Sunday, April 3, 2016

Hi-Tech Sex

© Hermes Solenzol, 2016
“¡Honey, I’m ho-ome!”

Michel let out the customary American husband greeting complete with its appropriate singsong tone when he stepped into his Beverly Hills mansion. Ashley loved his little game of pretending to be the husband in a TV program that she watched as a child. He announced his arrival and she ran to greet him with a welcome kiss at the door.

But not today, apparently. The only one to appear was Kurby, who proceeded to dance crazily around him and to put his front paws on his suit.

Where the heck was Ashley? Michel climbed the stairs to the bedroom followed closely by Kurby, who kept jumping all around him despite his efforts to ignore him. A wave of heat struck him when he opened the bedroom door. The fireplace was on and there were candles everywhere: on the chest of drawers, on the bedside tables, over the closet and, dangerously, on top of the 48-inch flat screen TV. Michel threw his jacket on the bed and looked for the remote to turn off the fireplace. He blew out the candles over the TV and put them on the chest of drawers.

“What are you doing, honey?”

Ashley came out of the bathroom wearing a pink night gown and her favorite slippers: fluffy bunnies complete with glass eyes and long ears. She was petite, with dangerous curves, short blond hair and sparkling blue eyes.

“Hey! Don’t turn off the candles!” she protested.

“Only these ones, chérie… They are going to get wax inside the TV, don’t you see?”

“And the fire! Why have you turned off the fireplace?”

“It’s too hot.”

“But it’s November! Next week is Thanksgiving and Christmas is just around the corner. What’s wrong with turning on the fireplace in the Fall?”

“Yeah, it’s Fall all right, but the Santa Anas are blowing. Have you been outside? It’s steaming hot!”

“I was just trying to create a nice ambiance for you… And then you come and spoil everything!” she whined.

Michel put his arm around her waist and brought her close to him.

“Oh, chérie, I really appreciate it! Does this mean that you have forgiven and we are going to make love again?”

“Yes, but…”

Michel didn’t let her finish. He pushed her to the bed until she fell on her back on it. He lifted up the pink night gown to uncover her perfect thighs and her pretty purple lace panties.

“Stop, Michel… Stop! … We need to talk first.”

Michel stopped and looked into her eyes.

“Yes, chérie?

Ashley sat up and patted the bed to make him sit beside her. Kurby, who had been running nervously around the room, took advantage of the opportunity to hump her leg. Michel tried to get him off her, but Kurby scared him off by fainting a bite and continued his task.

“Oh, that darned dog!”

“Don’t say that, Michel. He’s very affectionate, that’s all.”

“But, chérie, you can’t let him do that. It’s obscene! Didn’t we agree that you were going to take him to have him fixed?”

“Yeah, but this morning Tiffany gave me a better idea, so I took him to see Amanda.”

Without stopping his humping, Kurby insinuated his snout under Ashley’s night gown. That was too much, even for her. She peeled him off her leg, took him to the bedroom door and threw him out.

“And who the heck is Amanda?”

“She is a psychic animal psychologist who is able to make direct contact with the mind of pets. Many movie stars go to see her.”

“¡Oh, la-la, la-la, la-la! And did Amanda get in contact with the mind of Kurby?”

“Yes… Well, not exactly… She got his horoscope and read his cards. She saw that, indeed, Kurby has a strong sexual compulsion. The cards showed that it’s a serious problem that can cause him an untimely death. So we can’t have him fixed. That would kill him.”

“But then what are we going to do? You aren’t planning to…?”

“Of course not, Michel! We’ll have to get him some bitches to keep him satisfied.”

“Breed him, you mean? But who is going to want pups from Kurby? He isn’t even pure breed.”

“Of course he is! Kurby is a cockapoo, a design dog, one hundred per cent poodle and one hundred per cent Cocker Spaniel. My mother paid a small fortune for him.

“Ashley, a dog can’t be a hundred per cent one thing and a hundred per cent another…”

Ashley gave him that skeptical look that he knew so well. It was impossible to argue math with her.

“OK, let’s leave Kurby alone for the time being. What about us?”

“Of, yes, us… I also talked to Amanda about that.”

“With Amanda? But wasn’t she an animal psychologist?”

“She’s a people psychologist as well… Quite good, in fact. Since she is clairvoyant, she understands immediately what’s going on. I talked with her for almost two hours.”

“You didn’t tell her…”

“About Brittany? Of course I told her about Brittany! That’s the key issue, isn’t it?”

“But chérie, I’ve asked you to forgive me a thousand times. I haven’t seen Brittany for months!”

“Of course you don’t see her! She dumped you, didn’t she? Do you think I don’t know? Tiffany is a good friend of one of her best friends. She dumped you because you didn’t do the cunnilingus right. She seduced you because she thought that, being French, you’d be good at it. The slut!”

“Well, what did Amanda say? Did she tell you to make love with me? Because I imagine there has to be a reason for this”, he gestured to the candles burning all over the place.

“Yeah, that… You aren’t letting me explain, Michel… She said that I was right in trusting my intuition and not allow you to penetrate me, because the key of the problem is that we have a relationship that is too coitocentric… That’s the word she used: “coitocentric”. It means that penetration is a way for you to express your aggression and your will to dominate me. But that desire that you men feel to dominate is impossible to satisfy. You become addicted to it. You want more and more, so you need other women to…”

“But that’s not true, chérie! Making love is not expressing my desire to dominate, or my aggression, but the love I feel for you… Brittany was just a mistake. I let temptation get the best of me. It happens to a lot of people, but it won’t happen again, I swear. I love only you! You are the love of my life!”

“Then, if that’s true, you’ll have to respect my feelings about it… You’ll have to help me heal this wound.”

“And what do I have to do?”

Ashley gave him one of her most charming smiles, her eyes shining with excitement.

“Amanda had the most wonderful idea! You’ll see, let me show you…”

Ashley went to the chest of drawers and came back with two white cardboard boxes. She sat back on the bed with one of them on her knee. On the box was a picture of what looked like a sophisticated vibrator .

“A vibrator?”

“Yes. From now on we are going to practice hi-tech sex, healthy and clean. No more penetrations… Which, you have to agree, are quite disgusting, with all that yucky mucus and secretions.”

¡Mais tu es devenue complètement folle!

“Don’t talk to me in French, Michel. You know that I don’t understand it. Speak in English, we are in America.”

Mais, chérie, you always said that my accent is what you like the most about me… and that is very romantic when I talk to you in French.”

“Yeah, but not now, Michel. We are talking about something serious and I need to understand what you say.”

“Well, I just said that you have gone completely nuts. How are we going to make love with a vibrator? That’s completely artificial, fake, inhuman… How can you compare that with the intimacy of body to body contact, feeling our muscles tense and relax, being inside each other… All those mucus and secretions you mentioned are not disgusting, they are natural…”

“Oh, yeah? Who would have known, seeing how you react when you do that cunnilingus thing!”

“That was just that one time, chérie… I’ve explained it to you a thousand times. It was just that dinner didn’t seat to well with me.”

“Is that what you tell Brittany?”

Michel sighed.

“Why can’t we have a decent conversation without you bringing up Brittany?”

“That’s what I’m trying to do, but you are not listening. You said I was crazy without even letting me explain what this things does.”

“All right! What does it do?”

“It’s not just a vibrator, Michel, it’s much more sophisticated than that. It’s called the iCum and it’s able to unleash the most powerful orgasms.

“Really? How?”

“Oh, Michel, don’t ask me to explain how it works, you know how bad I am about technology! Amanda explained it to me with all sort of detail, but I can’t remember a thing. Look, here it explains everything…”

Ashley opened the box and brought out a thick instruction book. Michel browsed through it. It was so thick because it contained information in over a dozen different languages. The instructions in English were just four pages:
You are holding in your hand a technological marvel that will bring about a new Sexual Revolution! The iCum-F is the key to expand your sexual capacity beyond your wildest dreams! Don’t let appearances fool you, the iCum-F is not a simple vibrator! It is an instrument combining sophisticated sensors to measure your level of clitoral arousal with a whole gamut of stimulators able to recruit all and each one of the nerve fibers of the feminine sexual organ. Of course, the iCum-F is able to reproduce any type of vibration known to date. But there is much, much more! Or team of scientists discovered that mechanical vibration is not the most effective way to stimulate the clitoris. The real key to pleasure is electrical stimulation, which the iCum can modulate in both frequency and intensity to bring you to ecstasy. At the same time that it stimulates your nerve fibers, the iCum-F measures the impedance of the clitoral mucosa to assess your degree of arousal. In that function it is assisted by a laser pulse-oximeter able to measure at the same time your heart beat, blood oxygen, blood flow and arterial pressure. All this gets integrated in the brain of the iCum-F, a tiny computer that…
“Are you planning to spend the entire evening reading that?”

“No, no, of course!” said Michel closing the booklet. “You are right: it’s much more advanced than a simple vibrator.”

“See? You don’t trust me. Sometimes I feel like you think I’m dumb.”

“Please don’t say that, chérie! How could I think that of you! What’s in the other box?”

Ashely gave him a mischievous smile.

“The other box is for you, Michel. You wouldn’t think that I only cared about my own pleasure, would you?”

Ashely opened the other box and brought out a cylinder larger than the iCum-F.

“This is the iCum-M, for men. See? You put your ding-a-ling through this opening over here. At the end there is a device that stimulates the gland pretty much the same way that the iCum-F stimulates the clit. But there are a bunch of other things… Amanda explained them to me, but right now I can remember all the details.”

“Well, let’s take a look…”

Michel found the instruction booklet and started to read it.

“Hey, don’t start reading again!” said Ashley grabbing the manual from him. “Where do you think we are, in a library?”

“But we have to find out how this works,” protested Michel turning the iCum-M in his hands. “Can we open it? Because if I cum inside it would need to be cleaned, right?”

“Oh yes, that I can explain… See? That’s why we have these…”

Ashley took a plastic bag out of the iCum-M box. She open it and extracted a rubber disk from it.

“These are disposable inserts for your iCum-M, made of natural rubber. When you use it, you throw it away and the next time you put in a new one.”

“I see… disposable vaginas,” he said laughing at his own joke.

“Don’t be silly! As you can see, it’s quite an hygienic system. No more changing the sheets after making love.”

“And how much did you pay for these toys?”

“Nine hundred and ninety nine dollars… Plus taxes, of course.”

“Jesus! Both?”

“No, each one… Come on, Michel, you’re the one who always says that money doesn’t matter! What can be more important than our sex life?”

“But this is not about our sex life. These thingies are just to masturbate, which is different.”

“No, they are not for masturbating, they are for making love. Because you wouldn’t use your iCum when you are not with me, would you?”

The way Ashley was frowning, there was only one possible answer.

‘Of course not… But, chérie, even if we use the iCums at the same time, that wouldn’t be the same thing as making love…”

Ashley threw him on the bed and got on top of him, playfully.

“I know what you want, you dummy! You will be able to touch me everywhere: my ass, my tits, whatever you want… But instead of putting your cock inside me, you put it inside the iCum. It will treat it right, you’ll see.”

“That doesn’t sound very romantic…”

Ashley kissed him in the lips furiously.

“Come on! Don’t be so negative! Let’s try…”

After a frustrating delay because of some difficulties with putting the vagina insert in the iCum-M, they finally got it going. Michel started manhandling Ashley but, when she saw that he wasn’t going to take the lead, she pulled down her panties and rushed to apply her iCum-F to her clit. Michel just laid there, looking at her expression of ecstasy without knowing what to do. Finally, he grabbed his iCum-M, lubricated it and gingerly put his penis inside.

The device clamped around his cock like a vise, starting undulating motions up and down the shaft. It wasn’t unpleasant, just a bit threatening to feel trapped that way. But then the really good stuff got started. An exquisite electric discharge zapped his frenulum, followed by soft vibrations and delicious discharges of static. He thought that he would cum right away and again tried to take his penis out of the iCum, but the darned thing wasn’t going to let him go. Nevertheless, the intense stimulation stopped and was replaced by a soft massage up and down his shaft. Then it started all over again.

¡Ah, chérie, c’est vraiment magnifique!

But Ashely, lying at his side, wasn’t listening. She shook spasmodically in what looked like the most intense orgasm of her life.


“Honey, I’m ho-ome!”

Ashley heard the singsong greeting with which Michel announced his arrival. Long ago she had grown bored with playing that stupid game of pretending to be a 50s housewife but she didn’t want to spoil it for Michel, who obviously enjoyed it so much. Luckily, there was always Kurby to welcome him home when she was busy… Like she was right now. She listened, expecting to hear the sound of paws running over the wooden floor, but there was nothing… Where was that stupid dog? I’d had to be her who greeted Michel.

She left the two iCums on the bed with the bags of “vaginas”, as she and Michel had started to call them in jest. She looked at herself in the mirror to check her makeup, adjusted the strap on her nightgown over her shoulder and left the bedroom.

She had been waiting for him anxiously. They had gone three days without having sex and it was starting to get to her nerves. Michel’s parents had come from Paris to spend Christmas with them and she had to take her mother-in-law, who didn’t speak a word of English, shopping in Rodeo Drive. She didn’t speak any French, either, so she had no idea on how they were going to communicate, but Michel had insisted in leaving the two of them alone because shopping was a woman thing. After some tension resulting from her failure to convey to Madame Nicole how expensive those stores in Beverly Hills could be, her own mother had offered to take her.

On top of that, today, December 26, when everybody in their right mind took the day off, Michel had decided that he absolutely had to go to work.

The temptation of using the iCum by herself had been almost irresistible, but she had promised Michel that she’d only use it with him. To do otherwise would be like cheating on him. Or so she had told herself, and that way she had been able to keep the darned thing in its box all day long.

“Oh, darling, I missed you so much!” She screamed in his ear as she jumped on him to hug him with arms and legs. “Let’s go into the bedroom, I can’t stand it one more second!”

“Ah, chérie, neither can I! But, please, get me a bottle of Perrier from the fridge while I change. I’m so thirsty! We have the Santa Anas again.

Ashley was going upstairs with the bottle of Perrier when she heard Michel let out a bloodcurdling scream from the bedroom.

“Arrrg! My vaginas! Kurby has eaten my vaginas!”

When she opened the bedroom door she witnessed a devastating debacle: the bag of inserts for the iCum-M was laying on the bed, bitten into pieces. The “vaginas” were spread all over the bedroom floor. While she looked, Kurby grabbed one between his teeth. Holding the other end between his paws, he pulled until the insert tore with a loud “plop” .

“Kurby, bad dog! Very bad dog! Look what you have done!”

Kurby just wagged his tailed and looked back at her, excited with his new game. When she ran to him to grab him, Kurby grabbed the last intact insert between his teeth and, dodging her, ran out the door.

“OK, this is it!” shouted Michel, enraged. “I want that dog out of my house! I want him gone by tomorrow!”

“Calm down, Michel. You know very well that we can’t kick Kurby out. My mother is in love with him ever since she bought him for us. If we kick him out, the next day they’ll kick you out of your job.”

“Oh, God! Why did I ever let your parents hire me! What are we going to do now?”

Michel sat on the bed and buried his face in his hands. Ashley sat beside him and started massaging his shoulders.

“Come on! Come on! Don’t worry, there’s got to be an insert that you can use.

They spent the next half an hour going through the vaginas, inspecting them one by one. Kurby had been quite thorough, there wasn’t a single one left intact.

“OK, don’t worry, on Monday I’ll go see Amanda and I’ll get you a new bag of inserts.”

“On Monday? But today is Friday!”

“It’s all I can do. Amanda goes away on weekends to her house in Palm Springs.”

Michel looked dubiously at his iCum-M.

“You know, maybe it can be used without an insert. It shouldn’t be too hard to clean it afterward.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Michel…”

But Michel was already taking off his pants. The moment he was naked, he jumped on her and started touching her everywhere. She became instantly aroused, not because of his clumsy caresses and squeezes, but because the moment to use her beloved iCum-F was so close at hand. Pretty soon she could wait no more. She peeled off her panties and grabbed the iCum-F from the bedside table.

The first delicious pulsations starting teasing her clit. Through half-closed eyelids she saw Michel cautiously introducing his fully erected cock in his iCum-M. Exquisite electric discharges made her close her eyes. A dreadful scream from Michel made her open them again.

“Arrrg! Ouch! Ayayayay! How do you stop this thing? Ashley, please, turn it off!”

Michel was fighting like a madman to get his penis out of the device, which seemed equally determined not to let it go.

“You can’t turn it off, it’s automatic,” she said matter-of-factly.

“Then get the batteries out… Do something, for God sake!”

‘It has no batteries. It gets charged through the USB, you know that… I was going to tell you that without the insert the electric discharges could get a tad too intense.”

“No shit! And now you tell me? Ouch!”

Luckily, his torment didn’t last too long. His poor tortured cock didn’t take long to lose its erection as a result of the harsh treatment it was receiving, and so it could break free of the vise that was trapping it.

They looked at each other, not knowing what to say.

“Michel, please, I can’t wait anymore…” she pleaded.

 His anxious look made her fear the worse. She started praying for him not to say it.

“I know, chérie, I know… Go ahead and do it. I’ll just sit here and watch you cum. That’s pleasure enough for me.”

She let out a sigh of relief and hugged him.

“That’s what I expected of you, my love. You’ve always behaved like a perfect French gentleman. I love you so much!”

¡Mais bien sûr, chérie!

Ashely closed her eyes again and surrendered to the exquisite sensations that the iCum-F was giving her. She was so turned on! She was vaguely aware of the presence of Michel next to her, caressing her breasts, her belly, the inside of her thighs, but all of that was nothing compared to the strict discipline of pleasure that the iCum was delivering to her pussy, taking her to ever higher peaks… to let her fall from there at the last second. Vibrations and discharges ebbed to almost nothing just when she was about to reach her climax.

The third time it happened she realized that something had gone terribly wrong.

“What’s going on, Michel?” she moaned. “It stops just when I’m about to reach orgasm!”

“I don’t know… Well, it could be that… don’t you remember? The last time we used the iCums we decided to change the mode. We set them on “edging”.

“And what on Earth is “edging”?

“It’s keeping you close to orgasm without letting you get all the way there.”

“You’ve got to be kidding!”

“No, chérie. You asked for it because you said that we were finishing too soon.”

“You were finishing too soon, you dummy, not me! Why the fuck did you have to touch my iCum!”

“Don’t worry, chérie, it would just take a minute to reprogram it,” he said meekly.

“I’ll do it! I don’t trust you anymore!”

She got out of bed, got the USB cable from the bedside table drawer and used it to plug her iCum to her laptop.

“This stupid thing takes longer and longer to boot! You need to buy me a new laptop, I’ve told you a thousand times!”

Michel tried to massage her shoulders. She shook him off with an angry motion.

A message showed up in her screen:

New hardware 

Looking for drivers…

The window closed. A new one came up, larger and with black background.

“Nooo!” she screamed in frustration.

Michel squatted at her side to be able to read the screen. They both stared at the new message in disbelief:

System update

Please wait


At the bottom of the screen there was a black bar with a tiny green notch at the left. Over it, it said “1%”. After a while, the green bar grew a bit and the number changed to “2%”.

Unable to move, they kept staring at the screen as the green bar continued to move at glacial speed towards 100%.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Endorphins do not mediate the pain reduction produced by mediatation

For a while I have suspected that endorphins are not the only or the healthiest way in which the body decreases pain. This recent study lends support to that idea. It shows that mindfulness meditation reduces pain. However, when the subjects that were meditating were given injections of naloxone (an opioid antagonist that would block the effect of the endorphins) it did not decrease the pain reduction induced by meditation. Quite the opposite, it even increased it!

J Neurosci. 2016 Mar 16;36(11):3391-7. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4328-15.2016. 
Mindfulness-Meditation-Based Pain Relief Is Not Mediated by Endogenous Opioids.
Zeidan F1, Adler-Neal AL2, Wells RE3, Stagnaro E4, May LM5, Eisenach JC6, McHaffie JG2, Coghill RC7

Citation and abstract in PubMed:

The whole article can be read here:

Thursday, January 21, 2016

How to avoid hurting the one we love

It is quite ironic that the person who loves you the best is also the person who is able to hurt you most deeply. Apparently, romantic relationships entail a great deal of suffering. Everybody seems to think that this is unavoidable, that suffering is just the price of admission for being loved. However, I think that it doesn’t have to be this way, that if we hurt the person we love it’s because we must be doing something wrong. It seems that when we reach a certain degree of intimacy we start allowing ourselves some behaviors that bring conflict and emotional damage. Then, perhaps what we should do is to learn to recognize those behaviors and ways to avoid them. We should learn to love in a better, healthier way.

“Abuse” is a strong word. We tend to neatly divide the world between abusers, who deserve our scorn and even jail time; victims, who must be protected and healed, and then the rest of us, nice people who are neither abusers or victims. This classification works quite well when it comes to physical abuse, because physical damage is relatively easy to identify. Likewise, social taboos about unwanted sexual contact are normally clearly established within any given society. However, there are no such clear boundaries when it comes to emotional abuse. Whether a particular act is abusive or not depends not so much on the act itself but on context, intention, how often the act is repeated, and how resilient or vulnerable is the person on the receiving end. Perhaps this explains why we hurt the person we love so often, sometimes intentionally, sometimes inadvertently. When it comes to emotional damage, we all can be small-scale abusers and victims. Of course, there are the real psychological abusers, those who cause emotional damage in an intentional or habitual way with the objective of bringing the other person under their control. Emotional abuse could be defined as any behavior that causes psychological damage, produces dependence and decrease the self-esteem of the target person. It is based on using three key emotions, fear, guilt and shame, which are used to break the psychological balance of a person.

Here is a list of behaviors involved in emotional abuse:

  1. Coercion is defined as a demand that can’t be refused without bringing about serious negative consequences. One clear example is coerced sex; imposed, for example, under the threat of a fight. But coercion can be used to obtain many other things: going to a party, socializing with some particular people, choosing a vacation spot, how to decorate the house, or when to have children.
  2. Threats are one of the most direct forms of coercion. They evoke fear to get what we want. One of the most frequent threats in a couple is breaking up. This usually happen as a result of an unbalance of power based on one person valuing the relationship more than the other. It could be that she is more in love or that the relationship brings on advantages that he doesn’t want to lose. In these case, the impending threat of the break-up can become an unspoken but powerful coercion. It often happen that this threat is just a bluff. 
  3. Frightening. Threats are just one way of using fear to control a person. Emotional manipulation can prosper in an environment of high anxiety created by actions like screaming, throwing things, breaking things, risking safety or breaking the law. The simple presence of fear creates an environment of oppression. 
  4. Blackmail is a form of coercion that consist in threatening to do something that the other person doesn’t want us to do if he does not comply with our demands. The most familiar form of blackmail is the threat of telling about something. One clear example is “outing”: revealing that somebody is gay, bisexual, into BDSM, polyamorous, or any other form of sexuality not approved by society. 
  5. Emotional blackmail consists in using fear, obligation or guilt (sometimes this is abbreviated by the acronym FOG) with the goal of pressuring another person to do what we want. There are four types of emotional blackmail. The first consists in the threat of punishment. A classic example in couples is the withdrawal of sex or affection. The second type is self-punishment: the threat of harming oneself. An extreme but all-too-familiar case is the threat of suicide. A milder case is that sulking attitude when we don’t get what we want. The third type of emotional blackmail consists in engaging in acts of self-sacrifice with the goal of evoking guilt. These include all those acts of service that are done not out of goodwill or love, but to get something in exchange. The fourth type is perhaps the most difficult to recognize, because it consists in offering a price in exchange for getting what we want. A classic example is offering candy to a child in exchange for a kiss. In a couple, offering sex as a price may seem like a good idea at first, but in fact this is not very different from withdrawing sex when we don’t get what we want. It leads to the creation of a manipulative environment in which we don’t know why things are done.  
  6. Breaking boundaries. We all have things that we never want to do or want done to ourselves: those are our boundaries. In a healthy relationship each person defines what their boundaries are and respects the boundaries of the other. Problems arise either when boundaries are not clearly defined or when they are known but are broken nevertheless. 
  7. Sabotage. This includes instances of not respecting the work, family and social obligations of our lover. The most typical case is when a couple’s brawl leaves us so upset that we cannot focus on work. In this case the sabotage is involuntary and indirect. A step up from that is when somebody has so little respect for their partner that he gives no consideration to her work schedule or the time he needs to devote to family and friends. Time and attention can be misappropriated, for example, by forcing dates or phone conversations at inopportune times. In the more extreme cases of abuse, the abuser directly interferes with the work or social environment of the victim with the clear goal of undermining them. I know a case of a husband who called her wife’s boss to tell him the she was quitting the job, which was not her intention at all.  
  8. Lack of communication. Good communication is vital in any healthy relationship. It is hard even in the best situations, so it becomes nearly impossible when somebody sabotages it as part of a manipulative strategy. One example of this is the “silent treatment” (refusing to talk) or its modern version: blocking in social media. Another example is doing the opposite: talking continuously to create a “Wall of Words” that prevents the other person from talking. 
  9. Lying. Of course, the worst form of lack of communication is not telling the truth. Lying could be considered as a way of taking power away from somebody, because misinformation prevents that person from making the best decisions. Lying is considered the main offense in infidelity, but any form of lying or dishonesty is harmful in a relationship because it undermines trust.
  10. Gaslighting is an extreme form of psychological abuse consisting in the systematic manipulation of the information that is provided to a person. The goal is to weave of a web of lies, half-truths, secrets and deceptions that creates a distorted view of reality. This is often done with the goal of hiding a situation of generalized abuse. Gaslighting greatly harms the self-esteem and may cause the victim to question her own sanity. The name comes from the play Gas Light and its movie adaptations.
  11. Keeping secrets. The question of whether is OK to keep secrets from our partner is a delicate one. On the one hand, everybody has a right to his own privacy - some things are so intimate that we want to keep them from absolutely anybody. On the other hand, hiding some things that our partner has the right to know could be considered lying by omission. The most clear examples are STIs and adultery.
  12. Invading privacy. The other side of that coin is privacy. Everybody has a right to reveal things about themselves only if they want to, when they want to and how they want to. We also have a right that whatever we tell somebody in confidence is not revealed to third persons without our consent. Even if it is not right to keep some things secret, that doesn’t mean that we may use coercion to force somebody to reveal a secret. The most clear example of violation of privacy, unfortunately common these days, is to search a cell phone or a computer for information without the permission of the owner.
  13. Complaints and criticisms. Complaining is normal. If something is not going well in the relationship it is essential for good communication to talk about it. But there are many ways to say something. When complaints and criticisms are made with the intention of evoking shame and guilt, we have entered the territory of emotional mistreatment. Problems should be presented at the right occasion, preferably with enough time to discuss them without feeling rushed. There should be no intention of hurting and offending. Like in many other things, quantity matters: a long list of reproaches is offensive. We should also pay attention to two bad habits related to this. The first is to be easily offended, so that whoever talks to us is kept on edge, having to constantly self-censor. Obviously, this gets in the way of good communication. The other bad habit is to present oneself as the victim, a common strategy of psychological abusers. 
  14. Shaming. Even more than guilt, shame is the emotion that damages most the self-esteem. Consider, for example, all the cases of homosexual teenagers that are driven to suicide by shaming from their parents, their teachers, their classmates or religious authorities. One of the most common instances of emotional abuse are degrading comments and continuous criticism. A extreme case of shaming is cyber-bullying: the harassment and public shaming of individuals in social networks. Another form of shaming is to berate people not for what they do but for who they are, like their gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or culture. Here we enter on the territory of bigotry and intolerance. 
  15. Not apologizing. We all make mistakes, so we all should be ready to apologize when we hurt another person. A timely apology could mean the difference between a fight that is satisfactorily resolved and another that leaves scars for a lifetime. It could also mean the difference between a mistake done without malice or an act of deliberate abuse. When a person in a couple apologizes all the time and the other never does it, that is a sign that something is really wrong. 
  16. Not forgiving. Not accepting an apology can undermine the dignity of the person offering it and thus can be hurtful and aggressive. Of course, not everything could or should be forgiven. In fact, in many instances of abuse there is a pathological form or forgiveness based on co-dependency - the victim constantly forgives the abuser, even making far-fetched excuses for the abuse. A necessary condition for forgiveness should be that the deed to be forgiven has ended. We can’t forgive somebody who persists in the misbehavior. On the other hand, not granting forgiveness that has been earned can become emotional abuse when this is used to perpetuates the guilt of the person asking to be forgiven as a form of control. So maybe the right thing to do when something cannot be forgiven is to terminate the relationship, rather than to continue it in the climate of power unbalance brought by the feeling of guilt. A variant of this problem is when an apology is accepted but used later on, over and over, to remind the person of his past guilt. This is not true forgiveness. We should move on. 
  17. Passive aggressive behavior is an expression of hostility based on not doing things that we are supposed to do. It includes some of the problems that I mention above, like lack of communication, withdrawing affection, not apologizing and not forgiving. But there are many other ways of being passive aggressive, sometimes hard to identify. Even over-politeness or extreme compliance can be forms of passive-aggression. By the same token, it is easy to accuse a well-meaning person of being passive-aggressive and very difficult to defend ourselves against such an accusation. 
  18. Social isolation. A common technique to create emotional dependence in sects is to separate the new follower from his family and friends. This way the victim loses the frame of reference that would allow her to escape indoctrination. A similar situation can take place in a couple when a person is separated from her friends and social environment, usually because of jealousy. 
  19. Social pressure. I may also happen that one of the individuals in a couple becomes completely surrounded by the friends and family of the other. Then, when problems arise in the couple, these people would have a biased attitude about them. Social pressure can also come from cultural norms that favor one person over the other. One clear example is sexism, when society condones a man’s control over a woman’s behavior. Another case is when one person wants some kind of sexual freedom, like being kinky or polyamorous, and another person prevents it with the help of cultural norms and societal repression. This happens in instances of slut-shaming: harassing women because their sexual behavior infringes cultural norms.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I must confess that I have done some of the things in this list. Also, I had some of them done to me. Perhaps you think that you don’t do them just because you are a woman, or a feminist, or gay, or submissive. Well, think again, you may be in denial. After all, even hard-core psychological abusers don’t see themselves as such. Is all too easy to rationalize emotional abuse as self-defense, standing up for ourselves or even being funny. We should stop doing them because they really hurt that person that we claim to love. They also damage our relationship and gradually erode the love we seek. On top of that, when we engage in these behaviors we contribute to normalize them, making them harder to identify in cases of serious psychological abuse.

We all have been in a couple’s quarrel in which we have tried to scare or hurt the person that we love. We need to stop doing that, raise our ethical standards and, if we need to fight, at least fight fairly, without being manipulative or cruel. Emotional abuse should not be considered normal, even in its mildest forms. It leaves scars that undermine the relationship, setting the foundation for future fights and even turning the relationship into something toxic.

One of the worse things about psychological abuse is that it’s so hard to identify. In fact, I believe that there is a gradation between what is socially accepted behavior in a couple (but still wrong) and psychological abuse. Where our behavior falls in that gradient depends not only on what our intentions are but on how vulnerable is the other person. It’s way too easy to hurt somebody by mistake. Since it’s so easy to engage in emotional mistreatment, it often becomes mutual in a couple. This may lead to a toxic relationship where victim and abuser are not always easy to identify. So we should be mindful that, even if we are being mistreated, this does not justify retaliating with emotional abuse of our own. When emotional abuse has made a relationship toxic, the best solution is to break up. However, this can be surprisingly difficult to do because of trauma bonding.

I think that we all should examine carefully our behavior towards our loved one and carefully expunge any element of emotional abuse. When somebody opens their heart to us, this makes them extremely vulnerable. We should not betray their trust by using this vulnerability to hurt them or to exploit them. Even if we do it unconsciously, there is no excuse. If we want to be loved, we have to learn to love. And this consists in making the other person happy. Love should not hurt.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

In defense of cheating

Although statistics about the prevalence of infidelity vary wildly (between 25% and 60% over the duration of a marriage), everybody seems to agree that it is on the increase on Western societies. Is this necessarily a bad thing? Or is it just one more symptom of the disintegration of the monogamous norm? Judging from what I read, it seems that many polyamorous people, while critiquing sexual exclusivity, are quite judgmental when it comes to cheating. In agreement with people of a more puritanical persuasion, they tend to view infidelity as the betrayal of a sacred oath. According to them, if a person is sexually unsatisfied in her or his current relationship, there are only three morally acceptable options: 1) continue to live sexually deprived, 2) negotiate an open relationship, 3) leave the relationship. The 4th option, of course, is cheating. I believe that sometimes it is ethically justified for the following reasons…

I believe that the basic issue underlying the ethics of sex is personal autonomy. It means that my body (and my mind) is mine and I should be able to use it as I see fit, as long as it doesn’t impinge in the personal autonomy of somebody else. This has two implications, one negative and one positive. The negative implication is that nobody should use my body (or my mind) against my desires, which makes rape, sexual abuse, psychological abuse and other forms of non-consensual sex, immoral. The positive implication is that I have a right to my own sexual satisfaction (again, as long as it doesn’t violate the personal autonomy of somebody else). This implies that sexual repression also violates personal autonomy and should be considered a form of abuse. Therefore, cheating is not a violation of consent because it does not violate the partner’s personal autonomy. What it does violate is a personal contract in which two people have agreed to mutual sexual exclusivity. However, breaking an agreement is a much less serious offense than violating personal autonomy (as in rape and sexual abuse). It is important to note that the sexual exclusivity agreement does involve relinquishing a large segment of personal autonomy: before I was able to have sex with whoever wanted to have sex with me, now I’m restricted to just one person. Because of that, any form of coercion in establishing this agreement should be considered quite seriously.

We cannot forget that we live in a society that strongly enforces monogamy. In fact, there many places in the world today where non-monogamy is punished with death. Even the more enlighten Western societies exert considerable pressure in favor of monogamy, using different forms of legal, economic, cultural and social sanctions. Very often these are unfairly directed more toward women than toward men.

Because of that, we cannot consider the agreement of sexual exclusivity involved in marriage as one freely made, but one made under the pressure of a coercive environment. In practice, this means that we are given the option between a monogamous relationship or no relationship at all. Almost nobody is given the option between an open relationship or a sexually exclusive one: it is monogamy by default. Let’s remember that an agreement made under duress is not morally binding.

Let’s now consider the three options (other than cheating) offered to a person who is sexually dissatisfied in a relationship. The first one is to just put up with the sexual deprivation. In the old, sexually-repressive culture, this went unquestioned. Sex was considered something superfluous, unnecessary for the happiness of a decent person (especially if it was a woman). The new sex-positive culture has changed that perspective, posing that it is unacceptable for a person to live sexually deprived. This not only applies to having sex in general, but also to enjoy alternative sexualities like BDSM. If I’m kinky and my partner is not, I’m entitled to do something about it. So this is no longer an acceptable option for a lot of people.

The second option is to negotiate an open relationship. This is considerably difficult, often impossible. Let’s not forget that open and polyamorous relationships are vanishingly few. Realistically, proposing an open agreement to a partner entrenched in the monogamous mentality is not only futile, it is foolish. The only thing that it would accomplish is to make us instant suspects of cheating, or wanting to cheat.

The third option is breaking the relationship. I am quite surprise at the alacrity with which so many people propose this option… like breaking-up was easy and entailed no suffering at all! Quite the opposite, most of the time it is the least desirable option, often an impossible one. This is because we live in a society that wraps a lot of power in the institution of marriage, in the form of economic power (share savings, mortgage, etc.) and restrictions of individual freedom (the house where I live, the job that I have, childcare, etc.). Then, breaking-up is not a simple matter of stopping a sexual and emotional relationship, but something that throws our life in a complete turmoil, most likely ending up by lowering significantly our standard of living. Divorce is easy when you are rich, ruinous when you are poor. And then there are the children, who probably wouldn’t suffer much if a parent occasionally cheats, but would be devastated by a divorce.

In conclusion, cheating is not a black-and-white issue, but one of great complexity. If one thing is clear, is that we would all gain a lot by de-dramatizing it. Contrary to what we read in novels and see on television, it’s not worth killing anybody over it. Is not even worth leaving our loved one over it. Sex is just sex, let’s not blow it out of proportion by attaching all sorts of mystical meanings to it. Yes, in some cases cheating is a dastardly thing to do, involving breaking of trust, dishonesty and betrayal. But in other cases it is just the least bad of a set of bad options. Like the case of the woman who has become economically dependent of her husband by leaving her career to have children, and now finds that he no longer wants to have sex with her.

From the point of view of a non-monogamous, sex-positive culture, we should be able to appreciate the element of rebellion against the established order that is implicit in cheating. Yes, the person being cheated suffers, but the monogamous norm is partly to blame for that suffering. It is that culture that has convinced him that being cheated is, oh, such an awful thing to go through! And let’s not forget that that cultural norm of sexual exclusivity creates an unbalance of power, empowering the sexually repressive member of a couple to the disadvantage of the one that yearns for sexual freedom. Ideally, we should all be able to be polyamorous if we wanted, but in reality the ability to do that is reserved to a precious few. We should not be judgmental of people who have to resort to other, more unpalatable options.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The six basic emotions of Ekman

Charles Darwin was one of the first to realize that there are several emotions that are clearly expressed in the face and the body, not only of humans but also of many mammals. The fact that emotions are not unique to humans was consistent with his theory of evolution. Almost a century later, in 1972, Paul Ekman did a cross-cultural study in which he concluded that there are six basic emotions: joy, sadness, fear, anger, disgust and surprise.

Fear is the most well-studied all these six emotions because is connected to important psychological problems like anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We know that involves the activation of the amygdala region of the brain. In the body, fears triggers the production of adrenaline and the activation of the sympathetic system, which prepares the body for action: the fight-or-flight response. Paradoxically, it can also produce the opposite behavior: freezing, which consists in complete immobility of the animal, perhaps to escape detection.

Disgust makes us reject substances or environments that are potentially unhealthy because they present a danger of infection or poisoning. We can imagine that this is a very primitive emotion because even simple animals have chemical senses that stops them from eating and makes them move away from toxic substances. It is associated with the body reactions of nausea and vomiting.

Anger is associated with behaviors of aggression. Like fear, it involves adrenaline secretion and the activation of the sympathetic system, but while fear leads to either freezing or escape, anger draws us towards whatever has irritated us.

Surprise, like fear and anger, involves a general activation of the nervous system. Its role is to direct our attention towards an unexpected stimulus. It is not a negative emotion, because at the onset it draws us towards the stimulus. If the stimulus turns out to be threatening, it is quickly followed by fear.

Sadness produces the opposite reaction than fear, anger and surprise: it deactivates the nervous system, leading to a state of internal withdrawal.

Joy is the most positive emotion. It activates the nervous system to make us go out exploring or to repeat a pleasurable behavior. I think it is important not to confuse joy with happiness, which is not an emotion but a generalized state of well-being, harmony and agreement with our life. Although when we are happy we tend to experience more joy, we can be happy in the mist of other emotions. For example, the fear inspired by scary movies or dangerous sports is happy-making. Even sadness can be accompanied by happiness, like in some pleasant melancholy states.

I feel increasingly fascinated by emotions. For a long time I have wanted to write about these six basic emotions and now, to my surprise, there is a Disney movie about them! The animation film Inside Out zooms inside the mind of the characters to show us how these basic emotions interact among them to direct our behavior.

Of course, being a Disney movie, we can expect a certain lack of depth and factual errors. The first one is… Surprise! They totally left surprise out. Why? What’s wrong with surprise? Is a perfectly legit basic emotion… Who doesn’t like a surprise party? Well, actually, I do… I’m a bit of a control freak and don’t like surprises, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate this emotion when it comes barging into my mind.

The other problem is a bit more subtle: the implication that these puny five emotions are the only ones we feel, when there are so many others. What happened to love, compassion, regret, jealousy, envy, pride, shame, guilt, indignation, self-righteousness, curiosity, boredom, awe, ridicule and loyalty? And that list is far from exhaustive. Unlike the six basic emotions of Ekman, many of these other emotions appear to be exclusively human. For example, we used to think that dogs feel shame and guilt, but recent research shows that we may be anthropomorphizing what is just a display of fear. Or maybe dogs are just very good a mimicking these emotions. Regardless, many of these emotions (like love, shame, guilt, pride and loyalty) are related to regulating social behavior. Others, like curiosity, interest, boredom and awe, seems related to our cognitive interaction with the world. I hope to write an article about these uniquely human emotions very soon.

And an interesting way of classifying emotions...

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Wall of Words

Words are meant to be used to communicate and communication is essential in any relationship. However, quite often words are used as weapons to attack a partner in a relationship, as clubs to bludgeon he or she into submission. One thing I have encountered quite often in my life is what I call the “Wall of Words”, which consists in one person (whom I will call a “waller”) talking in an aggressive way for long periods of time so that the other person is forced into silence and does not have time to form an effective defense.

Here is how it works. The person will start talking and carry on for a long period of time, often giving lots of unnecessary details and repeating himself. If the other person interrupts her, he will complain vigorously about the interruption and then proceed with the speech. However, there is a double standard regarding interruptions, because when the other person finally gets a chance to talk, she will be soon interrupted by another long tirade of the “waller”, who suddenly feels the urgent need to correct something the other person has just said. In the most blatant cases of the Wall of Words that I have experienced, there was an occasional silence but when I opened my mouth to speak the “waller” immediately started talking over me, blocking anything I was trying to say. In fact, the Wall of Words may leads to two persons talking simultaneously, even screaming at each other, one trying desperately to get heard and the other blocking the speech.

The Wall of Words is harder to implement in group situations, although I have seen one person take control over an entire meeting and preventing people with dissenting opinions to speak by using her authority as the Chair to allocate most of the speaking time to herself.

The “waller”, consciously or unconsciously, is trying to block the other person from communicating. She clearly does not want to listen, she just wants to lecture the other person. The goal is to create a power imbalance in which the “waller” adopts the role of a superior lecturing a subordinate, like an adult reprimanding a child or a boss chastising an employee. Indeed, the content of the speech in the Wall of Words is quite often full of accusations and shaming. Other times the “waller” presents herself as a victim and the Wall of Words in put up with the excuse of defending herself against the supposed abuse of the other person. Of course, abuse does happen, but the way to stop it should not be preventing the abuser from communicating. In fact, the Wall of Words is in itself a form of psychological abuse in which the power imbalance created by the fact that one person gets to talk and the other doesn’t may end up undermining the self-esteem of the person silenced. Often, the “waller” will elaborate a long list of accusations and the person silenced feels powerless to even start addressing it. In the worst cases, threats are also included, adding fear to the negative emotions of guilt and shame.

What can be done when faced with a Wall of Words? Solutions are not easy because the Wall of Words itself prevents any solutions based on good communication. Here are some ideas:
  1. Ask a third person to mediate. Ideally, the mediator should be made aware of the problem so that she can arbitrate equal time to talk. However, be aware that the “waller” may try to involve the mediator in the dynamic with protest of unfairness, ultimately also blocking the mediator from communicating. 
  2. Walk away. Quite often a person will put up a Wall of Words only when he is upset or forced into a defensive position. In those cases, simply rescheduling the conversation for a time when everybody is more calm solves the problem. In other cases it may simply not be worthwhile to talk to a person who uses the Wall of Words. On the other hand, trying to continue a conversation when a Wall of Words is being used is not just a waste of time, but an affront at the dignity of the person being subjected to it and may even cause her psychological damage.
  3. Ask yourself if you are part of the problem. Granted, a Wall of Words is abusive, but perhaps the person using it does so as a mechanism of defense against something that you are doing. She obviously doesn’t want to listen to you, but is it out of fear that what you may say will hurt her? Even if you don’t use a Wall of Words, you may also be saying things that are threatening, blaming or shaming. 
  4. Use a safeword to signal to a person prone to use a Wall of Words that she is carrying on for too long and is time for her to listen. Of course, this is predicated on that person recognizing that there is a problem.
  5. Name the problem: “you are using a Wall of Words”. I think that coming up with a shorthand name like the “Wall of Words” can help a lot by raising awareness about a previously unrecognized problem. Other words like “sexist”, “homophobic”, “emotional blackmail” and “slut shaming” have work very effectively as a signposts for other abusive behaviors. 
I just came up with these possible solutions by thinking about this problem, but if you know of any others please feel free to suggest them.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Indignation and self-righteousness, explained by David Brin

David Brin is my favorite science-fiction writer and a savvy and innovative thinker. In particular, his ideas about the emotions of indignation and self-righteousness are extremely important in the current climate of ideological polarization. Here is how he explains it in a TED talk...