Sex Sells...

05 February 19

Valentine's Day is literally just around the corner, and you can't walk past a shop without it being sold to you in some way, shape or form.  This is because sex sells, at least from a marketing viewpoint, and the retailers do everything they can to ram it down your throat, as it were.

I noticed, when passing a high street retailer the other day, that the window display was somewhat risqué.  It caught my attention, so I guess that it had achieved its purpose there, and my mind started to wander and wonder about the wide variety of different things that pique our interest, and I began to ponder on when a keen interest in something becomes a fetish?

What is the definition of a fetish?  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it is "A form of sexual desire in which gratification is linked to an abnormal degree to a particular object, item of clothing, part of the body, etc."

Abnormal in whose mind?  Not the person who has the sexual desire, that's for sure!

Now, I have a thing for shoes.  Usually high heeled, but not always.  Is that a fetish?  I don't think it is, because I don't get sexual gratification from it, I just like shoes, but an experience I had with eBay a while ago told me that many people do get sexual gratification from shoes.  And feet.  And feet in shoes.

I was selling a few pairs of shoes, and received a couple of questions about the shoes, followed by a request for some photographs of them being worn.  "No worries" I thought. "That will perhaps encourage the purchaser to make their decision..." and so I popped them on, took a couple of snaps and sent them over, to be helpful, I thought!  Then came the confession, that this person had a foot fetish, and actually desired photographs of feet in stiletto heeled shoes, and probably had no intention of purchasing the shoes!

Part of me felt mildly irritated, but being the Therapist that I am, I explained that I absolutely understood, and asked him to kindly delete the photographs.  He said he would, and then went on to tell me that his wife didn't understand him.  Once more, being the Therapist that I am, I explained that I understood... and I basically ended up Counselling him, via the eBay messaging service, about his fetish.  I thought it was really interesting that he was so open about why he wanted the photographs.  He basically wanted to talk to someone.

This has happened to me a couple of times since, and whilst I don't mind people asking for photographs of my feet, they could simply look at Twitter, where I'm always posting pictures of them, rather than clogging up my eBay messages!  In fact, the photograph I've used as my Twitter profile pic for years is a photograph of my feet, wearing a pair of my very favourite shoes.  That is easy for me, because I don't find them sexual.  I just like shoes!

So when does a fetish become a problem?  As a Phychosexual Therapist, I see people in my clinic all the time for Sex Therapy, whether that is related to a problem they have in the bedroom, or something similar to the person from eBay - that their partner doesn't understand them and therefore it becomes a problem because they are becoming sexually frustrated or isolated. Often, their partner doesn't even know about the fetish, as it's something they've not felt able to divulge, very often for fear of being judged, or even dumped, in the case of new relationships.  And it isn't always new relationships where people keep their sexual fetishes a secret.  Sometimes, people have kept these secrets for years, and people find that hiding it from their partner is a cause of guilt and shame, even leading to anxiety, because they don't like telling fibs!  They'd rather be accepted for who they are, because being authentic gives us a sense of freedom, and being accepted for that gives us a sense of security.

This is where, as a Counsellor and Hypnotherapist, it's really important that I find out what people want from me.  I never say to clients "What's the problem?" because they might not have a problem! I say "Tell me how I can help you."  This is because not everyone wants to be free from their fetish.  Some people simply want to talk about it in a safe, non-judgemental environment, because they either expect or have previously experienced hostility, embarrassment or judgement.  Quite often, people have never spoken to another person about their deepest, darkest desires, and that alone can be very therapeutic.

When two (or more, depending on your fetish) people consent, then sexual experimentation can be liberating, fulfilling and exhilarating, but when that isn't the case, it can lead to immense isolation, guilt and shame, which can lead to performance issues, such as erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, early ejaculation (the two are different) penetration anxiety or pain during intercourse. It can lead to the person becoming sexually withdrawn, possibly creating more problems within the relationship.

Once these things start, the spiral can become negative and spread to anxiety in other areas of life, which can in turn lead to depression. 

So as a Counsellor and Hypnotherapist, my aim is to support your journey forwards.  As such, I'm not always helping people to navigate their way through problems.  I also spend time listening to people's inner most thoughts and desires, because what one person thinks is acceptable is often very different to what the next person thinks is acceptable, and so on.  Very often, people simply want to be heard and their thoughts or beliefs to be acknowledged in a non-judgemental environment.  

Of course, it is important that clients are fully aware that Sex Therapy is a talking therapy, and not a physical therapy, and also that they are aware that my areas of expertise as a Sex Therapist relate to consenting adults acting within the law.  

So I did sell the shoes, not to the person who contacted me for the photographs, but to someone else, and I have sold many more pairs since, but now, each time I advertise, I know that not every question is going to be from a prospective purchaser!

New Year, New You? Or New Year, Same Old Same Old?

16 January 19

It's 16th January 2019, and Christmas and New Year celebrations already seem like ages ago.  So, are you the type to make new year's resolutions - and have you stuck to them thus far?

The new year is a great time to evaluate the year that has gone, assess old goals and targets, and set new challenges for the coming year.  Or is it?...

It is, providing that those goals are coming from a place of positivity and growth.

All too often, we set our new year's resolutions from a place of negativity or lack.  We set them from a place of being bad at something.  

How often do we look at ourselves and then criticise?  We might look at our body and say "I'm so fat" or pick a part of our body that we don't like... "My legs have so much cellulite..." and so on.  We then make new year's resolutions based around that.  "I'm going to lose weight because I'm so fat" or "I'm going to go to the gym because my legs are so ugly."  We also make resolutions based around guilt.  After over-indulging over Christmas and new year... I'm going to stop drinking... I'm going to stop eating chocolate...  We also look at habits we don't like... I'm going to stop smoking... The list is endless.

And for the first 3 weeks or so, the gyms are packed, people stop eating chocolate, they stop drinking alcohol and they stop smoking.  Marvellous!

All of these things are great, but they require willpower.  Willpower is just what we need when we decide to do something and need a boost to help us through.  However, willpower is contained within the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is the part responsible for decision making and behaviour, but if you think of willpower as being a little bit like a muscle (although it isn't at all, it's a brain activity) excessive use can make it become fatigued, and then stop working altogether.  

Willpower is actually temporary.  Its purpose is to give us that boost we require at the beginning of an activity, to get us up and running, but once it wears off, we are left to our own devices, and all too often, as with new year's resolutions, that new behaviour falls by the wayside and is replaced by the old behaviour.  The very behaviour you wanted to change.  This can lead to even more misery as you berate yourself for being such a failure!

Does that sound like a Happy New Year?  No - it sounds rubbish!

If you set a goal to stop eating chocolate, or to stop drinking alcohol, your mind often interprets that as deprivation, and starts to crave that old familiar behaviour.  Familiarity makes the more primitive part of our brain feel safe and secure - even if that old familiar behaviour is something you want to change.  Our brains can be weird like that!

So, what's the answer?

The answer is to set realistic goals from a place of positivity.  Have a look at the year ahead and decide what is realistic for you.  What changes will help to enhance your life, rather than make you miserable because you feel deprived?

If you'd like to lose weight, you could try looking at the year ahead and implementing some small, manageable changes into your eating and exercise regime.  Those small changes aren't interpreted so fearfully by the brain and are more readily accepted.  The other thing, especially with weight, is to look at why you are overweight.  By doing this with a therapist, you can safely explore the drivers behind the behaviours you don't want. Once they are addressed, you will find that the weight often takes care of itself.  This can be said of lots of habits and behaviours you don't want.  Work on the reason behind the habit and you will often find that the habit stops - permanently.  That actually sounds like a much more beneficial gift to yourself than the gym membership you'll never use!

By setting realistic goals from a place of positivity, your mind will be in less conflict with itself, and less likely to go back to the old behaviours once the willpower has faded and Valentine's Day is upon us!

So why am I talking about new year's resolutions on 16th January?  Because I didn't make a new Year's Resolution to write this on 1st January, because I knew I wouldn't.  I decided to write it going into the third week of January, which is when the willpower begins to wear off, and we settle into our behaviours for the coming year.

Happy 2019 - I hope it is peaceful and prosperous, and that if you do choose to make changes to your life, that they are both challenging and beneficial, because challenge drives us forwards.  It helps us to develop and to learn, and that has to be beneficial, right?

The Day My Brain Broke...

26 November 18

I got a call out of the blue a couple of Sundays ago, from BBC Radio 5 Live, asking me if I had an opinion on an article that had been published that day, by Professor Dinesh Bhugra, entitled "Why I'm certain most PTSD cases are bogus."

I don't know if they were particularly interested in me because I'm a Hypnotherapist, or because I was diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) in 2002.  Ten months after the day my brain broke.

Initially, I was a bit apprehensive about going on the show, feeling as though I might somehow have to 'fight my corner' but upon reading the article, and listening to the Professor speak, I felt that he did have a point, PTSD probably is being mis-diagnosed, especially when diagnoses are being given within a couple of weeks of experiencing trauma.

Trauma is actually quite common; the evidence of which is being delivered into our sphere on a daily basis via the news and social media.  However, the symptoms of PTSD are very, very specific, and according to the NHS, include flashbacks, nightmares, repetitive and distressing images and physical sensations, such as pain, anxiety, profuse sweating, feeling sick or shaking.  These can lead to behavioural changes such as withdrawal from usual daily activities, avoidance and emotional numbing.  Emotional numbing can come in many ways, including depression, the increased intake of alcohol and the use of drugs, but can also include behaviours, such as OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).

Not everyone who develops PTSD will experience all of the symptoms, and of course, trauma is subjective, meaning that something I deem as traumatic might not be traumatic to the next person and vice versa.

Historically, PTSD has been largely associated with the military, and the way that exposure to death and the trauma of life-threatening situations has left soldiers with devastating mental health issues, but it is being increasingly diagnosed in situations which have nothing to do with the military.

PTSD can take time to develop, and can easily be mis-diagnosed as depression or anxiety, because some of the symptoms are similar, but the most important thing is to get a correct diagnosis, because the treatments available can be very different to those available for depression and anxiety. 

I also think that PTSD is currently becoming a fashionable diagnosis, and I noticed that a couple of celebrities in the Professor's article have recently been diagnosed.  Now, I don't know if those people have PTSD or if they don't, as little was mentioned about what was behind their diagnoses, and I'm not a medic, but I do know this... I wouldn't wish PTSD on anyone. 

PTSD fundamentally changes who you are.  Or, it did me, anyway.  When I was diagnosed, I was no longer functioning in the way I always had.  In fact, I found that I couldn't function at all in many ways.  I began to micro manage everything, to try and get some normality in my seemingly chaotic reality.  I was in a constant state of anxiety, having flashbacks and nightmares, yet in another sense, totally numb.  I had brain fog.  I couldn't watch certain things on the television, or have conversations around certain things without breaking into what I now know is a panic attack. It was like living in a nightmare as every shred of my normality had gone. 

For me, some of that stuff never came back.  I had to learn what was the new normal, which in itself brings a huge stack of difficulties, because I also had to grieve what was the old normal.  I was suffocating and couldn't see a way out. That's when thoughts of suicide began to creep in.

Fast forward to 2018 and I have a completely different life.  Life is good and I'm happy.  Sometimes, I get sad, but life is like that.  It is up and down.

I sometimes get asked when I got cured.  I don't know if I ever did.  I began talking about it, which was new, because I had hidden what was going on as much as I could, because I was ashamed and embarrassed that I couldn't function.  I started going to self-help groups, and I went back and talked to some of the people that were involved at the time, to try and get their take on it - to try and put it into perspective, and gradually, I started to live again.  Piece by piece, I started to create my new normal, and I'm still creating it.

I am a fundamentally different person now.  I'm much more sensitive, I become exhausted and overwhelmed much more quickly and I choose the situations I get involved in - the things I give my energy to, but in many ways, I'm a much better person.

I retrained as a Hypnotherapist, and through what I do, I'm able to empathise with other people's situations, and offer depth, perspective and support to the journey that each of my clients are on.

My firm belief is that everything we go through teaches us something that we need going forwards.  I guess that I had to go through what I went through to get to where I am now, and now, I'm in a great place. I'm an experienced and successful Hypnotherapist, Counsellor and Mind Coach, with the same obscure sense of humour I've always had, but I have made sense of my own sensitivity, knowledge and experience, and put it to good use. I specialise in areas of Anxiety, Fertility and Psychosexual Issues, and I'm always learning and developing.

I'm certainly not defined by the diagnosis of PTSD that I had once upon a time.  Would I say I still have it now?  I don't know - probably, in some form, but I ensure that I take care of myself, I notice how I'm feeling, I allow myself to have down days, knowing that when that has passed, I'll be back up and getting on with my life!

I think the moral of this story is that if something doesn't feel right for you, go and get it checked out.  Go and ask for help.  There are no prizes for carrying on regardless.  You don't need to go in search of a diagnosis, just ask for some guidance.  Go and speak to your GP or a Therapist.  I know that in my Hypnotherapy and Counselling practice, I offer a free consultation, where I can listen to your story, and give you the benefit of my training and experience.  As Counsellors and Hypnotherapists, we are also people, with our own story to tell, and often, it is that story that helps to enhance and broaden our experience in order to support others on their own, very personal journey. 

Christmas in October? Ho! Ho! Ho! or No! No! No!

22 October 18

I got a call this morning, asking if I'd go onto the Sally Pepper show on BBC Radio Derby, to talk about Christmas.  But it's the 22nd October, I thought!  It seems that they were covering an article written last week about how hearing Christmas music too early can be detrimental to our mental health, and they wondered what my opinion was.

My opinion is that October 22nd is way too early for Christmas, but it seems that we just can't avoid it.  It's everywhere!  I went into Sainsbury's at the weekend, and noticed those tins of Quality Street.  I almost bought one, to 'get ahead' and then I thought against it, because they would just get eaten, and I'd end up buying another one, which would probably get eaten... and so on... so I didn't bother.

So why do some people get so excited about Christmas so far in advance?  Well, we all like something to look forward to.  That feeling of excitement and joy releases lovely, happy chemicals into our brain, and gives us a warm and fuzzy feeling.  But what if that is at the expense of something else?  What if we are getting excited about Christmas because the truth of our own reality isn't so warm and fuzzy?  What if you are in a job you hate, or a relationship that has gone stale?  

In those situations, you might be using those Christmas endorphins as an avoidance mechanism, to numb or dull the pain of your reality.  No one likes the uncomfortable feelings that come with those circumstances, but the best way to get through them is to confront them head on.  Start looking for another job, talk to your partner, start to change things.  Sometimes easier said than done, I know, but when you use Christmas to avoid how you actually feel, you might start spending more money than you can afford, because of the temporary high that shopping gives some people, and ultimately, you could find yourself in debt and feeling even more miserable come January.

Another way in which the thought of Christmas can be detrimental to our mental health is when you have a pretty stressful life, with lots going on, and the mere mention of the word Christmas fills you with dread.  Something else on top of an already overloaded schedule.  This can lead to feelings of overwhelm, panic and ultimately anxiety or depression.  My advice is stop.  Stop and take the time to notice how you feel.  We often avoid admitting to feeling a certain way if it is uncomfortable.  We want to feel happy all the time, of course we do, but life isn't like that.  Taking the time to notice how you feel and admit to yourself if you are struggling to cope with your feelings is already part of the way towards dealing with them.

There are of course people who love starting Christmas early because they love Christmas, and people who don't because they don't, and that's fine, but sometimes, the Christmas music can be a trigger within us.  Notice what that trigger does to you, and if it's something you don't like, try and understand why you don't like it.  What is it that's actually troubling you?  Then talk to someone.  Family, friends, counsellors and therapists will all help you through whatever it is that you are experiencing.

Christmas can be a very difficult time for the newly bereaved, and when I say newly bereaved, I mean those for whom this is the first Christmas without a loved one.  It may be a particularly tough time for them.  If you know someone in that situation, offering kindness can be an enormous source of support.  You can never go wrong with being kind.

So, as I told Sally Pepper on her show this morning, Christmas on 22nd October, for me, is a no, no, no, but wherever you are on the scale of Ho! Ho! Ho! to No! No! No! if it is right for you, then embrace it in whichever way you wish.

In the meantime, next week is Halloween... I'm off to dig out my broom stick...

Sex - How do you know if you're doing it wrong?

29 September 18

A recent news article reported that a couple in China had been trying to conceive, without success, for four years, when the doctor noticed something very interesting...

Difficulty getting pregnant is something I see every week in my Hypnotherapy practice, but what made this article stand out to me was the fact that even though the couple reported that they were having regular sex, upon examination, the doctor discovered that the female was a virgin.  

So what was happening?  

It seemed that the couple had been 'doing it wrong' and actually having anal sex, and whilst that isn't wrong per se, it certainly isn't baby making sex!  The story was picked up by the British press, but the original article was in the Guiyang Evening Post.  The wife revealed that the experience was 'unusually painful' each time, but that she endured the pain in the hope that she would conceive.  

This actually makes me really sad, because I see what couples go through when they are trying for a baby, so for this lady to have been experiencing physical pain as well as the disappointment, month upon month, of the negative pregnancy tests, must have been truly devastating.

I also feel very sad because the couple said that 'the family was giving them a lot of stress about it,' so along with feeling physical pain and disappointment, the couple were experiencing mental and emotional difficulty with very little or no support.

Although the report I read did say that couples so lacking in general knowledge are very rare, it led me onto thinking about sex education, and how we find out 'how to do it!'  

These days, so much information is accessible via the internet, but how do we know that what our children are accessing is what we want them to learn about relationships, sex and love?  We really don't.

A lot of our earliest knowledge about sex comes from the playground.  Rumours and gossip with little substance.  Our parents might tell us about 'The birds and the bees' but equally, they might not!  We might have sex education at school, but this is sometimes delivered by teachers who lack knowledge and confidence in the delivery, and feel embarrassed themselves, in front of classrooms filled with awkward teenagers sniggering or looking at the floor.  In fact, it is well documented that actress Helen Mirren decided to remain childless after watching a sex education film at school where a baby was being delivered.  She found it so distressing that she developed an extreme fear of childbirth, known as Tokophobia, which can affect both women and men.

Learning often comes from experiences, but what if those experiences aren't helpful, as in the case with Helen Mirren, or if our experience is with a person whose expectation of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable is very different to ours? These things can change the way we think about sex forever.  If we are shocked or frightened, or if something embarrasses us, it can affect the way we behave sexually, and sometimes, these things can be difficult to change, largely because it's such a taboo subject. 

So who actually knows what is right and what is wrong, when it comes to sex?  Well obviously, anal sex isn't going to lead to conception, but that is a very extreme example.  I see men and women for sex therapy, and people's knowledge and expectation vary massively. 

Talking to a therapist can help enormously, and although it might feel a little embarrassing at the start, that quickly passes.  The key is to remember that it is normal to feel a little embarrassed, because problems with sex are often not openly discussed.  The other thing to remember is that issues you are experiencing will be issues that the therapist has talked about many times before.  

Men experiencing problems achieving or maintaining an erection often don't feel that they can discuss this with their family or friends, and often find that because of this, the problem gets worse.  The same with premature or early ejaculation (which are different things) - the more a man worries about it, the worse the problem is likely to become.  This can lead to stress, anxiety, depression and even the breakdown of a relationship.

Women might experience pain during intercourse.  This pain might lead to her becoming tense before penetration, so increasing the pain, which might in turn lead to her rejecting sex.  Again, this can lead to tension in relationships, along with stress, anxiety and possible depression.

What if you're gay, and you've hidden it all your life, or been led to believe that it is wrong?  You may have spent years in heterosexual relationships and feel ready to leave that behind you, but you have no idea what to expect from same sex sex!

Working with a therapist can be enormously beneficial, to work through the emotional and psychological issues, but it is important to ensure that everything is physically fine.  I always ask the men and women I see if they have seen their GP, and would always encourage this, to rule out any physical issues.  

I then work with my clients to understand what is happening for them, what they would like to be happening for them, and importantly, what they expect to be happening for them.  This helps me to build a picture of them, based on their experiences and knowledge, as I create a therapy plan for them, going forwards.

The Chinese couple at the start of this blog took away a text book and some verbal instructions from their doctor, and within a few months did conceive.  So who is to say if what you are doing is right, wrong or somewhere in between?  What is right for one person might be wildly wrong for another.  If you are unsure, uncomfortable or unhappy, in any aspect of your sex life, there is help out there. 

A knowledgeable, non-judgemental therapist will gently guide and coach you, and with increased knowledge and understanding, along with therapy and emotional healing, you will be able to enjoy a much more fulfilling sex life.