How Self Love Can Fuel a Better Sex Life According to Dr. Shannon Chavez

How Self Love Can Fuel a Better Sex Life According to Dr. Shannon Chavez

First off, I'm sure you get this all the time, but can you tell us a little bit about your background and when/how you knew you wanted to be a sex therapist? 

I always felt comfortable talking about sex despite growing up in a conservative household. I started my career pursuing medicine and along the way found my passion in psychology.  I was surprised to learn that there was minimal training in my clinical program on human sexuality. I knew I wanted to work with couples and individuals and that it was inevitable that we would be dealing with sexual health so I took every course and training I could find on sexuality. My training and certification includes clinical sexology, sex coaching, AASECT Certified Sex Therapist, and certification in the diagnosis and treatment of sexual dysfunction. Sex is how we all got here and it affects each and every one of us. My passion is to help people reach their sexual potential and to break down the shame and stigma in the process. Plus, I cannot think of better career than talking about sex all day! I feel that sexuality is so important to every dimension of our lives. I am making it my mission to break down the barriers and encourage people to make sexual health a priority. 

Often, people assume that sex therapy deals with the physical more than anything else, but it is clear from your work that it also is very heavily related to the mental/emotional. What themes do you find among the women you work with? 

Most women in my practice are dealing with lack of interest or desire for sex or feeling lost around their sexuality. I feel like much of what we see as sexual concerns are a result of minimal education on sex and intimacy and beliefs around sex that impact mood and wellbeing. I also find that women are dealing with difficulty with arousal and orgasm. My work around these issues involves a mind-body approach using mindfulness training, orgasm coaching and priming, and permission to explore sexuality without shame and guilt. Sex is definitely more than what we do with our genitals. It represents who we are and the values we hold around pleasure and connection. 

How would you define self love?

Self-love is nurturing, adoring, and appreciating your body. Taking care of your mind by observing thoughts, emotions, and beliefs. It’s having a spiritual purpose that aligns with how you live your life. It’s your ability to take care of your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs. It is a state of awareness towards self-regard for your health including making positive lifestyle choices and prioritizing wellbeing. It also involves nourishment including food, exercise, connection and pleasure. Self-love is a pathway to building confidence and learning how to be vulnerable with yourself. 

Based on your experience, would you say there is a relationship between self love and a healthy sex life? If so, can you talk to us a little bit about why that is and how someone's sex life might benefit from higher levels of self love?

Absolutely! To be sexually healthy means to have personal self-acceptance and awareness of sexual desires and interests. Getting to know your body is self-love and accepting your body in the process. There are so many mixed messages around sexuality that can lead to confusion, isolation, and negative thinking patterns. It only takes one negative experience to condition our sexual response. It’s important to develop habits around self-love that include sexual pleasure. We are not encouraged to develop a healthy relationship with self. Making changes around self-love can change how you experience sex and lead to better sexual awareness. 

So often, women - more than men - feel immense pressure to please/take care of others and, in the process, sacrifice their own needs. How does this affect the women you work with in terms of their sex lives and what do you typically advise women in order to overcome this? 

Nurturing others is in our DNA and part of women’s social conditioning that starts from a young age. It takes permission for women to prioritize their pleasure and to be assertive around asking for what they want. Women can often sacrifice their own needs in order to please a partner or to avoid conflict. I usually advise women to start taking time for self and to have activities that are independent of the relationship that they can enjoy and use as self-discovery. I encourage women to build a community where they can feel supported and bond with other women. 

Do women who have higher levels of self love have an easier time communicating their needs in the bedroom? To women who are less comfortable with communicating their needs to their partner, what do you advise?

Self-love can lead to feeling more confident and more likely to communicate needs because there is a self-awareness around what these needs are and how you may want to address the meeting of those needs with a partner. Communication takes practice and starts with doing your own work and knowing that a partner cannot read your mind. We have to learn how to communicate and the more we do it, the easier it becomes.

Can a woman's level of self love affect her ability to orgasm? If so, how?

Self-love includes learning to pleasure your own body and can increase your orgasm potential. Self-pleasuring starts with touching your body and exploring your anatomy. Sexual self-pleasure includes exploring sensations and areas of the body that respond to sexual stimulation. I recommend that women use their hands or a vibrator to explore self-pleasure and to not focus on orgasm as the outcome or as the main goal. The intention is to feel comfortable pleasuring your body and observe how your body responds to touch and vibrator stimulation. 

What exactly do you define as a "healthy" sex life? 

A healthy sex life is subjective and incorporates many factors. In general, I like to consider being sexually healthy as having an approach to sexuality that includes accurate knowledge, personal awareness and self-acceptance, and behavior, emotions, and values that are aligned with who you are as a person. It is also the ability to be intimate with a partner, to communicate explicitly about sexual needs and desires, and to be sexually functional including to have desire, become aroused, and obtain sexual fulfillment. It also includes acting intentionally and responsibly with your sexuality and to be able to set appropriate boundaries. An optimal state of sexual health also includes a sense of self-esteem, personal attractiveness and competence, freedom from sexual concerns, sexually transmitted infections, and sexual abuse or coercion. A healthy sex life with a partner includes open communication, knowing your values and beliefs around sex, exploration and novelty around sexual interests, self-pleasure and connection, and affirming that sexuality is a positive force that enhances overall health and wellbeing. There are so many health benefits of sex! 

Can masturbation increase self love? If so, how?

Yes. In order to experience pleasure with a partner, you need to know how to pleasure your own body and know what feels good. It also makes you feel good - mind and body! We can be creative with masturbation and activate our creativity. It’s not a mechanical process but one where you can spend time in pleasure with your body with no expectations or pressure. 

We know from your answers that self love can fuel a better sex life. Inversely, can becoming more comfortable with yourself sexually fuel self love? If so, is there anything you recommend that women experiment with (i.e. lingerie) to increase their levels of self love?

Get out of your comfort zone. Be creative and explore different aspects of sexuality whether that means finding your sexy or dressing up and being adventurous. Self-love is about intention and is designed for you, by you. It’s going to look different for every woman so there should be no expectations to meet. There are no norms when it comes to sex. It is more important to feel empowered around your sexuality and is not about what others think or being accepted by others. 

How do you practice self love on a daily basis?

Self-love starts with a daily practice of gratitude, positive thoughts and affirmations, and setting the intention for the day. I eat foods that make my body feel good and take care of myself by doing what I know my body needs. I enjoy exercise and movement. Self-love is showing my body that I see it and appreciate all that it does for me. I also give myself permission to be where I am in that moment.  I have a daily routine of listening to music and singing my favorite songs! I feel that music evokes positive emotions and is a form of pleasure I deeply enjoy. I make sure to pamper myself on a daily basis. This can range from yoga, reading, and connecting with my body in nature. It also changes daily. Some days I may be motivated to exercise or be active. Other days I need to relax or look at cute baby animal videos online. Since my work involves helping other people with improving sexual health, my self-love is setting objectives towards my own sexual wellbeing. I make sure I practice what I preach.