What is self validated intimacy and its relationship to passion?

I love this excerpt from an interview with sex therapist David Schnarch.


Q: What exactly do you mean by intimacy?

A: Intimacy involves self-confrontation and self-disclosure in the context of a partner.

In 1991, my first book …. pointed out the difference between other-validated intimacy and self-validated intimacy.

Other-validated intimacy requires your partner to validate and accept all your disclosures.

Self-validated intimacy involves validating what you say when your partner won’t.

Most couples-and most therapists-confuse getting acceptance, validation, and understanding from your partner with the process of intimacy itself.

The problem is that other-validated intimacy allows the partner with the least desire for intimacy to control their partner’s disclosures and the level of intimacy in the relationship.

We all want to be validated, but our dependence on it leads to what I call the “tyranny of the lowest common denominator,” and destroys passion, eroticism, and desire in emotionally committed relationships.

This is why I said earlier that our capacity for self-soothing and self-validation determine our tolerance and capacity for intimacy.

Q: What’s the relationship between profound intimacy and passion?

A: What really turns you on is personal and unique, like your thumbprint.
People who can’t validate their own eroticism hid it in their most important relationship, and passion always suffers.
When you’re capable of self-validated intimacy, you can let yourself be known at a very profound level-including what you really like sexually and daring to try out new things.
You stop worrying about your partner’s reaction and become deeply engrossed in the sexual drama unfolding with him/her.
This involves more than just “getting into sex” and getting the sex you like.
Many people focus on sensations during sex as a way of keeping intimacy to tolerable levels-they tune out their partner and tune into their body.
But when you’re capable of self-validated intimacy, you can let your partner look into you during sex without pulling away.
This makes for what my clients refer to as electric “wall-socket” sex.

Now I have some questions for you to ponder on your own or with your partner..

How do you hold onto yourself when you are in a relationship?

How do you feel about yourself?

How can you use sex as a window into who you are?

How can you become more uniquely yourself by embodying yourself in relationship with the people you love?

Let me know your answers!


Reeva Steenkamp texts to Oscar Pistorius teach us about emotional abuse


Here are texts Reeva sent to her boyfriend three weeks before she was killed.

I’m not posting this to make a comment about the legal side of the case but rather to help us learn how to spot the signs of emotional abuse in a relationship.
In particular notice her comment, “I’m scared of you sometimes and how you snap at me and of how you will react to me. ” 

This is very important.

If you are frightened of your partner and how they might react to you then you are in an abusive relationship.

This is intimidation and is one of the main aspects of an emotionally violent relationship. 

Emotional abuse is an attack on your personality and your character in order to control you. It can be really confusing if you are in a relationship with an abuser and you might keep trying to make things work.  If you change your behaviour because you are scared of how your partner will react you are being abused.



Here’s another text from Reeva to Oscar…

“I didn’t think you would criticize me for doing that especially not so loudly that others could hear. I might joke around and be all Tom boyish at times but I regards myself as a lady and I didn’t feel like one tonight after the way you treated me when we left. I’m a person too … I am trying my best to make you happy and I feel as thought you sometimes never are, no matter the effort I put in. I can’t be attacked by outsiders for dating you and be attacked by you — the one person I deserve protection from.”

Reeva talks of how she is trying so hard to make Oscar happy even though nothing she seems to do works. Classic signs of someone being abused are when they are trying to appease the abuser and always monitoring their own behaviour. Reeva is trying to reassure and placate her abuser. This is symptomatic of an abused partner tip toeing on eggshells and trying not to make their partner mad and keep the peace.

This is not a healthy relationship. 


Oscar was mean to his girlfriend, picks on her, puts her down -especially in front of other people. Reeva feels, “picked on … incessantly… I get snapped at and told my accents and voices are annoying … Stop chewing gum. Do this don’t do that…”

Oscar critisizes how she speaks, belittles her and tries to control her actions..

Control is the hallmark of an abuser. It is meant to make you question your own thoughts and feelings. These comments undermine her sense of self and also serve to isolate her from her friends. By creating scenes when she goes out with her friends he has started the process of isolation.

Many abusers publicly humiliate their partners, it’s a way of reducing their partners self esteem by making them feel small and humiliated. This is verbal abuse and you do not have to put up with it. This is an early red flag if you are dating an abuser. They might be charming most of the time until the mask slips down for a moment and they put you down in front of friends of family. Pay attention to this! This is the beginning of a slippery slope! If they publicly humiliate you this will not get better over time!

You might start to believe these put downs about yourself as your self esteem is gradually attacked and eroded more and more over time…  Consistent criticism from someone you love and admire might make you start working super hard to try and “improve yourself” for your partners approval as you internalise their criticism and start to blame yourself. This is a no win situation.

Sure, self improvement is important in a healthy  relationship of flexible give and take with a partner who is your EQUAL but trying to “fix” your supposedly terribly flawed self for the never ending lofty expectations of an abuser is a unbalanced game you can never win.

You will never be good enough for a person who chooses to abuse and you will lose yourself in the process of trying.

In a loving and healthy relationship your partner will want to boost you up not drag you down and put you down about petty things. If you feel pressured to fix yourself  to meet your partner’s high standards then you are not in a healthy relationship.

This is a very typical statement from an abused partner…. “But perhaps it says a lot about what’s going on here. Today was one of my best friend’s engagements and I wanted to stay longer. I was enjoying myself but it’s over now.” Reeva starts out by explaining her needs but then backs down and says it’s too late now. She’s not standing her ground or standing in her power because emotional abuse tears down that power and disempowers you. You lose the anchor of your selfhood and are left floundering.

Reeva also says that Oscar always talks about his various women he’s been with but if she mentions one long term boyfriend he gets very angry with her. She then mentions his tantrums. This double standard, possessiveness and jealousy is classic text book abusive relationship.

You can see that Oscar is very jealous and deals with that by controlling his girlfriends actions. It’s normal for people to feel a little bit jealous in a relationship however it is not normal to make their partner manage and hold up their jealousy and change their actions to deal it. If you’ve never done anything to make your partner suspect your devotion to them, never lied about seeing someone or cheated on them- then them dumping all this suspicious jealousy onto you, shaming your behaviour or attachments with friends is a big red flag for abuse.

I want to include examples now of how an abuser uses jealousy, possessiveness and isolation in an abusive relationship from the standard counselling text books to illustrate my point.

Controlling or manipulating her by controlling what she does, who she sees & talks to, what she reads, where she goes, limiting her outside involvement. 

Using jealousy to justify actions, using jealousy as a sign of love instead of insecurity. Unfounded accusations of cheating, unfaithfulness, infidelity.

Abuser treats her as if he owns her; he doesn’t want her to share her time/attention with anyone else.  Isolating the victim – controlling her schedule, limiting her involvement in activities, limiting access to telephone/internet, limiting access to enroll in certain classes, controlling her access to resources (e.g., health care, medications, car, friends, school, job, etc.).

Abuser seeks to destroy her social support system-not allowing her to spend time with family or friends, criticizing her friends, so she won’t spend time with
them, discouraging her from being close with anyone else.

Isolation is intended to make the abuser the center of the victim’s universe, as well as to limit purposefully the victim’s access to others who might attempt to help her/him escape.

(As females statistically are more likely to be victims of dating violence, these items are addressed toward female victims. Please note males can be victims of dating violence as well.)

You can forget that these texts are anything to do with Reeva or Oscar Pistorius for a minute. I’m a psychotherapist not a legal expert!

This story is all about the language that underpins emotional abuse in an intimate relationship.

Recently, I read these texts to a client who recognised the words as if they were her own.

If you have a friend who is being critisized so much by their partner that their self esteem is disappearing then please reach out for help.

If you are in a situation where someone is making you feel small, controlled, worthless and like you can’t do anything right and they critisize you for small, petty things like how you dress, housework, how you talk, how loud you laugh or you feel trapped, afraid and powerless then please get in touch.

There is a way out.




Sexual Mistakes to Avoid

Here’s some of  the most common mistakes people make when making love and how to avoid them.


Same old routine

Get in bed. I do this. You do this. I put this there. Orgasm. End. Yawn!

Routines lead to sexual boredom. Experiment. Mix up the order. Sex isn’t a linear journey from A to B, especially for women. Surprising your partner with oral sex and a quickie in the kitchen is as valuable as a slow, teasing session with lots of long, deep kisses where all the clothes stay on for a delightfully long time.

Get out of the bedroom and get off the bed! Try different places around the house, sexy times outside, different times of day or sexy weekend getaways.



Tit for Tat

Sex isn’t about keeping score. Avoid: “well, I did this to you, now you do that to me.” You could spend an entire loving session where you pleasure her and she lies back and loses her mind. She could start giving you a long sexy massage that eventually moves to the inner thighs and caresses the genitals… Play and have fun!

Not giving feedback

Your partner isn’t a mind reader. They don’t know if the pressure of their hand or tongue is working for you unless you tell them. If you’re afraid to say, “yes like that …I love that”, or “harder… softer… slower…” try using appreciative noises like “ahhhhh.”

Learned helplessness in the bedroom can be overcome by owning your pleasure. Take your partners hand and show them how you like to be touched or show them how you do it yourself. If you have a specific fantasy for something you have to ask for it!

Critical Sex Judge

Only voicing up during sex when you don’t like something is a turn off. Give feedback through positives rather than being a condemning judge. Don’t critique your partner’s body, genitals, erection, sexual functioning or compare them to an ex!

Over correcting doesn’t create a supportive place to surrender to pleasure. For every critical comment try to provide three positive points. Try, “I love how you use your tongue and hands, but please no teeth. You look so sexy when you…”



Owning Your Pleasure

Our lover doesn’t “give” us an orgasm, we are responsible for our own orgasms. If we don’t know how to orgasm on our own then we are setting up a huge challenge for our partner. Be in touch with your body, know how to bring yourself to orgasm and what works for you. Grab a mirror and have a look at your genitals. Get acquainted with your body.

Post Coital Silence

“I loved it when you…” Debriefing after the heat of the moment when you’re high on bonding hormones can bring long term improvements. Pillow talk what worked for you so your partner knows for next time. I’m not encouraging an entire performance review! A few words before sleep can make a difference.



Faking Orgasm

Focus more on the journey than the ending. Be authentic and honest. Try, “I might be too tired to orgasm but I’m still keen for some loving!”

Role Play for great sex

Imagine you’re being interviewed for a job as a personal assistant in a big office. Now pretend your lover is the boss. They close the door. They walk very close to you as they walk back to their chair and you feel giddy. You suddenly want to do anything to please them; whatever it takes. They need you to work back very long hours under their strict eye. You must relinquish all control and do everything they say. His or her eyes trail down your body. You will have to do a lot more than just filing and you feel your heart rate increase and your face flush with excitement.

Sexy role play helps to liven up sex, heighten intimacy, increase confidence and to drop our inhibitions.

Role play goes straight to the biggest sexual organ in our body- our brain. Our mind needs to be stimulated and silenced at the same time for great sex. It’s this delicate balance that role play games can bring about.
This fact is why Viagra can fail so many couples.
 Viagra only increases blood flow to the genitals and sex is much more than engorged genitalia. Disgruntled wives returned to Doctors complaining hubby demanded sex because he had an instant Viagra raging erection but it didn’t solve any of their broader relationship problems. Viagra didn’t touch their minds.

Getting in the mood for great sex starts with connection, seduction, anticipation, wanting, flirting, teasing, communication, atmosphere, fun, foreplay, imagination and intimacy.

Role play fantasy scenarios invigorate our imagination and lead to very creative love making where we can play out another aspect of ourselves.

Clothes can stay on. It can start with just words.. Once clothes eventually come off you can be so aroused that your body image worries fade away. 
Roleplaying can lead to a greater build up of sexual tension and desire and help you break out of the formulaic—“you do this, then I do this” sex. Boring and uninspired sex can stagnate a relationship.

Try this role play with your partner.

Who wants to play boss and who wants to play secretary? Notice who gravitates naturally to each role.

What is it about this fantasy or one of your own that appeals to you?

Does the idea of being in control and being the boss or being the dutiful, willing and eager junior turn you on?

You could set up a desk and dress in office clothes and re-enact it at home. Perhaps you could arrange to meet in a crowded cafe for the “interview.” You both have to stay in character the whole time. A public area means you can’t touch each other until you get home thus increasing the sexual


Don’t worry about whether your role play is PC or not. As long as our fantasies are negotiated and consensual then try not to over think them.

As children we played “pretend” games and we lose touch with that make believe world as we grow up. Don’t let go of that fertile land of the active imagination. A couple that plays together stays together. Stay consensual, respectful and debrief. There’s tonnes more I could say about this but I’ll leave that to our sessions!

Get in touch if you’d like to learn more or if you want to bring the va va voom back into your relationship.

Relationships are not products and love cannot be caught.

Relationships are not products.
What online dating apps, pick artists books and commitment trap programmes are doing to dating..

“We turn wimps and geeks into supercharged macho studs!!!”
Pick up artist products lure men through promising multitudes of sexual partners and the “‘cost-benefit’ analysis of casual sexual hook ups without the supposed “hassles” of relationships or commitment.
Relationships are depicted as games of instant gratification and women as exploitable commodities.

Women are sold equally gender stereotyped products guaranteeing; You Really Can Capture His Heart And Make Him Love You Forever!” … This sells women the idea that men are naturally scared of relationships and need to be manipulated into a relationship!

However this promise to “capture love” sells a flawed premise.
You can’t capture love and you sure as hell can’t force anyone to love you. True love is freely given without games or manipulation. It is a gift not an obligation.

Online hook up apps can give the illusion that there’s a perfect person out there for us– when in reality a relationship is two imperfect people coming together to create a sanctuary of love in this rollercoaster world we live in.

Our culture has unreasonable expectations that the “perfect love” happens without work or effort and our true “soul mate” will naturally fulfil all our desires.

Think of all the work and effort that it takes to perfect the playing of a musical instrument.. Relationships are the same. We don’t just naturally wake up and know how to play the violin! We have to practice and practice and learn and grow and perfect our skills until we get better and better! At first when we pick up that violin it might sound like a cat scratching a tin roof!  We benefit from the help of a music teacher, just like how I help my couples and single clients improve their relationship skills and over time we get better.  We definitely don’t just find the perfect violin in a shop that means we don’t have to have lessons, read music or even practice anymore!

So much choice so why settle down?

Apps can bombard us with so much choice it can feel like a sacrifice to give up options and settle with just one. You know when you’re at the salad bar and there’s so many delicious options you worry that your choice isn’t right and perhaps you preferred the others? Or you keep browsing and taste testing, hoping to find the perfect one in a perpetual cycle of dissatisfaction? I’ve done this before!  You’ll send yourself bananas on the eternal quest to find the perfect meal or the perfect partner.
Choice doesn’t necessarily equal good! Commitment phobic types can stay in this state for a very long time. Never settling down as soon as they notice their partner has flaws. Some of these types can put their partner up so high on a pedestal that they just can’t cope when they realise  that this idealised vision is just a human with warts and all. But more about this type of love later.

“Consumer dating” encourages us to look at potential partners as disposable products. People are not products.

Mature love involves commitment, true intimacy and meeting anothers emotional, mental and physical needs. Those terrified of true intimacy can perpetually hide in the world of “hook ups” that can act as a protective defensive mechanism to being hurt.

My Partner Isn’t Perfect!

People can become so highly critical of their partners that they will never ever be satisfied. 
Sometimes once we know our partner is committed to us (the idealised honeymoon phase) we can start trying to change them into our version of the “perfect partner” who is better suited to our own selfish needs. 
This is the “power struggle” and second phase of the relationship, where you might obsess over all your differences with your partner whereas before you mainly noticed the similarities.

Rather than obsessing on everything that is wrong with your partner, try focussing on how you can improve yourself and what you bring to the relationship. A relationship is the combined work of two people together. It’s not a passive process of ordering what you want from a menu, scrutinising it for flaws and returning it for a replacement when flaws are detected or boredom sets in.

I see clients who begin relationships preoccupied with; “What can I do for my lover?” which transforms over time into: “What am I getting out of this person and this relationship?”
 Remember to accept difference, embrace compromise and work on unconditionally loving your partner as a complete package-flaws and all.

This article appeared in CIAO magazine and was designed for people in non abusive relationships. If you are worried you are in an abusive relationship then please get in touch..

New Year Sex and Relationship Resolutions

Happy New Year! Here’s my column that appeared in Ciao magazine…

Celebrate and respect that initial sexual attraction you both first felt when you met.

This is what first drew you together and should not be forgotten. It can be very destructive to a relationship if the times between sexual contact are too long. No matter how fast paced and busy our lives are or how familiar our partner might become to us; it is crucial we never stop seeing them as our lover first and foremost. I see so many clients who have put sex and intimacy on the back burner and this creates a myriad of problems.

Lots of good sex with our partner is beneficial for our health, our blood pressure, our hearts and the health of the relationship! ­ This leads to my next resolution…

Prioritise sex and make time for it.

Schedule in sex dates. If you are too busy and don’t have time to have sex with your partner then it’s time to sit down and re-schedule! If you can start saying no to that party or function that is road blocking your desires and spend time with no one but your partner. Have a night in (or outside if that’s what you like!) with your skin pressing against theirs.

If you’re single, prioritise your self loving practice. Explore your body and new ways of pleasure! Think of your sexuality like a plant that needs watering and attention to grow, flower and thrive. It doesn’t grow on its own if you don’t nurture it. Working on your own sexuality will open you up to greater pleasure and creativity.

For singles looking for a partner or wanting to stop meeting the same types of people all the time; book in a session with me to discover how you are blocking your own happiness and changing the patterns that are keeping you back.




Resolve to “fight fair” for 2015.

9d8fd7accf094a12361a59f9b1cb8a8bArguments will happen but try to stay calm, truly listen to your partner and notice the pain that is prompting their words. My clients have transformed their relationship by learning how to communicate, listen and resolve conflict in a relationship more effectively.

Masterful business communicators can crumble and struggle with communicating in an intimate relationship because the stakes are so much higher and the rules can be a lot less clear.

Resolve to stop doing these things with your partner that are not conducive to a healthy relationship; stonewall (silent treatment), storm out, hanging up, go to bed angry, slam doors or lash out with cruel and personal attacks.

Don’t be a “kitchen sink fighter” and throw in every past blunder your partner has ever made! This will inflame the situation and build resentment. Keep things relevant and specific and try to be assertive not passive, aggressive or passive aggressive.

Book in a therapy session with me if you’d like to learn good relationship communication skills and transform how you relate with your lover.

Broaden your definition of sex for 2015.

Photo Manipulations by Alexandria ThompsonLet’s embrace our sexuality and the many different ways we can have “sex.”
Sex is not just about actual intercourse but about any erotic activity that involves some sort of touch. Some could say touch isn’t even needed- (why look at tantra and breath orgasms­) but it’s about being present and in your body!

Put down your mobile, get out of your head and connect with your lover! Explore different ways of giving and receiving pleasure that don’t focus on performance and goal orientations! And of course above all ­have fun! Joke, play and laugh. Sex with the right person is good for you!



Here’s to a lush and pleasure ­filled 2015!

Catherine O Dowd

Is your Iphone killing your sex life?

Read my latest article published in CIAO magazine..

Last night I went to a restaurant and saw a couple sitting in silence; one looking at her phone, more interested in scanning the internet or playing games than in interacting. Once the food arrived she kept fiddling with her phone while they ate.

They didn’t say much and were emotionally disconnected from each other. I see this a lot.

More and more people are coming to me complaining that their partner ignores them for their mobile phone. They seek connection and intimacy with their partner but they’re rejected for time with an electronic device instead.

An English study shows that your relationship can be negatively influenced just by having your phone next to you, even if you don’t touch it. Partners said they trusted the other less and felt less empathy towards them when they had their mobile near them when talking about anything important.

In our fast paced lives it can be detrimental to a relationship if the only spare time you have together is always compromised and overusing your phone can hurt your relationship long term – say if your partner can’t give you their full attention because they are distracted by their phone and social media.

A growing percentage of people need to check their phone at least once an hour and some people even check their phones when on the toilet. With such multitasking minds, how do we learn to focus on one thing in the bedroom if we are not used to doing that during the day? That ‘mind chatter’ can make it difficult to have enjoyable sex, orgasms and connection.

My suggestion is when you go on a date with your partner, put your phone away, on silent or turn it off. Talk to your partner uninterrupted, even if just for 20 minutes a day! And really pay attention to your partner; eye contact, sitting close and touching can be very intimate and sexy when you are talking.

Start trying to practice ‘being in the moment’ when you are doing everyday activities like eating or washing up. For instance, when you are walking, experience your feet hitting the ground and the air on your face.

Concentrate on what is happening in the present moment, your breathing and what your body is feeling. Engage all your senses in these experiences. Practicing regular mindfulness reduces anxiety and depression and increases libido and positive body image.

Once you’ve sharpened your skills of being mindful in the world, you can start practicing mindful sex! It’s about being completely submerged in the sensations and pleasure of the moment and leads to greater connection, mind blowing sex and better relationships. For more on how to have mindful sex, don’t miss the next issue of Ciao.

You can read my article on the CIAO website here!

Get in touch with me here to learn mindfulness techniques and how to apply them in a session with your partner.  I look forward to hearing from you!

Having the courage to keep your heart open

We are powerful beyond measure, and so deeply vulnerable at the same time. This may seem like a dichotomy, but it isn’t. We have misunderstood real power. It has been something assertive, non-surrendering, pushing on through. This is not real power. This is simply willfulness. Real power is something else- receptivity, openness, the courage to keep your heart open on the darkest of days, the strength to feel it all even when the odds are stacked against you. Real power is showing up with your heart on your sleeve and absolutely refusing to waste one moment of your life hidden behind edginess and armor. -Jeff Brown

This quote really spoke to me because I speak to so many people who are jaded and bitter about love. I see so much heartbreak and a “closing in” of emotions. I see people going through the motions with sex and dating, or even pulling back and not dating anyone, because they don’t want to feel and they don’t want to hurt.  I’ve experienced this in my own life, so I can truly understand. I can understand the pain of heartbreak and not wanting to open yourself up to someone like that again, just to feel the pain of disappointment or betrayal again, but we can’t stay in this stagnant No Mans Land forever. We have to move forward and embrace growth and change.

A lot of us have very strong defenses up to keep this pain away. We can be too busy all the time, as a way of making sure someone can’t sneak through the cracks of our emotional fort. We can have “fuck buddies” and move on as soon as emotions start getting involved, we can serial date, or have serial relationships or we can close down emotionally. We can have sexual relations with others but be so closed down that our emotions are turned off and we don’t experience sex and intimacy to its fullest potential.

Get in touch today if you would like to break down those walls, open your heart, own your own power and experience love and intimacy without the armour and walls.  Let’s embrace our power and our vulnerability.

Are your defenses up?

It is too easy to blame your problems on say, your partner or lover, so that we don’t have to accept that our unhappiness is our own responsibility. Defensiveness can blind us to what is really going on in our own life and the choices that we can take for our own happiness.

Everyone has these defensive mechanisms that started to use as children to protect ourselves. Now that we’re grown up adults we still can have these defenses, along with some new protective walls we may have built up around throughout our life. We can do this consciously or unconsciously.  Perhaps you’ve been heartbroken in the past, so you won’t open yourself to others in case you get hurt again? Perhaps you react angrily to disguise a mistake? Sometimes we have sharpened our defensive skills to such an extent that they are automatic reactions and we don’t even have another option to take in particular situations. It is becoming aware of these defenses in your life that allows you to change them.

The question I want you to ask is; what do these defense mechanisms do for you? Do they really keep you safe and protect you? Perhaps they just get in your way and hold you back? Do these walls you’ve built up around yourself hold you in a prison that you can’t free yourself from?  What sounds better to withdraw and keep people away, or be open and vulnerable, experiencing true intimacy?  These walls can hold us away from relationships that can make us happy.

It is possible to reduce your defensive mechanisms. I have a program and various exercises that can help you become aware of the different defensive walls you have been using. This awareness leads to letting go of the defenses that can hold you  back. Letting go of defenses does lead to greater happiness and more fulfilling relationships and intimacy. Get in touch today!