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Modern Renegades with Ashley Kelsch | Clarity Is Not Cruelty with Dr. Alexandra Solomon

Ep #80

Clarity Is Not Cruelty with Dr. Alexandra Solomon

Consent has a number of dimensions, and it is so much richer, deeper, and more interesting than simply “no means no.” I recently saw an Instagram post by Dr. Alexandra Solomon that talked about how ‘clarity is not cruelty’, and it was so eye-opening to me, Renegades, that I knew I had to talk to her.

Dr. Alexandra Solomon is a Clinical Assistant Professor at Northwestern University and a licensed Clinical Psychologist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University. She is an author and writes a column for Psychology Today, frequently being asked to talk about love, sex, and marriage. She joins me this week to share her expertise and talk more deeply about dating, consensual sex, and relationships.

Join us this week for an explorative conversation around consent, clarity, and what we’ve been taught about heteronormative relationships. We discuss consensual sex, polyamory, BDSM, and being Queer, and I am very excited to share today’s conversation about what consent is at the very core. There are so many nuances around consent, and we’re diving deeper into them this week.

What You Will Discover:

  • Why sexual experiences begin with a conversation.
  • The reason people are nervous talking about sex and how to feel more comfortable with it.
  • Where the orgasm gap is happening in relationships.
  • The problem with sex education in the U.S.
  • Why consent and communication are the foundation of sex, relationships and intimacy.
  • How patriarchy can hurt men as well as women.
  • Why there is not enough intimate conversation about sex and consent.

Resources Mentioned:

Enjoy the Show?

This is Ashley Kelsch and you are listening to Life Coaching for Modern Renegades, episode number 80.

Welcome to Modern Renegades podcast. This is a life coaching podcast for the person who wants to learn how to lose themselves in the moment, not life circumstances. Each week we will explore mental and spiritual practices that will inspire you to ask, seek, and heal. They are for the modern renegade. They are for you.

Hey Renegades, I am very excited about today's conversation with Dr. Alexandra Solomon. After I recorded my episode, Saying What You Mean, a few weeks ago I talked about consent and my personal opinion that we could all use an update about what consent is and what it means. Later that day, maybe the next day I read a post by Dr. Alexandra Solomon saying, “Clarity is not cruelty.”

In her content she went on to say, “Many of us learned early on in our life to trade authenticity for belonging. We became exactly who our family system needed us to be long before we even really knew who we were. Perhaps we had a parent who needed us to be okay to prove that they were okay. Perhaps we had a parent who needed us to be compliant to assuage their chronic stress. Perhaps we had a parent who needed us to be needless to prevent their irritability from getting activated. We did what we had to do.

And if you were a little girl, you had the double whammy of the family dynamic and the cultural narrative working in tandem to silence your truth. I continue to be struck by how subtly and profoundly we, as girls, are taught to accommodate the needs, whims, preferences, insecurities of boys and men in a way that serves neither the accommodators nor the accommodated.

Many of us have been left falsely equating clarity and cruelty. I don't want to give him my phone number equals I'm a withholding bitch. I don't want a second date equals I think I'm better than you. I don't want to continue this relationship equals I'm heartless and harmful. Maybe this is being said explicitly, often it isn't. It's a fear that our truth does harm, that our preferences are a kind of violence, that our needs damage other people's esteem. Let's say it again, clarity is not cruelty.”

She goes on, “Years ago when I was booty deep-clinical term-in my own healing, a therapist said to me, say what you mean, mean what you say. But don't say it in a mean way. You can be both firm and kind. One of the most powerful things we can do to heal the wounds of patriarchy is to teach our boys and men that you can be denied without your wholeness being compromised in any way, shape, or form.

When a boy or a man tells you about rejection, look him in his eyes and say, okay, so now what? Being told no is an effing gift because it gives the opportunity to tolerate disappointment without acting out, without retaliating, without withering. When a boy or man tells you about a failure, remind him that his worth is not entwined with his latest win, for his sake, for her sake, for our sake.”

Now, when you go into this episode, this conversation, I want you to know this is not about us talking about the patriarchy, and men, and how wrong they are. We talk about the hetero norms of relationships and what that has taught us. We talk about being queer. We talk about BDSM. We talk about polyamory. I don't think I swear a lot. It's a really great conversation and we really, I believe, address what, at the core, consent can be.

I have some questions that people had written in and asked, but just so you know, the reason I wanted to have this conversation with Dr. Solomon is that she is an educator on sex and relationships. She's working with college kids, teaching at Northwestern. Professional doesn't even begin to describe. She's written books, she writes, she talks, she's doing all of this work and I thought I wanted to bring an expert's point of view, their education to the conversation.

And I hope that hearing Alexandra talk about this modern language of what dating and sex and relationships are about will give you some insight. And yeah, that's why I did that. Because you know what? Modern Renegades is, we're doing the work in the name of love, my friends. Okay? That's what I'm doing. And that means I'm going to talk to some other people. I'm going to need some professionals and experts to come up in this piece and let us know what is going on.

I hope you enjoy today's conversation. I hope that you share it with your friends because I can't think of anything sexier than us learning how to be in consent with one another. If you have any questions or comments and you want to get feedback, head on over to modernrenegades.com/podcast and leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you. All right, until next week.

Ashley: Good morning, Dr. Solomon.

Dr. Solomon: Ashley, it's so good to be with you.

Ashley: How are you today?

Dr. Solomon: I'm great. I'm doing great.

Ashley: I'm so happy to have you here for several reasons, selfish ones included. But I had recorded an interview a few weeks ago about consent, it has been coming up with my clients and in the dating world. And I don't know how I was following you or how I found you, but I do know that after I posted that you posted on your Instagram, “Clarity is not cruelty.”

And I read to the extent of what you wrote and was like, “I have to talk to this woman. I have to have her voice, and her experience, and her knowledge to inform the listeners about consent in this modern update that I think needs to be addressed. Because people seem to be really confused about it.

Dr. Solomon: It's heartbreaking to me that consent is confusing. And when we look at kind of the history and the big picture, which I hope that you and I will do, it makes sense that we are confused. But I feel hopeful for a day when it's not confusing, and it's not difficult, and it like just becomes the air that we breathe.

Ashley: Yeah, I'll come back to that post because I wrote down some pieces about that I do want to say. But I am a mother of two children. Just for context I'm 41. I have a 20 year old son, and then I have a 17 year old, almost 18 assigned female at birth, but Faith identifies as they.

But over the years of raising two kids and them raising me at the same time I've learned so much about how consent has changed from what I was told and how I was raised. And I know that that would seem like, of course, But it was really interesting to watch how when Faith would come home and tell me, “No means no and if they don't listen it's not consensual, and it's rape.”

And it seems like an extreme example to bring up but it was amazing to watch in that sort of conversation with them how my brain was like, “Wait, what? No, rape is this other thing.” And some of the things that I had been told, and the years of learning from Faith and Nick about consent and what they're being taught, and how we're unlearning, and reconciling my experiences that I had, and the information that I was raised with versus what it is.

And it's such a mind bending, emotional experience. And that's for someone who's like listening and trying to become more aware about it because I have these two people informing me. But I can't imagine for people who don't have some new information being brought forward, where they're like, “What are you talking about?”

Dr. Solomon: Yep, yep. Yeah, I mean, I think that the point about how much parents learn from kids, I’m also the mother of an almost 19 year old and a 16 year old. And I hear you. I mean, I know that I've taught them things, but they certainly have taught me things as well. And I think for me it's mostly about working on a college campus. I've been working at Northwestern since I was a graduate student there. And so being in that university context I certainly have the privilege of and responsibility to continue to have these conversations.

But I think about back in the 1990s when I was an undergraduate Women's Studies major at University of Michigan, we would do Take Back the Night rallies. And we would write posters that would say, “No means no.”

We have fortunately evolved because no means no is the absolute rock bottom basement of consent hat is so basic and so foundational, that of course, no means no. And what we're starting to move into is a model- Last year I sat in with a campus at Northwestern, it has a men's group that does sexual assault prevention training with the fraternities and the athletic teams in different places on campus. And it's a male-run, the teachers, the peer mentors in this program, and I think it's a beautiful program and I was so excited to connect with them.

And they shared that the model or the analogy that they use when they're teaching about consent on campus is that really, really- We're not talking about the bare minimum legal sex, we're talking about great sex. Like helping people have really great sexual experiences.

And so the image that works best is to think about great sex as jazz improvisation. Where it is people coming together to create a dynamic, evolving, unfolding experience together. And when you're doing jazz improv you aren't just kind of in your own world doing what you want, when you want, how you want. You are constantly keying into the other performers. And you're checking in with them, and you're making sure that you're pacing with them. And there's lots and lots of feedback loops.

Consent is a feedback loop. An ongoing kind of like micro feedback loop that continues from, ideally before a sexual experience. I love the idea of us getting as comfortable talking about sex as we are having sex. And that sexual experiences begin with a conversation about what might be really fun and what might be interesting and where our boundaries are. And then it continues through the experience.

And it continues to after the experience. So I love the idea of having conversations afterwards about when I felt closest to you, or what I really loved most about that experience. So consent is much bigger, richer, deeper, and more interesting than just this thin no means no.

Ashley: So, it's interesting to hear you say that because some of my male clients, when we're discussing it, they're like, “It's not sexy to talk about it.” They don't want to hear about it. Like that's not cool to plan or to talk ahead of time like, “I want to have you over for dinner and sex.” And I'm like, “What's sexy about inviting someone over for something they don't know what's going on?”

I actually think it is sexy when a man expresses what he wants and what we're going to do and be a part of that conversation. But a lot of people that I talk to, I don't want to say a lot, but a majority of people I talk to feel really uncomfortable about talking about it. How would you recommend that they- Well first, why do you think it is that they are nervous? Because maybe the feelings that come up? But what sort of tips or recommendations do you have about it to make them feel more comfortable?

Dr. Solomon: Great. I mean, I think that we come by our discomfort talking about sex really, really understandably. So my second book is called Taking Sexy Back. Which the target audience for this book is people who are vulva bodied, who've been socialized in the feminine. It's about kind of like female socialization around sex and sexuality.

And in the book, the book is really a reclamation. A reclamation of bodily autonomy. A reclamation of being comfortable in our skin. A reclamation of our sexual boundaries. And it was really quite an emotional book to write. And I had a team of graduate students and undergraduate students that were working with me and we scoured, like we did a ton of research for this book.

And one of the things we researched was kind of the history and current status of sex education in the US. And it's abysmal. It's really, really pathetic. And so it's so understandable that we enter adulthood with very, very, very few skills.

In many states it's not even required that sex education is medically accurate. There's no kind of agreed upon curriculum. The Centers for Disease Control have laid out about 19 topics that have to be covered in order for sex education to be considered comprehensive in any way, shape, or form.

And those 19 topics, they're for sure important. They're about preventing STIs. Which we of course want to prevent sexually transmitted infections. It's about preventing coercion and violence. Which is, of course, obviously essential. And the topics are about preventing unintended pregnancy if it's a sexual experience that could create an unintended pregnancy, again, of course, vital.

But nowhere in those 19 topics are how to have a conversation about what you're available for. How to check in with each other during. There's nothing in the 19 topics about understanding your own body. There's nothing about accurately identifying your own anatomy.

And the research shows that men and women alike do a really lousy job of identifying the female sexual anatomy. We're pretty decent at finding like the fallopian tubes and ovaries. But in terms of the clitoris, understanding what the clitoris is, we don't have the skills and tools we need to create the kind of sexual experiences that we deserve to have.

And I think sex is hard to talk about because it's vulnerable. It's vulnerable, and it's tender, so we don't. And there's not a lot of modeling. So when we look at, you know, I’m thinking about romantic movies where people just sort of silently and wordlessly fall into experiences that are passionate and romantic with no conversation and no funkiness. Nobody like trips over their own sock or whatever. It's all seamless. And then certainly in pornography, mainstream pornography.

Ashley: I was just thinking about pornography. I don't really watch porn because if I put it on, or when I have, my brain, I'm like, “Did she bleach her ass? Should I bleach?” I'm analyzing everything and I'm like, “Where's the part where you're like, oh, I have to take out my tampon? Oh, I've got to do this.” None of the real stuff is there. And maybe there's porn being made like that, that I'm not seeing. Like I said, I don't spend time watching it. But it's not a real experience in my mind at all. So I can't even get into it.

Dr. Solomon: Right. That's right, yes. And I think there are. I mean, in the end of the Taking Sexy Back book we have a resource list of like really thoughtful, feminist, progressive, inclusive pornography sites. And they are, unfortunately, across the board paid sites. And so that makes sort of an economic disparity. But there are really wonderful erotic films and erotic stories that are being created and told where we can get more lost in the experience rather than comparing our bodies to their bodies, or their orgasms to our orgasms.

But it is, if you just go to Pornhub, you're right. What we're seeing is pretty anti-relationship, certainly anti-communication, and showing sexual behaviors that are rather extreme. Rather extreme with bodies that don't look like most of our bodies.

Ashley: Right.

Dr. Solomon: And you were asking what makes it difficult. I think one of the things, the people who have the hardest time talking about sex are men and women together, right? I think that queer couples, for all of the challenges that queer couples face, they tend to be, the research has shown, that across the board they do a way better job talking about sex. They have far more equitable sexual experiences, everyone's having more orgasms.

Where you see the orgasm gap happening is a man and a woman going to bed together. And so when you have a male client who says to you, “I don't want to talk about it.” It's because he's internalized this idea that being a good lover means that he can take a woman through an experience, start to finish, without her having to even think of anything, ask for anything, or talk about anything. That's the messaging that he's internalized and it's incredibly damaging.

Ashley: It seems like a lot of pressure, right?

Dr. Solomon: It does not sound like fun to me. No, it sounds like a lot of pressure.

Ashley: Yeah. So when I recorded this episode, a little feedback I got was, “Why aren't you being more harsh? Why aren't you using a different tone, and more direct?” And I was like, “Because I don't want to shame anybody who's unlearning something. Who doesn't have awareness around, who doesn't realize this isn't the way.”

I'm still unlearning, and I'm a woman in this who's fairly feminine. And finding out that, like if I've been drinking that's officially non-consensual. I never knew, most of us were learning how to have sex in high school at parties drinking. And what we've learned about that since then is horrific, what's been happening.

And again, going back to reconciling my own experiences. So to shame anyone, I don't want to. Because part of it was like we didn't know. But now, once you find out and you know, then that's where that gap happens of you have awareness, you know, and now you don't do it anymore. And if you continue to, I would imagine that's where the tone would shift.

But do you feel like a lot of people have a lot of shame around it when they're finding these things out and unlearning and learning a new way?

Dr. Solomon: Yes, absolutely. Shame, anger, sadness. Absolutely. And if your template has been that you use alcohol in order to kind of like set yourself a bit outside of the experience, shifting into sober sex is really difficult.

So absolutely there are consent issues, but there's also just sex is much more vulnerable sober, present, and connected. Sometimes we have adapted ourselves to having sex be this thing that we do, but it's like a split off part of us.

It's a thing we do and then we don't really talk about it or think about it again. And if we do there's like a sting there, there's some shame there. And so to really integrate our erotic self into our full self, that's a learning curve. And it's a learning curve that we're on at the collective level and at the individual level both.

Ashley: I love that you brought up calling it sober sex, because it's something I think about often. I didn't drink for five and a half years, and during that time coming into my sexuality as a sober person dating was a whole new experience. And there was that awareness. I had been having great sex not fully embodying it and not having, you know, there's that liquid courage. But can you be that person in the bedroom without the drinking? And can you say the things, some of it was even a little bit more dialed down after practicing sober sex. I was like, “Oh, that's one way. But here's a whole other way.”

I always encourage my clients too. I'm like I'd rather have sex before I go out to dinner and have drinks. Because the alcohol is depressing and throwing those chemicals off anyway. So it's like you're losing out on this experience. But to be very mindful in that process of intimacy without it is a huge shift.

Dr. Solomon: It's a huge shift. And I think it's a shift we don't talk nearly enough about. And when I teach, when I’m with my college students, I teach a course every year called marriage 101. Which is really a relational self-awareness building course.

And when we're on this topic I will say, like, I invite you into a couple of gut checks around sex. That if you need alcohol to do the things sexually, it's a gut check to yourself, right? It shows you that there's a part of you that's not ready. And that if there's something you're doing sexually that you can't imagine talking to the person about, that's another kind of a gut check.

So those are just places where our bodies will communicate to us where our boundaries are, and we are at risk of overriding them. And I think that men and women are at risk of overriding their boundaries for different reasons. And for women, it's very often we're not taught a lot about kind of grounding ourselves in our sexuality.

I know in high school I felt like the most power I had was really to be like a goaltender. To just kind of say no, rather than to really think about what do I want? What would feel good to me? What would feel fun? Oftentimes the only power we think we have is the power to say no or put limits on something. Which really kind of reinforces this whole idea of women as passive and receptive, rather than women as having sexual agency, and sexual power, and sexual autonomy. And so it's no wonder then that we see such a profound gap in not just like orgasm.

So women in like hookup sex or casual sexual experiences have a very, very like a single digit chance of having an orgasm, which makes sense. Because in a hookup experience or a casual sexual experience, there's not that foundation of safety, and trust, and connection that really a woman would need to have in order to kind of like unfold, and let down, and surrender, and be present and ask for what she wants and needs. But we also see a gap around pain.

The research around heterosexual women enduring pain during sex, it's heartbreaking. And it makes sense because the idea is like I can't ask for too much. And so women oftentimes will endure things that are uncomfortable/painful in order to avoid the discomfort of speaking up.

And, I mean, let's just be clear, it's on her partner also to be like, “How are you doing? How is this feeling? What do you want? What do you need? How can this experience feel really good to you?” And if her partner is a man and he's been socialized that he shouldn't have to ask, so some awful mix of like entitlement and lack of skill kind of converge. And so he's not asking and she's not sharing. It's upsetting to think about and to talk through. But by naming all this stuff, it's how we start to make those changes that we need to make.

Ashley: Right. I wanted to swing back to what you said earlier that queer couples- And like I know in the BDSM community, queer, polyamory, consent and communication are like, everything is structured around that. Like you can't really think of any other areas where you have more- It’s just so consensual, which seems especially in the bondage, submissive world because someone's a sub and someone's in charge and you’re like how is that consensual? But the sub actually has more power in that and more say.

But how is it that say queer couples, or queer people are having better sex, and more orgasms, and more pleasure than heterosexual couples when we all have the same information available to us. And they actually have been more discriminated against and probably felt like they didn't have the same resources because everything speaks to heteronormative relationships, a man and women in Western culture.

Dr. Solomon: That's right.

Ashley: So what's the difference there do you think?

Dr. Solomon: That’s a wonderful question. I also want to like put a pin in the BDSM. Because you're right, there is so much for all of us to learn around consent and communication and power sharing from the BDSM community. You're completely right about that.

But I think that we live in a patriarchal world where things are so incredibly foundational around masculinity and femininity. And men are... And women are... And these notions, they feel like capital T truth. Men just want sex all the time. For women, sex is a duty. These notions are just like so entrenched, it’s like mythologies. And they feel like truth so we tend to not question things that are presented to us as truth. And we just kind of internalize them, and we act them out.

And the research has found that gender role socialization, like men should be... Women should be... That stuff plays out most rigidly and narrowly around sex. Around sex and dating. And those scripts, those sexual scripts are so embedded. Like it's just so much a part of the air we breathe, especially around dating, and sex, and intimacy.

So to be queer is to step outside of that script. And I want to be really careful not to idealize queer sex. I know there are tons of queer couples that struggle with all kinds of desire issues, and interest issues, and all of that. But in general there is just a more solid foundation on being able to talk about it.

And I think that some of it may have to do with just I think there's something about stepping outside of that sexual script. You have to write your own script, right? There's not something you can just be handed and act out. You have to create something.

And so there has to be, and I think oftentimes there's an internal process in coming out or in claiming one’s sexual identity as queer. There's a process that is introspective, that is self-reflective. Where you're looking at who you've been, who you are, who you want to be. So there's a kind of like maturity that comes through that process that I think then sets somebody up to be more curious, more communicative in their sexual dynamics.

Ashley: That's a really great point. They're in a position that they're already questioning what all of us have just been taking on as we were told that this is the way it is. And we're like, “Okay, that's what we do.” And then you have someone who's like, “I don't identify with any of that. What does that look like for me?” And then that curiosity research begins. That makes more sense.

So the BDSM and the polyamory world I referred to, I'm like, man, there's so much talking going. That's part of the reason I wouldn't want to be in a polyamorous, because I'm like you have to have so much emotional bandwidth to be involved with these people. Not these people, but your people. Because you're having to constantly check in and talk and how are you doing today? And I'm like, I have two kids, I'm dating somebody, a career, I'm maxed out. Like I'm maxed out personally.

But I have so much respect for the way that they engage. And I did for a few years practice and with a dom and was a sub. And really found my voice during that time, which I found to be even kind of ironic considering what I thought the role was. Again, just thinking sub and then going into it and it was really one of the most empowering relationship dynamics I've ever had.

Dr. Solomon: Beautiful, beautiful. Yeah, years ago I was at a workshop. Dr. Tammy Nelson is a wonderful sex therapist and educator and she was offering a workshop. She did a bit of teaching, and then she had people from the local BDSM community come in and talk to us.

And it was the descriptions of play parties and kind of the really tight, really clear boundaries to ensure that everybody felt safe enough to play. Those things exist in tension. There needs to be a measure of safety so that we can play. So that we can expand. So that we can try things out.

And I sat there, I was like, “Oh my god, this is what needs to happen on college campuses.” At these parties there are people who- First of all there's no alcohol. So you don't go to one of these parties high or drunk, of course. And so I was like, “Well, that's something we need to be taking to a college campus.”

And there's somebody who's holding the space. There's somebody who's not engaged in sexual experiences, but who's holding the space, monitoring. Not monitoring in a disciplinarian kind of way, but just like an ensuring kind of way. And I just love all of that intentionality.

Because whatever we surface for conversation, we can now work with, and create, and imagine. Versus so much, especially with the heterosexual script, or with traditional dating scripts or monogamous scripts. So much is under the surface. It's assumed, it's taken as truth. And so it isn't surfaced and discussed.

And I think that you're right, I can imagine also, to be part of a polyamorous community, you're right there is a lot of need to kind of unpack and examine. Which I think I bump into this a lot in my work, there's a line between self-reflection and rumination. Like getting kind of stuck in constantly, like there's so much deconstructing that there's not enough like living or experiences. Every choice we make, there is always a consequence, for sure.

Ashley: And I'm doing so much of that just dating one person. I know my skill set of ruminating and obsessing. Not obsessing, but it’s just always in the back of my mind where I'm like, “Wait, what was that all about?” That's just what my brain wants to work on.

And so I was like I can’t imagine there being like three other people that I'm working these conversations out with, watching my emotions, managing the array of like jealousy, all those things that come up that you learn to sit with. I’m like that is some real work that everybody has to do there.

Dr. Solomon: That's right. That's right. That's right. Yeah.

Ashley: Going back to the drinking and consent, what would you define is non-consensual? Is it when two people just haven't even had the conversation, and they just go into it blind? I don't want to say blind but where just the assumptions are being made, is that considered non-consensual from starting point?

Dr. Solomon: You know, I think this is really difficult. And I think that we have some growing edges around our use of language and our ability to hold nuance. And I think that where this comes up the most, I think like sort of the perfect storm, is casual sex with heterosexual people where there's alcohol involved. I think that's the place where there's the greatest risk of boundary violation, of inadequate communication.

And so I think what needs to happen, the sort of healing on both sides of it is I want men to feel deeply proud of being sober, present, curious, patient, attentive lovers. And I want women to feel deeply proud of knowing that clarity isn't cruelty. Of knowing that sex is nothing that is owed to anybody ever. And to know that they can hold a higher standard than just, “Meh, sex.” I want women to be having experiences that leave them feeling elevated, and joyful, and like hot damn. Rather than just like, what was that?”

And so I want women to just have set as their norm like, “That's what I'm going to do. From here on out, I'm only going to have experiences that are with partners who are really ready to be curious with me and patient with me.” And so it's okay then to know that in order to get to that, there has to be likely a bit of time and a bit of conversation.

So if we start to reset the norm, rather than these things that are like- I still get questions today about like, is it okay to have sex on the first date? Or is the third date really the sex date? Or when should I have sex? These kinds of questions that reflect that we are not yet at the point where sex becomes an opportunity for layering in a new kind of connection versus a thing to check off along the way.

I think it oftentimes is like we just have to check off this box. And she worries about waiting too long. And he- It becomes a communication about the state of the relationship versus a thing to talk about. My favorite question is, what would each of us be thinking, and feeling, and doing when we knew it was time to start layering in sexual connection? That's such a better question than when should we have sex? What am feeling with myself? What am I feeling with you that would tell us that this would be a really fun next step for us?

Ashley: That's a great question. Yeah, you're right because consent is changing and it isn't just a black and white definition. There's so much nuance. I had someone reach out, actually, and ask is it consensual sex if he's been lying to you and manipulating you and telling you about one thing, and then you enter into an intimate romantic relationship and then soon all this other information is unveiled, and you feel-

She's experienced non-consensual in the form of rape, and then in this form of being lied to and manipulated. And she's like, I really am having a hard time understanding the difference mentally and emotionally. Because two people took away my agency to make the decision. Is it the same violation?

Dr. Solomon: That's right. So, yeah, so what she's saying is there was information that was withheld from me that would have changed my willingness and my readiness to be sexual with this person.

Ashley: Right.

Dr. Solomon: So yes, that's right. What she thought she was consenting to, she wasn't consenting to. The terms and agreements that she thought were on the table were not what was on the table. So it was not consensual.

I don't know that rape is the right word for that situation. But certainly, what she's doing is she's saying, you know what? Consent has a number of dimensions to it. And certainly what she's saying is, my experience as a survivor, especially, means that I want and need to feel like I'm in the driver's seat of my sexuality. And I find out later that what they were telling me wasn’t true, I was not in the driver's seat of that experience. And that is a violation and it hurts. And it hurts me in the same place, it hurts me in that same arena inside of me where I was hurt in my sexual assault experience.

It makes so much sense that that hurt lives in the same realm. Of course it does. Of course it does.

Ashley: So this is, I guess, coming back to that question. How do we inform people that these are all the areas and the nuances of consent? Like you not being truthful is not consensual. I think certain people do think like, well that's- Again, because now non-consensual and rape are considered in the same conversation.

And there was just a New York Times report, I think it was, talking about most people perceive rape that has to be violent. And just this extreme, what you would see on TV or a terrible movie. Like this is rape, not she said no, and kept saying no, and he kept and then she just laid there. And it was more of a passive looking experience or she was drinking so that doesn't count because anyone who drinks, if you're a woman and sexually active it's like you shouldn't have been drinking.

Dr. Solomon: That's right. Yes, and we have a robust body of trauma science now, and one of the things that we know from the field of trauma science is that this idea of she said no, she said no, and she laid there. That is a freeze response, right? So that is very oftentimes the response to being terrified, to being paralyzed, to feeling like there is something that is overwhelming and I can't do a thing about it.

And so that does not mean that she consented.

And it goes back to what we were saying before about we ought to not even be anywhere near that line. Because sexual experiences ought to be these micro feedback loops of, “How are you doing?” And I really want to be able to look in your eyes.

Our brains are wired for empathy. So my brain is wired to be able to look in your eyes, and see how you're doing, to sense your body. How relaxed you are, how tense you are. And people are giving feedback all of the time and it's incumbent upon us to listen to and respect and honor that.

I want to raise a generation of men where it wouldn't even feel good to continue with a partner who once they have said no or have given any indication that they're anything less than enthusiastically present with me. And we can.

I mean you are the mama of a boy and I'm the mom of a boy. It's not that boys are any less sensitive, big-hearted. There's not these like growth gender differences in kindness or in empathy. We socialize men away from their authentic nature, which is attunement, which is care, which is concern.

Ashley: That's what your post said, the way you were raised and the systems that have been set in place. But if you were a little girl, having the double whammy of family dynamic and cultural narratives. Being able to educate men and tell them that your truth doesn't do harm, our preferences aren't a kind of violence. And that their self-esteem, like we can raise our men to understand your worthiness isn't reflective of my no or not wanting to do this.

Dr. Solomon: That's right. That's right. Absolutely. Yes. I think that that is the culture of adolescence for men. It's like sort of anchoring their self-worth and their self-esteem on their ability to “score” with women. I mean, that has certainly has been a cultural phenomenon with men. And so then they become young men and middle-aged men who feel that they need to have sex with a woman kind of proves their worthiness. And I want men to have lots and lots and lots of ways to feel worthy.

Ashley: Yeah, I agree with that. Yeah, another thing that I was thinking about was you've mentioned in one of your courses, and I had a friend tell me the other day that she'd met a man and they were kissing, but it wasn't really moving very quickly. She was like, “I'm so confused. Are you gay?”

And I was like, “Wait, what did you say? Tell me you did not say that.” And she was like, “I just don't understand why he didn't want to have sex.” And he said to her, he's like, “You do realize there's a me too movement and not all of us are going to do that right away.”

And it was that shift, because I don't want it to seem like it's always like, “Men don't understand consent and women have it all figured out.” It’s putting all that pressure on men to be a certain way. But that comment also being very homophobic. And I don't think people really grasp when you say that what you're really saying. But also that pressure you're putting on. Like you're feeling that maybe he's not into you because he doesn't want to have sex and he's not ready.

Dr. Solomon: That's right. I often say that patriarchy hurts men as well as women. But I also often say that women reinforce patriarchy in a lot of ways just like men do. It's not that women are sort of free of this stuff. I mean she was reinforcing patriarchy in that moment, right?

Her idea is, as a man you should be constantly looking for your leading edge of where this is going to go. And you are the only person who can accelerate the action in the scene. She's reinforcing those highly gendered notions, and she's giving away her power. And she's punishing him for being “less of a man” because of his pacing.

And yeah, I feel sad for both of them. And there's something very complicated for women that women also, I think, anchor sort of something about if he's trying to figure out how far he can get with me, it's because I'm so desirable, I’m so hot, I’m so irresistible. So there may have been that in his staying in that space of just kissing, she may have gone into like, “What's wrong with me? Does he not think I'm hot? Does he not want?”

So it just becomes this complicated flip flop of kind of like blame and shame. So there's maybe a part of her that starts to feel ashamed like, “Am I not desirable to him?” And shame is pretty intolerable so then she maybe flips it into blame like, “What's wrong with him that he doesn't want this?”

Rather than just asking like, “What are you feeling? I would be up for doing more if you were up for doing more. I would love to make love right now, would you be interested in that?” I'm not saying any of that is easy. But part of sexual healing is for her to be able to also feel empowered to ask for what she wants, rather than thinking all she can do is wait for him to move it along.

Ashley: Right. And it does come back to what you've been weaving through this conversation about present with that person, being present in your bodies in that moment. That checking in and then using the language like, “I'm turned on right now. Do you want to do more? Do you want to play?” But we stay in our head and we're waiting for this other person to make the move.

But I think it is a big part of it. Because people, they are in their own heads about it very often when you're connecting with someone intimately. This is why I stopped having casual sex personally. Because that exchange for me is so intimate and I do want to be so connected to that person, I don't want to just have sex to come. I can do that on my own. And when I'm with somebody, I'm like, “I want to be with you. I want to like go the depth and see God.” That's how I want my experience to be.

Dr. Solomon: Yeah.

Ashley: I know I can't have that casually because that person has to have the same mindset around it. It's an experience for me and with them in that pleasure and having all the depth. But casual hookups, oftentimes people are in their head and they're looking to get off and have that moment for themselves, or to feel good about themselves.

Dr. Solomon: Yep, yep. Yes, that's right. Looking to get off and or looking to avoid shame, right? Because I imagine there's a- I mean, maybe this is less true kind of post college. I know with my college students there's a ton of fear around what are you going to go tell your friends at brunch the next day?

So a lot of how we behave in the bedroom then, is just trying to avoid being talked about the next day, or whispered about, or becoming a story. What could be less arousing than being afraid of sort of future shame? Or what your story about this experience is going to be?

And so as you're saying, that's what makes casual sex so difficult, I think. Is that we're lost in our own heads. Even if it was an amazing, you know, evening together, there's no way in one evening you could know me well enough, I could know you well enough to really like have that kind of foundation that we may want and need in order to have an experience where we can be present, connected, communicative. How could we possibly? There's so many assumptions at the beginning.

Ashley: Yeah, for me it takes a lot of time. And as you can tell, I'm an open person sexually. And I feel like I know my body and my pleasure. But to go that distance with someone and to connect in that way, takes a lot of time for me to be able to truly surrender. And it's all about trust and that communication of knowing there's constant conversation, and I know that this person, I can trust them. And I feel safe here. And so then I'm able to go that to that depth.

And it kind of brings up another conversation that I hear a lot about, is this masculine feminine position. And I grasp the concept of polarity being like what you need in a romantic relationship. But what I'm not getting down with is this idea that the masculine just take her.

And it comes up as simple as like a first date. I'm like, “Do you ask it before you kiss?” And they're like, “No, the feminine doesn't want that. They just want you to take it.” And I'm like, “Oh, it's really interesting that you're saying that.” Because I've been in that situation and it's not fun sometimes.

And if anything like we were talking about earlier, that trauma state. When someone grabs you and starts doing this, if you're not ready for that, if you're not on the same page you don't know how she might be feeling and you're just doing your thing.

And I think that that masculine feminine surrender take is- Once you trust somebody, and you've had these conversations, and you know they know your body, and you've opened that up, then you can fully surrender to that let them take your idea and concept.

But I feel like right now that's another conversation that's very trendy in the dating relationship world about masculine feminine. And I think that people are really misinformed because it seems to me it's like a 1950s version of how men dated women in a heteronormative world versus the masculine feminine. No, it's not about sex but you're still relying on that. That take and that's what she wants.

Dr. Solomon: I'm so glad you’re bringing it up because you're right. I think it's very, very, very problematic. And I think there's a pretty easy fix for it. If she wants that idea then she can say, “At some point tonight, just so you know I am completely ready for you at some point tonight to grab me and kiss me. I would love that. I would love for you to just pick your moment. Know that I'm ready. Thumbs up. When you feel it I would love that.” Right?

Ashley: I love that.

Dr. Solomon: Now we still get to play in that space of taking and surrendering and surprise and whatever we want to have. But we just have established it.

Ashley: Right, because you’re also leaving the surprise there, which is so great. Because that's the biggest push back. It’s like, “Well, there's no spontaneity.” And I'm like, “Okay.”

Dr. Solomon: Maybe spontaneity is a bit overrated, especially early on.

Ashley: That’s really great. I love that. Yeah, like when you're ready, I'm open to it. We can keep the surprise element there. That's a wonderful way of putting it.

Dr. Solomon: Also, I think when we take down an old model there's some grief. And so maybe, for women, there's maybe grief around sexual maturity means that I have to actually own my wanting. I have to take responsibility. I have to articulate what I want and need. There's maybe a grief in that, like that I have to kind of like grow up, grow into a sense of responsibility.

And maybe for men, there's also a grief around I have to let go of the fantasy that I can just be a knight in shining armor. Maybe I think there are men who would love to never leave a woman wanting. Who would love to just be able to hold her through an experience wordlessly. So maybe there's a grief in actually real life. You know, in real life you can't really just be a knight in shining armor, you can't. There has to be questions and there has to be clarity.

And with questions and clarity now we can be creative and expressive. But we have to move through the boundary setting in order to get there. And that's maybe sad that we can't live in this imagined fantasy world.

Ashley: But even hearing you describe that, as a woman, it feels so passive and without agency. And that's that communication part for her to learn to self-advocate and be able to use her voice and know that she has a say in these things. And that that actually feels great.

I mean I get it, if you didn't have to think about it, you didn't have to say anything. And this person just knew everything that you wanted, and how to do that and not make you ever question, and you have 22 orgasms. That would be amazing.

Dr. Solomon: That would be amazing.

Ashley: I'm like, “Yeah, why would I say anything? Just keep doing what you do.” But that's not what it is. And also that part of having your voice in it, it's so empowering. I know I've said it a few times, but it's so empowering. Not just in that dynamic, but just as a person in the world, who you can become if you start using it. You realize like, “Oh, wait, I can speak up for myself. I can say no.” Learning your voice in the bedroom is the same as the voice in the boardroom.

Dr. Solomon: Yes, 100%. 100%. And I think making that connection is so, so, so important. And I don't think those realms are as disconnected as we think that they are.

Ashley: When you're teaching and working with people, do you refer to the masculine feminine? Or do you have a different- What is your take on that?

Dr. Solomon: Yeah, I don't. First of all, it reinforces gender as a binary.

Ashley: Even though people say this isn't about gender, it's an energy?

Dr. Solomon: Yeah, I think it's a complicated realm. I think that it's just because those words have been so attached to those bodies. And yeah, I think we end up kind of talking ourselves into a corner on it. So, I mean, sometimes I will talk about like agency and communion, which are psychological terms.

I did a TED talk a couple of years ago and I worked on this idea in the TED talk. Agency is the energy of decision making, and clarity, and leadership, and authority. And communion is the energy of caretaking, nurturing, reading feedback. And so those obviously, have mapped on to male bodies and female bodies forever. And at least those words kind of capture that idea of two ways of being.

Ashley: Without that charge.

Dr. Solomon: Without the charge. So the idea of polarity is just this idea, like you have something that I want. Or there's a thing that I want to do with you or a place I want to go with you. And so I think we can sort of name, yearning, craving, longing, without maybe getting lost in this idea of polarity.

Because like what you were saying, I can get myself off. So when I'm having sex with somebody, there's something that I want from them. There’s a place I want to go with them. It's a different experience. Yes, the orgasm may approximate the orgasm I would have my own, but there's this entire realm of experience.

So the polarity is, there is a polarity right there in that you are incomplete, right? You are craving, you are longing. You need somebody to meet you in a space. So that's a kind of polarity. Because I think with polarity what we're playing with is creating attraction, like creating a draw. And so by what other means might we create a draw? Where we’re not reinforcing who has power, who's acting on the situation?

There's other ways of creating draw. The draw is like, “Oh my god, those hands.” Like looking at your hands, I want them all over my body. That's a kind of polarity. You have these hands I don't have, and I want your hands on me. You know what I mean?

Ashley: Yeah.

Dr. Solomon: I just think there's other ways of playing with tension.

Ashley: Yeah, I like that. And I like removing the masculine feminine piece of it for the reasons you're saying. And it's also like, well, then feminine is like this. And masculine is like this. And I'm like, I change all the time. And that can be even in the bedroom.

I think I might have been listening to Esther Perel talking about androgynous love. And that it's not like a male female, masculine feminine. And I had really loved that. Because another thing I hear often, and I've been certainly guilty of saying over the years, I'm like, “I date like a man.”

And then I think about what that means and what I'm saying. And I’m like, “God, that's such a like punch in the stomach for another gender.” Because I'm like, “I compartmentalize, I'm unemotional, I can hook up.” It's like the unflattering parts of romance that I'm like, “Yeah, I'm like a man.”

Dr. Solomon: That's right. And in doing that, in saying that it's sort of like it's sort of a sexy subversion. But it also is a reinforcement. You're enforcing that men are like this.

Ashley: And I'm like, “They're not.” My lover and the person I'm dating now is so not that way. And it's so beautiful. And also, I'm like, “And I'm not this unattached, unemotional person, either.” That's a type of person, but it doesn't mean anything. That's why the androgynous love I was like, “Yeah, you love the way you love, and it doesn't have anything to do with gender. It's who you are and how you love.”

Dr. Solomon: Well, and I mean some of the most powerful couples therapy I ever get to do is therapy with a couple where there's a male partner, helping him unlearn all that stuff. Because he gets to then reclaim parts of himself that he's lost, right?

Because another aspect of that heterosexual script is it's so incredibly erection focused, right? Like, sex starts when he gets hard and sex ends when he's not hard anymore. And so then there's all this fear about him not getting hard enough fast enough or losing it.

All of this focus on you have a man who's like, whatever, six feet tall, five foot eight, whatever. You’ve got this full size body and we're only talking about this one part of his body. It's a ridiculous like kind of shrinking down of a man's full sexuality into this one body part.

And then when everyone's attention is on that one body part he doesn't get to have the experience of receiving. Or of going slowly. Or experiencing his whole body as beautiful to touch and to have touched.

So I think that some of the most like touching work that I get to do as a couple’s therapist, is helping men widen out their own experience of how they want to feel in the bedroom, how they get to feel in the bedroom. And as they shed some of that, the partner then gets to have access to them in new ways.

Ashley: Yeah, that’s where sex isn't just predominantly genital oriented. And it's beyond that, because there's so much- I think this notion that his manliness is basically in his penis, and that the size of it is- There’s so much shame for men. If they're not hard, if they don't come, if they can't please you, if it’s not big.

There's a whole world there also, that when you start connecting with the person and you remove that piece of it away like romantically and intimately it becomes so much bigger because they get to love in a different way that's not just based on this external item that they offer.

I don't think there's enough conversation actually for men in that regard about erectile dysfunction and with partners. Because what women, and other people, I shouldn’t just say women. But in my experience hearing from others what they think that means and that you can't have a sex life if he can't stay hard. Or if he doesn't come then he's not in pleasure.

Which that conversation we could go on forever. But there doesn't seem to be a ton of people addressing that either.

Dr. Solomon: I get so reactive to those commercials for ED medication. Which I'm neither for nor against ED medication. I think it can be like I want men to have lots of ways of addressing what's happening with their penises besides just popping a pill. But I would never, whatever, shame a man for taking a pill any more than I would shame a woman for using lube. I don't have strong opinions either way on that.

But what I don't love is these commercials where it's like you can get your ED medicine, it arrives in a plain box, you don't have to talk about it. Like this idea of how the medication gets marketed reinforces the idea that it's somehow shameful.

And if it's shameful then it means he certainly is not going to talk to his partner about it. And then especially if his partner is a woman right? Because maybe if his partner is a man, as another man he could have some empathy or an appreciation for it.

But certainly if his partner is a woman, she's at risk of loading herself up with all these stories about is it happening because he doesn't love me anymore? Is it happening because he's cheating on me? Is it happening because I've gained weight or lost weight? Or because of the baby?

I mean, she can go into 85 different directions that are going to fill her head with shameful stories. And now we have two partners who are in shame, and neither one of them is going to be talking about it.

Ashley: Yeah, and that’s, again, not being president in that conversation. In my experience with a partner, once I got out of my head and found out it wasn't about me. Which was a conversation I want to also say you don't have in the bedroom. These are things you talk about outside of the bedroom.

Dr. Solomon: Yes.

Ashley: But it was a huge learning experience for me and it was wonderful because it had nothing to do with me. For me, I was like, “Wow, this is really selfish. I'm just sitting here thinking this has everything to do with me. That's why you're not hard or that you don't feel pleasure.” It was wonderful. And then for him and I had to be able to kind of connect on, “Okay, what are some solutions? Well, how can we work with this?”

And so being in the bedroom, him not being embarrassed or having shame or when certain things would happen, we would make that eye contact and come back and like, “Are we here? Where's your mind right now? And how are you feeling?” And that check-in. And just enjoying each other's touch and it not being about incoming.

Dr. Solomon: Beautiful. Beautiful. And in all of that there are many, many possibilities for how you work with an unpredictable penis and how you relate to it. But you can't get to any of that, you can't get to any of the kind of creative solutions until you can have the conversation.

So I love the story that you just told us, is that by talking about the conversation you, first of all, were able to let go of the stories you were spinning about how it's about you in any way, shape, or form. And then, once you could like clear your head of that, then you could really partner with him and talk about like, “What do we want to do? What’s our plan? How do we, as a couple, face this?”

And every sexual problem is a couple problem. The symptom may live in your body, or it may live in my body. It's for us as a couple to face together. And that’s the beautiful thing about sex, is there's like endless possibilities to be creative once you start to view it as it's you and I together looking at the problem. Or it’s you and I together approaching this problem. It's our problem to deal with. Or not even a problem, it's just the body being a body, you know what I mean?

Ashley: Yeah, it’s a very human experience. But the education we get is that it's P in V and that sex. And that's actually not just what sex is, there's so many ways. But yeah, you get caught in that little microcosm of a world.

Dr. Solomon: And certainly there are plenty of women who penetrative sex is their favorite thing to do. But the research shows that actually chances are the most orgasm producing kinds of behaviors for a vulva bodied person are oral sex, or manual stimulation, or a toy.

So, actually, an erect penis is potentially not even her most important thing to have for her play, you know, for her orgasm, right? It may not be that central. She may be like, “Oh my god, seriously, I don't care. Like go down on me, or use your hands, or use your soft penis.”

The clitoris is on the outside and so certainly there are women who love penetration. So having a reliably erect penis may be just great and her favorite thing. But it's not the end all be all. And for some women, it's like, I don't even actually care that much because just like, go down on me and I'm like happy as I can be.

Ashley: Well and it's also just the education around a woman's vulva, that everyone calls it the vagina. And no one taught women that the clit has 8000 nerve endings and its sole purpose is to just feel pleasure. Or that she can come from that way, or that she can masturbate and the touch herself, and the two internal spots for coming.

It's always been when he enters you, you're in like ecstasy and that's amazing.

Dr. Solomon: That’s when it starts, that's when the fun begins.

Ashley: Yeah. Yeah, there's so much there. I can talk to you forever because you're amazing, and a wealth of information, and so knowledgeable. Where could people who are listening find you if they wanted to follow along?

Dr. Solomon: The best place is my website dralexandrasolomon.com. And there's lots of resources there. Everything from my blog to information about my books, to my E-courses. So there's lots, that's a great place to start. And I'm also active, as you mentioned, on my Instagram account. I'm really active on Instagram, which is Dr.Alexandra.Solomon.

Ashley: It's the best. It's the best, and your courses I can vouch for it. Talk about growing your ass up and I'm growing up over here. And it's been humbling as a relationship and dating coach. I'm like the work is never done.

Dr. Solomon: The work is never done, that's right. We're never bored in our jobs, right? And so much of being a wonderful coach and being a competent therapist, so much of that is about our own self work. So you're right, we have to stay students and learn from each other and keep working on ourselves, certainly.

Ashley: Well, I really appreciate the work you're doing. It's helping many, many people, educating and learning.

Dr. Solomon: Thank you. It was really fun to talk with you. You're just really like full of energy and wisdom. And I love how seamlessly you bring in your own experiences. And I'm sure that is wonderful for your podcast listeners and also for your coaching clients.

Ashley: I hope so. I know I'm like, “It always comes up. I always bring myself in.” All right, well take care. I hope to talk to you again soon. I'd love to do this more.

Dr. Solomon: Thanks Ashley, it was great to connect with you. Happy to.

Ashley: All right.

Renegades, thank you for tuning in this week. If you're enjoying this podcast let me know. Head on over to Apple Podcasts and share it with a five star rating and review. You can also head on over to my website, www.modernrenegades.com. Sign up for my newsletter, leave your questions and comments, or just connect with me directly. I look forward to hearing from you.

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