Hello, friends. In this episode, I chat with Dr. Alison Leigh Siegel, a licensed psychotherapist, human sexuality expert, and a sex and relationship advisor. A topic a lot of listeners have been asking for, we talk all about sex, intimacy and relationships, including some of the most common issues and how you can take steps to overcome them.
Duff the Psych turns five!
As I mentioned last time, October 2019 marks five years since Joelle and I started Duff the Psych! During this month we’re doing lots of cool stuff to celebrate. So far I’ve given away over 900 of my books for free and am currently offering a huge discount on my Kick Anxiety’s Ass course (to take advantage of this incredible offer, head to kickanxietycourse.com and sign up using the offer code “FIVE” at checkout, or just click here, and you can start kicking anxiety’s ass!).
We have lots more fun and surprises to come so if you’re not yet following me on Facebook, definitely do follow along as I will be announcing freebies, discounts, giveaways and all sorts of really cool stuff across the month of October! Also, watch out for a fun celebratory live stream on Facebook this Friday, October 11th!
With that said, let’s get into the interview!
Introducing Alison Leigh
Alison opens by telling us about what she does and her work as an expert sex advisor. Alison has been in practice in the San Fransico Bay area for around 23 years and works as a psychotherapist and ‘sex advisor’ meaning she typically works with couples and individuals with any issues surrounding sex, which can include a range of aspects such as intimacy, lack of libido and erectile dysfunction. Alison helps them to get to the root of their problems and then teaches skills and techniques across a number of sessions to combat their issues – sessions can continue for as long as the client requires them. Alison briefly explains the title of ‘sex therapist’ and how it coincides with sex and relationship therapy, or coaching. She also highlights how there isn’t a specific license or qualification to become a sex therapist and so when seeking one out you should always do your research.
Sex and relationship issues with Alison Leigh
Whether it be due to mental health problems, medication side effects or other issues, a topic that seems to come up a lot is lack of desire. Alison talks about how this is quite a common occurrence in couples but not so much for individuals. In the context of a couple’s relationship, Alison explains how she would help work through issues such as lack of desire, a sudden decrease in libido, or perhaps a discrepancy where one person is much more interested and the other less interested. Alison describes how she approaches each issue in a holistic way and recognizes the need to understand and unpick any other issues that may be getting in the way of their sexual relationship. She highlights how in cases such as this, often having sex will be the final solution and will naturally happen when the other underlying issues have been resolved. In an initial session with a couple, Alison asks lots of questions, enabling her to gain a detailed insight into the relationship as well as each person individually, including aspects such as their past, what it means to them to be sexual, their general background and the history of the relationship.
Once she has gained this understanding, Alison pinpoints a path forward to help them progress. For instance, this issue is related to psychological barriers in 90% of couples, meaning they are too much in their heads, not focusing on their body enough or perhaps overworked and overstressed, all of which Alison would recommend different skills and techniques to help address these issues. This issue in the remaining 10% of couples may be due to biological reasons, where Alison would then work with a medical doctor to also look at medications etc. Altogether, Alison recognizes the need to treat each case individually and examine the other contributing factors that may be influencing the relationship as a whole, and therefore sex, rather than jumping in with the only aim of getting a couple to have sex.
We talk about this in detail and Alison explains how one of the most common factors which put a strain on a relationship, and is often reflected in the bedroom, is stress. Alison believes that if a relationship had chemistry to begin with then you can get that chemistry back. She describes in detail how when partners move in together or get married they can often feel trapped, which she believes is down to a lack of erotic tension. After a significant event in the relationship like getting married, there is often a drop in libido both physically and psychologically as they get too used to each other and the desire for one another drops. In cases such as this Alison offers help and advice to help reignite that spark. We talk about this in more detail and Alison gives a sneak preview as to the type of interventions and techniques that she might use.
Alison talks of how she trained and practiced as a massage therapist for 14 years and in this time learned about intimacy through giving non-sexual massage and how the body has stored muscle memory, meaning whatever you’ve gone through in your life is stored in your body. Therefore, your body is a huge resource that people are not utilizing for intimacy. Many couples believe to be intimate they have to start having sex. However, that is not the case. Alison explains a piece of intimacy homework she gives many couples in this situation. In this task, which lasts about 20-30 minutes, they would touch each other’s hand, for example, and gradually increase the pressure or intensity. There are different exercises for different areas of the body, all of which are non-sexual and focus on intimacy in a physical sense. This increases the feelings of intimacy and of being together, being present in the moment and empowering the connection in the relationship. Alison talks about how mindfulness is a key factor in this and describes how the sessions progress and can help increase erotic desire for one another. Alison explains how ultimately we want to connect and it’s just tapping back into that and living in the moment.
Moving on, we talk about how technology has changed the way dating happens in today’s world and how the traditional days of courting and building up to a sexual relationship seem to be gone. Alison explains how this is having a detrimental impact on relationships and intimacy in general.
They’re having sex to quickly and then complaining that they’re not connecting
Alison talks about how she believes it’s not so much the technology that is causing the problem but how in so many metropolitan areas like San Francisco, LA and New York life is extremely fast-paced, stressful and exhausting, meaning at the end of the day they have little energy left for personal matters. We talk about this in more detail and also the shame and guilt that may also come from these issues when things aren’t as they should be on the sex and relationships front. Alison explains that guilt is felt less often in younger generations and more so in those who are 30+ where many people feel guilty about not spending enough time with their family. Alison talks through how she would approach this issue by looking at a client’s schedule and work/life balance with them, examining what incremental changes can be put in place to help resolve them. You need to actually make the time, even if just an hour here and there, to spend with your loved ones and be intimate and connect with each other. We talk about this more and how scheduling in time may not seem spontaneous, but will be more than what’s happening right now. Alison describes how you have to work hard in your relationship in order to achieve what you desire and you have to really want to do it because it’s hard to have a great sex life and a great intimate life. We also talk about how we tend to stop ourselves from doing things through fear of it not being perfect – an all or nothing kind of mindset – when in reality if you’re at 0% intimacy in your relationship now and only get up to 30% to begin with, that is still a hugely positive step forward.
Sex Ed is key!
Alison highlights how the topic of masturbation is still such a taboo subject, inducing much shame and guilt. She explains how there are still many couples who haven’t even discussed masturbation with their partners, let alone done this together. Alison explains why masturbation is important – you have to be able to explore your own body and know yourself because if you don’t know you’re body then you can’t expect your partner to do it right. She talks about the misconception that many people have in thinking their partner should be responsible for making them feel horny or sexy, when in reality that’s not a great idea – you need to understand your own body and needs and then teach each other how to meet them. We also talk about how this can be difficult for those who have low self-esteem or may have issues with their own body image and again discuss the need to take care of yourself and work through other issues in order to positively move forward in your relationship. Understanding yourself and communicating this with your partner are key in creating a good intimate and sexual relationship.
Loss of attraction – it’s not always about sex
A topic that also comes up a lot is the issue some couples find themselves in where they don’t feel attracted to one another anymore. Alison talks about how she addresses this with clients, first examining what the root of the issue is – whether biological or psychological – it may be that they are just not that attracted to them anymore. Through her sessions, she will try to work out why this has happened and will help to work on issues she can influence on. But Alison recognizes there are many reasons why this can occur and sometimes it is beyond our control. We talk about this more and how there may be aspects within the relationship that are causing unhappiness but may be able to be worked on. Furthermore, Alison describes how many individuals who find themselves in this position are often clinically depressed and have other issues going on, all of which need to be dealt with first in order to move forward with the relationship, whether that be together or separately.
On this train of thought, we talk about how there is much more to relationships than just sex – there is more to intimacy, sexuality, and sensuality than just the physical aspect of it. We talk about this in more detail and how it’s not a good option to look at it so narrow-mindedly. In many respects, and for many individuals, sex is only a small part of the relationship and it’s important to recognize that.
Trauma and sex
Next, we talk about opening up to sexual relationships after trauma. Alison shares her thoughts on this and how she has worked with many people who are incest survivors and sexual abuse survivors. Alison talks about how she approaches this in her practice and highlights the importance of taking care not to re-traumatize individuals, but to take things steady and teach them sensitivity training, which is very similar to the massage techniques Alison spoke about earlier in the interview. Alison describes how many individuals in this scenario have difficulty trusting others to touch their body and can be re-traumatized very easily if care is not taken. Therefore, she spends time teaching clients the ability to be vocal and communicate their triggers and worries, whilst also showing their partners how to approach intimacy and sex in a way that may ease the burden of trauma. Alison recognizes the severity of trauma and how this often needs to be processed separately, something which can not always be resolved in relationship and sex therapy. Overall, importance is given recognizing the issues, good communication and taking things at a slow pace – Go slow…and ask your partner if what you’re doing is okay – ask permission before acting.
Final words from Alison Leigh
To end we talk about the need as a society to slow down and treat ourselves and our relationships with more care and attention – it’s all about growing and developing yourself rather than performance and end results, which so many people in modern society get hung up with. We talk about this in more depth and Alison closes by offering her advice on choosing one tool to master to help you with your sex life – Mindfulness. Underlying everything that Alison teaches is the need to be aware and present in the moment, which mindfulness can help us achieve. To finish, Alison leaves us with a mindfulness exercise to help reduce anxiety which involves pressing your body into the ground or something physical to help ground you in the moment.
With that, I’d like to thank Alison Leigh for coming on the show and sharing her expertise with us! You can find out more about Alison or get in touch with her through her website expertsexadvice.com. Also, watch out for her YouTube channel and a new book coming next year.
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