How can we make sex more mindful? That’s the topic of this Tuesday’s talk with sex therapist Dr. Holly Richmond. Dr. Richmond is a Somatic Psychologist, Certified Sex Therapist (CST), and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) with offices in NY, NJ, LA and Portland (OR). I spoke to Dr. Richmond ahead of her Valentine’s Day themed talk, about her unique areas of sexpertise, the role of technology in modern sex, and how mindfulness can improve our sex lives…
What does it mean to be a Somatic Psychologist? What are the main problems you’re helping your patients solve?
As a Somatic psychologist, I focus equally on the mind and the body, meaning I pay as much attention to what my clients are saying as I do to what they are experiencing physically. I use cues including body language, eye contact, breath and posture, as well as deeper somatic responses like pain, muscular rigidity or laxity, and issues surrounding sexual dysfunction that are psychogenic versus organic in nature.
My main focus is sex and relationship therapy, so I am most often using principles of embodiment to help clients bridge the disconnect between their mind and body, helping them feel more integrated and empowered in their behaviors and choices. Common issues I treat include sexual compulsivity (often erroneously called addiction), sexual pain disorders, sexual dysfunction, recovery from infidelity, and helping clients have better sex with long-term partners or even expand their definition of monogamy. I also have specific expertise in helping survivors of sexual abuse and assault regain sexual and relational health.
When it comes to sex and love, a lof of the advice you’ll find is rather superficial and unhelpful. What resources do you recommend that take a deeper look at relationships and modern love? [Helen Fisher, Esther Perel and Terry Real are my three personal favorites!]
I agree and this is one of the reasons I went into somatic psychology, because it goes deeper than what is readily apparent. I get to dig past the surface of what people think—and often what has been spoon-fed to us societally—and help them access what they feel and who they are on a more authentic level.
Esther Perel is a luminary in the field and her work has been a powerful influence on my approach with couples.
I also appreciate Terry Real because he looks closely at the hierarchy of the relationship and deconstructs it in a way that supports both partners.
More systematically, I go to Stephen Porges and Bessel Van Der Kolk, who study attachment and the autonomic nervous system (ANS) response, which is a cornerstone of my somatic work.
One of the issues a lot of people have with couple’s’ therapists – and psychologists in general – is their insistence on remaining neutral. Renowned therapist Terry Real is one of the few who argues that clinicians must take a side when faced with an obvious shortcoming on the part of their patient. Are you noticing a move away from neutrality?
I have never been great at being neutral, and by the third or fourth session, the partner requiring the most growth (to put it as nicely as possible) will feel my nudges. Life isn’t balanced. Couples aren’t balanced. It has always confounded me why we think therapists should be. I am also quite direct in my approach, which most of my clients appreciate. I want them to get in, do the difficult work, and get out as quickly as possible.
I am not a therapist who asks, “How did that make you feel?” or “What do you think?” very often. As a rule, I do not ask “why” questions. If my clients knew why, they wouldn’t be sitting in front of me. They trust me to tell them what I think. I may be wrong sometimes, but having them push back is a healthy part of the therapeutic experience.
You’re also a “sextech” consultant, offering advice on how technology can affect our intimate relationships. What’s your biggest concern when it comes to technology?
My first concern is that technology takes the edge off our need to connect IRL with other people. It’s just good enough, but far from great or sufficient. Connecting with people on dating apps, or social media, or with ourselves sexually through porn, are all fine things to do to a certain extent. However, tech should not become a replacement for all aspects of our social and relational interdependence. Tech should be used in addition to, not in place of ways to create intimacy.
Secondly, I am 100% pro-porn, but also 100% knowing that it is purely for entertainment, not education. That’s where porn is causing problems with younger generations. They think porn is real life and that’s how they should be having sex. The solution is not to take porn away but to have good sex education available in our schools, as well as teaching parents how to talk openly about sex with their kids.
Your talk this Tuesday is about how we can have “mindful sex.” What’s a surprisingly easy way a couple can incorporate mindfulness into their sex life?
Focus on pleasure, full stop! Somatic psychology principles teach us to be present and self-aware, and to use sensations as a guide for what feels best and most authentically ourselves. Part of my mindful sex protocol is dismantling all of the things we think sex should be, including what we think it should look like, taste like, smell like, sound like and all of the porn star tricks we think we should be able to perform. All of those things keep us very much in our heads and not in our bodies.
Sex is a mind/body experience, and too often we are relegating our body to the sidelines because we are distracted about how we aren’t doing enough or maybe too much. I’ll often take sex—the kind of sex my clients have been having—completely off the table to help them build a mindful practice that is based on pleasure and connection.
Meet Dr. Holly Richmond this Tuesday, February 11, at 1:30pm at Intimate Space by Dame in lower Manhattan. Details here.