Human Sexuality: An AC Sex Coaching Perspective

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Human sexuality is a complex, multifaceted phenomenon.  From an Acceptance and Commitment (AC) Coaching perspective, two aspects of human sexuality are most related to clients getting stuck in sexual ruts: sexual identity and sexual response. This blog will present a concise overview of the two areas.

 

 

 

Sexual Identity

Stated simply, your clients sexual identity is how they see themselves as sexual people in the present moment. Clients often get stuck on troubling thoughts and personal scripts, and painful mental images and emotions related to sexual identity issues.

There are five dimensions of sexual identity:

(1) biological sex

(2) gender identity

(3) gender role

(4) sexual orientation

(5) sexual behavior

Each dimension exists along a continuum that can shift throughout your clients’ sexual life cycles.

Biological Sex Continuum

 


Male (XY)                                    Intersex                                   Female (XX)

Gender Identity Continuum

 


 Masculine                                   Transgender                                   Feminine

Gender Role Continuum

 


 Masculine                                   Transgender                                   Feminine

Sexual Orientation Continuum

 


 Heterosexual                                   Bisexual                                   Homosexual

 

Sexual  Behavior Continuum

 


 Low Level                                   Moderate Level                                   High Level

 

With the exception of Biological Sex, the components of sexual identity are not fixed and can shift as clients get older, are exposed to new experiences, partners, and life circumstances.  Biological sex is less fluid because it is determined by genetic inheritance. Sexual anatomy and physiology will develop along genetic inheritance unless surgical and medical interventions are used to alter it.

 

 

Biological Sex 

Biological Sex is determined by the chromosome pairings of XX females and XY for males. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes. One pair contains the sex chromosomes XX or XY.

Chromosome pairings create male and female anatomical and physiological differences through a process called sexual differentiation (sex specific development).  This process of  sex specific development starts at conception when sperm meets egg and continues throughout life.

At conception, male and female sexual structures start from the same (homologous) embryonic tissue. At about 7 weeks prenatal TDF (testis-determining-factor) is released in genetic males causing a penis and testicles to develop. In the absence of TDF, males will not differentiate causing  intersex development.

Several things can cause anatomical and physiological anomalies during prenatal development in a small percentage of biological men and women. Among the most common are genetic abnormalities and exposure to hormones and drugs. It is beyond the scope of this blog to discuss Intersex and other genetic anomalies.

Sexual differentiation is most noticeable at three times in human development:

  • about seven weeks prenatal (when male and female genitals and gonads differentiate)
  • puberty (when fertility begins and secondary sex characteristics kick in)
  • menopause (when fertility ends)

During these time periods the effects of differentiation are most noticeable. Genetic males and females have certain similarities and differences that are worth noting.

Genetic Male XY/Female XX Similarities:

  • other than the sex chromosomes both start with same genetic material
  • both start with the same internal structures
  • both are similar size and strength until puberty
  • both change at puberty and in older adulthood
  • both produce testosterone (women in ovaries and adrenal glands, men in testes and adrenal glands)

Genetic Male XY/Female XX Differences:

  • women have a cyclic hormone release pattern (levels of hormones vary across the menstrual cycle)
  • men have a constant hormone release pattern (levels of hormones do not vary intentionally)
  • women menstruate, men do not
  • women can get pregnant , men cannot
  • women go through menopause and lose their fertility completely, men do not

There are three main implications for AC Sex Coaching regarding these similarities and differences:

  • women and men are similar and different
  • client perception of similarities and differences can be a factor in getting stuck
  • biological sex influences, not determines sexual identity

From an AC Sex Coaching perspective, the fact that biological men and women are similar and different is less important than how clients view the similarities and differences. Clients often get stuck in sexual ruts because of their thoughts, personal scripts, mental , images, and emotions about their biological sex. As an AC Sex Coach you need to have a basic understanding of biological sex and the way your clients view it to help them get unstuck.

 

 

Gender Identity

Gender Identity is the internal picture of what it means to be a man or woman (or both/neither). The LGBTQ movement has shown that there is tremendous variation in how biological men, women, and intersex folks perceive their gender. As with Biological Sex,  Gender identity also exists along a continuum of masculinity and femininity. Traditional views of masculinity would be at one end and traditional views of femininity would be at the other. You can use mainstream American culture as the context for the continuum understanding that age, ethnicity, and sub-culture identification all influence gender identity.

While Gender Identity is fluid and changes over the course of clients’ lifetimes, it is formed by age 3. Young children have a picture of what it means to them to be boys and girls. If you ask clients to go back and describe themselves as young children or show you pictures from that period you’ll get a sense of their gender identities as children.

AC Sex Coaching is completely values-neutral regarding gender. There is no preferred gender identity for your clients. From an AC Sex Coaching perspective, their gender identities are less important than how they view them.  Sometimes clients’ thoughts, feelings etc, about their gender identities can contribute to getting stuck.

Gender Role

Gender role is the external portrayal of gender identity. In clients with high-level mental well-being, their gender role is consistent or congruent with their gender identity. In other words they behave in ways that are consistent with how they see themselves as men, women, or transgender people.

Because AC Sex Coaching is completely values-neutral the important issue is helping clients become more congruent. In terms of values-congruent behavior, AC Coaches want their clients to behave in ways that are consistent with their gender identity values, whatever they may be. This is often difficult for some clients who have been teased, bullied, ridiculed, or even physically harmed because of their gender identity and gender role behavior.

Sexual Orientation

Sexual Orientation is the adult, free choice of sexual partners (who your clients desire and who they have sex with). I intentionally used the qualifiers adult and free choice. Many clients experiment with heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual behavior before settling into a pattern that they would identify with in adulthood.

Free choice implies that it is not coerced or driven by extenuating circumstance. For example, I have worked with several incarcerated adult men who identified as heterosexual despite engaging in oral and anal sex with men in prison. The key factor for them that determined their sexual orientation was the fact that they were the insertive partner (their penis in their partners’ mouths and rectums).

This illustrates why it is so important to hear your clients thoughts, personal scripts, mental images and emotions related to their sexual orientation without judgment.

 

 

Sexual Behavior

Sexual Behavior includes the number and types of partners and relationships, preferred sexual activities and levels of sexual activity. You cannot get an accurate picture of your clients’ sexual behavior without gathering information on all of these aspects. You cannot assume anything based on relationship status alone. Simply noting the type of relationship (married, single etc.) does not give you information about the nature of the relationship (types of activities, level of activity etc.).

Once again,  AC Coaching takes a values-neutral position on sexual orientation and behavior. There is no inherently right or wrong, or good or bad sexual orientation or behavior pattern (with legal, moral, and ethical exceptions such as rape, incest etc.).

The important issue is whether your clients’ thoughts, personal scripts, mental images and feelings about their sexual orientation and behavior contributes to their being stuck .

The Sexual Response Cycle

There have been many sexual response cycle models developed over the past 50 years ranging from the ground-breaking one developed by Masters and Johnson to more modern versions similar to Basson’s model.

Drawing from the most popular models I’ve identified five stages of the sexual response cycle most models have in common:

(1) desire

(2) arousal/excitement

(3) plateau

(4) orgasm

(5) resolution/refractory period

The stages of the sexual response cycle build upon each-other and all of the stages are accompanied by thoughts, personal scripts, mental images and emotions. Because there is such a complex interaction between the mind and the body during sexual response, thoughts, feelings  etc. can either facilitate or short-circuit the cycle.

Desire is the first stage of the sexual response cycle and begins in the brain. Desire is fueled by everything from the time of last orgasm to fantasy, music, aroma, love, and a host of other factors. Like beauty, desire is in the eye of the beholder. What turns on some of your clients will turn others off. It is essential to assess clients’ turn ons and turn offs if you really want to understand their sexual response.

 

 

Arousal is the next stage in the cycle. Without desire there is no arousal. Desire triggers the release of chemicals in the brain that starts sexual arousal.

Arousal is the result of a complex interaction between the nervous, endocrine, and muscular systems. Chemicals, neurotransmitters, and hormones work together to trigger sexual arousal and keep the fires of desire burning. Nitrous Oxide (NOS) produced in the spongy tissue in the penis and in the clitoris and walls of the vagina starts a complex chain reaction that triggers arousal.

During arousal, a process called vasocongestion causes blood flow in the body to be redirected to the genitals resulting in erection in men and lubrication and genital engorgement in women.  The spongy tissue in the penis, clitoris and walls of the vagina fill with blood causing them to swell. The walls of the vagina begin to release lubrication.

Plateau is considered that point of maximum sexual arousal. Some indicators of plateau are:

  • the penis is fully erect
  • pre-ejaculatory fluid is present at the opening of the penis
  • the vagina is fully lubricated
  • the vulva, breasts, and nipples are engorged
  • there is increased tension, heart rate, blood pressure

Plateau can last for a few seconds to much longer depending upon factors ranging from age, sexual experience, time since last orgasm etc.)

Orgasm is the release of all of the sexual tension built up during arousal and plateau. Some of the things that go on during orgasm are:

  • genital muscles contract and release involuntarily
  • skeletal muscles contract and release
  • tension is released
  • ejaculation occurs

For orgasm to occur, clients must experience the needed level and intensity of stimulation. Clients vary tremendously in terms of what types, amount, and levels of intensity of sexual activity is necessary to achieve orgasm. Orgasm is particularly dependent upon having the right frame of mind. Troubling thoughts and painful emotions can often create barriers to clients having orgasms.

 

Resolution is the return of all body parts and systems to the un-aroused state. The refractory period is the amount of time needed to return to the aroused state. Women can continue to have orgasms with no down time (refractory period), while men cannot. The amount of time men need is influenced by their age, the time since last orgasm, and a host of other variables.

During resolution the following things happen:

  • Blood flow (vasocongestion) is reversed.
  • genitals return to normal size
  • lubrication stops
  • muscle tension, heart rate, respiration return to normal

Resolution is also the time when clients reflect of the experience. They can experience a range of thoughts and emotions regarding the experience ranging from euphoria, contentment and satisfaction, to anger, agitation and dissatisfaction.

Aging-Related Changes in Sexual Response in Men 

  • Arousal takes longer.
  • Arousal may require manual stimulation of the penis.
  • Erections tend to be less firm.
  • Less semen is ejaculated.
  • There is less need to ejaculate to enjoy sexual activity.
  • Slightly diminished intensity of orgasmic contractions.
  • More time is necessary to get another erection.

Aging-Related Changes in Sexual Response in Women 

  • The vagina is less elastic and not able to expand as much.
  • Arousal takes longer.
  • Vaginal lubrication takes longer.
  • Amount of lubrication may be diminished.
  • The clitoris is smaller but not less responsive.
  • The intensity of orgasmic contractions diminishes slightly.

Clients react differently to their changing sexual response patterns as they age. It is important to assess their thoughts, personal scripts, mental images and emotions regarding this. Older clients and clients in long-term sexual relationship often get stuck because they compare their current sexual response pattern with what they experienced in their young adulthood. Rather than simply noting their current response patterns as merely different, and enjoying them for what they are,they consider them sub-par.

Perception of Sexual Response

There is no “correct” sexual response. The sexual response cycle is a framework used to understand the processes involved but there are variations within the cycle and sexual response will vary somewhat from client to client. It will also vary within the same client over time and from one sexual experience to another.

As an AC Sex Coach, it isn’t important that your clients’ sexual response mimics the cycle described here. The important thing is understanding whether or not their thoughts, personal scripts, mental images, and emotions regarding their sexual response  is contributing to them being stuck.

In addition, because there is such a complex interaction between the mind and the body during sexual response, troubling thoughts and personal scripts and painful mental images and emotions can interfere with the cycle at any point. They can result in loss of desire, inability to get aroused or have an orgasm, or lack of satisfaction.

Find out how AC Sex Coaching Principles and Practices work to help clients deal with sexual identity and sexual response issues that contribute to them getting stuck in sexual relationship ruts.

My new training course, Acceptance and Commitment (AC ) Coaching: Sexual Relationship Coaching for Committed Couples has been approved for 10 CEU Coaching Credits by CCE, the nation’s premiere coach credentialing organization.

Find out more by getting a copy of my Free Training Session; This 30 minute training session (a $79.00 value) introduces my Acceptance and Commitment (AC ) Coaching: Sexual Relationship Coaching for Committed Couples course and is yours free for the asking.

Click Here to Obtain Your Copy of Your Training Session

 

 

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