Orgasm Much? A Scintillating Conversation with Sex Therapist + Educator, Gwen Butler
Many women are bonafide badasses in their professional lives. They talk a good game with their girlfriends about relationship goals, relationship woes, the pursuit of sex (or lack thereof) and that oft-times elusive connection with someone they consider a romantic interest. But when it comes to really exploring the topic of sexual liberation — from masturbation to foreplay, from sexual fantasies to oral sex — feelings of discomfort and for some, even shame make them retreat into silence.
We talked with sex therapist and educator, Gwen Butler, LCSW, to explore the topic of owning one's sexuality and baby, we're here to tell you, no topic was off limits. Gwen is a New York-based licensed clinical social worker, a trained sex therapist in private practice and an adjunct professor in the school of social work at Adelphi University. She recently penned a steamy new book, Indulge: 25 Indulgences to Unlock your Sensual Self: Explore Your Erotic Nature.
Indulge is an invitation to intimately engage the most significant individual in your love life — You! The mindful and erotic sensual indulgences in her book are designed to connect you with your sensual, sexual, erotic self, which in turn will increase self-intimacy, self-connection and self-love. A sexually fulfilling experience begins with a personal love relationship with your sexual self first. And Gwen invites you…to Indulge.
This spicy sexpert shared her perspective on taking responsibility for your own orgasm, keeping it hot in the bedroom (or the kitchen, or in the car, or outside in the rain...) and setting your sex life — alone or with a partner —ablaze.
Get Your Sol: What initially interested you in becoming a sex therapist and educator? How long have you been practicing?
Gwen: A private client came to me a few years ago in relationship distress. Over time what she presented as an inability to connect with her partner sexually (due to what she defined as ‘religious rules’) turned out in fact, to be shame surrounding her deepest desire for sex and sexual satisfaction. We processed the shame together, and in later sessions I introduced sexuality education as a way to usher in her own ability to re-connect with herself, and then with her partner. Over time I could see the changes taking place in my client’s life, not only sexually, but emotionally, physically, and relationally as well. In a recent interview, I heard Dr. Tammy Nelson, a nationally recognized expert in sex therapy, say that sex is the only thing that covers every level of our existence and awareness. She goes on to say that if you change someone’s sex life, you change them physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. Considering the manifest changes I witnessed in my client’s life, I could not agree with her more.
For as long as I can remember sex has been a part of my life. Curiosity and early exposure as a child led me to self-exploration. Into my teens and adolescent years I tested the boundaries of what was socially, morally, and spiritually acceptable and appropriate. Later in my young adult life I tried on different perspectives in search of a sexually empowering identity. Struggling to make sense of pleasure and the shame that immediately followed, I debated the moral conflict within: the conflict between right and wrong, and good and bad. Endeavoring to fuse both intellectually and physiologically my own erotic sensations, I read erotica, watched films, explored sensual pleasure, and ultimately reached a place of internal reconciliation. In essence, that for many, sex is a natural desire, it is good, it is beautiful, it is healthy and necessary. I began to realize I was not alone in this struggle. Many women, in particular women of color, battle with the same moral dilemma surrounding sexual freedom and pleasure, and religious or societal roles and expectations. I want to be a voice for these women, a gateway to the self-understanding that brings about sexual freedom.
In graduate school, I was introduced to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Understanding even further the importance of sex as a physiological need, I became determined to provide the safe space to have the sex conversation. Sex positive talk became natural for me among friends, family members, colleagues, and clients. As a graduating social worker, I was asked to facilitate a workshop on the importance of self-care for the clinician. Among other things, I focused on sexual release as part of self-care. At the end of that workshop, a seasoned colleague, who later became my mentor, approached me. She told me that what I had done in raising sex-positive awareness as it related to self-care was brilliant, and that I needed to continue to develop and capitalize on that ease-of-ability in my professional practice. I took heed.
I have been in practice for over 10 years. Sex therapy has always been a part of my practice as a therapist. In 2015, I solidified my interest in sex therapy and education by obtaining a certificate in sex therapy and education from the University of Michigan.
Get Your Sol: For the uninformed, please explain exactly what sex therapy is.
Gwen: Very simply, sex therapy is psychotherapy having to deal specifically with sexual issues, whether they are individually or relationally focused. There are many aspects of sexual health that might bring someone into therapy with me — sexual pleasure, sexual dysfunctions, intimacy issues, sexuality through the ages, sexuality through illness, and sexual trauma. I work with a wide range of sexual, emotional and behavioral issues, providing therapy for individuals and couples. My approach is tailored to each of my client's individual needs to reach optimal sexual functioning and pleasure.
Get Your Sol: What types of clients do you typically work with? More women than men? Mostly couples?
As it has happened organically, I work mostly with women; however, in the recent few months I have noticed a greater interest in male inquiries for therapy.
Get Your Sol: What inspired you to write Indulge?
Gwen: I love this question! Indulge came out of a desire to provide information, instruction, and permission to the many women I have spoken with (in therapy and in regular conversations) about masturbation and self pleasure.
Get Your Sol: Please share the top three things you hope readers will come away with?
1) An ‘unshaming’ of their bodies, 2) A recognition of the beauty & power of their sensuality and their sexuality, and 3) A fearless approach to their sex lives with themselves and their partners.
Get Your Sol: You've been quoted saying, "The most influential sexual relationship you will ever have is with yourself." Can you explain what that means and how one should go about having a healthy sexual relationship with themselves?
Gwen: The combination of thoughts and feelings creates behaviors. That said, the only person that stops us, is us. So, whatever the scenario, i.e. meeting someone for the first time, catching a glimpse of the cutie at the bar, rubbing shoulders with a hot stranger, or getting a whiff of a delicious cologne, our feelings immediately inform our thoughts and those thoughts inform the immediate behavior. We will either go forward into or retreat out; and that decision/motion is based on culture, religion, upbringing and experiences or lack thereof. If we are sexually free we’ll move forward. If we are sexually oppressed or repressed we will retreat. Either way, our sexuality will be impacted. Thus, we ourselves are the great influencers.
Get Your Sol: Share a few of the best ways couples can keep their relationship alive and healthy in and out of the bedroom?
Gwen: Keep the mystery alive. Date as often as possible. Plan frequent date nights (WITHOUT THE KIDS). Never stop flirting. Spend the night out (change the scenery). Do new things together (dance classes, cooking classes, exercise classes). Be silly together. Laugh. Don’t take life so seriously! Keep it sexy. Don’t let yourself go — take care of your body and your mind. Stay grounded in yourself. Maintain individuality!!! Have sex at least 1-2 times per week to maintain emotional connection — Oxytocin is the bonding hormone that connects two people after love-making – it’s a real thing and it matters. Plan your sex life….don’t assume it will just happen.
Get Your Sol: What are some of the things that erode a relationship?
1) Boredom and complacency are dangerous to a relationship. Too much familiarity robs the relationship of the mystery and excitement of the unknown, 2) Stress is toxic to a relationship — stay emotionally, mentally and spiritually healthy, and 3) Absence does not always make the heart grow fonder —stay present without being overwhelming.
Get Your Sol: What's your stance on sexual fantasies? How can they be helpful or harmful in a relationship?
Gwen: Oh how I LOVE sexual fantasies … they say so much about us! That said, sexual fantasies can be both helpful and harmful. When two people in a relationship are open to each other’s differences and nuances, shared sexual fantasies can both enlighten and ignite the relationship. They can be used sexually for play (in action or just talk), and they allow for safe spaces to explore sexually (without the lure of looking elsewhere). In relationships that are close-minded, oppressed, repressed, and/or judgmental, unexpressed sexual fantasies can pose as a major threat. They can create shame and fear, and sometimes birth into deviant behaviors outside of the relationship.
Get Your Sol: How do you define self-care both personally and as a sex therapist/educator?
Gwen: I heard someone recently say that when we give from a sacrificial place, we are making the other person a thief of the vitals we need to exist and survive. We cannot give on ‘Empty’ the same way a car cannot run on E…PERIOD! Self care is paramount! Better to give from the overflow, than from an empty cup. Self care is individual — know yourself so that you know what you need and how to get it. Personally speaking, I myself, am an introvert. Too much time with people makes me cranky and I NEED solitude to recalibrate, re-energize and re-focus.
As a sex therapist, love on YOU first. Love on your body… Touch, caress, massage, all of the above…you get it. And treat yourself! Getting your nails done, hair done, a wax, a massage, eyebrows, makeup — all of these are acts of self-care as long you feel good coming out of it. AND they are essential for your mental, emotional, physical and sexual well-being.
Get Your Sol: Name a woman (or women), past or present you admire.
I admire my friends and sister circles. They are living inspirations of what is beautiful. They are achieving their dreams without compromise to who they are as individuals, and using their gifts to pour into the lives of others. My friends and sister circles inspire me the most.