Welcome to the first instalment of the Permission blog series!
With the release of my first book Permission in the coming weeks, I’ve made the month of September all about PERMISSION and what giving that to yourself means for your sexual and intimate life.
Now, you might have guessed already that I’m not your conventional sex therapist and what that means is that you are not going to receive conventional (read out-dated) sex advice that tells you to lie back and think of England…or Australia…or wherever you are currently located.
The next four weeks (and beyond), I’m going to put a spin on what you think you should do in sex and instead ask that you OWN how you are and make some gentle tweaks instead. Usually, this comes in the form of a mindset adjustment, a different relationship with time, space and energy and above all…learning how to drop into presence so that you are actually there when something sexual is happening. But let’s take it a bit further, we don’t just want you there in the moment…what we are really moving towards you enjoying what is happening!
It felt right to start the first week of Permission on the note of:
Permission to open : How do I stop shutting down in sex
It needs to start here.
If you aren’t familiar with the word shutdown or don’t really use it to speak about your own sex and intimate life then I’d like to share it in the way that I understand it.
When my clients describe shutdown, what she is really saying is that she has shutdown to all attempts at giving and receiving. Everything has been lumped in the one category and it’s all negative. In sexual shutdown, we get stuck and lost...the pain too raw...stopping us from taking any action.
The worst part of shutdown is the hopelessness that causes our mind to think what's the point? When we think or believe shutdown is forever, or that things are always going to be this way, we don't even realise that this is causing us to dig our fear and avoidance in further. It's cyclical.
When we shutdown about sex or within sex, it means that we are closed off to perhaps any and all possibilities of touch or energy exchange.
On the outside, shutdown looks like curling yourself up in a ball or staying so still that it looks like you’re not breathing (the primal brain fear response of ‘freeze’). In shutdown, you very possibly become mute or say very few words.
Conversely, you could be in shutdown but be very vocal and angry – the shutdown is still happening in that you are blocking or aren’t being receptive to touch and intimacy. That means that the frustration that goes with shutdown is fuelling anger rather than silence.
On the inside, shutdown can feel like numbness (which is in fact a feeling), anxiety (that fuels avoidance) or it can be seething hot (causing the anger).
Your shutdown could have originated from:
· a place of trauma (sexual or otherwise) in your past
· ongoing conflict in your current relationship
· a complicated pregnancy and/or birth and postpartum recovery
· infidelity and lingering trust issues
· ongoing mental health issues suppressing libido and desire
· acute or chronic health issues/diagnoses
· your experience of pain or discomfort with sex
This is not an exhaustive list for why you may be feeling shutdown about sex. It could be one of these factors, none or all of the above.
What so many couples don't realise is that the more the person in shutdown feels pressured, the more she moves into shutdown.
But shutdown isn't forever. It just says to me that the dynamics that are at play aren't sustainable and that we need to find an opening so you can...open.
One of my mantras really is that when we are looking at your sex life, it isn’t so much about how you got there (although that is relevant) but what your sex life can be now and what possibility there is for the future.
So let’s talk about what you can do right now.
All you need to start opening right this moment is a desire for shutdown to change.
Don't get caught up with how overwhelming your goal feels or how far you feel from where you want to be. This is a call to presence. All you have power over is the present moment...I love that because it means that we can't be in anticipation or anxiety about the future when it comes to this one. That's empowering! Like any good goal or ambition, we need to break it down to smaller pieces…
#1 Opening up starts with safety
Do you feel safe in your relationship? Is there respect and trust there?
If yes, do you feel safe in yourself?
What I mean is, do you trust that you when you open that you can hold yourself and be vulnerable and be ok with being seen in your vulnerability?
Even if that answer feels like a no, I still ask that you keep reading to see if we can find an entry point.
Your deepest breath right down into your belly to reach into your womb and pussy is your best ally. The best thing about this breath is that you use it as an entry and you use it again and again and again as you move into mastery. It doesn’t have an expiration date.
Moving out of shutdown is also about starting with what isn't working and what is aligned with where you are at.
Realising that you are in shutdown and it causing frustration means that you are sensing you are out of alignment.
Being out of alignment is GOOD because it makes you search for an opening or an antidote.
Now, I have a short cut for tapping into the power of alignment through what your preferences are.
Firstly, think of all the things about sex you don’t like. I know this seems backwards but you’ve got to go through the low light reel and list them out.
Below are some common sex and intimacy dislikes that women get stuck on. They are common and completely relatable. When we own them as what doesn’t work for us, we can then move into the zone of problem solving to create that click, click, click of alignment.
+it irritates me when I am touched/groped/grabbed and I am doing something completely non-sexual.
+it annoys me when sex is initiated with certain words or with a particular type of touch
+I feel tight and in pain with penetration most of the time. Just thinking of the pain makes it more painful
+I am really quiet in sex and completely in my head
+I feel used in some of the sexual positions and in some acts of sex
+I feel pressured to be something/someone that I am not during sex
+I don’t have a libido and I am never interested so I don’t initiate
Now that your complaints, concerns and hung-ups are out there, it’s time for the twist.
What you usually want is the opposite of what you are experiencing.
This might sound obvious but until you explore what it is you don’t like about sex can you really truly answer what you do want in your sex life. One informs the other.
The shutdown libido that is seeking liberation needs to start with the what isn’t working to move closer to what has the green light. All you need to do is fantasise about the opposite. Just resist the temptation to stay in the zone of the things you don’t like about sex because that will keep you separated from ownership and will breed inaction instead.
Know that when you own your sex problems, you also own the antidote.
When you activate the antidote, you give yourself permission to live in alignment.
What I recommend to my clients is that we start with openings in the non-sexual realm. I teach them all about the different types of touch and what ones I don't suggest right now because they are mimicking what isn't working or hasn't worked. This usually leaves us with giving and receiving touch approaches that are affectionate in nature. We rebuild the intimacy of the relationship from a foundation of safety and trust. It can't be rushed. In fact, taking your time will get you to where you want to be faster.
Above all, you need to feel safe that these attempts at touch are not expected to lead to sex. They need to stand-alone.
It could be that you simply receive a foot massage or that you simply give a neck and shoulders massage. Maybe it’s that you approach your partner for a kiss and cuddle/hold and that you need to know that you are taking the lead with this one. It could start with more gentle touch and acknowledgment, when you first see each other at the end of the day or something more playful that happens when you are both in the car.
Most importantly (I can’t say it enough) - you need to feel safe that these attempts at touch are not expected to lead to sex. They need to stand-alone.
I get that shutdown is frustrating. If I may, could you put a twist on it? I have come to respect shutdown and anxiety so much for showing us how much of a priority we are. Could you start to see shutdown as ‘self-protection’. Could you start to see it as ‘I was frozen for all these reasons and now I am ready to defrost?’
I am ready to defrost.
P.S. Like this and want more? Jump on to my libido letters list at the bottom of this page to keep receiving solutions to your problems and to be the first to know about Permission – which expands on these concepts and so much more (available to order from September 24). Being on my list is the only want to confidentially get my wisdom hand delivered (and you will be privy to bonuses and book giveaways!)
P.P.S. If this blog has stirred up a call to action for your sexual shutdown then I think we will work well together. Head straight to my sessions page to book your introductory session to gently step out of shutdown and into the open.