Show Transcript for Episode 266: Anxiety is A Sex Killer – Gain Confidence with Playfulness

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The following content is not suitable for children.

Laurie Watson 00:02
We’re going to talk about playfulness as the remedy for anxiety today with George’s friends from New York, Dr. Zoya Simakhodskaya, and Mike Moran, who’s a sex certified sex therapist. They both work in sex therapy, and we’re going to be hosting them so happy to have them with us. Welcome to foreplay radio, couples in sex therapy. I’m Laurie Watson, your sex therapist.

George Faller 00:30
And I’m George Faller, couples therapist

Laurie Watson 00:33
and we are passionate about talking about sex and helping you develop a way to talk to each other.

George Faller 00:38
Our mission is to help our audience develop a healthier relationship to sex that integrates the mind, the heart and the body.

Laurie Watson 00:48
A great personal lubricant, please check out google.com and use the coupon foreplay to support us at the podcast. Thanks,

George Faller 00:56
Laurie. Very excited today. Yes, we have Zoya and Mike, we have friends. We have friends to personal dear friends and colleagues. And more importantly, leaders in the field of gnarly helping make great relationships but great sex in those relationships. Right, they can go together, they don’t have to be separate entities. So, so excited today, they have their wisdom, they have their warmth, they have their laughter and just got to spend some time together to give you all our listeners the gift of of their presence, and their, you know, their their ability to just make a difference in this world. So welcome, Zoya and Mike,

Mike Moran 01:33
thank you for having us.

Zoya Simakhodskaya 01:35
Yes, thank you for having us and doing this podcast. It’s so needed.

Laurie Watson 01:39
We are having fun doing it. And we’re glad that you’re with us. We know that you guys have been training, the integration of sex therapy and EFT for a long time. And George and I were privileged to take your class. And we’re going to talk a little bit at the end about the other offerings that you have. So we’re glad but today, we thought we would give, you know some ideas to our foreplay fam out there about anxiety and how it kind of interferes with Saxon. I gotta say, Dr. soya, you have the best name for a sex therapist ever. Dr. Z? That is like such a sexy name. So could you kind of start us off with how you are working with your patients and with therapists about anxiety and sex. And what you see happens for people? Well,

Zoya Simakhodskaya 02:26
I think anxiety and worries are very much present when couples come in and saying that they’re struggling with their sexuality in their relationship. It’s one of the things and the first thing I begin to get curious about are when people are, you know, coming in and they’re saying we let’s say we haven’t had sex for years, or you know, every time we have sex, we have fights about it, right? So I begin to get curious, what’s what is causing avoidance, right? Why are we avoiding being intimate, something that’s usually pleasurable and exciting and can be so much fun? People are avoiding because something is getting in the way, right. And anxiety and worries is one of the things that can get in the way. So I will start asking questions about what what kind of thoughts pop in their heads when they even imagine being intimate and getting close and being sexual, right? Or what how their bodies feel what what is going on, and you hear all kinds of things. There’s worries about you know, am I attractive about myself? Am I sexy enough? Or their worries about will I perform? Or will I am I? Will I be good enough? Will I give pleasure? Can I really, you know, have that, that that wonderful experience that I want to have? And if the answers to those questions are Oh, I’m not sure. Then I tense up and then I just want to go watch my Netflix show because you know, they’re no worries there.

Laurie Watson 04:12
That’s safe. Right? So you begin by asking them what’s happening between them. And it sounds like one of the things you’re really listening for is how anxiety starts to interfere with their pleasure, their communication, their self esteem, all of that.

Zoya Simakhodskaya 04:28
Right, right, and what kind of myths they have about sexuality and how it’s supposed to be all kinds of expectations of themselves and the partner. That’s based on how they grew up and the culture and the media and all kinds of things.

Laurie Watson 04:46
So many things to explore. What about you, Mike, when a couple comes in to see you what what are you how do you begin and what are you listening for?

Mike Moran 04:55
Sure. Well, you know, just to pick up where Zoya was talking about One of the first things I do is I really start to hear the narrative of my couples. And where they struggle in this place, you know, is, you know, there’s so many like Sonia was talking about, there’s so many reasons why people get anxious, especially in long term committed relationships with people we love, right? It’s one thing, casual, anonymous sex, and I’m a sex positive sex therapist, rock and roll, that’s all wonderful. But, you know, it’s a whole other can of beans, when you’re dealing when you’re trying to be sexual, when you’re wanting to find, you know, how I asked my couples, how does your erotic engine get turned on and humming? Right? And when it comes to a question, right, and when it comes to, you know, doing that with your life partner, right, with your domestic partner? You know, one of the things first things I’ll say to couples is, look, you know, when we first meet, we’re having sex with a stranger, right? Not limerence period, we’re getting to know each other, all that excitement, have what have you, we’re having sex with a stranger. And then as we attach, we’re having sex with a family member. And a lot comes into play there. And when I say that, right, when I say that their eyes got to look at me, like, you know, what is true? It’s true.

Laurie Watson 06:26
Yeah, there’s so there’s so much irony that as we commit and attach, that sex can be more complicated. There’s more emotional connection and, and feelings about exposing ourselves. And, yeah, yeah,

Mike Moran 06:43
that’s a really good word exposure, right? And that’s vulnerability, to be able to truly expose our erotic self to our domestic partner, I just think all of us have had feelings about that, you know, so we have to go down and we have to really deconstruct the fear, go down into the fear and really learn about that, that place where, where you can really begin to urata sighs, this person that you know, you built your life with?

George Faller 07:13
Is it fair? If we look at anxiety in a window of tolerance, that say, so much of the anxiety we see is too much, right? And it’s really impeding the the sexuality to desire. But there’s also a certain amount of not knowing that’s necessary, right? That we’re not trying to have sex free of anxiety, right? This this this, this curiosity, this kind of not knowing is also what was needed to turn us on. So we’re talking within that window, which what do you what do you think of that?

Mike Moran 07:44
Exactly? The window of tolerance, I I kind of equate, you know, the stress productivity curve where as stress increases, productivity increases, right? So they’re in excitement in sexual excitement. There’s a certain amount of anxiety there. That’s exciting, that’s titillating that that really awakens the body. But when it goes into the part of the curve, where it starts to shut us down, that’s where it works against us.

Zoya Simakhodskaya 08:11
Right? And I think sometimes the body gets confused. If we’ve had negative experiences and traumas. The body gets confused whether this anxiety is excitement that is good and useful, or it’s like, oh, my God, it’s overwhelming.

Laurie Watson 08:31
Mm hmm. So we’re talking about a continuum of, from excitement to fear, anxiety, spreads all of that, and some of it is good, the mystery, the anticipation, that is also a bit of anxiety, like George is talking about, but it actually adds to the sexual experience. Whereas we, as maybe we go to the other end of the continuum that can inhibit us. My husband has a say, and he says, fear is excitement without breath. So it’s like we stopped breathing when we are too fearful. I don’t know. I like that. It always makes sense to me. It’s like it’s an antidote for me when I’m too anxious to remind myself breathe. You know, keep breathing.

Mike Moran 09:15
I love that. I love that it you know, it reminds me of stellar resin expert who’s a sex therapist, and yeah, her thing is all about the breath all about the breath. I love I love that. I’m gonna steal that line.

Laurie Watson 09:29
Well, he’s probably got it from somewhere else. I steal it so you can steal it.

Mike Moran 09:35
Yeah. Stella Resnick. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Where she talks about it. Um, you know, it’s, it’s the primitive part of the brain that sends the messages to the body to the nervous system right to reorganize for sexual activity, but the primitive part of the brain has to be in alignment with the prefrontal cortex, right with with our rational thinking mind when those two aren’t linked up. That When fear and anxiety can kind of hijack our sexual response,

George Faller 10:04
I really like Hans selye, the original stress researcher, he would just differentiate between negative stress he called distress and positive stress you stress, right. And it just I so appreciate you’re starting off that way that it’s not just about cetyl stress is bad and trying to eliminate it. But trying to kind of what it is distress, we need to help couples with that. Right. And we also want that to be able to see the opportunity for healthy stress.

Mike Moran 10:31
It’s like your book, George sacred stress. Right?

George Faller 10:34
That’s right. That’s right. One of

Zoya Simakhodskaya 10:36
the one of the things that Mike you were saying early above the exposing and vulnerability around our erotic desires, but even the sharing of the fears and anxieties can be so difficult. So before we even get to managing anxiety, we want the couple to be able to talk about what the worries are, and be able to respond to each other with what we need from each other to to feel a little either its comfort or reassurance or whatever that we might need. And I think that’s, that’s the first thing that has to happen. If if we can have a conversation about it, we are already making a huge, huge step forward in our sexual

Laurie Watson 11:24
resolution. Yeah, right. Yeah, and I love what you just said. So yeah, because it’s that vulnerability of saying what we’re anxious about, and then being met with some empathy and compassion from our partner, versus perhaps triggering their fear that Oh, if you, if you feel anxious about this, you don’t want to do the things I want to do. Or you don’t want to do it as much as I want to do, a lot of times the partner can kind of seize up, and their anxiety gets triggered. That’s what we call the negative cycle. And they can’t offer back an empathic response, something that is with understanding and kindness and love. So the person who’s first opened up with vulnerability, hey, this is what I worry about, isn’t kind of met in that place. And the conversation is then short.

George Faller 12:14
So many partners protect the other partner from their anxiety, to not hurt feelings. And you know, and yet, that’s what brings in all this distance and walls that really start to rob the relationship of its safety of its vitality. So we get out Zoya and Mike, back for a whole nother podcast on that one, right. But after a break, let’s come back, and let’s just talk about it. Once we identify we have these partners talking about their anxiety, what can we practically do to help them actually make a difference with

Laurie Watson 12:49
George, I want to talk to you about Uber lube. I’ve had two people call me about it, that have started using it. And one of them was a girlfriend who said I have menopausal pain is just a big problem. And she started using Uber lube, no pain. And then a patient told me that she had pain intermittently with sexual intercourse. And she couldn’t depend on her own natural lubrication. So she started using Uber lube like I told her to every single time don’t trust at this point that your body will do everything it needs, just use it. You know, it’s fun, it’s extra. She’s using it. No sexual pain, starting to really enjoy sexual intercourse. So I’m excited about this product. I have used it for years and recommend it for years to couples. It helps with the experience, especially if there’s any kinds of problems and just for fun.

George Faller 13:44
That’s right, Laurie, whatever we could do to increase our pleasure and connection. Use all those tools and Uber lube is a great way of enhancing that emotional bond.

Laurie Watson 13:54
It’s a good lubrication, and most people it helps with touching right in the beginning it’s it’s important to make sex as pleasurable as possible. So Uber lube, you know silicone based doesn’t stain anything you want to wipe off your sex toys if you use it with that though, and it’s clear it’s a great bottle. Who really calm with the coupon for play.

George Faller 14:17
Yeah, that’s good stuff.

Laurie Watson 14:19
I got a G spot for us.

George Faller 14:22
Here we go. When we don’t challenge our beliefs with critical thinking, then polarization becomes inevitable.

Laurie Watson 14:31
George Valentine’s Day is coming and I am suggesting that you know women buy this perfect package 3.0 from manscaped.com you know, just a little hint for the guy to do his below the waist grooming.

George Faller 14:45
I like it and the Cologne is awesome.

Laurie Watson 14:47
I know I think it is so good. I’ve been telling my husband he should put it on and workdays because it’s this it’s a good sense and I’m kind of a cent person. It turns me on. I like it

George Faller 14:58
doesn’t take much longer.

Laurie Watson 15:00
Yeah, that is true, but it’s like woodsy masculine, it’s good, you know, pretty bottle too nicely designed, it’s kind of got this dark square. So it is very classy. It’s called refined. And I would say it is definitely refined, so nice. And you know, you can get all kinds of things that manscaped for grooming below the waist and above the waist, hands, they do a good meal kit,

George Faller 15:24
all that groom is much more than just being practical. It’s being intentional, you want to get yourself in a mood, this is how we start.

Laurie Watson 15:32
I like it. Okay, so order manscaped.com and use the coupon for play for a 20% off discount, can’t beat that. It’s great discount. So we’re back talking about anxiety and kind of what the antidote to that is. And so I wanted to start with you, I loved some of what you were talking about that anxiety is in two parts. Some of it is we, you know, we feel anxious about our own performance. If we can give pleasure if we’re good enough, I think that’s pretty central for many people. And the fear that our partner is going to judge us as inadequate in some way not attractive enough. I mean, that that is a real showstopper.

Zoya Simakhodskaya 16:21
Yeah, I think those those two parts are always at play. I remember, I think you had Peggy kleinplatz on your podcast, and she talks about the being, you know, this being sexual is such such a challenge in a way because you have to be fully present in your body, while at the same time, be attuned, pay attention to another person’s body. And that’s not so easy, right? If sometimes we focus too much on ourselves, and we lose the connection. Sometimes we focus too much on the other person and lose connection with ourselves. So it’s a it’s a sort of it’s a play interplay between those how where am I in relation to myself, right? Am I judging myself? Do I have shame about things? Do I am I inhibited? And I, you know, worried about myself and or I don’t know how to Nin to sensations in my body. I don’t know my body, right? Or my mind is going like, over over time about kids or work or Coronavirus, or anything else, right? Politics, all of that is happening inside me. Or I’m so hyper focused about the relationship and like what’s happening on your end? Oh, you you turn this way. And today, you lost this long and tomorrow. And you know, what is happening? And so I think that that is that’s one of the things we tried to figure out where, where it’s more challenging and helping people to become more aware, more mindful first, to be able to have those conversations.

George Faller 18:08
There’s nobody thinking about politics during sex is there?

Mike Moran 18:12
Well, you’d be surprised.

Laurie Watson 18:14
One of the things you said, again, soya is this are people in tune with their bodies. I’ve noticed that the person who I kind of call is the sexual withdrawal, or frequently, what is happening in their body is almost so intense, that they don’t know how to manage that. And so they dial it down, they, they try not to feel the intensity. In fact, they’re not staying away from sex because they feel nothing. They’re staying away from sex because it makes them feel so anxious about the intensity, maybe as they approach orgasm. You know, that is such an intense feeling that it just dysregulates them and so they don’t want to go there. That happens frequently with women that I work with, who are an orgasmic who can’t have orgasms. It’s really about minimizing what feels overwhelming.

Mike Moran 19:08
It’s that’s a really, really good point, Laurie, right? The capacity to let go, the capacity to surrender to our bodies. And so many of us have feelings about that around really letting go. It’s like we’re, we’re clamped down, right, we have to kind of control our experience and I think a real component and again, Peggy’s work, you know, reflects this, right? A very important component of gratifying sex is the capacity to, to let go and surrender and be in the moment. And that can be challenging for many of us. It’s really, it’s a really good point.

George Faller 19:49
I love the spectrum, you both saying around, either not enough. You can’t surrender. If you can’t access any feelings, you’re totally shut down. You have too much feeling again, we’re In that sweet spot to be able to surrender, I love the interplay between needing to attune to an other to connect. If you over, do it, you’re going to lose that connection. Or you can lose yourself. Right? And well, it’s that’s inevitable part of this process. But how can you be present to just notice the weight on being too anxious, and make those auto corrections, those pivots necessary to kind of reduce that anxiety?

Mike Moran 20:25
Well, and that’s why I think, you know, the relational work that we do in sex therapy is so important, right? We help folks cultivate the capacity to remain connected to ourselves and remain connected to another, even in these places where you know, where we don’t want the same thing. And in bed, I think that’s really important. Because we’re always picking us, especially with someone who, you know, we really love and we’re connected to, we’re always picking up signals around what we want, what they want. And, you know, let’s say what what, what our body’s wanting to do is not what our partner’s body is wanting to do. And then we get caught in that negative cycle. And if we’re not able to talk about it, if we’re not able to really process it, it’ll lead to gridlock. And I think that’s so often you know, what’s going on, that then leads our couples into into our offices,

Zoya Simakhodskaya 21:18
right? And it’s, it’s this constant process, right? It’s not this linear thing, we get tuned into ourselves to other and then for the next, whatever, how many minutes, it’s all good, linear, and were simultaneous orgasm, and we’re done. No, that’s not what the reality is. We will lose the connection sometimes with ourselves sometimes with the other is how do we deal with that? Right? Can we kind of say, Whoa, whoa, whoa, slow down what’s happening, or we make a joke, or we’re like, Whoa, this is too much. For me, it’s like, you know, we can have a quick conversation or we can read each other’s nonverbals and come back to the connection, right. And sometimes we take turns sometimes we there’s, there’s a way to play to interact that is more flexible.

Mike Moran 22:14
I would put it that way. That’s where playfulness is so important. I you know, in, if I’m going to help a couple shift into having more gratifying sex, I have to help them find a way to get playful with each other in these places that are anxiety provoking, and I start right in my office, you know, I was working with with a gay couple where he was talking about how they were in gridlock. This was a situation where, you know, they came in it was a sexless, sexless marriage. And he was, he was talking about how in this sexless place, he, he literally felt like his while I’ll use his word, you know, he said, I swear, I think my balls have gotten smaller, my balls have gotten smaller. And so we got playful with this. And I was like, I’m used, right, exactly. So I had him while I’m like, okay, when you get up from my couch, I want you to walk around this office, like you have pendulous testicles, right? So he gets up, and he’s striding. He’s doing his thing. And we all broke, you know, we all laugh. We were laughing. We were having a great time. But you know what, that session, something shifted something. Right, something shifted, nothing really changed. But it was, it was the way in which they were approaching each other in this place that shifted the energy.

Laurie Watson 23:38
And that’s a brilliant intervention. I think, obviously, you had a lot of trust with both of them, that he would be willing to get into his body and do that in front of both of you. And I mean, I think that’s an amazing intervention. Because it’s live. It’s right there. He’s right. He’s entering the more confident self, the more confident sexual self. So Bravo to you. I think that’s that was great.

George Faller 24:04
Yeah, I’ve always tried to break down. How did you get there? Right, what was the intervention? I think too often, we try to create change by just giving advice that just adds more to the anxiety. What you’re describing is a new experience. Right, that playfulness, you said shifted the energy, the gridlock, we have to help people have a new experience. And that’s why playfulness can be so powerful in creating that change, especially around anxiety. It’s a great example really, really true.

Zoya Simakhodskaya 24:34
Right? And you can it’s very hard to be anxious and playful at the same time. When we’re scared we usually sort of we get rigid and shut down. Right, the less anxious we get. And then we can we can play so we introduce playfulness to show there’s there is

Mike Moran 24:54
another way and in that spirit of playfulness, what we see is Then folks can go into these deeper chasms, where there, there has been so much fear and anxiety, and they can talk about this, you know, these these dynamics that have held them back in a different way, you know, so that there’s some again, George, right. It’s that shifting the energy, that all of a sudden, they’re they’re, they’re addressing what has kept them shut down in in a more loving, playful, spontaneous way,

Zoya Simakhodskaya 25:30
the piece that I wanted to add that as we talk about playfulness, in sexually bedroom, kitchen, wherever we are having it, we can practice playfulness in other parts of our lives. Because sometimes, you know, we’re such grown ups that we forget how to play. So I would really encourage people to, to find plate in other parts of their lives, whether it’s a hobby or doing stand up, or the playing games with, you know, their kids find a way what what, where’s that playful part of them? right to do, because then it will also come into the bedroom, we can sort of totally separate our, our lives from our sex lives.

Laurie Watson 26:19
I think I like that it’s, you’re talking about a process to you’re talking about discussion, and conversation and hearing each other, more playfulness. And then even deeper discussion, it’s like one thing leads into the other, we can’t settle it all intellectually, know everything about each other, and then enter that playful place, it’s actually the play adds to our ability to be more vulnerable, you know, so it’s kind of part of the process is what I’m hearing you say,

Zoya Simakhodskaya 26:51
right, and we can never fully ever, ever know each other. Because we don’t know what we don’t know about ourselves. And that we always remain a mystery. We grow we develop. So this idea that we can just know each other, or we assume that we know each other that’s a little silly, that helped makes us feel, you know, maybe safer. But that’s not the reality,

Mike Moran 27:16
you know, it brings us back to fear. Because I think as we attach, we tend to constrict in that way, we tend to start to cut off, right, we tend to cut we tend to kind of prune. And then in doing that, where’s the mystery, right, it cuts off our capacity to tolerate our mystery to tolerate that place where we’ll never, we’re never going to know ourselves fully. And we’re never going to know, you know each other fully. And that’s the beautiful journey of intimacy. But when we thought that, of course, it’s going to impact the sex.

Laurie Watson 27:49
And the mystery is what can keep sex interesting with one person for a long time, not, you know, knowing that we can’t know them fully that there’s always more to learn about each other is is really a beautiful thing,

George Faller 28:01
that secure attachment, that ability to do that right to tolerate the space to to keep be curious with each other that I just want to just thank you, Zoya and Mike for really inspiring our listeners with the courage to face fear. Right, you can see that both you see the opportunity and face again and not running away from it. And and, and that empowered couples to be able to repair, right to be able to have these conversations that lead to new outcomes. And that’s what we’re in the business of. So listen to your anxieties that tells you something needs to change. It’s just a matter of getting the help you need to put those change into action.

Laurie Watson 28:36
I know one of the playful things that you guys did in the class that we attended was you had all of us therapists get up and dance for a little bit to kind of enter our bodies to enter that playful spirit. Are you doing a class soon again, for therapists and what are you doing out there in the EFT world and for all therapists who are interested in working with sexuality and couples?

Zoya Simakhodskaya 28:57
Well, we are doing our sex as a safe adventure workshop online again, on APR 789. Okay, and that’s for EFT therapists who have have some knowledge, some training about EFT and want to learn more about integrating working with sexuality concerns in couples therapy. And then for those because we’ve been doing this workshop all over the US and the world. So for those who have already taken our workshop, we’re doing something new, an eight session class, it’s two hours each time to go deeper, which will include some case presentations, and that class will be more more limited. So that’s gonna start on March 8. Awesome. And can you tell us where we find you,

Laurie Watson 29:50
your website that all of these classes are posted on and I will definitely post it on our resource section and on this episode as well,

Zoya Simakhodskaya 29:59
the web So you can be reached by wwwrealcouplesprogram.com or CPIdnyc.com. And under the heading Resources EFT workshop, they can find both registrations there.

Laurie Watson 30:16
Okay, awesome. We will post that for sure. And,

Zoya Simakhodskaya 30:20
and Mike Do you wanna for the future when the pandemic is over you want to mention the McClay

Mike Moran 30:26
so right so we we’ve designed a couple’s weekend called Hold me tight hold me just right, which is you know, Sue Johnson’s Hold me tight, which is developed to cultivate more emotional relational connection, ours is we’re capitalizing on that. And but we’ve designed a weekend to address the sexual connection. So we have a lead, that’s where we we have a lot of fun in that workshop, we do a you know, we do the breathing, we do the playful ball toss, we do the dancing, we do a lot to help people get in our bodies to you know, because to just, you know, underscore that point. It is about experience, it is about getting, making things more experiential, that we have found really moves the needle with helping couples create more gratifying sex.

Laurie Watson 31:16
That’s awesome. And we just know you guys as deep and passionate trainers and you’re tender with your people. And we appreciate the work that you’re doing out there. Helping integrate the therapists world with attachment and sex therapy and all the work you’re doing with couples, you people can also find you if they would like to do therapy with you as well. We’ll post that on how to find you in. You’re based in New York City. Right? Both of you. That’s your therapy. Okay, great. And near George, all young New Yorkers up there. Okay. Thanks so much for joining us.

Zoya Simakhodskaya 31:58
Thank you so much for having us.

Mike Moran 32:00
Yes, thank you. It was a lot of fun.

Laurie Watson 32:03
So let’s play and use that as an antidote to anxiety. Thanks for listening. Everybody.

George Faller 32:09
Keep it hot. Very excited. Laurie, upcoming Couples Retreat weekend. Great love, great sex. What an opportunity for couples to work on that sexual and emotional cycle.

Laurie Watson 32:25
I know I’m so excited. We get to partner together to actually teach and share with couples. It’s going to be on Friday, February 5, and we’re really encouraging you to take the weekend away together to do this material with us. We’re going to have interactive parts. Talking about the emotional connection the cycle, asking your partner questions, we’ll have little breakouts, we’re gonna keep it fun. Keep it hot. It’s gonna be a fast day. We’ll start at 10am Eastern Standard Time February 5. Great love great sex. Find us on the website foreplayrst.com and sign up.

George Faller 33:02
We don’t give many guarantees. But if you show up for this retreat, you will have conversations you’ve never had with your partner before calling your questions to the foreplay question, voicemail dial 833 my foreplay. That’s a three three,

33:16
the number four play and we’ll use questions for our mailbag episodes. All content is for entertainment purposes only and should not be considered as a substitute for therapy by a licensed clinician or as medical advice from a doctor.

33:28
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