What turns you on, and what turns you off? How do you get past the messages about sex that have been handed to you by others – to discover your own personal sexuality that emerges from within? How do you own your deepest desires – and then communicate them to your partner in a way that stands the best chance of having them be realized? In today’s episode, we’re having a return visit from Dr. Alexandra Solomon, author of the new book Taking Sexy Back: How to Own Your Sexuality and Create the Relationships You Want. Our conversation will help you take your intimacy to a whole new level, so that your relationships can be satisfying in and out of the bedroom.

Click here to receive the Transcript for Alexandra Solomon

And, as always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. 

Join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it! 

Also – check out our first episode with Alexandra Solomon about her first book, Loving Bravely (Episode 142).

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Resources: 

Check out Alexandra Solomon’s website

Read Alexandra Solomon’s latest book: Taking Sexy Back

Read Alexandra Solomon’s other book, Loving Bravely: 20 Lessons of Self-Discovery to Help You Get the Love You Want FREE Relationship Communication Secrets Guide

Guide to Understanding Your Needs (and Your Partner’s Needs) in Relationship (ALSO FREE)

http://www.neilsattin.com/sexy Visit to download the transcript, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the transcript to this episode with Alexandra Solomon.

Amazing intro/outro music graciously provided courtesy of: The Railsplitters – Check them Out

Transcript:

Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. Let’s talk some more about sex today, and I think it’s really important, if for no other reason than the statistic that I’m pulling out of the book written by today’s guest, that when you have a successful sex life with your partner, that accounts for say 15-20% of your overall happiness quotient. I’m sure I’m not using the exact term there, but when you have a dissatisfying sexual life with your partner, that can account for 50-75% of your dissatisfaction in your marriage, if I got that statistic right.

Neil Sattin: So, just think about that for a minute. If you’re unhappy in the way that you’re connecting sexually with your partner, or with your partners, then that’s going to cause potentially a lot of distress for you. And what’s at the root often of our dissatisfaction is the very foundation that we have, the way that we see ourselves as sexual beings, the way we operate in the world, the scripts that have been handed us and that we’re enacting either consciously or unconsciously, or that we’re trying to live up to, that can so often be a source of, not only unhappiness, but the sense of disconnection from who you actually are as a sexual being in the world, and that brings with it a whole host of things like shame or even just questions, self-judgment, and ultimately, potentially dissatisfaction in terms of your relationships.

Neil Sattin: So, let’s tackle this head on and talk about how to reclaim and restructure who you are as a sexual being with today’s esteemed guest. She’s been with us on the show before, her name is Dr Alexandra Solomon, she’s a professor at Northwestern and also a clinical psychologist who works with individuals and couples. Last time she was here, she was talking about her book, Loving Bravely, and if you wanna hear that episode, you can visit http://www.neilsattin.com/bravely and it is episode number 142, if you’re just flipping through your podcast app. And she’s here today to talk about her new book, which is called Taking Sexy Back: How to Own Your Sexuality and Create the Relationships You Want. It’s a book written primarily for women and, at the same time, it has so much valuable stuff in it in terms of no matter where you are on the gender spectrum to reframe how you think about your sexuality and how you reclaim it for yourself.

Neil Sattin: As usual, we will have a transcript for today’s episode. You can download it by visiting http://www.neilsattin.com/sexy. That one’s not gonna be hard to remember. And as always, you can text the word passion to the number 33444 and follow the instructions. So let’s dive right in, Alexandra Solomon. It’s such a treat to have you back with us here on Relationship Alive.

Alexandra Solomon: It’s so nice to be with you, thank you.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, let’s talk… Let’s just first unearth, there’s something unusual about Taking Sexy Back, which is that you’ve taken the word sexy and you’ve made it a noun, and I’m wondering if you can explain what I’m even talking about and maybe explain your choice around that so that it will make sense as we move through this conversation.

Alexandra Solomon: Yes, so one of the first central ideas in this book is that there is a world of difference between being sexy and being sexual, so women have been taught and trained to either be sexy or to be afraid of being sexy, of being too sexy, not sexy enough, and that for women that word is oftentimes a question. Do you find me sexy? It’s a question posed in the gaze of another, and when that is the lens through which one experiences one’s sexuality, then sex becomes a performance, a sort of earning of that sense that you find me worthy, adequate, good, and it’s different than being sexual. Sexual is a cultivation from the inside of my own connection with the erotic that I generate within me and then share with a partner. And so, in this book, we are taking sexy back, we’re taking back the idea of sexy, and it becomes, as you said, a noun. So this book really is couple’s therapy between the reader and her sexy, her sexuality, her sexual self. And the questions are: How well do you know that aspect of you? Do even know that is an aspect of you? What is that aspect of you wanting, yearning, in what ways is it hurting, and what needs to be kind of unearthed and processed? So, throughout the book, it is about really understanding and listening from within to that part of self that I think women are typically told really isn’t theirs or shouldn’t be looked at; good girls don’t look at that. So, it’s a reframing, and as you’re saying, it’s a reclamation, a taking back.

Neil Sattin: Right, and you talk about that being torn. And this is probably familiar for a lot of people who are listening, that you can be torn between wanting to really own your sexuality, but if you do that too much, then that also creates a shift potentially in how people see you, and so there’s this burden of like how do you own your sexuality without it stigmatizing you?

Alexandra Solomon: Exactly, right. That sort of razor-thin line between being perceived as prudish and being, God forbid, slutty. So this sort of razor-thin line that, again, keeps a woman from connecting with herself. It becomes this sort of question of how am I being perceived. And the moment that’s the focus, it cuts us off from being able to experience pleasure, experience mindfulness, articulate a boundary that is really from a place of truth rather than fear, and so then the entire possibility of cultivating a sex life that is healing, rewarding, connecting, uplifting, life-affirming is impossible ’cause there’s no foundation to start from.

Neil Sattin: Right. Can you just talk for a minute about where this book was born from? And maybe the ways that you’ve seen women confront problems in terms of being disconnected from their sexuality? From their sexy? And what that process of reclamation looks like for them?

Alexandra Solomon: This book was born from a number of places. It was born from, I think, the way in which in my training as a licensed clinical psychologist and a couples therapist, I think the models that I was taught, were that when you’re sitting with a couple, help them talk more nicely to each other, help them argue less, and then the sex will follow. You don’t have to directly talk about sex. And there’s a way in which that paradigm reinforced, I think, a message that I carried within me for a long time, that sex is not a polite topic. It really shouldn’t be talked about or looked at, and if you’re curious about it, something is wrong with you. So I think there were ways in which that message from my field kind of reinforced what I had done to myself my whole life, of just feeling like I’m feeling simultaneously fascinated by this entire world and topic, and then feeling like that wasn’t really polite [chuckle] to be interested in or fascinated about. And so my own evolution of wanting to integrate love and sex within the work I do with couples, within my own life, and then just the work that I’ve done at Northwestern with graduate students and undergraduate students and being smacked again and again with my awareness of how inadequate sex education in our country is.

Alexandra Solomon: And how my students are sitting in front of me and I would give a lecture in my Marriage 101 course about sex, and basically invite them into this idea that sex is simultaneously a behavior, it’s a thing that we do, instead of erotically-charged behaviors, and it’s also this really powerful gateway into some of the most profound longings and questions that we have as humans. And just even that notion was radical to many of my students who had only ever talked about sex as something that is dangerous, dirty, forbidden, fearful, or titillating, and really central, but not this sort of whole-hearted aspect of self and aspect of relationship, and so all of that kind of created this. And I think, also, the fact that we are living through this massive upheaval around gender and power with the Me Too Movement. And so I think it was this coming together of all of this where this book basically wouldn’t leave me alone. [chuckle] Like, I felt like I chose to write Loving Bravely, and I felt like this book was like, “Are you ready now? Can we go now? Can you just… ” And it became easier to just sit down and create the table of contents than it was to just keep forestalling it.

Neil Sattin: Right, right, but yeah…

[overlapping conversation]

Alexandra Solomon: It felt really urgent. It felt really urgent to me.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And I think that’s so true. I’m so glad your book was birthed and is… And by the time you’re listening to this interview, it will be out. It’s coming out February 2nd, Groundhog’s Day of 2020. So you’ll be able to get it. And yeah, it is such an important conversation because those scripts that have been handed to us around sexuality and the ways that our lack of education has gotten in the way, perhaps, of really getting in touch with who we are sexually, and not having a culturally accepted way of just exploring together ’cause so much sexuality has to happen behind closed doors and often in secret. We pretend it’s not happening, but it’s obviously happening. And so inviting the conversation into the public space, and one thing that I really love about your book, Taking Sexy Back, is that you explore all of these different dimensions of connecting into who you are as a sexual being. And each of those is a great gateway into understanding yourself in a new way, and then stepping forward into sexual connection with others with that new knowledge.

Alexandra Solomon: Yes, exactly, exactly. And it’s not about, like there is… In the book we really are looking at, as you’re saying, these scripts and these highly gendered scripts. And it’s not about blaming or finger pointing or, God forbid, male bashing or any of that. It’s not that at all. The ways in which we’re given these gendered messages cut all of us off from living wholeheartedly and fully. I just couldn’t tackle all of it in one book, but you could speak to this like as a boy and a man. Boys and men are given horrific messages around their own sexuality. And it’s what drives me crazy about these dress code laws that schools are… Rules that schools will do. This idea that girls’ shorts have to be this length and girls’ tank tops straps have to be this width.

Alexandra Solomon: And one of the things it does is it reinforces this idea, this message to boys, that your sexuality is so dangerous and so out of control that the world has to be protected from you or from the power of your sexual energy, versus teaching boys that they, sure, erotic energy courses through you but here’s how you ground it and here’s how you harness it, and here’s how you boundary it, and here’s how you treat it with respect. And if those were the tools that we gave to boys… I think that’s just… I don’t know. I haven’t grown up in this lifetime in the masculine, so I didn’t have those messages, but I don’t know what that does. And that was the early messages that you were given, was this fear of being perceived as creepy or dangerous. I just think it’s all problematic and it keeps people coming… Whether it’s male bodies or female bodies or one of each coming together, it keeps those bodies from coming together in a way where each person can feel integrated and ready to step into that space of intimacy and closeness.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I mean that’s why I think your book is a valuable resource for whoever on the… Wherever you are on the spectrum. I did find myself reading it and nodding for each chapter and being like, “Yeah, guys need this just as much.” And that’s been definitely a journey for me as an adult has been reclaiming my own desires, my end, and where those things emerge at different places on the spectrum as well. In what you were just describing, I was just thinking about, yeah, how men in many cases need to learn how to be in touch with their bodies and with receptivity in sex and really being attuned and because they’re so conditioned to be pursuers and achievers throughout life, but definitely in the sexual realm as well. And for women, I think part of that reclaiming is also being willing to engage in seizing your desire and owning it and being willing to do that just like any guy would. And we’re wrestling, of course, with what’s culturally acceptable, back to the very first thing we were talking about. But how beautiful it can be when two people come together and each person owns who they are, what they want, what their fears are, what their desires are, what feels good, what doesn’t feel good, and when they can do it in a way that doesn’t judge the other. I mean, we all need that when we’re in the bedroom.

Alexandra Solomon: That’s right, that’s right, that’s right. And it makes sense that we have gotten stuck because the information has gotten stuck. One of the things that was so interesting in the research for the book was to look at this book couldn’t have been written 20 years ago because we’ve had a burgeoning of science around female sexuality. So we, for years, remain willfully ignorant about female sexual anatomy even. So medical anatomy textbooks would blur out the clitoris and it wasn’t fully mapped, fully imaged until really, really recently, like 20 years ago recently. So it was the clitoris was thought of as this little button when, in fact, it’s this larger structure that extends deep into the body and the potential for pleasure is incredible. In fact, that’s the only job that the clitoris has is pleasure. And so, what might be different if a woman came into her sexuality knowing that and honoring it, and what if then sexual scripts were built to really honor that part of a woman’s body in a way that the traditional heterosexual script, which we as a culture have really held up one particular sex act, we’ve held up penetrative sex as the most sex in sort of this hierarchy of sex acts.

Alexandra Solomon: We learn it on the playground in elementary school, first base and second base and third base and home run. So this whole kind of script around how far you’re trying to get and how far you’re going with this goal being penetrative sex, which the research shows tends to not be the most orgasm producing part of the realm of sexual behaviors because it’s not the most… It doesn’t maximize clitoral stimulation potentially. For some women it does, for others it doesn’t. But just this idea that if we only have one story line, what are we limiting for any of the bodies in the bedroom? As you’re saying, men exploring receptivity and not having to be in charge and not having to perform and having their own… Being not so limited by the ideas of what they ought to be doing in the bedroom and… So just the opportunity to deconstruct all of that and challenge it and push back a little bit is really important and really healing.

Alexandra Solomon: And that’s what we found. I had this amazing team of graduate students and undergraduate students with me as we were researching and writing, and we moved through a lot of sadness, a lot of anger at the limits that have been put on people’s experiences. And then to connect the loop back to what you said in the beginning, that it affects our relationships. If we can’t cultivate erotic connection in our intimate relationships, they’re going to suffer. Having a really fun sex life kind of buffers a couple against the storms and the annoyances and the irritations of partnership.

Neil Sattin: Right, right. Just one thing that came up for me about that question of anatomy and how we’ve learned that. I did wanna mention for you listening, that way back, this is one of my earliest episodes, episode 23, we had Sheri Winston on the show, she wrote Women’s Anatomy of Arousal. So that’s another great doorway into this question of how does feminine sexuality work and also what is literally happening, like what parts are there to work with and to enjoy? So it’s so important to increase your awareness of what’s there and how it operates and to not be driven by old stories, like the love button, or what you see in porn, which is, again, occasionally informative, but it’s not designed to be informative generally. So there are some genres of porn that are probably better for what we’re talking about here. But that’s probably not the majority of them at this moment. You’d have to seek it out, I would think. The feminist porn and…

Alexandra Solomon: Exactly, exactly. Right. At the back of the book, there’s a resource guide and we did include some feminist, ethical, carefully curated erotic places for erotic materials. ‘Cause, right. You’re right. You can’t paint it with a broad brush. But it’s a very different era of erotic materials. We’re living in free streaming 24/7 porn. And a lot of it isn’t, as you’re saying, created with intentionality in mind and really honoring the science of women’s bodies, the realities of women’s bodies. And that can be another then force of restriction, that it looks like I should like this behavior and I don’t like this behavior. How do I reconcile that? And often times the way we reconcile it is thinking something’s wrong with us. Feeling ashamed.

Neil Sattin: Right. You mentioned someone in your book that you were working with who really wanted to like hook-up culture. And she came to you with this mission of there’s something going on. Like this culture surrounds me, and maybe would it be helpful if you explain what you mean by hook-up culture versus conscious, casual sex culture or all the different possibilities there. But you talk about how she was really unhappy and came to you wanting to figure out if there was a way to be happy in that world. So let’s start there maybe.

Alexandra Solomon: Sure. So hook-up culture is a term that we associate oftentimes with college campuses and the idea that oftentimes physical intimacy, sexual intimacy comes first and then emotional intimacy is retrofitted, so that people are finding each other sexually. Oftentimes, hook-ups are alcohol-fueled, not a ton of communication. And there’s a sense, there’s sort of an aura or a sense or a feeling that you should like it. You should like that and you kinda have to like it. And in fact, it’s the only pathway into intimate relationship. And so the student was… In the first book, we work with a name, connect, chose, process. So she’s trying so hard to use this change process to make herself go from hating hook-ups. In fact, she would hook up with a guy at a party and then go home and wash her lips or anywhere he had touched her.

Alexandra Solomon: Just felt really dirty and awful. And so she was trying so hard to move, what she thought she needed to do is move through the discomfort, so she’d get good at this thing that in her mind, and I think in the minds of lots of young people, you should be good at, like you should be able to do this. The idea is that it is sexual liberation or it just is necessary, it’s what you have to do. What I wanted her to do really was honor the wisdom of her body. Her body was communicating to her so clearly; feeling her lips were numb afterwards. The data could not be clearer that she was really overriding something powerful inside of her body. And in fact, the research around hook-up culture shows that young people are tolerating it, but not really reveling in it, not really deeply, deeply enjoying it. It just feels like it’s a necessary pathway.

Alexandra Solomon: But I do make a distinction between hooking up and then conscious, casual sex, ’cause there are times in a person’s life where that really might be a beautiful, healing, necessary time. But what it has to be founded with… Create a foundation of an understanding of where are our boundaries, what are we both interested in, what are we each available for. So a really lovely, conscious, casual, sexual experience needs to have that kind of co-created understanding of what’s the space that we’re entering into. And so we spend a lot of time in the book helping people just feel entitled to understanding their own motivation and distinguishing that and the choice of fear versus love. “I choose to hook up ’cause I’m afraid there’s nothing else for me,” or “I’m afraid I am weird if I don’t like hooking up,” versus love, “Choosing something ’cause I really want it. It feels great to me. It’s a space of learning and healing and play and escape.”

Neil Sattin: Right, right. I’ve enjoyed your framing of it in the book. At first it kinda jarred me. I was like, “Oh, no. You’re taking a stand for love. Like sex has to be about love? What are you talking about, Alexandra?”

[chuckle]

Neil Sattin: But then, what you just explained, that if we’re talking about the paradigm that we operate from and are we choosing things because we’re afraid that if we say no to sex with this person in this moment, we’re gonna suffer some consequence, versus being in a more love-centered place where you’re focused on what brings you joy in the world and what enlivens you. Yeah, I would love for every single person to have those kinds of experiences be the foundation of how they connect with other people sexually.

Alexandra Solomon: Right, right.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Alexandra Solomon: And sometimes we don’t know until we know. So in the book, we also talk about FGOs, which I call these fucking growth opportunities, where it’s just like, “Oh, that is not my best pathway”. Sometimes we have to do it in a way that leaves us feel… That’s just… And so I think around sexuality, around this unfolding story of who we are sexually, there has to be a ton of self-compassion. Just a lot of gentleness about, “Okay, so that didn’t work for me. What do I wanna learn from that and what do I want to know going forward?”

Neil Sattin: Right, right. Yeah, can we just give everyone in this moment the permission to make mistakes? And I’m making the little quotey things around “mistakes” because I think what you’re pointing to is that most of these things aren’t actual mistakes, they are opportunities that we have to learn about ourselves. And there is that aspect of sexuality where there are some things that you’re only gonna learn relationally, you’re only gonna learn it when you’re with another person and experiencing something. It can’t all happen… A lot can happen in the privacy of your room. But not all… Not all of it.

Alexandra Solomon: That’s right. That’s right.

Neil Sattin: So that being said, let’s dive in a little bit to what can we do on our own? What are some of those gateways that we were talking about earlier? And physical, developmental, emotional, mental. So, I’m thinking of those pathways in so that everyone listening can have a sense of like, “Alright, how do I enter into this way of reclaiming who I am sexually?” What are some places to start?

Alexandra Solomon: Right. I think, so the reason that I organized the book the way that I did, with these seven different realms, is that we have different… We all have different journeys, we all have different places where we get locked up, so our work is to find areas where we feel blocked, constrained, where shame lives, where inhibition lives, where fear lives. And it might be different for different people, like on my team. So, one of the seven realms is spirituality. For some people, their early religious training, they receive shame loaded messages that can really, really get in the way of feeling permission to just be who you are, as you are. And so, for one member of my team, the work on that chapter was very, very powerful for her. She identified a lot of ways in which she was felt hurt by her early religious training, how it created shame inside of her. And for another gal, who grew up in China without any religion, it really didn’t speak to her. She could kind of resonate with this idea of sex as being a spiritual experience, and being something that is sort of transcendent and can tap us into those big feelings of whatever, one-ness, and…

Neil Sattin: Yeah, union.

Alexandra Solomon: Connection to… Yeah, but that was… For her, that was more about nature rather than anything we had to do with a spirituality or a religion. So, but another chapter for her was really where she identified that her shame loaded stories lived. And so, there are these seven different realms where we may find some work that we need to do to kind of identify a block and then heal it. So, that was why we organized the book the way the way that we do, ’cause we’re just… There’s so much diversity in how we show up sexually and what’s challenging for us. And I think for a lot of us, the chapter about physical was important because what’s clear is sometimes body image stuff can get in the way. We’re in, we’ve got a great partner, we have a partner who is ready to connect with us and create experiences that are pleasurable, and we end up locked in our own heads because we are very, very, very self-critical about our bodies. And that makes sense because there are entire industries that I built on selling us the idea that we are not thin enough, fit enough, whatever enough, and those messages come with us into the bedroom, especially when we’re naked and exposed and feeling vulnerable. And so, that can… Those scripts in our… The tapes that play in our head about our hips, or our stomach, whatever it is, sort of body image ones can be a source of inhibition and can really block a sense that we’re entitled to feeling good in the bodies that we live in.

Neil Sattin: So, let’s just assume that almost everyone has something about their body that is like that for them. Where would we start? What kinds of questions would we ask? Or how would we get to the heart of the ways that we feel shame about our physical bodies and take some new steps around that?

Alexandra Solomon: I think it can be helpful to develop that kind of a critical eye towards realizing that these messages about our bodies are designed to make us feel insecure so that we buy a product or do a thing that we sort of then, when we just mind mindlessly internalize that message, we are perpetuating that whole cycle. So, there’s a way in which a sort of a feminist consciousness can inoculate us against those messages so that when the thought comes up in our heads, we can let it go and come back to something that is more self-compassionate. I think mindfulness… So, the researcher who wrote the forward to the book, Dr. Lori Brotto was based in Canada, and she was really troubled by this finding that almost half of women, especially partnered women, struggle with low sexual desire, and she created a mindfulness training program. She simply taught women mindfulness skills and then invited them to use those skills in the bedroom. So, sometimes it’s as simple as noticing the thought come up. “How do my hips look right now?” for example. And then just knowing, “Oh, that’s a thought. That’s a thought.” And sort of letting it pass over and then coming back to sensation. So, mindfulness can be a really powerful tool towards helping us notice a troubling thought, and then let it go and come back to, “I’m entitled to this. I’m entitled to feeling good. I’m allowed to feel good in this body that I live in”. And that can be a helpful shift.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah and you’re pointing to a degree of presence in the bedroom. I love how we keep talking about the bedroom, ’cause it could be the kitchen or the living room or a public park. Take precautions if there are cops around, be careful. But you have to be able to stay within you and to notice what’s actually happening for you in a moment like that. So, maybe some of these things around body image are even easier, at least initially, privately, just in front of a mirror, which I think for some of us can also be challenging, to stand in front of a mirror naked and look at yourself and take in the whole picture.

Alexandra Solomon: Right, right. Yeah. And just… There’s a way in which I think it’s really helpful to grieve, to grieve that I have been doing this around my body for so many years. Or to feel really… Let ourselves feel really sad that the only way… There’s a beautiful poem in the book by Holly Holden that is just basically an invitation to just being really gentle with our body, really honoring it as this physical home, the source of delight, of sensation, of connection, and I think that’s a practice. My gosh, I think that’s a practice and I don’t think we’re ever done. I think those old stories about how we should look, and then whatever we think we’ve figured out, we get a little older and the body changes. It’s like this constant journey towards self love isn’t done, but I think we can get… We can start to get savvier about noticing that I’m doing that to myself again.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, I have an interesting story about that. Something that happened with me recently, that’s actually not about sex at all, but realizing a place where I had internalized some beliefs. I’ve spoken a bit on the show, off and on, about my own tendencies to be a little chaotic in terms of how I keep house. And I had this realization that every time I saw a pile of something, that I would have an internal message that would say, “There’s something wrong with you.” Just that pile means there’s something wrong with you that you cannot keep your… And it might be a pile all of amazing books that I’m reading for the podcast, but the fact that it’s there and these books aren’t in my bookshelf or whatever it is. And what a difference it has made to me since realizing that, of seeing a pile and simply saying, “There’s nothing wrong with you.” Like, this pile doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. And in fact, and I think this is the turn towards self-compassion, it’s like, in fact, there’s nothing wrong with you. Look at all these amazing books that you have to read, just to use that example.

Neil Sattin: So, being able to look in the mirror and look and see your hips, or whatever part of your body it is, and say, “Oh wow, I’m looking at this part of me and thinking there’s something wrong with me.” What is it like to just be like, “There’s nothing wrong with you,” and, “What is there to celebrate about this?” or “How can I embrace the part of me that’s judging me, and offer that part some tenderness?” Like, oh, maybe there’s even some grieving there. Not just in how we do it to ourselves, but this is who I am, and I’m not that person that I see on TV, or in the porn movie, or walking… My next door neighbor, whoever we’re judging ourselves against. To be able to be like, “Okay, that’s not me. And now, how do I turn to celebrate who I am and what I have to offer?”

Alexandra Solomon: Yeah, yep, yep. And this illusion that I will feel more, I will feel more X, I will feel more desirable, I will feel more competent if I lose five more pounds, if I have five fewer piles. This idea, we end up putting this idea that I’m gonna feel okay once I do that thing that’s out there, and it’s a road to nowhere. Every time I have held up one of those ideas for myself, I’m gonna feel better once this thing happens, I get there and it doesn’t happen. I just come up with a new thing. It’s a hamster wheel. And so, that is really radical and revolutionary, to just find a sense of wholeness right now, with the pile, with the curvy hips, [chuckle] whatever the thing is. It’s just, find that sense of I am worthy as I am right now, because that’s the only place, to circle back to sex, that’s the only place from which we can feel entitled to pleasure. I can only feel entitled to pleasure if I… Allowing myself to feel okay is what then opens me to say, “Okay, I can be with my partner, and let my partner help me feel really good.” Or put myself out there to find a partner that I can do that with. I can only… That’s… And it’s not… I don’t know, it’s not… It’s just a practice, it’s coming back to… I find it helpful to say, “That’s my trauma, not my truth.” When that stuff comes up, that’s my trauma, that’s my trauma telling me that I’m awful at this, or this is not enough, or this is… And then coming back, it’s trauma, it’s not truth.

Neil Sattin: Right, and those are glorious moments, really, when you see it happening. And so, when you’ve witnessed that for yourself, those are the golden opportunities. Maybe they’re FGGOs, the fucking golden growth opportunities, like where it’s happening right there and you get to see like, “Oh, I carry this with me.” Or, “This is how I judge myself.” Or, “This is how I choose partners who reinforce this negative belief system instead of partners who celebrate me.” ‘Cause how often does that happen, where we choose people who are unconsciously, probably, reinforcing the ways that we judge ourselves?

Alexandra Solomon: Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s maybe an important piece, too, I think for women who are partnered with men, I think that men have… Men didn’t… Any individual man didn’t create these wounds. Hopefully, I think. In abusive relationships, certainly that does happen, but I think a man can be such a powerful ally to a woman, and so, I think that there is a piece about around some of this body image stuff or just that kind of affirmation of, “I’m just… I don’t view you that way. I don’t want… When I’m making love to you, I’m not… Just so you know that you may be doing this to yourself, but I’m not doing that to you.” And that can be lovely. It can’t be the whole thing, ’cause shame is about my relationship to me, but having a partner who is affirmative or who just even acknowledges, “That doesn’t even cross my mind. I don’t think about your body in that way when we’re together,” can just be a little icing on the cake. It can’t be the whole thing. A man can’t, any partner can’t out-love, can’t love us out of our shame, but a partner can certainly be with us and say, “Okay, I hear that you’re doing that to yourself, but I don’t do that to you, I don’t treat you that way.

Alexandra Solomon: And there’s something very powerful when it is in a heterosexual dyad, men who are willing to kind of bear witness to that. That’s why I wrote a chapter at the end for an open letter to men whose partners have read this book, whether that’s maybe male allies of or male partners, intimate partners, just about… It’s hard, I think it’s hard, as we kind of reset the balance around this painful historical patriarchal old stuff, as we try to heal that and reset the balance, there’s a beautiful opportunity for men to step in as allies. They can’t fix this, but they could certainly be allies.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, that chapter I think is a beautiful invitation to how to be curious, how to… And how to show up as an ally, instead of doing things unwittingly that are detrimental when you’re faced with vulnerability. And I also like that it’s an invitation, that chapter, to the kind of thing that we’ve been naming, which is that everyone probably has a place where they can come to understand themselves a little bit better in this way as well and to question what’s been handed to them. So interesting, so much of this really is shame reduction in some ways, like unearthing those places and going through the process of getting rid of it. I wanna name… I was reminded of this when you were talking about religious perspectives on sex, and one thing that you mentioned in your book is a study that someone did. Justin, I don’t know how you pronounce his last name, Lehmiller, is that?

Alexandra Solomon: Yes.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. About the kinds of fantasies that people tend to have. And these are fantasies that people have no matter what their upbringing is though as I name them it will be obvious like why they might cause some conflicts for people, but I wanna name these so that you know that other people are thinking about this kind of thing, so you don’t have to feel bad.

Alexandra Solomon: 95%, sorry. 95% of people. So he found… The first thing he found is that 95% of people had sexual fantasies. So it is normal to have sexual fantasies. Okay, go.

Neil Sattin: Okay. So the first one is multi-partner sex, like threesomes and orgies. The second is power, control and rough sex. The third is novelty, adventure, and variety, like things you’ve never tried, unique settings, having sex in public. The fourth is taboo and forbidden sex, like watching people have sex, licking someone’s feet, having people watch you. The fifth is sharing partners and non-monogamous relationships. These are the top five. It took us all the way to number six to get passion and romance fantasy. So that’s down toward the bottom of the list, and then we have erotic flexibility, like gender-bending and cross-dressing. And this is no matter who you are, that people are having fantasies like this. So I hope in hearing this list you realize like, “Oh my God, there’s so much that we are not talking about,” and why I think it’s so important to have this space to talk about these things. Yeah, go ahead.

Alexandra Solomon: And just to kind of… There’s this both and of our erotic imaginations are potentially really wild, broad, deep, expansive and we may in our lives not inhabit all that breadth and width. So those are two… That’s a both and. That we can be expansive and show up with one partner. So maybe our fantasies become things we translate into real life and maybe not. But just the ability to tolerate, “Wow, my sexuality is really big and wide and curious.” That’s a piece of healing, rather than shutting it down, ’cause the moment we start to shut things down and quarantine them off, that’s when things get scary. That’s when we’re more at risk of acting out if we can’t tolerate our own complexity, we are far more likely to act out.

Neil Sattin: Right. So you’re talking about creating a space where having those fantasies is okay. Like where and even if so… There’s a difference, I think, in talking to your partner, let’s say, and saying, “Oh I have this fantasy about someone else being in the bedroom with us.” There’s a difference between saying that and being like… And having your partner say like, “Oh really, tell me more about that, and what might that be like, and let’s explore that.” and to be received in a very non-judgmental way versus coming to your partner and saying, “I have this fantasy about having someone else with us in the bedroom, and his name is Raul, and I have his phone number, and I’m expecting him to come over tonight.” So there, which in itself may not be a bad thing, but I’m just trying to point out here that there’s a whole spectrum of what’s possible in terms of how we accept each other, we accept ourselves then accept each other relationally, and create a space for those things to be alive because just naming something like that might fuel your completely monogamous sexual relationship with your long-term partner, where there’s never gonna be a third person involved, but the fact that you’ve been accepted in that way, that your fantasy has been accepted, will be potentially so energizing for you rather than feeling like you have to keep things in the shadows.

Alexandra Solomon: Beautiful. Yeah, I think that’s a great example…

Neil Sattin: Or that the fact that you have it is somehow gonna threaten the connection that you have, which is, I think, another piece of how you communicate about fantasies in ways that are non-threatening to each other.

Alexandra Solomon: Well, even just the example that you gave, the Raul example, it confronts… Sometimes we talk about toxic monogamy. This idea that we have monogamy has certainly been put… Sexual monogamy has been put out there as the norm. And sort of again in a hierarchical way, as the best way to love and be loved. And sometimes it goes so far that it’s like any attraction, any fantasy that doesn’t involve your partner is a slight against your partner. Then there’s a way in which that paradigm is so narrow it makes all this stuff feel so dangerous and so threatening versus just a bit of expansiveness as you’re saying. Just saying, this energizes me. Okay, then who knows where it goes from there, but just naming it and having a partner who doesn’t need to go into that toxic monogamy space of like, “Oh my God, if my partner has any erotic energy that isn’t directed solely to me all of the time, it means we are doomed. It means I suck, it means we’re broken, it means we are doomed.” That’s just way too much pressure.

Neil Sattin: Oh my God, I wanna do a whole episode on toxic monogamy. But in lieu of doing that, what would you suggest for partners where that is happening, where they’re unable to broach that topic without it igniting some sort of rupture in their connection.

Alexandra Solomon: Right. In the book, I talk about some ways that couples can… And I think talking about sex can be really hard. And if you’ve been together, especially if you’ve been together for a long time and you haven’t talked about it, it can be really hard to find a way in, and I think that’s a lot of couples’ struggle. So it’s really, it’s normal. And given our conversation today, it’s understandable. How would we ever know how to talk about sex? We certainly aren’t taught that in school and we’re… Anyway, so it makes sense why a couple may struggle talk about sex, but there may be some scaffolding. So, I give a list of examples I have collected over the years. I met a couple who talks about sex by putting puppets on their hands and the puppets talk about sex, so they put a bit of space between themselves and this conversation by using puppets. Or something like a book or a sexy scene in a movie, can be maybe a starting point. I’m always happy to have people put this on me. I don’t know, I’m reading this book or listening to this podcast, and they were talking about this. And that can be nice, sort of a neutral sort of third-party way in. And to just have it be framed as starting with, “I love us. I love us. I love what we’re about. I love who we are. I love what we’re going. I’m all in on this mission and I want… And I’m interested in this because I love us, because I’m excited to expand us.”

Alexandra Solomon: So, that really… So, foregrounding the positivity and the commitment and the excitement, I think is also really helpful. And then, just being able to name when we’re on the receiving end, like, “Ooh, ouch, okay, I have this urge to get defensive. I have this urge to tell myself a story that you’re really saying that you’re not happy with me and that I’m not enough for you.” And just sometimes just naming that can be like, “Okay, good, I hear you’re doing that. Let’s put that off to the side. Can we put that in the corner and just keep going, ’cause I’m not saying that?” And sometimes it has to happen in a therapist’s office. Sometimes, and I think that’s a really legit reason to go to therapy. When I have a couple that’s coming in after years and years of erotic neglect, I often think to myself, “I wish they had felt able to come in sooner and unpack this sooner.” ‘Cause that’s a really legitimate question. It’s really legitimate to say that long-term sexual monogamy is challenging. Long-term… Just being sexual is challenging. Long-term sexual monogamy is challenging, and it makes sense that there can be dry spells and breakdowns and miscommunication, and sometimes having somebody else there for the conversation is helpful.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. So, totally agree with you there. And then just to circle back on that. So, there’s naming and owning the importance of the connection. So, if you’re the person who wants to bring something to your partner, saying, “You’re important to me, and I’m bringing this to you because we are important to me.” And then, you also named for a partner who’s feeling reactive, to be able to name that and to recognize, “Wow, I’m hearing this and I’m being reactive.” And so, that will… Hopefully, the act of bringing attention to it, hopefully that can also be held non-judgementally too. Like, it’s okay that you are… That this is edgy for you to hear about this. There’s something in that, “It’s okay.” You’re okay for having this fantasy. I’m okay for having this reaction. We’re gonna be okay. We’re gonna navigate this together with this assumption that we’ll get through, we’ll be okay. There may be work for the reactive partner in examining their own self-worth issues, and doing that dance between being able to hear something like that without it going to the core of who they are or whether they feel like they’re being accepted or loved by their partner. So much there.

Alexandra Solomon: There’s so much there. And with the thinking about the example of if the question is around, this idea of bringing in a third person or somebody who watches, it may… An interesting place to go is to ask what is it about that that’s so stimulating for you? What’s so intriguing about that? So that’s interesting, that’s a more interesting question than when will it happen or who should it be. And maybe it happens and maybe it never happens, but to start way, way, way back at the beginning, about tell me more, like we said. Tell me more about how that stimulates you. What’s so exciting about that? What is the kind of juice there within that narrative? Who do you get to be in that story? Who am I in that story? Understanding and being curious about the charge, the yearning, just that curiosity may be enough to kind of satisfy it and play with that energy, versus actually bringing in a third person. And who knows? We can separate the outcome from the process, and the process may be one that’s very enlivening and engaging, separate and apart from whatever happens in real life with the actual fantasy.

Neil Sattin: Right, right. The purpose of a fantasy isn’t necessarily that it has to happen.

Alexandra Solomon: Right, right.

Neil Sattin: There’s something that just crossed my mind that I’m hoping you can shed some light on, ’cause it jumped out at me when I was… And it was back in this part about fantasies. I love the puppets thing, by the way. There was something you named there, which was couples talking about themselves in the third person. That was one I hadn’t heard before, but I really… She really enjoys it when you do this, and he feels really vulnerable in this moment, just as a way of getting that enough of that distance, but it also feels like it could be really fun and cool to be narrating what’s happening as it’s happening. Yeah, I don’t know, I like that.

Alexandra Solomon: Totally, absolutely. Right, right, right.

Neil Sattin: So, the fantasy thing was… ‘Cause we’re talking about reclaiming your sexuality and that an important piece of that is reclaiming it so that it comes from the inside out, as you named at the very beginning, so that your sexuality isn’t developing in relation to how other people see you and how other people think of you, and I lost the page, so I’m not gonna be able to read it exactly, but there was this category of fantasy that was about being seen and appreciated and… Right, oh, here it is. Object of desire’s self-consiousness, and I’m interested in this, the dance between it actually is really compelling to be the object of someone’s desire, which in a way is about how you’re being seen and noticing that you’re being seen, but without having your desirability be based on how people see you. Do you see where it’s…

[laughter]

Alexandra Solomon: It’s so complicated.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Alexandra Solomon: Yeah, so the object of desire is this idea that… And the research has found that this is something that is more compelling, more stimulating for women than for men, but the idea that somebody sees me as desirable spikes my desire. Being wanted spikes my desire. And it helps me… It is about helping me tap into me. I just did an IGTV video about this. So last weekend, I was heading home from the gym, and I texted my husband and I said, “Will you go shopping with me today?” And it was so clear to me what I was wanting. So, this book launch, I want a couple of new dresses, and I know how I want to feel at these upcoming events. And so, I certainly could have gone shopping myself, obviously, and I have. But the idea of him being in the dressing room, down the hall, I go try something on, I come down the hall and show him. And it’s not even about him saying thumbs up or thumbs down or him saying, “You look beautiful.” It’s about him holding space while I feel beautiful.

Alexandra Solomon: It’s a subtle but important difference. What I was saying is, “Can you be the bass note? Can you hold a steady bass note while I do this thing that I do,” where I play in different colors, different textures. And I find pathways into my own sense of my own experience of my beauty, my aliveness, but will you be with me while that happens. It’s a really subtle difference. And it’s an important pathway for me, and for a lot of women as the research shows, to connection to the erotic is this idea that, basically, you’re watching me feel into my own erotic self, my own alive self. I think sometimes it could feel transactional. I’m asking for him to do something for me, but it’s not transactional, it’s just an invitation to connection. This is for me, what I know about me is this for me is powerfully connecting. Will you join me in that?

Neil Sattin: Yeah, so there’s something in there of really how you know yourself and you know that this is gonna be something that’s going to really feel good, that will bring you pleasure and… Yeah, so knowing yourself in that way, being able to communicate it. What are you gonna say? I saw you.

Alexandra Solomon: Well, just that it’s been this way… Todd and I’ve been together forever, but I have memories of… I love to dance. Dance is a humongous part of me, and he hates it. So, there would be times at parties where literally I’d be like “Can you just stand on the dance floor?” I would use him like a prop. He would just stand there, and I would dance around him. I’m just “I just need you with me while I do this thing.” It really is good for both of us. It’s good for both of us because I get to feel the way that I know I want to feel to show up with you, to feel close to you. It’s just fun. It’s just such a part of our… And I think that’s part of it, too, is that now in year whatever of our relationship, these kinds of things, him going shopping with me, also has that circular sense that it reminds me and reminds us of how we used to be and who we used to be. We used to shop together a lot when I was from a suburb in Detroit and he lived in Chicago, and I would come visit him, and we would go shopping on Michigan Avenue. I’d never been to Chicago, so it also had this element of reminiscing, which is also really good for couples, to tap into who they used to be. That’s very connecting and intimacy provoking, inspiring.

Neil Sattin: Well, Alexandra, one of the many things that I appreciate about you and your work is how well you bring together so many different writers and thinkers and put it all together in a way that’s really practical. And just like Loving Bravely was a very practical book, Taking Sexy Back is another great example of how you pull all these things together, and it becomes a very useful manual for diving in. So, I hope that you listening that you’ve gotten a taste of that and just how much practical information is here along with ways of talking about sexuality that illuminate the challenges that we face. So much of that is seeing like, “Oh, right, this is a challenge. This is shame that I carry with me, this is a story that I carry with me, this is how my partner and I are missing each other.” Having awareness of that. You do such a great job of illuminating that for the reader. Something I really appreciated. And in what you were just talking about, I was thinking about how we identify what we like and what we don’t like. And you bring up Emily Nagoski’s work around the dual… What’s it again, the Dual?

Alexandra Solomon: The Dual Control Model.

Neil Sattin: Right. So, there are those things that excite us. Go ahead.

Alexandra Solomon: Yeah, just that. That our sexual desire functions with an accelerator and a break. So as you were gonna say, things that excite us and things that shut us down.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, so what you were just offering is, I think, a great example of that, or at least that’s how it showed up for me, like, “Oh, right, this is Alexandra knowing this gets me going,” and inviting Todd your husband into the dance with you.

Alexandra Solomon: That’s right. Versus playing yahtzee which is gonna just slam my break real hard.

[laughter]

Alexandra Solomon: Playing yahtzee, doing anything that’s competitive with him really, really shuts me down. Now, for another person, that might be incredibly connecting and gets them going, to be competitive, to be… I just know for myself, no. Hard no.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, so interesting.

Alexandra Solomon: It’s so idiosyncratic and that’s why the whole thing about sexual self-awareness, really understanding ourselves, is so vital and so valuable.

Neil Sattin: Well, Alexandra Solomon, thank you so much for being with us here today. Your book, Taking Sexy Back: How to Own Your Sexuality and Create the Relationships You Want, is a valuable addition to anyone’s self-growth or relationship growth library. And if you want a transcript of today’s episode, there’s so much that we’ve talked about, you can visit neilsattin.com/sexy or text the word PASSION to the number 33444. And also, if you wanna find out more about Alexandra and her work, you can visit dralexandrasolomon.com, where you can find out all about her, what she’s doing, where she’s speaking. Yeah. And it sounds like you’re on Instagram as well. What’s your Instagram handle?

Alexandra Solomon: Dr.alexandra.solomon.

Neil Sattin: Okay, great. I haven’t really figured out how to play in that world, so I’m glad you are doing it.

Alexandra Solomon: Oh, it is a world.

[laughter]

Alexandra Solomon: It’s a world.

Neil Sattin: Thank you so much for being here with me today, Alexandra.

Alexandra Solomon: Thank you, Neil.

Neil Sattin: Okay.

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