NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, March 15, 2021

Sexual Pleasure and Developing the Erotic Self - Part 2

Individuals and couples who want to improve their sex life often complain that they have lost the erotic spark, and in some cases there was never was much of a spark to begin with.  In my prior two articles, I began an exploration of sexual fantasies and the development of the erotic self and I'm continuing that discussion in this article (see my articles: Are You Too Ashamed to Share Your Sexual Fantasies With Your Spouse? and Sexual Pleasure and Developing the Erotic Self - Part 1)

Sexual Pleasure and Developing the Erotic Self

Sexual Pleasure and Developing the Erotic Self 
When someone has difficulty sharing their sexual fantasies with a spouse or romantic partner, often the difficulty is that they don't feel comfortable with their fantasies for a variety of internal and external reasons (see Part 1 of this topic).

So, a good place to start is for the individual to become more aware and comfortable with their fantasies on their own before they share these sexual fantasies with a partner.  

For many people, especially women, this means learning to access their erotic self without shame or guilt.  

What is Eroticism?
According to Esther Perel, Ph.D., relationship and sex therapist, "eroticism isn't sex. It's sexuality transformed by the human imagination. It's the thoughts, dreams, anticipation, unruly impulses, and even painful memories which make up our vast erotic landscapes."

How Do You Turn Yourself On and How Do You Turn Yourself Off?
As one way to access the erotic self, Dr. Perel recommends exploring what turns you off and what turns you on.  

So, filling in the blanks for yourself: "I turn myself off when..." and "I turn myself on when..."

There are no right or wrong answers,  Everyone's answers will be different.  

So for instance, your answers for turning yourself off might be, "I turn myself off when I worry about my children" or "I turn myself off when I spend too much time on social media."

Likewise, your answers to "I turn myself on when..." might include, "I turn myself on when I dance" or "I turn myself on when I pamper myself in a bubble bath" or "I turn myself on when I use my vibrator" and so on.

Erotic Receptivity and Openness
To experience sexual pleasure, whether it's with a partner or on your own, you need to start from a place of receptivity and openness.  According to Dr. Perel, this doesn't mean saying "yes" or "no" to everything.  It's about being curious and open to being influenced.  

This brings up the issue that being emotionally and/or sexually shutdown.  For some people, this might mean that they have been shut down for many years. 

Not only are they not open to sexual pleasure, but many people feel they're not deserving of pleasure.  So, for people who are struggling with shutdown, the development of the erotic self needs to start gradually, and one way to do this is by becoming aware of how you experience your five senses. 

Using Your Five Senses to Experience Pleasure
As a review, your five senses are:
  • Sight
  • Sound
  • Smell
  • Touch
  • Taste
It's important to start by being patient with yourself.  This isn't a race.  It's more of a gradual unfolding where you allow your curiosity and openness to develop.

Everyone's list of what's pleasurable to them is going to be different.  Note: I'm not referring to sexual pleasure necessarily because for some people that's too threatening a place to start.  

The idea is to start exploring what is pleasurable to you in your everyday life. This might include:
  • Sight: Noticing what catches your eye while you're out for a walk.  Maybe you come across a beautiful garden where you find beauty in the flowers.  Or, maybe you notice a particular color that brings you joy.  Do you have particular associations or memories that get elicited by what you see?
  • Sound: Listening to your favorite music or the sound of the birds when you wake up in the morning might bring you pleasure.  Are there any memories or associations with these sounds?
  • Smell:  Smell can be very evocative.  Maybe someone passes by and you get a whiff of their perfume or after shave cologne.  Maybe you pass a lavender bush and you delight in the fragrance.  If you allow these scents to transport you, where does your mind go? What do you experience in your body?
  • Touch: Touching or being touched can be very powerful.  For instance, if you touch a silky fabric, notice how you experience the richness of the fabric in your hands.  Or, if you go for a massage, how do you feel when the massage therapist rubs massage oil on your body?
  • Taste: You might experience the pleasure of tasting your favorite food or dessert. Rather than gulping it down, take your time. Savor it. Notice what it tastes like on your tongue. Maybe there are layers of taste to a chocolate dessert and you become aware of it as it melts in your mouth.

Check In With Yourself
As you experience your five senses, you might notice that one sense is more pleasurable to you than the rest.  For instance, you might delight in visual stimuli more than auditory stimuli or vice versa.

Ask yourself how you feel as you indulge each of your five senses.  Has your mood changed?  What do you notice in your body?

You might need to make a regular practice of indulging your five senses if you don't notice anything in particular right away.  As I mentioned earlier, this is just one way to start the process of opening up to your own pleasure.

Becoming More Sensitized to Your Body With Physical Exercise
Exercise, especially cardio exercise, is another possibility to help you to become more sensitized to your body, pleasure and your erotic self (always check with your doctor before you begin any exercise program).

Exercise, especially vigorous exercise, can induce sexual arousal because it affects hormones, neurotransmitters and the autonomic nervous system. 

According to Mary Claire Haver, MD, exercise often increases sexual libido.  The reasons for this might include:
  • Feeling better about yourself
  • Having a positive body image
  • Increased blood flow to your genitals
  • Reduction in stress 
Overcoming Psychological Trauma
Whether your trauma is related to sexual abuse or feelings of inadequacy that have nothing to do with sexual abuse, trauma often gets in the way of experiencing yourself as a sexual being and experiencing pleasure.

Developmental trauma, which is trauma that occurred when you were a child, has a lasting impact.  You might not be aware of the impact all the time, but certain situations might trigger unresolved feelings that impact how you feel about yourself and potential partners.

Ignoring the effects of trauma doesn't help.  You can suppress your conscious feelings related to the trauma, but the trauma lives on deep down in the limbic system of your brain. Whether it was a one-time event or ongoing trauma, trauma often has an inhibitory effect on libido and pleasure. 

Getting Help in Therapy
Many people have problems experiencing sexual pleasure (or any kind of pleasure) because of their history--whether it involves childhood trauma or trauma experienced as an adult.

A licensed psychotherapist can help you to overcome the obstacles that are standing in your way, so rather than struggling on your own, seek help from an experienced therapist so you can live a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.