ERP 379: How To Increase Honesty In Sexual Intimacy For More Passion In Relationship — An Interview with Shana James

By Posted in - Podcast July 4th, 2023 0 Comments

Are you yearning for a relationship that brims with passion, connection, and a profound level of intimacy that goes beyond the physical?

Many individuals find themselves longing for a deeper bond with their partners, seeking to break free from the stagnation of routine and reignite the spark that once ignited their love.

In this insightful episode, we delve into the transformative power of embracing honesty in sexual intimacy as a means to cultivate a stronger connection, unlock hidden depths of intimacy, and rekindle the flames of passion within your relationship. Discover how this pathway of honest expression can pave the way for a more fulfilling and passionate love life, where pleasure, trust, and genuine connection thrive.As a relationship coach for 20 years, Shana James has humbly discovered the causes of disconnection in relationships and how to keep the passion alive. Shana has a Master’s in psychology, DISC, and Positive Intelligence certifications, and has facilitated decades of Authentic Relating workshops. Shana specializes in helping people after divorce and hosts the Man Alive podcast. She is the author of Honest Sex: A Passionate Path to Deepen Connection and Keep Relationships Alive and her TEDx Talk is “What 1000 Men’s Tears Reveal About the Crisis Between Men and Women.”

In this Episode

5:41 Shana James’ impactful journey of empowering men in love, sex, intimacy, and connections.

10:57 Expanding the understanding of sex: From fast food to four-dimensional experience.

16:57 Moving from reaction to response: Effective communication about sex for deeper intimacy.

22:23 Building agreements and teamwork for open communication.

26:00 The power of affirmation: Guiding conversations with virtues and requests.

31:40 Shifting from criticism to gratitude.

36:48 Overcoming exhaustion and rebuilding intimacy.

41:20 Embracing non-sexual forms of intimacy.

52:38 Free resources and ways to connect with Shana.

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Take time to understand your own needs, boundaries, and values, and communicate them clearly to your partner.
  • Be open and honest about your desires, fears, and insecurities with your partner to build trust and connection.
  • Listen actively to your partner to understand their needs and concerns.
  • Question traditional beliefs about sex and relationships, and explore what truly resonates with your authentic self.
  • Prioritize consent and establish clear boundaries to ensure everyone feels safe and respected.
  • Approach sexual exploration with curiosity and playfulness to enhance intimacy.
  • Shift the focus from performance-oriented sex to embracing pleasure as a journey of discovery, prioritizing connection and mutual satisfaction.
  • Invest in self-care: Cultivate practices that nurture your physical, mental, and emotional well-being, recognizing that a healthy self contributes to healthier relationships.
  • Keep learning and growing by seeking out resources like podcasts, books, and coaching to expand your knowledge and improve your sexual experiences.
  • Consider working with a qualified intimacy coach or therapist who can provide guidance, support, and tools to enhance your journey toward honest and fulfilling sex and intimacy.

Mentioned

Honest Sex: A Passionate Path to Deepen Connection and Keep Relationships Alive (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

What 1000 Men’s Tears Reveal by Shana James (*TEDx on Youtube)

Relationship Map To Happy, Lasting Love

Connect with Shana James

Websites: shanajamescoaching.com

Facebook: facebook.com/truesuccessformen

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/shana-james-3004065

Podcast: shanajamescoaching.com/man-alive-podcast

Connect with Dr. Jessica Higgins

Facebook: facebook.com/EmpoweredRelationship 

Instagram: instagram.com/drjessicahiggins 

Podcast: drjessicahiggins.com/podcasts/

Pinterest: pinterest.com/EmpowerRelation 

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/drjessicahiggins 

Twitter: @DrJessHiggins 

Website: drjessicahiggins.com  

Email: [email protected]

About Today’s Show

 

Shana, thank you for joining us today.

Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited for this.

Me too. I’m remembering just what a delight you are and how much connection I feel with you and your work and just the message that you’ve shared and how you share it. I’m grateful that you’re spending your time with us. I know you were on before. But you recently wrote a book, so we’re going to talk a little bit more about that. Anything you want to share with people listening here right now? 

Anything on anything, anything on the book? 

Well, let’s talk about the book. If you want to go right into that, we can. But is there anything you want to share about you?

Well, I think I’ve had an interesting journey as a woman. 20 years ago, I was part of an intentional community when I was in my 20s. Long story short, I had a chance to coach men, and to be a part of a team of women who got to give loving and honest feedback to men, and say the things that either women couldn’t say. Because sometimes, we feel something with a man, and it’s like, I don’t really know what it is. Or women weren’t obligated to say because it was just a date or something, or couldn’t say it with love. So my journey, I’ve worked with people of all genders, but I’ve had a long journey of working with men, and supporting men to have the love and sex and intimacy and connection that they want. So it’s been amazing.

Oh, my goodness! Even when you share that, I know there’s so much more there. What you’re sharing, it’s not so much like you’re in relationship with this person, and then the dynamics are alive. You’re sharing what is being expressed and observing that, and giving honest, loving, compassionate feedback. I mean, it’s such a precious gift. I don’t even think we’re aware of how people are viewing us, and yet so much is visible. We think we’re really being super clever, and it’s much more visible. So bringing that into awareness so that there’s growth and opportunity.

Yeah, especially when there are places of pain or when something’s not going the way you want it to, and you can’t quite understand why. I mean, I can do it with women too. But there’s definitely a particular dynamic with men, where I get to stand in for the women in their lives. I don’t speak for all women, so I never say, well, women would respond like this. It’s more like I use my personal and vulnerable body-heart-mind as a reflector of like: “Hey, this is the impact that’s happening in this moment, and people get to check in and see what’s going on for you. Let’s really slow this down.” Because I know you work with couples, and when couples talk to each other, there’s so much tension, and it’s going so fast. There’s so much underneath that, and in the middle of a fight, we can’t necessarily slow it down. Or people don’t always have the capacity to slow it down and be like: Okay, so here’s what’s really going on for me. I get to work through with people, and when we do slow it down, we get to look at like, what’s the past that’s creeping into the present, and what are those negative beliefs about yourself, and where are you fearing that something’s going to happen because it happened in the past, and where are you seeing your partner as someone who was in your past? So it’s really powerful.

Yes, yes, yes. Again, I want to reiterate that I’m so grateful for your style in which you guide people, because there’s such information, depth, and your ability to bring in the somatic and just all the work you’ve done. So let’s pivot towards your book. Share with us the title, if you will.

Yes, it’s called Honest Sex. The subtitle is: A Passionate Path to Deepen Connection and Keep Relationships Alive.

And what prompted this, if you’re open to sharing?

Yeah. Again, I think my history, I don’t know if it’s interesting to other people, but to me, it feels like an interesting blend. So I was the founder of Authentic Relating in San Francisco, and this group that then became Authentic World. So there’s these conscious communication and exercises and ways for people to go deeper. Simultaneously, I was, and still have, a deep spiritual practice. So the spiritual aspect feels strong in me. Then I also have always loved sex and exploring the intersection between soul and spirit and sex and Tantra, and all kinds of things. So I was like, wow, that would be an amazing memoir was my first thought, to tap into the sex, the spirit, and the conscious relating. Then as I started writing, and listening to my clients too, there was a sense of, a lot of people are struggling in relationship these days, and what is it that’s really happening, and why are people so unsatisfied? I really started getting like, you can’t just give people date nights and be like, try some toys, or try some lingerie. Like, underlying those struggles, I believe there’s a deeper honesty that’s not happening between people. So the first part of the book really explores what is honesty, and what’s the kind of honesty? I call it mature honesty, some people felt like that was a little bit judgmental that the other kind of honesty is immature. Like, you’re a jerk, those things, which I can see that. I also stand by the fact that it is not mature to use honesty in that way.

Well, possibly, there’s a development. So when we’re looking at a higher level of development, we can talk about that as maturation or maturity.

Exactly. So I don’t want to judge that many of us use honesty in a way that doesn’t quite create the kind of connection we want. But I really started to look at like, well, what would it take to be honest in a way that creates more connection, and thus, is the fertile ground for passion to stay alive? I’m always practicing in my own life and relationships. I’ve been in a relationship now for eight months. I was divorced 10 years ago, and have been in smaller relationships; this one feels like a biggie, and we’re practicing it all the time. So it’s been really amazing to see what can happen when the willingness is there.

Oh my gosh, yes! To be in the practice, that’s something that if I could underscore anything, just the importance of being in practice relationally, there’s so much I’m sure we could go on and on about.

Oh my gosh, yes, we could go on and on! I’m sure that’s part of your relationship, too.

Yes. I mean, we’ve all heard it over and over again, you don’t sleep one night and think I never have to sleep again, or eat a healthy meal, or move your body. So I know there’s so much you could say more about the book, and you’re really helping guide people around something that is an intersection of different aspects of one’s being. You have had some real personal and then professional experience with this, and just giving somebody or people guidance here. I want to hear more about that intersection and what you’re seeing. Then also, this type of honesty. Where would you like to start? Because those are my two questions that I feel.

Yeah. Well, so maybe the intersection to me there is, what is honesty actually, if we’re going to call it effective, what is effective honesty in a relationship? Then there’s an intersection of, are we being honest with ourselves, and that we can’t be fully honest with a partner if we don’t actually know ourselves. Then the other piece around honesty is, what is sex actually? To me, we haven’t been given a fully honest, it’s not like just a definition. It’s like a fully honest sense of what sex is and what it can be and what’s possible. So people are walking around in the world with a sense of like, I call it fast food sex and a five-star Michelin restaurant sex, or one-dimensional sex instead of four-dimensional sex. So all of those pieces, it’s like, how to be honest with each other, how to be honest with ourselves, and then the expansion of a sense of what sex is creates a whole different potential for a relationship.

Gotcha. So even as you mentioned the spiritual, it sounds as though there’s the individual and having the connection was self, there’s the inter-relational space, and also being connected to the other. Because there can be some attention and focus on the other that’s not necessarily the inter-relational space, and then there’s also perhaps spiritual, whether or not somebody is saying higher power or energy or soulful, or even as you’re talking about the energy moving through the body. Is that right?

Yeah. Also, part of the spiritual for me is that recognition that we’re not actually who we think we are. There’s a chapter in the book that’s called: You’re Not Who You Think You Are, and Neither Is Your Partner. So I bring in parts work and different teachers and psychologists and spiritual teachers who talk about these different parts of us. For me, a really huge part of my journey after I was divorced 10 or 11 years ago was: Oh my God, I’m letting the parts of me that are younger and more emotionally volatile, they’re running the show here, and I don’t think that’s going to go over very well in my future relationships. So I made a commitment that I really was going to do my best to not open my mouth in a conversation or in a conflict, until I was coming from a part of me, or you might call it the essential self, or the one that has the capacity to witness, that could forward connection instead of more disconnection. That commitment has been massive. It’s not like I always live up to that. But for the most part, I pause myself. I don’t know if you know the Viktor Frankl quote, this whole idea that we can respond rather than react, and in that space is where we have freedom and choice. 

“If we’re stuck in these old patterns of reactions, and just letting whatever dumps out of our mouth dump out of our mouth, I saw how in my marriage, it broke the foundation of our relationship.”

So many of us, I imagine we can resonate with having had experiences like that, or perhaps even still entering into that space at different times. As we pivot towards sex specifically, let’s back up. Let’s talk a little bit about even this framework, or the bigger perspective on sex and what it is and what it isn’t? Can you give us some orientation here?

So when I think about what’s possible in sex, in the book, I have this new definition that basically says: Sex is a way to connect and to play on as many levels of ourselves as possible. So when I think about one dimensionality, the foundation of sex is physical and it’s genital, and the four-dimensional sex that is possible. And who knows, it might be multi-dimensional, there’s probably no end to the dimensions. But okay, we’ve got our physical self, we have our emotional self, we have our soul or spiritual parts, we have our energetic parts, we have the capacity to feel another person. So when I’m really attuned and aware of my partner’s sensations, they become my own sensations, and we get to experience, it amplifies. So there’s so much possible, and it’s really also shifting from a goal orientation to a pleasure orientation, or a goal orientation to a connection orientation. So I really talk about sex as, we can be looking into each other’s eyes, and not only can we feel pleasure and connection, I mean, we can orgasm; we can have these energetic experiences and these soulful experiences. I think a lot of people never are shown that; I wasn’t shown that until my 20s. There’s a story where I ended up in the bathroom with this woman at a workshop, and she was totally radiant. I just looked at her and I was like, what is happening with you? Because you’re glowing! She told me about this course, and so I started studying Tantra and orgasmic meditation, and just all these ways of deepening our sense of our sexual selves and what’s possible. So that’s a little orientation.

Yes. Well, it’s giving so much more for us to contemplate and have as a framework as you’re talking. Because I think we can all understand that if we’re caught in a script, or a routine, or a habitual way of being with our significant other, that that’s going to be one dimension, and also just the agenda.

To get somewhere or to get off. Then there’s so much shame that comes in if we don’t think we’re satisfying our partner or if we’re not satisfied, and do we say it? I mean, working with people of all genders, I know it’s really challenging to say, “I don’t like the way you’re touching me, or could you try something different?” So the third part of the book is different tools, and how to talk about sex without killing your sex life, and all of those different aspects. Because I know even for myself, even for myself doing this work for 20 something years, it’s still hard sometimes to be like: “Oh, that isn’t exactly pleasurable for me, can we try something different?” It’s still hard to get those words out of my mouth.

No kidding! And when attempts have been made, oftentimes, maybe if it doesn’t go well, then typically the human response is to retract or avoid. So it’s like, then that starts cutting a lot of different rounds or different experiences.

Totally, and I’m curious what you would say about this. But for me, what I find is, if couples don’t talk about all different things. It’s not just sex, but sex is a very concrete one to look at. If there’s no agreements, let’s say about, if one of us starts to shut down in the middle of our sex, we’re going to pause and we’re going to check in and we’re going to talk about it. That is, I think, very unheard of, in most of the usual world. But if you have that shared understanding, and then you know: Oh, if I start to shut down, there’s nothing wrong with me, it’s actually a beautiful opportunity for healing or for transformation, or for us being more connected and more intimate. Well, then it’s a totally different story. Otherwise, people feel blindsided, people feel blamed, people feel shame. So really just bringing more consciousness to the before, during, and after having sex, to me feels important.

Oh my goodness, it’s a game changer in the sense of the paradigm! If we’re in service of mutual orgasms optimally, then I don’t want to interrupt the flow, I don’t want to disappoint you. I’m also not sure what I’m going to bring, and that feels super vulnerable and scary, I’ve got to please you. There’s all the different pressures. Also, you’re answering something that I was curious what you would say about when we talk about sex, and you’re saying before, beginning?

Yeah, I do. I have a section in the book about before, during, and after, and basically say, talking about sex at any point along the journey is great, I highly recommend. I recommend a debrief after, because I say, hoping and praying that sex is gonna get better, not likely, if you’re not actually talking about it and you’re not being vulnerable about it. So yes, I think there are certain conversations that can go better at different times. But I think anytime is a powerful moment, not to say that all moments are right; we have to check in, is this a good time, can we talk about this? But there’s no bad time to talk about sex.

Okay, I’m wondering if you would be willing to get a little bit more strategic or tactical and giving people some nuggets. I know we’re going to direct people towards your book where they can get the whole shebang. As we talk about setting these type of conversations up, is there anything you want to say about, as you’re just saying now, around how to set that up for more safety? Because so often, like you mentioned, there’s so much vulnerability and fragility around what it means, and then how to talk. You said there’s some real ways in which we can have more honest or mature. So can you give us something? 

Yeah, I’m thinking about where to start. As far as the safety, this is where I find couples creating agreements about how we talk to each other is a foundation. So there’s a section in the book about making agreements, and being on the same team, and that we don’t have to say flat out no to someone. That the self-revealing or the more vulnerable responses come not from saying something like: “Well, that’s not me, and that’s not what I do, or that’s disgusting, or I don’t like that.” It’s when we start to get under, into our own, oh, this is what’s vulnerable for me, that’s when it becomes safer to have these conversations. So as you go through the book, there’s getting honest with yourself, and then getting more honest with your partner, and things like that. So there’s tools in there. 

The debrief from sex, people can add anything to this, and I’d actually be curious to see if people have other questions and things that they like. But the debrief that I came up with starts with, what did you love about our sex? Or what were some favorite frames, I call them, favorite moments, or things that stood out for you, what was awesome for you? Because that puts people into the framing of positivity. Let’s look for the positive; we don’t always look for the positive. So sometimes we’ll come up with something and be like, you know that moment, or you know the way that you brought in a different idea or context or something, that was amazing for me. If you know that, then you can continue that. Then the next question I have is, what would you want more of moving forward? Because you could say, what didn’t you like, or what didn’t go well? Again, those are things that tend to bring up that shame and feelings of blame. So if you recognize that every complaint on the other side of the coin is desire and longing, so then you can actually start to share. So if you’re in your mind thinking like, “God damn, it was too fast, or I didn’t get whatever,” then you get to actually put that into: “Oh, you know what I would love, is I would love for it to go a little slower in this moment, or I would love for you to touch me in this way.” So again, it’s easier to digest. It makes it safer. 

Then the third question is, is there anything that felt vulnerable that you didn’t say in the moment, that you could trust me to say right now, or that you’d be willing to say right now? I’ll just say, I remember when I started dating last year, I had a debrief conversation that was kind of terrifying for me, but I also knew that I had to have it. Because I felt the moment when I started losing myself in our sex the night before. I felt the moment where I just started to try to please, like you said, or didn’t want to disappoint, or just turned away from myself. Then I felt kind of icky afterward. So you can broach some really powerful topics, and it’s not always easy. So sometimes you need someone like yourself or me to support the learning. 

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“I feel like if you really have the view, anything and everything here is a doorway for our intimacy and our connection, if we’re not taking it personally and we’re not blaming ourselves and beating ourselves up.”

It hurts sometimes, it stings to hear what someone says about us or what we aren’t doing in a way that’s pleasing someone. But it all makes intimacy more possible.

Oh, my goodness! Those questions, I’m so grateful for your willingness to share. Because I love the positivity, I love that it leads in a way that is cultivating and co-creating. It’s this reveal, but it’s also for the person on the receiving end, getting a chance to find it in themselves, the debriefing. “Oh, we just experienced it, and I love the creativity, or I love the play that I felt in you, or your expressing your pleasure just brought me so much joy, as you were saying. Also, I would love more of that or something.” That’s exciting. That’s motivating. It’s encouraging. 

What strikes me also is, that is a framework that I have in the book for sex, debriefing sex. But it could be debriefing any experience. My partner and I had a conversation last night where we have these regular check-ins, and we debriefed a moment where I brought something that was emotionally vulnerable, out of the bedroom, and he did a lot of talking. It was sweet and loving, but it was like, then he started to talk about his own thing. Then I felt like I was going to puke. I was in the middle of crying, and there was all this stuff. So I got to say, I love that you brought me that. This felt a little scary for me to say. But I was like, I can see where I might have a request in the future to just hold me while I just cry for three minutes or something, and then we can like get into the content. Because I felt a little bit constipated when we ended that conversation, and I was still holding this emotional thing that I could have released, but I didn’t ask for that. So it was like, I don’t have to blame him for what he did. I didn’t ask for what I needed in the moment because I was scared of hurting his feelings or making him feel bad. So then when we start looking from that lens, also, not somebody else’s fault, but what did I need that I didn’t ask for. That’s a part of the book too, asking for what we want and how to bring more of that.

Yes, it reminds me of a virtues project that’s often used in families or curriculum and helping build characters, the design of it. But the idea is there’s these virtues that everyone has, it’s universal. That when we’re giving input, or we’re parenting, or even educating another, that there’s something good. Even like, let’s say, the classic bully, they’re being aggressive or whatever, you might be able to really affirm. I so appreciate your assertiveness, or something.

Your standing up for yourself, that you actually know what you want.

Then also, would you be willing, or I’d love to see, or can you practice more humility, or more respect? So it’s calling into. Because when we say I don’t like that, it doesn’t really help guide around what to call in and what the request or the longing is. So it’s really making real clear contact, and it’s so helpful when we’re looking at how to find each other in these very so much is going on moments.

I love that example. I’ve said to some of my clients, if you don’t like how someone’s touching you at all, you can still be in the mode of appreciation. I appreciate that you’re touching me. It might seem so basic, and it might be like, seriously, I have to appreciate that? But yes, we do; we have to start with appreciation. One of the tools in the book is about assuming the best, and then getting curious, instead of our tendency to assume the worst. Like, you always do that, or you never pay attention, or you don’t want to give me pleasure. All of those things, I don’t believe they’re fundamentally true. Now, if they are, and we’re assuming the best and getting curious, we will find out. Oh, it seems like actually, you have no desire to do that thing, or you don’t really care about this or that. But we don’t really find those things out, we don’t find out the truth if we’re attacking someone or making them wrong.

Yes, it’s a lot of interference! Are we talking about the interference, or are we actually talking about the thing, whatever is being expressed?

Yeah. So even with my ex-husband, there’s a story in the book about how we moved to a new state together with our kid and kept our family intact. Even though we don’t live together, and we’re not married anymore, but we’re co-parenting. All of the tools are useful for the fact that relationships change and relationships transition.

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“I believe we don’t ever have to be hostile and mean or disconnected from people. That we can be in pain, and we can struggle, and we cannot like things that happen. But we get to choose what comes out of our mouth and how we treat people.”

Agreed! It does take, for me, I’ll just say, slowing down. It comes back to the thing you were saying earlier, is having a real commitment to creating connection, and being in a way of regard. That if we’re not in service of that, our maybe more protective tendencies, or even aggressive tendencies or competitive, all the things.

All the things can easily just take over, and then we get to wreck. I mean, to me, relationship is a path of growth; it could be spiritual growth, it could just be emotional growth. But the fact that we are going to feel hurt, we are going to feel disappointed, it’s inevitable. All these things are inevitable. So then how do we use them to grow ourselves and our capacity to love and be loved? That’s the game that I like to play.

Yes. I don’t want to lose the third question, because that is so helpful in making welcome and just bringing visibility to things that maybe couldn’t be expressed, in the debriefing.

Yes, anything vulnerable or anything that happened that you look back and you didn’t say, because you were afraid to say it or anything like that. That’s been so beautiful. I think it’s not a gendered thing, but there are different reasons why men, women, people of all genders hold back; men don’t want to look weak, women don’t want to seem demanding or needy, and then we’ve all got all of them. So for whatever reason, and it takes building trust, like you said. So if you’ve never done this before, you’ve never had a vulnerable conversation with a partner, then you can test out a little bit too. Say something that doesn’t feel like it would break you if they didn’t have a response that was loving and caring. 

But also, and I imagine this is what you do, but you can tell me too, as I work with clients, a lot of the work is strengthening that sense of self and that sense of self-love. So that if I say something that feels really vulnerable, and my partner misses it, or denies it, or attacks it, it doesn’t have to be that I go into a shame spiral of something is wrong with me. I can see, oh, there’s nothing wrong with me here, they are having a reaction or response. So the stronger that self-love is, the less we get thrown off by someone else’s response, the more we create our own safety. So we can bring those things and not fall apart if someone else doesn’t meet us there. 

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“There are times, I will say, there are many times where somebody needs to hear something and digest it for a little while before they can come back lovingly. That happens in relationship; we bring up something, someone has a like contracted response, and then later, they might be able to speak better to it or be more connected about it.”

Exactly. I think this goes back to the agreements and the shared vision that the couple might have, because there’s a little more trust that we’re going to come back to it. So it’s maybe a little more accessible to say: Oh, my partner doesn’t have the capacity, or there’s something blocking our connection around this, or I might be saying it in a way that is hard to hear. So let’s ground and re-center and come back when we’re a little more regulated, that’s going to give that more space to connect. The thing I also love about asking about the vulnerability that was maybe not spoken to or shared, for me, it gives a little more opportunity to be in the learning curve. Because sometimes when I’m wanting to practice, I can see it after the fact; I don’t always see it in the moment. So this gives a little bit more room to practice. It’s like oh, the moment is gone, I lost it. It’s done, so I have to try again next time.

No, that we can always revisit it, and sometimes we don’t even know. That’s part of what I love, too, is if we don’t continue to reflect on an experience, we miss some of those learnings. Like you’re saying, I might not have seen, I might not have caught it in the moment, and now I look back and I’m like, why am I left with this slightly uncomfortable feeling? Oh, it’s that moment, that’s what happened. But we would miss it otherwise, if we didn’t give ourselves the opportunity to do this.

Yeah, all right. So I would love to pivot towards couples that perhaps are exhausted, have so much on their plate, the demands domestically or professionally, and maybe have a hard time even making love and having sex. So just to even carve out time to join in any connectivity, sexual intimacy, is a challenge. Like, where do people really start? I mean, even to get it in intellectually, but then to be in the practice of what you’re describing is so rich. But also, people can feel so far from it.

Overwhelmed and far, yes. I mean, there are couples who have told me, they’ve listened to the book or read the book together, and that’s a really beautiful place. But even that can take some time. Each chapter has different exercises at the end, and so those are things that people can do together. Even if you start with five minutes a day, let’s say five to 10 minutes a day. You could start with: we’re going to bring in an appreciation practice for each other. Or you know what, today in these five minutes, we’re going to start drafting an agreement of how we speak to each other. I would say, the two things I just said have nothing really to do with sex. However, what I’ve found and what I talk about in the book is, you can’t separate; you can’t go into the bedroom and think that everything else is not going to carry over into the bedroom. So if somebody doesn’t feel appreciated, they’re going to be less likely to open up and want to have sex, especially the partner who’s slower to turn on or slower to feel aroused. So I think my suggestion would be to start to look at, what are those places of friction? Not the good kind of friction, the bad kind. What are the places where we feel disappointed, or where we feel stressed? To start to look at them together. To start to look at what is a win-win, or how can we be on the same team, or how can we appreciate each other more? 

So I know I’m giving different options. But I would say start small, take baby steps, and the baby steps will build on each other. Now we need to have a little more patience sometimes, because there’s usually one person in a couple who’s like, “But I want it to go faster, I want it to be the way it was.” So starting small, slow can lead to fast. If we actually take these small steps, it can really lead to something that we didn’t even imagine what’s possible. They say, a one degree shift in a boat, you make a one degree shift and you end up on a completely different island or a completely different landmass than you would have. Yes, it takes a little bit of time, but you’re building a foundation together.

I think it also fits really beautifully with the paradigm shift. That if we’re thinking we’ve set aside this time to be sexually intimate, there’s a certain idea about what that means, and the habit or the script of that. So even just being in this place of connecting and allowing.

Yes, connecting, talking, eye-gazing, breathing together, all of these things that we don’t think of as sex. When we put them in the realm of they are sex, and we are getting more intimately connected, then there’s so much less pressure, and so many more options.

Easier said than done. There’s a felt experience around this too. I imagine for couples that have got out of seeing, haven’t been having sex, or even experiencing a certain period of time without sex. I remember when I was really young, but still sharing space with a significant other for dinner, it was this idea of, it’s like an adulting; we’re going to sit at the table, the dinner table, and actually have a meal. If it’s just the two of us, that feels awkward, or it’s establishing something new. I remember being like, sometimes it’s silent, or sure, you can light a candle or put music on to set the mood. But if a couple has been eating their meal in front of a TV or with friends, or having a lot of other things, and then they’re asked, they’re trying to eat at the table together, it can be a big deal. It can feel kind of dry, it can feel vulnerable, it can feel empty. It’s like, we’re sitting at the table, we know that that’s the goal. But then once we settle in, and just be curious and relate, there’s so much room.

I love what you’re saying. I love the curiosity, and I love the capacity to witness. So even to witness the relationship and celebrate or accept, “Wow, we seem really dry right now. I don’t imagine we’re like this with our friends or in other aspects of our life. Or are we? Maybe we are. Like, what’s creating this dryness? If it’s not based in something’s wrong with me or us, if it’s based in what you just said, let’s get curious about us and how we work and what’s happening here and why we’ve fallen into a rut. That’s a really great place to start. Again, it can take some humility, and it can feel like it’s a punch in the gut to know: Oh, I’m not pleasing you, or this isn’t going the way you want it to. But when we’re on the same team, and when it’s a shared outcome that we’re looking for, then we can get there together. If there are years of baggage, or years of resentments, or years of frustration, I believe those really have to come to the surface. They may not have to first come to the surface with your partner. It can be really helpful to, again, get support from a therapist or a coach or someone who can get those to the surface and then look at, what was your role in this dynamic, how did you play a part in this? Because we always play a part. So if we’re going to blame or attack someone else, we’re not actually empowering ourselves to be able to change a situation. So if there’s so much space and tension that you can’t reconnect, that can be a good step too.

Perfect, I want to pivot towards that. But before we do that, I wanted to comment that I haven’t done a tonne of studying with Tantra. I do remember there being one exercise with the couple, it’s almost what you’re describing of whatever we might come to the space with, fears of like, this is going to be too formal, or there’s expectations or there’s pressure, being able to release that. Just almost metaphorically cleansing, or asking it to leave or removing it. Just speaking it, and giving it freedom to be on its way.

Speaking it, I love that you said that too. That we can actually say to our partners: “Okay, I’m a little worried that my body doesn’t feel as in shape right now, or I’m a little worried that I just exercised and I’m feeling like maybe my armpit smells, or whatever.” It can be small, it can be big. It can be: “Oh, my gosh, we haven’t actually been intimate in so long, I’m worried I kind of forgot how to do this with you. Or I’m worried that you don’t love me, or I’m worried that you don’t want me.” All of those things are vulnerable to say. But when we start to make space for each other’s vulnerability, there’s so much more connection and intimacy. I love the vision of, we get to say them, and then we get to release them, and we get to know that that’s a part of me, it’s not all of me. 

Yes. Okay, I don’t want to lose you before I pivot towards what we were just about to talk about. The way that I’m feeling you describe this is the willingness to take some ownership and be in contact with the self, as you were saying earlier. I know for me, when I’m really, really busy, my husband asked me, I had a really long day yesterday, and he’s like, how are you? I’m like, I don’t know, I’ve been focusing on other people all day. I needed a little time to reconnect. Anything you want to say about getting in contact, even just how one’s body likes to be touched? How do I know that? It’s through exploration with another person is usually how I find that out. But there’s many other ways to find what brings pleasure or what feels arousing. Anything you’d like to say?

Yes. Well, that moment when he asked you and you said, I don’t even know, I would suggest something, and maybe you even did this, but something around like, “Okay, could we just sit together for two minutes, and I’m going to take a couple of breaths. If you really want to know how I am, I’m going to need to check in first to then let you know.” So giving each other that space, and us knowing what we need first is the first step. Then okay, if we want to do this together, how do we do this together?

It sounds like you’re encouraging that there’s some contact with self that can be helpful, that’s necessary. How does one do that if they’re out of sync with themselves?

Oh, and I know what you were saying too about how do I know how I like to be touched? We can practice touching ourselves. When I touch my hand, do I like light touch, do I like firm touch, do I like scratching? Do I like this or do I like that? So self-exploration is beautiful. I love, this might be a particular thing that not everybody likes, but I love to do little, I call them clinics. So my partner and I have done this where it’s like, let’s take five minutes, and I’m going to touch you in these different ways, and you’re going to tell me. It could be a scale of one to 10. It could be, do you like this or that? Like, we shouldn’t know how somebody likes to be touched if we haven’t actually asked the question. Sometimes we can know through moans, but we don’t always, and you will definitely discover something new about yourself. So even short amounts of time, or it could be 10 seconds. “Hey, I’m holding your hand right now. Do you like it if I intertwine my fingers this way? Or do you like it if I squeeze it? Or what would be even more amazing for you?” So getting in that mindset that we can ask each other, and that asking or not knowing is not a bad thing. 

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“We’re all changing, and our bodies are changing, and our hormones are changing. and so you shouldn’t already have to know. You get to actually continue to inquire and continue to get to know each other over time.”

Yeah. So much of what you’re saying seems that it’s interconnected. Because even the question about vulnerability and not showing or expressing, that could even be: “Oh, I want to be a little bit more aware of that. Or can I even just be with that inside myself and wonder how that exists or how that shows up and how I can relate? Then the clinics, what a great find!

Yeah. It’s not like, we’re not going to have sex. It’s kind of fun to play, I like playing that game too where you limit or you take things out. Like, we’re going to have 10 minutes, and even if we get super turned on by this, this is our focus here; we’re in clinic time, we’re in practice time. Then you get to see where it wants to go from there, but that time is sacred.

Oh, my goodness! It reminds me I had a woman, I’ll put the link on the show notes. But she has a book titled Wheel of Consent, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of her, Betty Martin. She’s got the exercise of the three-minute game, and being in the giver and the receiver. 

It’s so mind-blowing! Actually, I did that with my partner a bunch of months ago, and then we created this whole new thing around it, where we’re now creating experiences for each other where one of us gives, and one of us receives. She breaks it down in this brilliant way where giving can be done through touching, and giving can be done through being touched. I was going to say receiving touch. But it’s like, it’s this mind-blowing way where you get that you can touch as a giver or a receiver, and you could be touched as a giver or a receiver. Then you can open up to all these different experiences. It’s incredible.

Yeah. So I want to touch you in a way that gives me pleasure is still the receiver, even though I’m the one actively touching. It’s good. 

I think that’s a game changer to recognize that, and each of those are three minute chunks. So short explorations or short experiments are incredibly powerful. My partner too was like, this is a little weird. I was like, are you game to try it? It’s only 12 minutes total, really. He was like, okay, I’ll try anything once. So even that level, and then he was blown away. Like, oh my God, I can’t even believe what came out of it!

Yeah, my experience too, it was really enlightening. Okay, well, we’ve covered a lot. Is there anything you want to say that we haven’t spoken to, before we shift?

I don’t think so. That was delightful! 

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“Just a reminder that we never have to make ourselves wrong, and we never have to make our partners wrong. From that place where we’re not blaming and shaming ourselves or others, it is the doorway into play and intimacy.”

Beautiful. How do people get in touch with you?

So you can go to my website, ShanaJamesCoaching.com. If you go to my website, you can either click on Book, or directly ShanaJamesCoaching.com/Honest-Sex, is where you can find my book. You can also get a free chapter. So if you enter your name and email, you can get a free chapter. It’s the chapter about what is sex actually. Then you can see, is this something I actually want to read or listen to? The audiobook is coming out soon as well. Just reach out to me, there’s a contact form on my website.

Wonderful. I’m so curious, did you do your own audio? 

I did. 

Yay, I love your voice!

Thank you. It was a little terrifying, and it was a whole to do of me. Just the vulnerability of like, am I really going to put myself out there like this? But I decided that I wanted to be vulnerable, because I don’t want to ask. It seemed with all the stuff in the book, I would never ask someone to do something that I haven’t been vulnerable or tried.

That’s beautiful. Shana, with your website, what might people find around other forms of support beyond reading your book and getting your book?

Yeah. So I have a podcast as well called Man Alive, that is geared toward men, but people of all genders say it’s not really just for men. I ask questions geared toward men because I think men don’t have as many places to go for resources. But there are podcasts on sex and relationships and all kinds of things that people find useful, and as a couple to listen to them together is often powerful for people. There’s also different blogs and resources and guides and all kinds of things on there.

Wonderful. Are you still coaching?

I am, yeah.

Do you want to tell people about that?

Yeah, I love working one-on-one with people. I usually, once a year, run a small group for men as well, on how to have sex and affection and connection be more effortless. Then, one-on-one I work with people of all genders, usually who are either in a relationship and struggling to feel that connection and intimacy, or they’re single, often starting over after a divorce or breakup and trying to figure it out again this time around. Like, how do I do this differently, and how do I make sure that I have these healthy foundations, and how do I have the kind of sex and love that I really want?

Yay, I’m so glad you’re doing what you’re doing!

Thank you. I’m glad you’re doing what you’re doing too, and thank you for the the depth of the wisdom that you bring to that.

Thank you. I’ll make sure to have the link to your book, your website, and the things you’ve mentioned on today’s show notes. Thank you for being here.

Thank you so much for having me.

Signing Off

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Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching