Sensate Focus and how it can help with connection and sensual touch

One of the tools I often suggest in helping couples who are having difficulty with intimacy and sexual experience, and who may have a history of trauma or abuse, is Sensate Focus. Pulling from the words of Weiner, Canon, & Avery-Clark here, as they describe succinctly the idea and understanding of what and how it works. This is from their write up about it in Family Therapy Magazine. This technique, along with a solid therapeutic foundation to help navigate the more difficult emotional realms that may (and will) come up for both partners has the capacity to help reconnect a couple back into intimate touch and connection.

What Is Sensate Focus?

Sensate Focus is a hierarchical series of touch exercises aimed in its initial phase at managing or eliminating performance expectations for any specific emotion, whether it be pleasure, relaxation, or arousal. These performance demands result in anxiety, or fears of performance, that interfere with sexual involvement (Weiner & Avery-Clark, 2014). The critical difference between Sensate Focus and erotic touch exercises is that Sensate Focus involves touching for one’s own interest, curiosity, and exploration, not for one’s pleasure or arousal, and not for one’s partner’s pleasure or arousal. When couples get distracted with anxious thoughts while engaged in Sensate Focus, they are taught to mindfully focus on and explore the concrete and reliably available aspects of touch, namely temperature, pressure, and texture (TPT).

How it works

• Dedicate one hour of uninterrupted time, two or three

times a week, to Sensate Focus

• Disconnect from electronics, pets, children, or other

distractions

• Take turns touching, and alternate who initiates the touch

(although the more anxious client may initiate the early

sessions)

• Make sure that:

- There is some lighting in the room

- There is comfortable temperature

• Remove as much clothing as possible, preferably all

• Use only non-verbal communication to maintain sensory

focus

• Keep eyes opened or closed, whichever aids absorption

• Avoid alcohol or recreational drug use

Summary

Sensate Focus is an intervention that clinicians can use to teach people how to manage sexual anxieties, preoccupations, and distractions, thereby allowing their bodies to respond naturally. Focusing on temperature, pressure, and texture can calm their apprehensions by directing their attention onto their own, dependable experience rather than onto their partner’s unpredictable responses.

(written by Linda Weiner, MSW Neil Cannon, PhD Constance Avery-Clark, PhD)

A big takeaway here that I help couples navigate is reducing expectation. It is this expectation that often invokes an anxiety state, especially if there is abuse or trauma in one’s past. Decreasing expectation and increasing being “in the moment” without a goal or destination is often times extremely critical in the healing process of touching and being touched.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions of thoughts about this process and how it may help you and your relationship.

The Subtle Art and Exploration of the Vasectomy

I am going to open up in a rare moment of vulnerability here and speak on a process that I just went through. Most likely will be a long read, but for me this is important. I have flipped back and forth all weekend trying to decide if I should share or not, and I have landed on the understanding that I should; as a man, as a sex therapist, and as an ally for the rights of women and their choice in their reproduction.

I had a vasectomy this past week, which has ended up being one of the most profound, deeply emotional experiences I have had. One of the reasons why I am exploring this here is that as a culture, we rarely hear of the male perspective of the process, what it entails, and what are the internal processes like. Much of what you read out there on the internet washes over it like it is a dentist appointment and tooth cleaning. In and out, over your lunch break. Conceptually, yes, it is that easy. Local numbing, a few cuts, and you are in and out in 30 minutes. What is not spoken on is the emotions that can/do come with self-selecting out of the gene pool of the human race. I am a single guy, no children, and almost 50, so not really planning the kid route at this point. My path towards my decision for self-selection into sterilization was mainly around the willingness to take responsibility for my choice not to have kids, and not burden any possible partner I will have for having to hold that choice for me. It is both freeing and constricting at the same time. Hard to define, yet very visceral in its emotional connection to who I am, as a biological animal who has a genetic drive to pass down my genes to offspring, like anyone else. A deep part of me did NOT want this process, the part of my being that resisted any way of cutting myself away from society in that way. Even the doctor doing the surgery commented on my body's will to stay intact was unlike anything he had witnessed before (it was a struggle to finish the surgery he said and had to fight my body at times). It has been something I have been holding space with for the past two days, doing a deep dive into new ways of knowing about myself, about the culture I have the privilege of making this choice where many women (and men at times) are no longer given that freedom to make a decision as I have. The decision to make an informed choice around one’s sexual/reproductive needs. This experience blew me wide open in the truths that yes, a choice like this is not a flippant thing, that what/when/how these choices are made should be the individual’s choice and informed by their medical professional to help them make sound decisions based on continued health.

The process was quick. Without going into extreme detail, you undress, they cover you up except the portion they will work on, the do a simple quick injection into the testicular skin to numb you up, and the incision is only about ½” long. As a whole, I laid there, staring into the ceiling tiles and they played music to help calm my nerves (happened to be Guardians of the Galaxy mix tape of 70’s rock). As a whole, I did not feel anything except for the deep tugging as they worked their way to get to the vas deferens. As a whole, this part was the most intense, as the nerves that run along that go into the abdomen, and straight into the CNS. The overwhelming intensity of the feeling there was hard to describe. It was pain, but a whole bodied, animalistic pain of survival, deep into my being. They cut the first one and while I did not feel it, my body understood. I felt a huge emotional wave come over me, almost bringing me to tears, which was quickly shifted to extreme nausea and a bit of dry heaving (no breakfast so nothing came up). It felt like someone had quickly tugged all of my internal organs out while kicking me in the groin. I broke out in sweat and did everything I could to hold that together. They paused, let me collect myself, cauterized one side, and did the same on the other. 30 minutes later, they stitch me up, I get dressed, and drive home to contemplate this.

Why am I sharing this? Perhaps it is to reflect on the fact that much of what we know of the process is glossed over. Even in my process, they knew I was military and treated me like I should be able to handle it. The vulnerability, the loss, the grief, the sorrow of now not being able to father, and even more the sadness of not having that capacity in my past became all too real. My present “me” felt sorrow for my past “me” and acknowledged with my future “me” that we will be alone in that regard now. This is what I chose, and yet, a part of me understands that there is something deeper in that choice. I will be reflecting on that for a while, but I acknowledge that I, as a man in our culture, get to have that choice without question. Almost that choice is celebrated in some ways. It was easy for the system to make it alongside me, rushing me towards this without a whole lot of second guessing and talking through it. I desperately wanted the doctor, the nurse, anyone to say “hey, are you sure? Do you honestly want this?” so I can reflect on the decision, but it felt rushed, like I was on an oiled slide headed into the process without a second glance. It took three months from the appointment setting to the actual appointment, and I wonder if that is ultimately long enough to sit with the decision. I don’t know. All I know is that this was my experience, and I am positive that others may have different ones.

What I also know is that we as men are not talking about this for some reason, we are not sharing honestly about our reproductive understanding, rights, and needs. Everything I learned out there about this process was about 50% of the story. That breaks my heart. It also breaks my heart to know my sisters out there are suffering in a system that destroys these choices for them as well, and silences them in the process. While I will never fully understand a women’s reproductive decisions that she will have to make, I do fully understand that it is her right to make those choices, much like it was my right to make mine, and share here. Do I regret the experience? No, but like I said, there is parts of my being that hold space for mourning the loss and capacity to be a father now. Maybe that ship sailed long ago, and I am now just catching up to the physical place in that reality. What are the aftereffects of the surgery like? Soreness, a bit of swelling, some bruising, not much in the way of physical issues, but the inner reflection of who I am now, what I have to offer, and what my role in our society is now is huge. As a sex therapist I now can speak from an informed place around decision making, or not, and how I have been able to hold it and process it for myself and perhaps that will give me some greater insight into the choices my clients make for themselves. At the very least my capacity to ally with these needs, both men and women, has become much deeper.

Thank you for reading this. It took a lot of courage to write these words down. Many of you don’t even really know me, so being able to say this and perhaps reach someone who may be asking the same thing of themselves or a partner is worth the exposure. I hope this reaches those that need to hear it.

Brief essay on my depth work on love and surrender.

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I originally wrote this several years ago, yet I am feeling this deep dive is relevant again for myself as a reminder. I reminder of who I am and the work I am trying to accomplish, both personally and in my career. Just sharing it again so I can hold these lessons close, once again and do some healing. It is a long read, but worth it.

To surrender is, in many ways, an ultimate act of Love and presence, to let go of the preconceived notions that one must “rise above and beyond” another individual or situation. To surrender into the moment is a beautiful act of mindfulness, letting go of expectation and moving with the flow of the current in Life. I have found that such a truth in our world is often directly related to the energies that make up love and our ability to hold such energy within our lives. My own personal story of love, the acts of letting go, and the current state of my being in these explorations are to be examined as I sift through this process of mindfully loving, unconditionally, with my journey starting from within.

The ideas of being “In Love” or “Out of Love” is primarily a Western creation it seems, as noted by Robert Johnson who describes the essence of Love from his perspective as somewhat of a being, something that acts through us. It is this exploration of how the ego holds onto this idea of love, or loving, and forces us to act from what we think of as within our body. This action seems to take place as projections outside of oneself, placing the idea of our love onto another being. Johnson goes on to speak on this idea:

"when I say that “I love”, it is not I who love, but, in reality, Love who acts through me. Love not so much something I do as something that I am. Love is not a doing but a state of being – a relatedness, a connectedness to another mortal, an identification with her or him that simply flows within me and through me, independent of my intentions or my efforts.

Holding onto this idea as love being a “state of being” is a critical component in my personal research. It is this idea that I am exploring as I look at the ideas of surrender as a state of being. I feel that to fully understand and appreciate the depths of love in one’s Self, one must begin to realize the fundamental things that are preventing them from loving in the first place. It is this surrendering into that realization and acceptance of one’s personal growth in this life that will guide us into fully understanding these depths that lay within us, and in our need to connect with other human beings. In short, I reflect on Bateson’s ideas, much like Johnson’s, in that Love is a state of being, we Love not merely as an action, but as a reflection of our life as a whole.

The mindfulness approach that one creates in their gentle awareness of their everyday lives holds many answers to the struggles that one faces, the suffering that exists in our reality as we cling to old ways of living and understanding, which may not quite serve our needs in our modern day. Perhaps we can look at various cultures around the world and how they approach the act of loving another, discarding the labels of being “In Love” and fully accepting the presence of just “being Love”. Wade Davis explores the richness that is present within the cultures around the world through their personal connection with each other as well as the Earth. Perhaps it is within this cultural study that we can slowly start to realize that the many faces of Love can grow beyond just our Western idealization of its existence. Are the musings of infatuation or romance energies that obfuscate the realities of what Love actually brings? As a Westerner, are my perceptions of holding such images of what I think Love is something that is clumsy, misguided, or perhaps incomplete? I do acknowledge that the love that I have felt is strong, that over my years I have witnessed the true gifts of falling “in and out” of this love, not fully aware that these boundaries are quite self imposed. It is the subtle, or great, shifting of the ego that love helps transform, as the awakening of the ego so that it realizes there exists something outside of itself.

It is noted that within these boundaries of Love, we must return to the distinction of romantic love and human love, and how it is defined through looking back at the ego. Johnson mentions that romance, by its nature, must “deteriorate into the egotism”. In other words, this notion of romantic love is not directed at another human being, but at our own projections and fantasies, or more specific, directed at ourselves. Though in many ideas of Love, there is the focus of finding self Love as our true Love, I feel that this idea of romantic love is not what is being related to here. The notion that one can have romantic love for one’s Self is basically pushing the limits of narcissism, no longer acknowledging the need for the “other” inside the spectrum of loving.

To awaken and accept the Self with love, purely and without “need” or attachment, we can soon see how this learning of self-love can encompass the greater whole of “others” outside of oneself through a balancing act of awareness, presence, and compassion. It is also this awakening that leads to surrendering into these moments, surrendering the need to “make things work” within our relating with one another, and just be Love within the context of such relating. I am processing my own understanding of this within my life, as I move through a major shifting. It was my attachment to my own fantasies and projections of what “I” wanted, not what “we” needed.

Through this I learned that yes, suffering is optional, that my own perceptions of reality may not necessarily equate to what is actually happening, and even through the obscured lens of loss, I am finding a greater sense of compassion and acceptance for my own being, and ultimately, learning how to surrender and Love at greater depths. Such powerful lessons, while painful and difficult to move through, often hold critical amounts of information about our own needs in life, our own abilities to process the difficult moments and find an evolutionary step towards a healthier future. It is again this exploration of non-attachment and surrender, the letting go of the ego inside the complexity of heartbreak and finding true compassion for one’s self and for everyone.

I acknowledge the fact that what I am learning in this process of my journey through Love and my surrender to being present and allow Love to work through me is not perfect, and the ineffable force that we label as Love has just as many faces and ways of relating as there are people on this planet. I accept these realities that I am exploring as well as my own personal shortcomings, or what I see as learning potentials, as steps toward my own awakening, as well as a step in my own understanding of these energies so as to better help my clients as a therapist. If my understanding of Love and the world that it lives in is clouded, I perhaps am doing a disservice to those I directly serve.

The Awakened Man - words by Jeff Brown

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The awakening man is conscious, heartfully defined. Through his eyes, being conscious is not a cerebral construct, nor an intellectual exercise bereft of feeling. It is a felt experience, an ever-expanding awareness that moves from the heart outward. It is feeling God, not thinking God. The new man is always in process, awakening through a deepening interface with the world of feeling. He continues to strive for a more heartfelt and inclusive awareness.

 

The awakening man has shifted his focus from a localized and ethnocentric perspective to a world-centric framework of perception. His community is humanity. Rooted in the relational, his sense of responsibility extends well beyond his localized self and community. Where possible, his choice-making is fuelled by an expansive vision of possibility for all of humankind. Not every man for himself, but every man for humanity.

 

The awakening man has reverence for the divine feminine, in all her forms. He celebrates the wonder that is woman. He is respectful, honouring and gracious. He is saddened by the horrors perpetuated against women by the malevolent masculine. He holds his brothers accountable. He makes amends for his own misdeeds. He co-creates a world where all women will feel safe to move about freely, to find their voice, to actualize their inherent magnificence. He welcomes a world where women and men stand as equal partners. Humankind.

The awakening man is not externally derived. He is authentically sourced. He does not compare himself to others. He does not adapt his personality to the dictates of the crowd. He stands in his own centre, respectful of others but not defined by them. He works diligently to liberate his consciousness from the egoic ties that bind. He has become his own benchmark, valuing authenticity over image. He is the sculptor of his own reality.

 

The awakening man courageously works on his emotional processes. He clears his emotional debris and sheds his armour. He faces his issues and unconscious patterns heart on. He calls himself on his self-avoidant tendencies and honours the wisdom at the heart of his pain. He communicates his feelings in a way that is respectful to others. He learns and speaks the language of the heart.

 

The awakening man leads a purpose-full existence. He has heard the call to a deeper life. Not satisfied with survival alone, his ambitions are rooted in higher considerations- the excavation and actualization of his sacred purpose. He is energized by his purpose, not by the machinations of the unhealthy ego. He is coated in an authenticity of purpose that sees through the veils to what really matters. His purpose is his path.

 

The awakening man is accountable for his actions and their effects. He does not deflect responsibility. He does not sidestep or blame. He is self-admitting and emotionally honest. He admits his errors, and makes amends. He works diligently in the deep within, crafting a more clarified awareness with every lesson.

 

The awakening man moves from the inside out. More interested in inner expansion than outer achievement, he cultivates and honours his intuition. He explores and develops his inner geography. He adventures deep within, integrating the treasures he excavates into his way of being. He seeks congruity between his inner life and his outer manifestation.

 

The awakening man seeks wholeness. He is not satisfied with a fragmented way of being. He has no attachment to archaic, linear notions of masculinity. He seeks a sacred balance between the healthy masculine and the healthy feminine. He seeks an inclusive way of being, one that reflects all of his archetypal aspects. He is role flexible, comfortable moving through life in many different ways.

 

The awakening man embodies the highest standard of integrity in his words and deeds. He makes a sustained effort to work through anything that is not integrity within him. His framework of integrity is never convenient or self-serving. He honours his word, even at his own expense. He moves from a value system that is unwaveringly incorruptible. He recognizes that success without integrity is karmically unsound and meaningless.

 

The awakening man prioritizes conscious relationship. He values authentic co-creation. He honours relationship as spiritual practice. He seeks physical intimacy that is deeply vulnerable and heartfully connective. He is attuned, engaged and healthily boundaried. When relational challenges arise, he courageously works through any obstructions to intimacy. He stands in the heartfire.

 

The awakening man is a warrior of the heart. He has taken his clarifying sword inward, cutting away everything that is not compassionate. After too many lifetimes with weapon in hand, a benevolent warrior is being birthed at the core of his being. He honours the warrior capacity for assertiveness, but he is not arbitrarily aggressive. He moves from love and compassion.

 

The awakening man endeavours to live in a state of perpetual gratitude. He is grateful for the gift of life. He is grateful for those ancestors who built the foundation that his expansion relies upon. He is grateful for those who encouraged him before he could encourage himself. He is grateful for those who stand beside him in this lifetime. He knows that he does not stand alone.

 

The awakening man is comfortable in his vulnerability. He participates in his own revealing. He is not afraid to surrender- to reality, to love, to truth. This is not a weakened form of surrender, but one that is emblazoned with courage. It takes more courage to surrender than to numb. He openly explores his capacities for receptivity and tenderness. He does not identify these capacities as distinctly feminine, but as whole human. He is strong enough at the core to live in a vast array of emotions.

 

The awakening man moves through the marketplace responsibly, with a vigilant eye to the ways of the unhealthy ego. He is not opportunistic in a vacuum. He does not compete for competition’s sake. He does not accumulate for the sake of accumulation. In charting his course, he is mindful of his impact on humanity. He is empowered but he does not exploit power. He derives his power from his connection to source, not from power over others. Where possible, he shares the abundance, gifting back to humanity. He works hard to bridge the world as it is with a world of divine possibility.

 

The awakening man has reverence for Mother Earth. He has reverence for animals. He never imagines himself superior or distinct from the natural world. He understands the interconnected and interdependent nature of reality. He knows that if he does damage to the environment, he does damage to himself. He walks carefully, with awareness, consciousness and appreciation.

 

The awakening man has no claims on God. His spirituality is tolerant, inclusive, respectful. He honours all paths to God, so long they are respectful of others. He accepts those who believe, and those who don’t. He condemns any path that uses religious differences as a justification for destruction.

 

The awakening man brings forward many of the qualities of the healthy masculine of old. He is noble. He is responsible. He is productive. He is kind-hearted. He is protective. He is unswervingly honourable. He is down to earth. He is sturdy. He is flexible. He is realistic. He is hopeful. He is sensitive, not fragile. He is healthily egoic, not self-centred. He is both practical and heightened at the same time. He ascends with both feet on the ground. He is really here.

 

 

-words by Jeff Brown