Joining me today is Lauren. Lauren is a sex coach working to break down the stigma and shame around sex. She has been working in the mental health space for four years now and is shifting her focus from art therapy to sex coaching. She helps women who want to get in touch with their sexual truth by guiding the to deepen their relationships with themselves by exploring what they want from sex. She also helps women to discover and communicate their wants and needs and to explore their bodies, empowering them to have the sex they deserve.
How does mental health impact sex and intimacy?
Mental health plays a huge part in our shame and stigma. When we’re dealing with things like anxiety and depression, it’s going to creep its way into the bedroom. If we’re feeling super anxious, how are you going to be able to enjoy sex. If you’re super exhausted, super anxious, super depressed, why would we want to have sex. Also, it could be on the other end of the spectrum where we’re so stressed and anxious that all we want to do is have sex.
What are the biggest challenges with sex and intimacy when it comes to mental health?
Mental health affects your entire life. We often think that we need to fit into this cookie cutter box, be like everyone else. In reality, there’s no such thing as a cookie cutter box. There is this spectrum of things. There’s nothing wrong with us, as long as we’re not hurting anybody or we’re not crossing into anybody’s boundaries. We can like anything we want. We can be turned on by anything we want. I want to get people to tap into their truth because the more we tap into our truth, we become empowered to challenge these mental health issues.
What are some recommendations for someone whose mental health is impacting their sex life?
First of all, seeing a therapist is helpful. Talking to a therapist gives you somebody who will listen to you without judgement. When you go to a therapist, they ask you questions such as, what do you want to do? Is this meeting your needs? Are you willing to put up with this? Or you’re not willing to put up with this? It’s a conversation, it’s a guide to help you sort out life. Being seen and heard and not having to feel shame, after you’ve left the conversation is so powerful.
Secondly, is mindfulness. This is going to be a huge factor in helping you tap into the present moment. A lot of times when people talk about mindfulness, we automatically think about meditation, and it can be a meditation practice. But in reality, it can be as simple as I’m going to eat this peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I’m going to really feel it in my mouth. It’s creamy. It’s sweet. It’s soft. I’m going to label all these things before I swallow it. With this practice you learn to be really intentional and in the moment. And that can be incorporated into your sex life whether it’s a quck bang or a deep, intimate connection. Try to be present in the moment, feel that pleasure, and get in touch with yourself.
Journaling is another way to get it outside yourself. Therapy is not always accessible to everybody, and journaling can help you connect with yourself. Plus there is no judgment. There are so many journal prompts available. Try looking on Google for something.
How the fuck do you journal?
When you journal, you just sit down and write whatever is coming up for you. Whatever comes to mind. It is just for you. No one is going to read it unless you want them to. Spelling and grammar don’t matter. And you don’t have to feel obligated to re-read what you wrote. In fact, after you write it you can get rid of it; burn it if you want to. The whole purpose of journaling is to get those thoughts and feelings out of you. You give yourself more power when you get that outside of you. You could also do journaling as a collage, a sketch, or it can be bullet points. It’s what you need it to be.
How does stigma shows up in the world of sex?
Stigma around sex shows up everywhere. We started out with abstinence based sex ed. Don’t have sex until marriage. Even though we’re all fondling each other. We’re judging how a girl or woman is dressed walking down the street. Then there are herpes jokes and sex worker jokes. The sex stigma advertisements are everywhere. So it makes sense that we have this negative connotation to sex and it’s deemed not normal.. When in reality, we’re all humans, and we’re all doing it, and it’s completely normal.
How does stigma impact sex and intimacy?
Stigma and shame will shut down sex and intimacy. It could be shame after you completed the act or shame while doing it. This can make it so you don’t want to be intimate or have sex. It can make it so you are not able to be present and mindful. It could be because you’re worried about what the person is thinking about you, or they heard you queef, or can I actually say what I want. Can I actually tell them how I want it? What is he going to think if I tell him what I want? My goal is to get women off those thoughts and not to feel shame and stigma when engaging in something that’s pleasurable.
How did the stigma behind HSV impact you and your sex and intimacy?
I’m pretty sure I contracted it when I was 23. I was with somebody, but we had broken up. I went to the doctor to get tested, and two tests came back negative and the doctors are telling me oh, I don’t know what to do for you. I was 27 when I finally got diagnosed from a blood test. So there were five years where I kind of had the feeling but I didn’t 100% know. The doctors weren’t telling me. All my tests were coming back negative. I did get these random sores, and I was pretty sure it’s herpes, but nobody’s confirming that. So, I didn’t disclose. I didn’t do any of the things you’re supposed to be doing. So, I had a gradual coming to terms with it, in a sense, because I was living with it. Something was going on, but the doctors weren’t saying it. And so when I finally got diagnosed, it was kind of like, okay, I knew that already. And then I told my partner I was with at that time, and he freaked out. Then he talked to his brother and found out his brother had it and it calmed him down a little bit. So far, that’s been my only negative interaction with anybody about it. I’m kind of new to dating again, and I’ve been putting it on my profile. And obviously, we’ll have another conversation if I end up meeting that person and we get intimate, but a lot of people feel like that’s the end of their sex life. And I’m thankful that didn’t happen for me.
How do we reverse stigma?
If we were educated on all of these things, would there be stigma? I believe educate, educate, educate, educate, normalized, normalized, normalized. That is how to combat he stigma and shame. We’re taught to not have sex, and then we’re taught condom sex is the safer sex. When in reality, all sex has a risk, unless you’re masturbating. That’s the only sex that doesn’t come with risk, really. I think educating, when you’re engaging in sex, these are the following risks, and you need to communicate with your partner and yourself about what risks you’re willing to take. And being totally educated on that, if you get an STI, you’re not dirty. There’s nothing wrong with you. That’s just a risk of having sex. All STIs are manageable and treatable in some form. Education is going to empower us in our bodies and empower us to make the right choices for ourselves as well. Consent and boundaries also need to be taught so you don’t feel like you have to do something you don’t want to do.
What led you to go from being an art therapist to becoming a sex coach?
Being a therapist is fucking hard. It’s hard to sit and listen to trauma all day long. Therapy focuses more on your past. I wanted to be able to focus on the here and the now in the goals that we’re working on. With sex coaching, I don’t necessarily have to go back into somebody’s trauma timeline to help them. Obviously the past is going to bubble up, but I would say it’s not going to be as intense. We’re not going to be doing intense trauma work in the coaching session. I have a spectrum of ways to help people and not have to take on so much trauma.
For people who are dealing with stigma and intimacy, what would you recommend they do?
Consider where all these messages are coming from that say I have to be a certain way and really dissect that. Is this my mom telling me this is how I have to be? Is this the world telling me how I have to be? What do I like? A lot of us don’t know our needs and our wants because we’re so worried about changing our ways to please everybody and to prevent conflict. But, at the end of the day, the only thing we have control over is ourselves. No matter what I do, I cannot control how another person’s going to react to me, whether they love me, whether they’re gonna come after me, whether they’re gonna yell at me. I have no control over that. So focus on yourself, putting yourself first, and tapping into what you want. Again, being mindful. What is true for me right now in this present moment?
One of the most common side effects of many medications that people take for different mental health conditions, specifically, anxiety and depression, is anorgasmia. How do you support clients who are dealing with anorgasmia, the inability to orgasm?
Again, practice mindfulness. Also, try to not shame yourself because something’s not happening. We often think orgasm is the goal when in reality, pleasure is the goal, and if we get to orgasm great. Sex is a primal thing, there is no goals, it’s like being a little kid, you just want to have fun, you just want to engage in fun things. As soon as you put a goal in there, you’re gonna shut that funness down. You’re gonna take the pleasure off the table because you’re in your head thinking, when in reality, you should just be feeling. Just have fun. Play around, get some ice, get some warm stuff, get some feathers. Don’t set limits.
If the listeners take one thing away from today’s conversation, what would you want it to be?
You are normal. Anything that turns you on that you want to play out, any fantasy that you have, you are completely 100% normal. As long as it’s not harming anybody else. You are normal. There’s nothing wrong with you.
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