Have you ever wondered how truly to elevate your sex life and navigate the tricky dynamics of desire in today’s world? In today’s episode, we are joined by certified sex therapist Dr. Kate Balestrieri for an episode around sexual communication, consent, and sex education! Join us as Kate shares practical tips to improve your sex life including ways to give constructive feedback after a sexual experience, the opt-in or opt-out approach, and ways to communicate your sexual needs and desires – because a healthier sex life starts with communication!

This conversation is a reminder that expanding your pleasure potential improves not only your sex life but your life in general. Tune in and then tag us with your biggest takeaway on Instagram @celetemooreimage.

In this week’s episode, we discuss:

[01:32] About Dr. Kate Balestrieri

[02:21] What inspired Kate to specialize in sex therapy

[05:08] Effective communication techniques for couples to express their sexual needs and desires

[07:57] Using the “sandwich method” for giving constructive feedback

[11:08] Scheduling in time for the “possibility” of sex 

[12:52] Women are more depleted than men

[17:28] The most common psychological & emotional barriers that prevent people from their pleasure potential

[21:01] Why men often get stuck in isolation 

[24:27] The importance of consent and setting boundaries

[28:02] Taking an opt-in or opt-out approach

[33:39] What is the relationship between physical, mental, emotional, and sexual health?

[35:45] Using sex as a coping strategy for stress

[39:52] How can better education impact sexual satisfaction and safety?

[42:10] Teaching children about consent and boundaries 

[45:01] The positive and negative impact of technology on sexual intimacy 

About Dr. Kate Balestrieri

Dr. Kate Balestrieri is a licensed psychologist, certified sex therapist, the founder of the therapy practice Modern Intimacy, and host of the Get Naked with Dr. Kate podcast.

What inspired Kate to specialize in sex therapy

When Kate first got into this field her focus was on forensic psychology. She did a lot of work with people who were incarcerated for sexually violent crimes. She spent many years doing evaluations, treatments, and expert witness testimonies to help the courts and incarcerated people figure out how much of a risk it was to integrate them back into society. 

Kate ended up getting burnt out and moved into a private practice. Overtime, she decided to specialize in sex therapy because she realized how wonky people’s relationships with sex can be and how difficult it can move from a place of disconnection to a place of neutrality. A lot of her work now focuses on helping people to identify their disappointments in their sex lives and instead move to a place that is as meaningful as they want it to be. 

Effective communication techniques for couples to express their sexual needs and desires

Kate shares that we need to set ourselves up for success when communicating our sexual needs and desires. Make sure to have this conversation when you are both in the right headspace. What often happens is that people try to talk about this when they are rushing around, during sex, or when they just do not have the capacity for it. We need to be thoughtful around these conversations so no one gets defensive. You could say something like “I’d really love for us to have a chat about different ways we can be creative in the bedroom. Is that a conversation you would be interested in having?” Then if they agree you can figure out a good time for the both of you. 

Another recommendation is to practice debriefing with each other. Debriefing gives us the opportunity to reflect on what was good, what could be different next time, or what did not land. When you get in the habit of debriefing with each other, it is much easier to hear this constructive feedback. It normalizes the practice of evaluating how to have the best sex you can have.

Using the “sandwich method” for giving constructive feedback

Each person is different so be mindful of tender spots in each partner but a method that really works is “sandwiching” a piece of constructive feedback with two things that you appreciated, liked, or went well for you. This could sound like “I love that you tried a new position, let’s keep up with trying new things. I did notice that with the position we used today, it took me out of the mood a bit. Maybe next time we can put a pillow under my hips or tweak it somehow. And I love how you did XYZ.”

Usually, if you bring this up to your partner in this way instead of going straight into what you did not like, it is more well-received. Kate also shares that we should ask for feedback too. Opening the floor for your partner to give you feedback also allows them to receive it better. Everyone is so different from day to day and what feels good today might not tomorrow so opening the floor for direct communication is best. You can share this right after sex or another time when you have space. 

Kate also tells us that we need to give feedback and help our partner to get through what feels good for us. Talk with each other about how you can give each other feedback in the moment that feels collaborative and like we’re working toward the same goal.

Scheduling in time for the “possibility” of sex 

Kate recommends scheduling the opportunity for sexual intimacy but do not make it a definite thing that will happen. If you make it an obligation, then someone is probably going to lose desire. If you take the space to create desire and erotic excitement that will bring you together, then you have more of a chance for quality intimacy. 

Women are more depleted than men

Many men think that they do not have sex enough while women have a hard time getting out of their heads and into their bodies. Kate shares that it is not biologically true that women have a lower sex desire than men but women are often more burdened by things. They are taking on labor that is very draining and consuming when you come from a mental energy and physiological perspective.

Women often get more depleted than men because of the way society has structured gender roles. When Kate hears a male client say “I do not get enough sex from my partner”, she reminds them that sex is not a commodity that your partner is withholding from you, but secondly, she always asks them what are they doing to help their partner have more bandwidth for sex. We cannot just wait for our partners to have that desire, we can take some things off of their plates, flirt, and initiate sexual connection. 

The most common psychological & emotional barriers that prevent people from their pleasure potential

One of the biggest things that keeps people at a distance from their pleasure potential is shame, Many people hold shame about what they like, about who they are, about who they love, and also the fear that comes with that shame. Kate shares that shame and fear are really big barriers for many people.

Maintaining a culture of sex positivity as you think about your own sex life and other people’s helps to combat this. This does not mean you have to like every kind of sex and do things you do not want to do, it means maintaining a judgment and a shame-free position about what you like and what other people like. Humans are diverse so diversity in sexual interests is to be expected. 

It is also important to look at the groups you belong to. What are the codes of conduct in those groups? Do you fit in that group? If not, you might want to consider finding some other communities with people who have some similar interests to you. This may not be easy for everyone as they might feel judged or rejected but it is about reorganizing your boundaries and thinking about how you practice discernment in terms of who gets to know what parts of you. You do not have to be vulnerable with everyone. 

Why men often get stuck in isolation 

Kate shares that socially there is a lot for the system of patriarchy to gain by denying men’s vulnerability and the hard things that have happened to them. This messes with men and deprives them of their full humanity. Men also feel hurt, rejected, insecure, and victimized and we should be able to hold space for this. Many men perceive that sharing these painful things is weak so they tend to isolate themselves and do not get the help that they need. 

Kate had a client who told his wife about a sexual abuse that had happened when he was younger and she had such a reaction to his story that he never opened up about it again to anyone. This is a clear example of how sexism hurts men.

The importance of consent and setting boundaries

Kate shares that consent is permission to engage and our bodies are dynamic and always changing. This means that the permission needs to be continuous, ongoing, and repeatedly sourced. We need to move away from consent in the way of asking one time and you are done. Think of consent as permission for good sex. Asking your partner “Do you like this? Is this hot? Can I try this? Is this working for you?” It is less about rigid boundaries and more about adding to the pleasure of the experience for both parties. We need to figure out what is exciting, what we are saying yes to, and what we are holding back on. We need to know our boundaries and what are are strict on. 

Taking an opt-in or opt-out approach

There are many different models of consent, but Kate recommends considering if you are taking an opt-in or opt-out approach. Opting in means you are getting consent at every juncture before you try something new. Opting out means you decide what is off of the table and everything else goes until someone says no. Couples that have been together for a long time might know each other’s rhythm and what they like so they usually do more of an opt-out approach. Other people, especially people who have had a history of sexual trauma or who may be exploring something new, may need time to adjust so an opt-in approach works better.

It is important to talk with any partners that you have about what feels better for both of you. You need to respect each other’s boundaries. Kate shares that if you are just starting to date someone, start with an opt-in approach. Check-in before you do something new because if you do not, then you run the risk of something feeling overwhelming for them. 

If you are someone for whom sex is really important and sexual compatibility is a higher priority in your relationship, you might want to talk about those things earlier on to make sure that you do in fact have somebody in front of you who is either open to the same things or really likes the same things. If sex is not as big of a priority for you, you might not be so motivated to know what is super interesting to someone or what’s off-limits. Everyone has a different rhythm.

What is the relationship between physical, mental, emotional, and sexual health?

There are so many benefits to sex that help enhance our capacity for emotional regulation and sense of connectedness. Sex also elicits all kinds of neurochemicals in the body, including,  oxytocin, dopamine, vasopressin, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These are all of our feel-good chemicals. It can also be a great stress reliever and helps with downregulating an anxious nervous system. Oxytocin in the body obliterates cortisol, which is a huge unconscious motivator for a lot of people who use sex as a way to regulate their stress or to feel better. 

Being in touch with your sexuality and permitting yourself to be sexual is a great way to stay connected to your vitality, creativity, curiosity, and a sense of play – which we do not make a lot of space for as adults. 

Using sex as a coping strategy for stress

When people have limited ways of coping with stress, any of those strategies can become overused, leading to unhealthy dependence. It does not matter if it is sex, playing a game, cooking, or over-exercising. These activities can be good for us, but relying on just one can become problematic. Many of us have used sex or masturbation to feel better, and that is not inherently bad but if sex is your only coping mechanism, you need to diversify your strategies. Expanding your coping toolbox is essential to prevent over-dependence.

Kate also shares that using sex solely as a stress reliever can also impact relationships, especially if it feels like you are using your partner to just regulate your nervous system. This can feel objectifying and uncomfortable for your partner (unless you both enjoy this dynamic). Developing other coping strategies can help maintain a healthy balance, avoiding dependency on your partner’s body for relaxation. No one is entitled to sex from another person and over-dependence can create entitlement issues that harm intimacy.

How can better education impact sexual satisfaction and safety?

Kate shares that there are significant gaps in sex education, particularly in America. She believes that this is intentional because greater awareness of bodily agency, boundaries, and pleasure leads to more empowered individuals. The intentional silencing around sex education limits our autonomy and sense of entitlement to pleasure, making us more compliant in other areas of life. Historically, sex has been used as a tool of control, and this continues today. By educating ourselves about sex and pleasure equity, we not only improve our sex lives but also enhance our overall quality of life.

Teaching children about consent and boundaries 

Research shows the importance of starting age-appropriate sex education with young children, focusing on recognizing anatomy and understanding basic touch consent. Children are often urged to hug or kiss older relatives which can be scary and uncomfortable for them. Kate shares that encouraging children to respect their own bodily boundaries from a young age is crucial. Parents often unintentionally teach children to ignore their bodily boundaries, but it is never too late to change this approach! Many parents make these mistakes but it is important to adapt and do things differently moving forward. 

This early education sets the stage for healthier communication and boundaries as adults, both sexually and non-sexually. Teaching kids that they can assert their boundaries helps them develop a strong sense of bodily autonomy. Research indicates that consistent, age-appropriate sex education as children grow reduces the risk of STIs, unwanted pregnancies, and leads to more pleasurable experiences.

The positive and negative impact of technology on sexual intimacy 

Technology has both positively and negatively changed how we relate to each other both emotionally and sexually. On the positive side, social media and dating apps allow people to connect with others from all over the world. This also helps people learn about their preferences and receive feedback on how they are perceived.

The downside is that intimacy has become two-dimensional. The ease of swiping and the abundance of choices can lead to objectifying others, treating them as stimuli for personal experience rather than as real people. It also makes people less likely to commit because they are always wondering what else is out there. 

People also create a fantasy around a person they meet online. They may project unrealistic expectations and fantasies onto them. This can lead to disappointment when the reality does not. match the idealized version. This is why you should meet someone in person as soon as you are comfortable enough to! 

Connect with Kate:

Website

Instagram

TikTok

YouTube

Podcast

How to Elevate Your Sex Life with Dr. Kate Balestrieri

June 17, 2024