Sex Therapist Shadeen Francis On Polyamory, Self-Care, And Crying After Orgasms

Shadeen Francis is a licensed marriage and family therapist, professor, and author that specializes in sex therapy and social justice. She has shared her unique expertise on platforms like NBC, the New York Times, and HuffPost, and is sought internationally to speak on topics such as sexual self-esteem, intimacy, and relationship negotiation. Shadeen uses her signature combination of warmth, humor, and enthusiasm to help people improve their relationships and live in peace and pleasure.

Shadeen made a guest appearance in Dame Labs: The Group to answer questions about intentional self-care, communication practices and much much more. Here are a few questions and answers that stood out. 

Dame Labs: What are your favorite ways to practice "intentional self care"?

Shadeen Francis: I love for people to first think about what they need. What hurts? What isn't working? What would you like more of? Starting there can help you then tailor your self-care practices to actually address your concerns, rather than hoping a haircut or a nap will help you if you're feeling like you want more social opportunities.

I also encourage people to think about how they want to feel, and consider what helps them feel that way. Beyond "happiness" (which is now the Millennial curse, we were all taught that ultimately we are supposed to be happy, which is a lot of pressure) what are pleasant feelings for you, and how can you give yourself the opportunity to feel those? My favourites include curious, peaceful, appreciated and inspired.

DL: Do you have any suggestions on how I can make time for intentional self care? 

SF: The reality of our overfilled lives is that anything that isn't scheduled doesn't happen. Is there something in particular that you're trying to make time for? How much time do you need? Sometimes just five minutes is enough. What are you doing the five minutes after you brush your teeth, or when you first enter your car? Can you find an hour in a week that you can borrow from something that isn't mandatory, like social media scrolling or rewatching something on Netflix?

My clients are most successful when they put it on their calendar and set reminder alarms if they need the accountability. It also helps if your self-care tasks are things you enjoy doing rather than things for your care that just need to be done. Psychological research says it's best to get the necessary tasks out of the way first, as they need more willpower.

DL: I have older teens, and I want to send them into the world with a healthy sexuality devoid of shame. What are some things I can do to support this that aren't "cringey," as the kids would say?

SF: Haha yes, the fine line between helpful and cringey! With teens, it really can be about the small things, and the less pressure you put on any one moment, the less awkward it feels for all of you. Consider leading with curiosity: Ask them their thoughts or ideas about sex content that may come up in music or television that you've all watched or about their relationships specifically if they'll let you. When giving information, keep it short and specific to avoid sounding like you're lecturing. 

Overall, acceptance is an attitude that exists outside of just sex, so in your everyday [routine] you can be modeling what it is to be non-judgmental and non-shaming. Allowing people to do and like whatever is to taste for them can be as simple as not saying "Yuck" when someone orders a food you don't like. You can intervene on their behalf if your teens shame others to really put the value into practice.

DL: How do you navigate a polyamorous relationship? Specifically, how do you let people who you are letting into your relationship know that you are interested in more than just hooking up? How do you let go of jealousy? And how do you keep yourself emotionally sane? My husband and I are testing the waters and I’ve already learned that I can’t handle just hooking up with people, but I don’t know how to handle telling new people that I’d like to actually date. I also get worried that I’ll connect with someone a bunch and then they will ghost me because they won’t want to be with a married woman.

SF: Polyamory is a bespoke outfit—it's not one size fits all. You're asking all the right questions to get the right fit for you! First and foremost, polyam relationships require a lot of communication (specifically negotiation) and regular check-ins on boundaries and expectations in order to flourish. If you are dating other polyam or non-monogamous folks, they should be fine with dating someone who is married. But truthfully, lots of monogamous people may also be open to dating and exploring with you also! 

Not everyone wants the traditional escalator relationship (meet, date, get married, the end) and so even if they are monogamous, they would be happy to have something with the comfort or emotional intimacy of dating without the need for your monogamy. Continue to lead with honesty and transparency about what you are interested in and what you're available for. There will be people who do not want the same, and that is alright. Ideally they will be forthcoming rather than ghost, but ghosting is par for the course in the dating landscape. All you can do is be a clear communicator and request that from your partners. You can outright ask folks how they feel about dating you knowing that you are married. 

And as for the feeling of jealousy, jealousy happens and is an important feeling. Jealousy lets you know that you are witnessing/hearing about an experience that you want for yourself in some way; it can help you get clear on an unmet need or new desire. Focus on negotiating to get that need met rather than competition with other parties, and you two will be fine. If you need more support, consider resources like The Jealousy Workbook by Kathy Labriola or the Jealousy Survival Guide by Kitty Chambliss. And, of course, you can always work with a therapist to do more heavy lifting on skill-building and healing work.

DL: I have a history of sexual abuse and rape. Recently, within the last 8 to 10 months, I have started to experience episodes of crying, even sobbing when I have an orgasm. Is this a normal response or is my body responding to past trauma?

SF: It can be somewhere through the middle. Bodies are incredible—we are wired for survival. Trauma gets stored in the body (a great book on this is The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk) and often we carry it with us. For example, check in on your shoulders right now. Try to relax them. We carry stress in our shoulders often, as well as our jaws, our abdomen, and our pelvic floor. Things that release physical tension can help release emotional pains. This is why people often cry after a good massage, or during yoga.

One of our bodies' most involved releases is orgasm, so this can occur here, too. If you are also feeling emotions that are overwhelming, or if the crying feels distressing, consider seeing a therapist who can help you further process the releases. I also like to encourage folks to consider a loving kindness journal, a book filled with gratitude and self-appreciation, when they are in the process of releasing and healing from trauma. In all things, be kind to yourself, whatever that means to you.

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