage, is ‘stability’  and if affairs or sexual activity outside of marriage promotes that stability then it may be a good choice.  Savage writes Savage Love for The Stranger, an alternative weekly paper in Seattle that syndicates it to more than 50 other newspapers.  He also created the It Gets Better video posted on Youtube on Sept. 21 that was viewed 35 million times.  The video is a promise to gay youth that if they can just survive the bullying, they can have a good life with marriage and children when they grow up.  The goal is the possibility of stable, adult families, for gays and straights alike.

Savage emphasizes the three G’s:  lovers ought to be Good, Giving and Game–Oppenheimer interprets that as “skilled, generous and up for anything.  And if they cannot fulfill all of each other’s desires, then going outside the bounds of marriage should be an option if that’s what it takes to make the marriage work.”

Oppenheimer also interviewed Judith Stacey, a New York University sociologist.  She  researched gay men’s romantic arragements for her book “Unhitched.”  Her conclusion is “One size never fits all..”  She states that “Creating non-monogamous relationships [gay or straight] that strengthen rather than corrode a marriage is surely as much work as monogamy.” (My highlighting)

Infidelity is hard work, too. Not all good relationships require monogamy, but they all require what she calls integrity. I.e. “Work out terms of what your commitments are, and be on the same page.”

Oppenheimer agrees, as a straight, monogamous, married male that flexibility is a good thing and couples are courageous who can choose an arrangement that works for them, despite societal demands for monogamy.

The issue of integrity in marriage or any form of relationship is key. The horror of betrayal and abandonment when there is an affair covered over by stealth and intrigue, to promote excitement without the other’s knowledge is devastating. It’s a rare partner who can forgive and “understand,” after the fact. But, to have integrity in a relationship implies sharing one’s needs.

Couples often have different sexual or intimacy needs. Sometimes it’s a simple massage that one partner enjoys, perhaps even needs before other sexual activity, which makes his or her partner uncomfortable. These needs are often central to the couple’s issues and even in marital therapy, they don’t always get revealed.

Does one partner have to sacrifice his or her needs to keep a promise of faithfulness in marriage and for how long? Do we not also owe something to our own growth and pleasure? If a partner is unwilling to be “game” to try something new or uncomfortable, is the answer to secretly go outside of the couple’s union?

Too often, these unspoken differences or outright disagreements creates a relationship that is like the picture at the top of this post, where the couple appears to be together and not together at the same time. They aren’t touching, not looking at each other. It’s as if there is no emotional connection between them. The lack of connection is often what is so painful in the relationship and what drives people apart.

Integrity in the Relationship

May I make a plea for integrity in the relationship, including honesty, first with ourselves about our desires and wishes and how isolated in the marriage we might be feeling? Then bring these desires into gentle, empathic conversation with each other.

It’s possible that such sharing, with caring and empathy for ourselves as well as our partner, may meet a new level of flexibility that can surprise both people. In my experience, it’s the fear and hurt, masked by arguments, judgment, contempt and withdrawal that is so painful. It is all rolled into a lack of connection. That is what we try to escape.

Real relatedness means taking the risk to trust that our partner will hear us, if we share ourselves in an honest and loving way. It may be cautious trust and that’s okay. And with trust comes vulnerability. It’s being vulnerable that brings out our humanness and our beauty. That is what creates in our partner a willingness to make the effort to share new experiences. Trusting too little or too much, i.e. too blindly are both undermining to relationship. Appropriate trust and the vulnerability that comes with it is vital for personal and relationship growth. When we risk with love and compassion often there are new possibilities.


January 9th, 2011 • By: Arlene Kahn Therapy Coach Ryan, commitment, Football, Jets, Motivation, Self-Respect

As part of a motivational speech Coach Rex Ryan told the New York Jets football team the story of Hernan Cortes, the Spanish conquistador who went to Mexico in 1519 and, despite being outnumbered, ordered his charges to burn the boats they had arrived on! (NYTimes Jan. 8, 2011).

In other words, they couldn’t go back.  They had to make the commitment, give it all they had, right then and

FLORHAM PARK, NJ - AUGUST 07:  General manager...

self-respect is earned not given

there.  In his talk, Ryan also stressed respect and how to get it, not from other team members, not from opposing teams, but respect for yourself.  He said “Self-respect  is earned only through potential realized.”  The Jets realized their potential when they won their first play-off game against the Colts of Indianapolis.  They did it by staying with the game when they were losing and making the winning field goal in the last three seconds of playl

Most of us know we are capable of more than we are accomplishing, but we tend to give up on our goals, get lazy or make a half-hearted effort.  Realizing your potential is what makes you feel good about yourself.  It means “walking the talk,”  getting out and exercising, fixing what needs fixing, in your house, in your life. It’s the opposite of  half-hearted effort.

We all tend to “water down” our goals, procrastinate, distract ourselves with less important or meaningful tasks than the ones we really want to achieve. Ryan is stirring the Jets with motivation, the challenge to commit fully, to commit to their own values and self-esteem, not just money.  They already have plenty of that.   And, they have been rising to the challenge.

Ryan’s words, “Self respect is earned from potential realized,” is something we all need to remember as we move into 2011.

You might ask yourself, “what are five areas of your life that need to be strengthened in order to realize your potential?”  For example:

1. Increasing self-discipline

2. Knowing what you have to do

3. Lowering your stress level

4. Having realistic expectations

5. Making use of opportunities

Are there 3 or more areas of your life that would have to change in order for you to be more motivated to realize your potential?  If you would like to share what they are, leave a comment in the box below. Maybe we don’t want to burn the boats or bridges, but certainly, we need to give full throttle to a worthy effort for a solid period of time. Then, let’s see if our self-esteem, confidence and self-respect doesn’t  increase.


“Doing what creates self-respect”

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News in the Science of Addiction

October 13th, 2009 • By: Arlene Kahn Therapy Addiction, Brain imaging, Recovery

The Science of Addiction

The following article was published by the Northeast ATTC Network–funded by SAMHSA–Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, to educate and improve the quality of recovery.   Their article helps us learn about the effects of substances on the brain as seen through brain imaging.  For the brain image pictures, please refer below to:   “More about how imaging techniques work and  findings…..” in the article Imaging the Addicted Human Brain (Fowler,   Their article states:

“Addiction is characterized by the compulsive seeking and use of substances in the face of negative, even catastrophic consequences. The 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates that 22.6 million persons in the United States suffered from substance dependence or abuse in 2006.  That is over 9% percent of the population aged 12 or older. The symptoms of addiction have been documented throughout history, across cultures and socioeconomic levels. Many explanations and solutions have been advanced that often involve religious, political, moral, and social perspectives (Glenn, 2005). Yet addiction remains as close as our family, our friends, and our selves.

What Can Science Show Us?

Science is expanding knowledge of what happens when drug use transforms into addiction as an invaluable foundation to understanding why. For those in the addiction field, this is an enormously exciting time.

Technological advances now allow scientists to “see” how the brain functions and explore the physical differences between the normal brain and the addicted brain. “Clinicians may one day—perhaps sooner rather than later—use brain imaging to assess addiction, to assign patients to appropriate care interventions, and to monitor response to therapy “(Fowler, et al., 2007). (Italics, mine.)

Each of the “five primary brain imaging techniques—structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), functional MRI, magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), positron emission tomography (PET), and single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT)—reveal different aspects of brain structure or function (Fowler, et al., 2007) . . . More about how imaging techniques work and findings . . .

“Studies employing neuroimaging technology paired with sophisticated behavioral measurement paradigms have led to extraordinary progress in elucidating many of the neurochemical and functional changes that occur in the brains of people who are addicted to drugs” (Volkow, n.d.). More on the neurobiology of free will in addictive disorders.

What this means is that addiction professionals may soon be able to use brain imaging to determine the extent and kind of addiction, which parts of the brain are affected and  choose specific behavioral and medical interventions to help addicts recover in the most effective way possible. Exciting, indeed.

Do you think if you actually could see how your brain was affected by alcohol or drug use it might make a difference in your recovery?

Please add your comments, questions, thoughts to this article.  Thanks, Arlene

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The Psychology of Perspective

February 20th, 2010 • By: Arlene Kahn Therapy perspective in relationships, Sports Illustrated

Keep your perspective,” “Keep it in perspective,” is usually good advice.

What is perspective, actually?  Oxford dictionary says it’s an attitude, a position, angle, outlook, even a lookout.  It can be a point of view, a viewpoint, a standpoint.  A perspective is something that guides us.  We tend to act, based on how we see things, what we believe about someone.  When our point of view clashes with conflicting information, it can be confusing and either our perspective changes or we hold on to it tenaciously.

Consider some of the recent news items, for instance:

1.  We knew Tiger Woods as an upstanding golf hero but after his fiasco of affairs, he became a different person.  Did his apology publicly change him for you?  Do you see him differently now? Can you hold the opposites of Woods the hero and Woods the disgraced?

2.  Recently, I was looking at  Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition.  This is their largest yearly magazine edition– Does it represent sports?  What is your “take” on Sports Illustrated having an issue solely to show female models in swimsuits? Again, it contains a conflict of opposites:  illustrating sports vs. showing off models.

3.  Reviewing Toyota’s claim to have excellent quality control after blatant failures with power steering, the accelerator pedal and brake system, along with their denial of these problems could make you wonder what kind of manufacturing they are actually doing? How does it change your view of Toyota?  Again, the contradictory position of Toyota the upstanding company and Toyota the company that has not been  honest.

Everyone needs a perspective, a standpoint, a way of seeing in life.  Even so, sometimes, losing our perspective (our standpoint) can be a good thing.  It might be a time in our life that requires a new attitude.  We might be engaged in new education or a life-cycle change such as getting married or divorced,  going into business, or experiencing the death of someone we’ve depended on–for their helpful point of view.  On the other hand, the mark of a leader such as Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King,  is one who can maintain a balanced perspective even in the midst of crisis and turmoil.

Picasso-Girl-Before-Mirror.perspectiveSometimes however, we need to change our perspective.

Picasso changed our perspective of art when he painted in a cubist style, basically using four dimensions instead of two or three.  We see further into his figures than the typical two or three dimensional plane.   His painting The Girl in The Mirror, shows us our inside view of ourselves, and others.

In   relationships,  people often see in only one or two dimensions instead of a more whole, complete view of a person.   Likewise  our  perspective on ourselves.  Sometimes that too, becomes too narrow.  Hence we can make too much of something we’ve done, or diminish the full value of our own worth.  Holding opposites in life is an art and an achievement.

Letting go of our perspective often allows an openness to something new, different and creative.  It can be the basis of taking new risks, making new choices, having better relationships and working more effectively.

Next time you  get stuck in a conflict with someone, have difficulty moving ahead in your job or hear that critical voice inside, try asking yourself:

1.  How am I seeing this issue?

2.  Could there be another perspective?

3.  What might the other person see that I don’t?

4.  If I did something differently, would my perspective change?

5.   How is my vision keeping things from changing?

Changing a perspective is not always easy.  Letting go of outworn views can lead to more grounded insights, providing guidance for ourselves and direction  for others in our role as leaders.

When a trusted view of a situation or a person fails and suddenly we are without a perspective, we can feel confused and lost.  At that time there are often inner forces re-organizing, re-forming new ways of seeing, often with a new maturity and inner growth and  suddenly, we ‘re recognizing something new in ourselves, our children or spouse, or in the larger world.

C. G. Jung the Swiss psychologist often said that when you see something in someone, you bring it out in them.   When we perceive positive aspects in someone we bring that out in him or her, when we see negative traits we bring that out as well.  So it is important to keep in mind that the perspective we hold about someone matters whether it’s how you see yourself or others.

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