There is a recent article/Blog that has been spreading like wildfire through social networking websites, including several Facebook support groups. The article, "5 Exercises Men Can Do To Take Back Their Sexuality After Abuse" by Valerie Taorminia was published on 7-February 2014. Taormina is an alleged certified sexologst in the San Francisco Bay Area. According to the article, Taormina's "focus is on expanding male sexuality and assisting men with overcoming sexual trauma and emotional blockage."According to Taormina's Facebook page, she is a "Self Love and Pleasure Coach in Alameda, California." According to the Board of Sexology of California, Valerie Taormina is not listed as a certified therapist.
From a Victimologist and Criminologist perspective who works with victims and survivors of sexual violence, domestic violence, intimate partner violence (IPV), child abuse, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and anorexia and bulimia, I will say that in my expert opinion, the advice provided in the article by Valerie Taormina is quite alarming and is likely to do more harm than good to male victims and survivors of sexual trauma.
Warning: The following article is for mature audiences The first half of this article will include a copy of the article in question, followed my my advice and criticism.
5 Exercises Men Can Do To Take Back Their Sexuality After Abuse, by Valerie Taormina:
"Before I begin, I must address 2 things that I regretted to state more clearly in my first article:
1.) It must be noted that the “trends” reported in the first article were based on my experience working with clients. My data is based on a relatively small population size and not on a comprehensive study (on a statistical basis my findings would not be considered reportable). With that being said, the “trends” reported were drastically represented within my sample population. My findings were so surprising to me that I think sharing them has value. In fact, in retrospect, I’m actually surprised that the only person who openly expressed this criticism to me was my aunt… got to love family! After releasing the article I was in awe of how many men reached out to me personally, shared their stories, and confirmed that the trends were true for them. I don’t think there are many outlets for the type of information I collected to be shared; I am aware that my profession is rare and therefore so is the information I receive. Getting behind the male façade is in some ways like exploring the depths of the ocean floor; while we know there is so much more to learn, when our submersible finds a crazy new sea creature you best believe a photo of that animal is in National Geographic the next day. Consider the “trends” reported to be something like the sea creature and use it as a tool to begin investigating what else may be in the ocean of the male heart. Maybe, just maybe, this information can spark further investigation…fingers crossed.
2.) Acknowledging male trauma does not mean that we should victimize men. This point was illuminated by a male colleague of mine who does a lot of work with men in the sex positive community in San Francisco. As he shared his reflection it was a total Homer Simpson moment where I said “doh” and sort of smacked my forehead. Personally I think the victimization of women has been something that has actually taken away from women’s empowerment, and I surely do not want to replicate this model for men. However, I feel if we are going to acknowledge trauma we need to acknowledge the whole picture, what really is going on, and this authentic conversation can bring forward more effective solutions. In fact, I believe this could lead to a balance and an overall reduction in victimization. If men are feeling stuck, closed down, and disconnected then perhaps acknowledging something that isn’t being addressed can help them open up, address their emotions, and normalize the situation. If things remain in the shadow they will never fully experience the sun.
Okay, now that I have those little monkeys off my back I am now going to give you 5 tips that men can try to counteract the effects of trauma. I have found that these things tend to make a difference for almost everyone I have tried them with, which is why I feel I can share them with you without fully knowing your sexual history.
1.) Acknowledge your pain
There was a time in your life when you cried and didn’t feel bad about it. At some point you may have learned that this was a behavior that would not benefit you, so maybe you cut yourself off from emotion. This is one way that we numb ourselves. Funny enough numbing ourselves to pain also numbs our self from pleasure. Some men that I’ve worked with can’t remember crying in their adult lives. I’ve heard several cases of men who reported actually wanting to cry but felt it was impossible. For instance, a parent died or their wife miscarried, and they felt like crying but the response didn’t happen. Often a double layer of shame then happens, the shame that originally shut off the emotion and the shame of no emotion in a rare social situation when others expected emotion of them. There is also the reverse situation where something really exciting happens but somehow you don’t feel fully happy and feel shameful that you aren’t fully happy. I could go on and on with examples.
My suggestion is to acknowledge your emotions, and yes, it’s pretty much that simple. Actively set aside time to write or speak out loud what’s in your head, what you’re sad about, angry about, hurt from, et cetera. As you’re telling your story notice if you feel any place in your body that’s congested, tight, uneasy, then close your eyes and give yourself permission to feel it. If the feeling is sadness, see if you can allow yourself to get really sad. If your emotion is anger, see if you can allow yourself to get really angry. Feel it, don’t numb it. Instead, coax it out.
If you can’t actively identify your emotion try the reverse situation. Notice if there is any part of your body that is congested, tight, uneasy, then close your eyes and see if you can locate an emotion or a memory attached to the area. Then allow yourself to feel whatever comes up.
Bonus points if you cry or break something :)
2.) Share your story with a trusted peer
Some of you just read this title and thought “there is absolutely no way I am talking to another man about emotions”. Those of you who say this are precisely the ones who will benefit the most from this exercise. In our society we have not only taught our men to shut down emotion but we’ve also told them not to talk about their emotions, especially to other men. If any of you have ever experienced a time when you openly expressed your emotions to another man my guess is that you remember the conversation like it was yesterday. Reality is the stuff you deal with is the stuff other men deal with, and just as much as is true for women. The difference is, women are allowed to speak to each other about that pain. It’s not only socially accepted, it’s expected. Set aside time with a male friend and ask them if you can share something personal. Preface the conversation by acknowledging that it’s probably an unusual conversation. Let them know you aren’t expecting advice or anything, but that listening will be enough. Let them know that if they would like to share too, you would love to listen back.
Bonus points if you finish the conversation with a hug :)
3.) Practice receiving
You may not see the connection of this exercise to trauma but I guarantee it helps. Often trauma causes a disconnection with yourself and others, especially sexual trauma where trust is broken. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you become anti-social or something but instead what often happens is a “do it on my own” or “I can only trust myself” mentality develops. Actively practicing allowing others to contribute to you will create balance and connect you more deeply to your own desires. My recommendation is a 30-day challenge where everyday you ask at least one person for a favor, for help, or to do something for you. Actively keep track of the requests you’ve made and the benefits you are experiencing in your life.
Bonus points if you increase the amount of requests per day.
4.) Give up the stimulants and the “end goal” during masturbation
Some of you are immediately tightening up at the mention of masturbation. I find that most people in our society, regardless of how sexually progressive they think themselves to be, find masturbation in some way shameful. In my opinion our societal bullshit around masturbation is one of the biggest jokes out there. We are given these amazing bodies with the capacity to feel absolutely incredible and yet we are taught from a young age not to touch ourselves, that it is somehow dirty or wrong. Another way of looking at it is we have been taught to deny ourselves pleasure and self-love. The capacity that most of us actually experience our own bodies is miniscule compared to what is possible to feel.
Therefore, my recommendation is to become a master at loving yourself (preferably daily doses). If you rely on pornography or stimulants of any kind, or find that you are stuck in some sort of habitual behavior, change things up. Also try giving up ejaculation as an end goal; take the pressure off your body, and learn to love all phases of your anatomy’s arousal. Focus on the sensation in your body, explore new areas, new types of touch, et cetera. If you happen to be a man that comes to climax quickly see if you can take a short break and go again. Some men that think they are early ejaculators are in fact multi-orgasmic. It’s your body so take yourself for a spin and see what you can learn. Learning how to drive your own body is the first step toward being “driven” the way you want.
Bonus points if you show your new findings to a lover.
5.) Stop asking your partner to cum on queue
As I addressed in my previous article, many men suffer trauma from being unable to please their partner in bed. Since each woman is wired differently, instead of trying to give you tips on how to please her, I thought it would be more effective to tell you something to avoid doing that most men screw up. If you’ve made this error in the past, please don’t worry at all, its incredibly common behavior that most women don’t speak up about.
The female orgasm is like an elusive snow leopard--if it’s chased, most often it will run away. Just like your body is different from other men, women vary too. Some women find it almost impossible to orgasm and others are quick and multi-orgasmic. Almost every woman I have talked to has expressed frustration by the pressure put on them to “perform” and wished their partners would understand that it all feels good. The less pressure you put on your lady the easier it can be; it’s about the journey not the destination. So….it’s WONDERFUL that you want to please your partner, but asking her to cum on queue only works in porn. Chances are if you’ve ever actually experienced a girl “cumming on queue” she was faking it. The less you can focus on climax and more you can focus on the connection, the subtle sensations, and her body language the closer you will get to actually achieving your desired outcome. Not pressuring her to cum will save you a ton of time, a ton of frustration for yourself and your partner, and a lot of sweat.
Bonus points if you stop judging sexual performance by orgasm"
Breaking down this article by Joshua B. Seth
The Preliminary Questions:
1) Valerie Taormina stated that she had a small population to use for her study but then goes on to say that, "After releasing the article, I was in awe of how many men reached out to me personally, shared their stories, and confirmed the trends were true for them." By her own admission, her statement about trends is skewed and too generalized. First of all, one of the main reasons why male reporting is under reported is based on social norms and personal values. Heterosexual males that are sexually assaulted by other heterosexual males, or by homosexual/bisexual males often question their own sexuality following a sexual assault/rape.
There is a common misconception by both victims and members of society who believe that if a male victim becomes sexually aroused and experiences an orgasm or ejaculation at the time, then they cannot be victims; when in fact, their body is simply engaging in a natural reaction. This does not suggest that the sexual interaction was reciprocated or consensual. In the event that a female victim is raped and she experiences and orgasm during a sexual assault, this does not make her any less of a victim or suggest that she was not raped. Heterosexual males who are sexually assaulted/raped by female perpetrators often causes male victims to question their masculinity. In society, men are often taught be strong and emotionless when they deal with a fight or flight mode, or anything in which they might be viewed as weak in the event that they show any emotion. A male victim who was sexually assaulted by a female perpetrator is unlikely to report the crime because of self-pity or fear of being stigmatized by others as weak because they could not overpower a female. Similar to males who are raped by other males; in the event that they are raped by a female and they experience arousal and/or ejaculation, they are likely to question their own victimization out of fear that they must have enjoyed the sex. The problem here is that rape is not sex and is more often than not, about power and control over others. This is the same for both male and female victims.
2) In this section, the author makes the comment, "If men are feeling stuck, closed down, and disconnected[,] then perhaps acknowledging something that isn't being addressed can help open up, address their emotions, and normalize the situation. If things remain in the shadow they will never fully experience the sun." First of all, this author needs to stop with all of the metaphors. She is all over the place with her analogies and sounds like Yoda from Star Wars. Secondly, when the author suggested that addressing victim's emotions to help them open up and normalize the situation, could not be further from the truth, especially when working with victims who suffer from PTSD. For one, there is nothing normal about their situation. Two; they are more likely to feel removed from what they once knew as their reality. If they are experiencing flashbacks and anxiety associated with their trauma, then the last thing they should be exploring is how to normalize their experience without the guidance of a professional like a therapist.
Flashbacks and anxiety is often associated with symptoms of PTSD, along with what feels like a fear-cage to the victim. Unless, working with a licensed therapist or psychiatrist, victims should be cautious of blindly exploring their emotions on their own. There is a strong possibility that the victim's true emotions and memories or the traumatic incident has been suppressed in their mind. They may or may not be aware of any known triggers that causes them to experience depression, anxiety, flashbacks, and a fear-cage effect. A trained therapist and psychiatrist can help the victim to deal with their trauma through psychotherapy, hypnosis, meditation, DBT, CBT, and EDRM therapy, etc. Antidepressants and anxiety medications may need to be prescribed to the victim in order to help them to deal with the traumatic incident and their recovery process. There is also a strong possibility that victims can experience low self-esteem, depression, and turn to destructive outlets such as drugs, alcohol, smoking, emotional eating; anorexia and bulimia, and other self-harm behaviors like cutting.
The author goes on to state, "Personally I think the victimization of women has been something that has actually taken away from women’s empowerment, and I surely do not want to replicate this model for men." She offers no basis for her statement.
Analyzing The 5 Steps
1) "Acknowledge your pain"
To quote the author, "There was a time in your life when you cried and didn't feel bad about it ... This is one way that we numb ourselves. Funny enough numbing ourselves to pain also numbs our self from pleasure." I love how the author makes the following comment, "I could go on and on with examples" but she did not give any examples related to trauma but instead draws generalized comments about how men (from her small sample or trend as she calls it), cannot feel sadness or happiness because of how they were taught to hide these emotions from society. Yes; it is true that society tends to frown on men who show their emotions because it was once believed to be a sign of weakness. Notice that I said, it was once viewed as a sign of weakness but I truly believe that these days, social norms are accepting men who show their emotions and let their guard down around others. There could even be a correlation to men who show emotions and let their guard down around others and a decrease in domestic violence.
But, that is a different conversation all together because when it comes to victims; males or females, if they have difficulty expressing happiness or times of joy following a sexual trauma, then chances are that they are dealing with depression, anxiety, PTSD, mood disorders, etc. This is not true of all victims of sexual violence but is more likely to occur from those who do not seek out or those who prolong seeking therapeutic help from a psychiatrist or clinical therapist. As far as pleasure seeking numbness goes, people who suffer from eating disorders, drug use, alcohol abuse, or even gambling -- those who use these outlets as a form of control do so to numb their emotional pains. For example, a person who suffers from bulimia as a means of control can experience euphoria, which is a form of a pleasure seeking numbness.
As if her advice could not get worse, "If you feel any place in your body that’s congested, tight, uneasy, then close your eyes and give yourself permission to feel it. If the feeling is sadness, see if you can allow yourself to get really sad. If your emotion is anger, see if you can allow yourself to get really angry. Feel it, don’t numb it. Instead, coax it out." The worst advice one could tell someone who is suffering from depression or extreme sadness due to low self-esteem and self-worth is to instruct them to 'get really sad,' unless under the care of a therapist or psychiatrist because there are safety measures put in place by their licensing guidelines. Instructing someone to get even more sad than they already are can lead to self-harming tendencies such as suicidal and homicidal tendencies. In recovery, victims and survivors are often taught about ways of finding appropriate coping skills for when they are battling uncontrollable emotions such as sadness, anxiety, and known triggers. These distractions can include things like journaling, building puzzles, drawing, coloring, exercising, watching a comedy on television, playing with a pet, going to a park, mediating, etc. Exploring these types of emotions should be done under the care of a trained professional who can help them on, a one-on-one basis. What this author is suggesting is based on speculation of males in general.
Psychotherapy is a way for the victims to learn how to deal with their issues in a controlled environment. Most people will say that the beginning of therapy is often the most difficult part of because the client is learning to explore all emotions and memories, including any repressed. After time, they learn how to cope with their traumatic experience and use those positive coping skills that they have been taught to use. At the end of #1, the author stated to, "Notice if there is any part of your body that is congested, tight, uneasy, then close your eyes and see if you can locate an emotion or a memory attached to the area. Then allow yourself to feel whatever comes up....Bonus points if you cry or break something :)."
If someone is feeling anger or irritability, the last thing they should be doing on their own is to get really angry and without any positive coping skills to calm themselves down. The author suggests transforming the victim in to the HULK and then congratulates them for breaking something! Not only could the person become so enraged that they could break something, they could also hurt someone else or even experience a heart attack or stroke.
2) "Share your story with a trusted peer"
"Reality is the stuff you deal with is the stuff other men deal with, and just as much as is true for women. The difference is, women are allowed to speak to each other about that pain. It’s not only socially accepted, it’s expected." Typically, female victims tend to feel more comfortable talking with men rather than other females because they tend to worry that their female friends will judge them. A typical response by another female who has learned that a friend or loved one has been sexually abused, is; "Oh, if it were me, I would have left him a long time ago." or "Why didn't you get a restraining order or file a police report, or ..." There are often dozens of reasons why someone remains in an abusive relationship and no two victims experience the same type of sexual victimization or share the same reasons for staying. Male victims who find the courage to open up with someone about their sexual victimization tend to be both male and female therapists. I would agree the male victims are less likely to open up to a male peer but they are likely to open up to therapists or in support groups setting where there are other males or females who have walked in their shoes.
"Preface the conversation?" This author sounds uneducated at the very least I suspect that she meant to suggest that victims should explore whether a friend might feel comfortable talking about a specific topic of conversation. For example, I have a tattoo on my left arm of a periwinkle ribbon with the word 'Serenity' over it. This color represents anorexia and bulimia awareness. However, since this is not a typical color of most tattoo inks, whenever someone approaches me and notices this tattoo, most will ask if it is a Breast Cancer tattoo. At which point, I will attempt to read their body language and if I feel comfortable telling them, then I will say what it represents but if they appear to be confrontational or unsympathetic towards education and awareness, then I simply nod and tell then it is for Breast Cancer. There is a time and place for everything.
3) "Practice receiving"
Okay, in this step, the author clearly states that the victim will probably not see a connection between their trauma and the art or asking for help from others; however, the title of this step is called 'Practice Receiving' which is a bit misleading with her analogy. The author continues by stating that, Often trauma causes a disconnection with yourself and others, especially sexual trauma where trust is broken. This doesn't necessarily mean that you become anti-social or something but instead what often happens is a “do it on my own” or “I can only trust myself” mentality develops." Okay, now allow me to clarify this misconception by Valerie Taormina. First of all, she speaks in too many generalizations about victims of sexual violence.
The so called 'mistrust' of others that Valerie Taormina talks about is often associated where the victims knows their perpetrator such as cases with child sexual abuse, or sexual assault by a friend or extended family member or coworker. They are more likely to experience a mistrust of others by those who are close to them such as coworkers, family members, and friends; and they will appear more guarded around them. Secondly, whether they were sexually assaulted by someone known to them or by a stranger, they will likely tend to have a decreased self-worth, blame themselves for the assault/abuse; and have a complete personality change. If they were once outgoing individuals and the life of the party; once they have been victimized, they are more likely to isolate and become more introverted. They may experience extreme sadness and depression and lose interests in what was once favorite activities to do with others.
While everyone recovers at their own pace which could be days/weeks; weeks/months; years/decades, chances are that they will find it very difficult in asking for help in the beginning of their recovery process. Furthermore, Valerie Taormina fails to address the subject of personal space and bubbles. I work with victims who experienced sexual trauma many years ago and to this day, if someone rubs up against them, or puts their hands on their shoulder while saying hello to them, many of these victims will either jump several feet or they will feel so anxious and frozen in their fear-case that they feel like they have just jumped several feet out of their skin. For victims, they tend to have difficulty in asking others for help because they tend to feel weak minded with low self-esteem.
4) Give up the stimulants and the “end goal” during masturbation
I do not even know where to begin with this one. This is just in poor taste. Basically, the author talks about how society frowns on people who pleasure themselves. As she stated, "We are given these amazing bodies with the capacity to feel absolutely incredible and yet we are taught from a young age not to touch ourselves, that it is somehow dirty or wrong. Another way of looking at it is we have been taught to deny ourselves pleasure and self-love." It is clear here that the author is defending masturbation for the art of feeling personal pleasure but what she feels to recognize is that the focus of her article is on the subject of male victims of sexual abuse. However, she takes it a completely different approach and prescribes daily doses of masturbation or as she commonly refers to it as, 'self-love.' As stated by the author, "Therefore, my recommendation is to become a master at loving yourself (preferably daily doses)."
The author even takes it a step further to discuss the use of pornography or any type of stimulants but if the victim feels stuck in some type of habitual behavior, then by all means 'change things up.' I am curious if the author's mentioning of society's negative view of not touching oneself from a young age, is to be deemed okay if they are victims of sexual trauma at a young age; because these are victims who were likely raped and molested through incest or stranger pedophilia. Is the author suggesting that a male child who was once molested or fondled, that he should pleasure himself with daily doses of masturbation to fight against his sexual trauma? Most male victims that experience sexual trauma at any age, tend to experience the same type of reactions as female victims who have been raped/fondled in that they are less likely to want to experience any type of sexual pleasure whether self-induced or with the help of a partner because there is a high probability that they will experience anxiety, symptoms of PTSD, flashbacks, etc. They may even see their perpetrator in their partner and feel re-victimized all over again by the simply touching of their partner.
At the end of Step #4, the author makes mention of what she refers to as "Bonus points if you show your new findings to a lover." For adult victims of sexual violence, there could be personal triggers that could cause a severe panic attack by the mere touch of their significant other who inadvertently does something that the victim's perpetrator did to them. This relapse can cause the victim to feel re-victimized all over again, setting back their recovery.
5) "Stop asking your partner to cum on queue"
Much like most of this article, this step has absolutely nothing to do with helping men to take back their sexuality after abuse. From what I can gather, this step has to do more with how to pleasure a woman during sexual relations with them and how timing is everything. I will just leave it at that. Once again, the author's metaphors are all over the place with the chasing of some spotted tiger and then, she switches her argument from male victimization, on ways to pleasure a woman intimately and how not to blame them if their orgasms are less than pleasurable for the man. Something to take into account, is that with male victims who are on antidepressants and/or anxiety medications; many of which can cause low sex drive and a loss of interest in sex. Chasing women and attempting to pleasure them 'the right' -way has nothing to do with sexual trauma. Medication aside, sexual relations and intimacy may be the last thing on the mind of a victim or survivor of sexual trauma. Lastly, the author's final bonus is, "Bonus points if you stop judging sexual performance by orgasm." So, once again, Valerie Taormina turns the table on the male victim and suggests that no orgasm by their partner is on the fault of the female but instead by the male, the victim. Anyone who causes a victim to feel at fault for other issues, based on their victimization is clearly giving out the wrong advice.
Valerie Taormina's alleged Sexology Certification
Going back to Valerie Taormina, she alleges that she is a certified sexologist in the San Francisco Bay Area and according to her Facebook page, she is a Pleasure Coach in Alameda, California; however, according to the Board of Sexology of California, Valerie Taormina is not listed as a certified sexologist in any county of California. Furthermore, according to the state requirements below, Valerie Taormina does not appear to meet any of this criterion or has stated any educational background to include BS/BA/MS/MA/PhD/etc.
According to the American Board of Sexology:
1. All candidates:
Must hold a doctoral level or terminal degree in their chosen field from an accredited or approved institution of higher learning. Those practicing in states requiring licenses to practice sex therapy, sex counseling, (often an extension of Mental Health Counseling or Marriage and Family Counseling or Psychology/Psychiatry licensing) may use their license in lieu of a doctorate.
2. Must have completed 120 hours of clinical core courses covering
a. sexual and reproductive anatomy and physiology
b. gender identity issues—relationships.
c. medical aspects of sexuality and sexual functions
d. diagnosis of sexual disorders/dysfunctions
e. treatment of sexual disorders/dysfunctions
f. sex offenders, sexual abuse—diagnosis and treatment
g. issues of aging in sexual relationships
i. sexually transmitted diseases and prevention techniques
j. ethical and legal aspects and issues in clinical sexology.
3. Must have completed at least one year of professional work in the field of sexology, with 50 hours of supervision under an ABS approved supervisor.
1. To be certified as a sex therapist, sexological educator or sexological researcher, candidates must additionally have three years of professional experience in practice of the specialty.