A Sex Coach and Mental Health Therapist’s Take on the new Netflix show “Sex/Life” (spoiler alert)

A Sex Coach and Mental Health Therapist’s Take on the new Netflix show “Sex/Life” (spoiler alert)

Trigger warning: this article mentions rape/assault. If you are struggling with the aftermath of rape or assault, contact a qualified therapist to help you! You are not alone, and recovery from this type of trauma is possible!* If you are like most Americans living through the pandemic, you have probably spent a lot more time watching Netflix and other media streaming services in the past two years. The numbers confirm this: at the height of the pandemic, Netflix had more than doubled their price per share due to most people being stuck at home watching TV. One of the most popular shows in 2021 has been “Sex/Life”, with over 67 million views since it was released this past May. While the show was entertaining and albeit, titillating at times, this therapist is somewhat troubled that a show this popular potentially spread such a negative view of sex, marriage, and the kink/fetish/polyam community. Let’s take a look at what the show got right and what the show got very very wrong.

What the show got right: To its credit, the writers of this show did attempt to address some pretty difficult topics about love, marriage, and sexuality. These topics are rarely talked about in broader society, although they are far from foreign. The show highlights some of the difficulties of maintaining one’s sexuality while child rearing. For example, Billie, the main character, struggles with boredom in her marriage and then one day runs into her ex, who she still has unfinished business with. This leads Billie to try to escape the demands of her life (kids, judgmental friends, lackluster sex with her husband) by fantasizing about the sex she used to have with her ex. According to the Gottman’s in their book “Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for A Lifetime of Love” it is normal for couples to experience their greatest period of relationship dissatisfaction when they begin to have children. With each subsequent child, studies have shown that the unhappiness grows. It is understandable and quite normal for people to fantasize about times when it was easier to prioritize sex. It is also normal to experience lack of sexual interest, or low desire from time to time in a marriage regardless of whether or not you have children. It is just too easy to get caught up in the day to day and forget to incorporate sexuality. Think about it: when you were dating your spouse, you spent a lot of time pampering yourself and getting ready to impress them on dates. You maybe spent more time apart, adding fuel to the excitement about seeing them. These are the types of behaviors that foster the relational climate that leads to sex. Part of recapturing that sexy relational climate is to start taking care of yourself in the same ways you did when you were dating. Unfortunately, our culture does not do very well at encouraging couples to have separate time, as we are not overly community oriented as a society. Our community is our spouse, especially since being quarantined due to the pandemic. It is a lot of pressure for ONE person to meet all of our needs, and yet this is becoming more and more how our society is.

What the show got wrong: Do a quick google search about this show. Most reviews from professionals are negative. Why? The first thing that came out of my mouth after I finished the season was, “Wow, this is probably going to cause a lot of marital fights!” The show attempts to suggest polyamory or non traditional monogamy as an alternative option to getting stuck in the hum drum of a marriage with kids. In the show, Billie wants the stability and safety that her husband and family provide, but she also wants the excitement and chemistry that her unstable relationship with her ex had. This is a common issue that comes up with the couples I work with. First off, this CAN be a great option for some couples, but both partners have to be on board. There has to be something in this type of arrangement that BOTH partners can see themselves benefitting from. Second, this type of arrangement needs to move slowly. There needs to be deliberate research done by all parties involved, and there needs to be a lot of communication. There also needs to be a willingness by both partners to express their true feelings and desires, and this can take time and therapy to cultivate. In the show, Billie fantasizes about the type of life in which she has her cake and eats it too, and ultimately she chooses it for herself without first having a conversation with her husband. The show ends on that note, which gives viewers who may have similar ideals a bad example.

The second issue with the show is its handling (or mishandling) over the topic of consent. Granted, this is a loaded topic and one that is difficult to do well on television, however more responsibility clearly could have been taken by the writers of the show. One example occurs when Billie is trying to rekindle things with her husband. They are attempting to have sex in the car, but Billie isn’t feeling it. She tells her husband that she would like him to stop, or that she is uncomfortable, and he keeps going, saying “I’m almost done.” The writers of the show don’t address the non consent, and then the show goes on to show even more nonconsensual experiences! This is troubling because many women have been raised, particularly in religious cultures, that they are to please their husbands sexually, no matter what. Women are trained to keep men sexually satisfied in order to avoid abandonment, but never are they taught to value their own pleasure. Furthermore, the show missed a teachable moment about how consent must be ENTHUSIASTIC. This means that both partners engaging in sexual activity are looking for emotional queues in their partner that may indicate if the sex is being enjoyed or not. This enjoyment (or lack thereof) may be verbal or nonverbal, but it is important that those engaging in sex are are aware that consent is not just the absence of a “no”.

If you or someone you love has been the victim of rape or assault, reach out to a therapist today. Going through this can be so isolating, but you don’t have to do this alone! Send me an e-mail to start our conversation about your recovery! julia@moorevulnerabilitycounseling.com

Let’s Talk About Sexual Desire

Let’s Talk About Sexual Desire

In light of my recent move to Las Vegas, I wanted to talk about something that is near and dear to Sin City: SEX! Starting in October, I will be hosting an online women’s sexual health group (with potential to move to in-person once I secure a location, and once things are less Covid-y). To kick off the launch of this group I want to talk about one of the issues that frequently comes up when it comes to women’s sexuality: sexual desire. Before we talk about desire, it is important to define some key terms. Desire is the mental WANTING to have sex. Many women often lament about having low sexual desire. Those afflicted say things to me like, “I want to WANT to have sex” or “my partner doesn’t understand the art of foreplay, and I am not about it.” By contrast, arousal is the physical response we may (or may not!) experience in response to sexual stimuli. It is vitally important that we understand that physical arousal does NOT equal sexual desire. In this article we will break down just some of the possible culprits of low sexual desire, and we will discuss some possible solutions so you can get back to enjoying your sex life.

Culprit #1: There is no foreplay. The reason this is important comes down to what is known as Responsive versus Spontaneous sexual desire. Spontaneous sexual desire is what you see all of the time in popular media such as movies, TV shows, porn, etc. Spontaneous desire is what happens when you’re walking down the street and suddenly-BAM-you feel like having sex. This type of desire, according to top sex researcher Emily Nagoski, PhD. is like being struck by lighting. Spontaneous desire comes on quickly and for seemingly no reason (there are reasons, but they often fly under the radar, and we will get to that in a second). This is most often experienced by biological males, according to research, although there are definitely some women who fit this description as well. By contrast, responsive desire comes on much more slowly. This type of sexual desire is most commonly associated with biological females. The most common metaphor used likens responsive desire to a convection oven, whereas spontaneous desire is more like a microwave. Responsive desire is slower to warm up, and various stimuli (such as a crying baby, a bad smell, or feeling anxious about the way your body looks) can shut this type of desire down quickly.

Solution: The first solution is to communicate turn ons and turn offs with your partner as honestly as possible. Does it bother you that your partner is sweaty from working outside when trying to initiate sex? Talk to your partner about cleaning up before sex. Does deep/stimulating conversation get you in the mood? Try starting with the article “The 36 Questions That Lead to Love” and discuss these over dinner multiple nights a week. Do you need more clitoral stimulation before having penetrative sex? Try noticing what creates a sexual response in you, no matter how small. Keep a list of these things and communicate them to your partner and brainstorm ideas of increasing these turn ons in your relationship. Keep a list of turn offs, and try to reduce these as much as possible. It is about “turning off the offs” and “turning on the ons”. Remember, foreplay can look different to each couple, and it is often a combination of mental, physical, and emotional stimulation when it comes to responsive sexual desire.

Culprit #2: You have unresolved (sexual) trauma. Trauma impacts every facet of our lives: mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical. You might be in a safe and loving relationship but experiencing flashbacks or trauma reminders with your current partner. This can be quite distressing, and even more so when we don’t understand why this is happening to us! We might be trying to get our sexy groove on with our current partner, only to be triggered moments later. The most common scenario I see in my practice is individuals being triggered by the way their partner initiates sex. It feels like pressure to the previously traumatized person, and this reminds that traumatized individual of a time they were perhaps coerced. Optimal sexual functioning understandably shuts down at that point.

Solution: Couples/sex and trauma therapy is the first line of defense here. Trauma can be so complex and affect us in so many ways that it is nearly impossible to resolve sexual trauma without the help of a therapist. In addition to this, work on slowing things waaaaay down with your partner. Not all sexual and intimate contact must involve penetration. Focus on touch/cuddling/caressing and notice what feels good. At no point should there be any pressure from the non-traumatized person to move forward. Look up sensate focus. This is a somatic, or bodily approach to help individuals heal from sexual trauma.

Culprit #3: Your emotional relationship with your partner has been neglected. This can happen for a number of reasons. Perhaps you or your partner is not well versed in talking about feelings. Maybe talking about feelings growing up was discouraged. Perhaps you or your partner have been through something traumatic, and you don’t know how to talk about it. Maybe one or both of you copes by shutting down emotionally. Maybe your emotional energy is being occupied by stress or major life changes. Whatever the reason, it is important to learn to communicate about feelings, regardless of what our culture may tell you. Our BRAIN is actually the largest sex organ in the body. Arousal starts there, and if emotional needs are not being met or communicated, it makes sense that sexual arousal might be hard to come by.

Solution: Check out the emotions wheel, a quick google search will do. The emotions wheel is modeled off of the color wheel. Each emotion correlates to a different “shade” of color. For example, deep crimson is rage, whereas a light orangey red might be annoyance. It is important to learn to accurately communicate these emotions, because this helps others be able to accurately identify and empathize with our emotional experience. For many responsive desire types, feeling seen and understood is an important piece of the puzzle to sexual desire.

Culprit #4: You and/or your partner are not comfortable discussing sex. This is understandable given the culture we live in. We live in a culture that are “perverts in private and saints in public”. Everyone is seemingly obsessed with sex, but nobody talks about it in ways that are helpful and informative. If you are like me, your sex education may have even sounded like, “Abstinence is the only way. If you have sex, God will strike you down and you’ll have a horrible and broken marriage. And you will get chlamydia and die! But if you have to be a failure and have sex, don’t forget to use a condom.” This message is obviously problematic for reasons that are too many to list in this article, AND it fails to talk about how sex can be a pleasurable, fun, and bonding experience.

Solution: First, get comfortable naming your body parts. So many people are uncomfortable just saying the words “penis” or “vagina”, even with their long term partners! Being able to describe what you like or dislike in explicit detail is essential to having increased sexual desire. How can your partner know that you want him to “lick your clitoris” if you can’t get the words out? Often times, people will wait until the heat of the moment to talk about what they like or dislike, and this can lead to disaster and even trauma. As a society and as individuals we HAVE to get comfortable talking about this stuff.

The Bottom Line: Human sexuality is much more complex than media, porn, and your friends may have you to believe. Low desire is multi-faceted and often takes a relationship with a trained sexuality and mental health professional to help uncover your reasons for low sexual desire. If you are reading this, I want you to know that your sexual desire CAN increase, and you CAN enjoy the sexual part of yourself. If you or someone you know is struggling with low desire, reach out to me at julia@moorevulnerabilitycounseling.com to schedule an individual appointment. Inquiries about the women’s sexual health group can also be sent to the same e-mail.