Author: Margie Nichols, Ph.D.

Post Valentine Realism Part 1: Why It’s More Important Than You Think To Pick A Sexually Compatible Partner

by Margie Nichols, Ph.D. I’ve been following the E-Harmony debate with interest.  No, not the controversy about their  CEO’s  stupid anti-gay remarks.  I mean the scientific debate, about the truth of the site’s claims that it is able to match people for maximum relationship compatibility.    E-Harmony has a proprietary algorithm that apparently matches people on dimensions like agreeableness, degree of intimacy desired, and importance of religion, and the in-house researchers maintain that these pairings lead to the most satisfying relationships.  Critics maintain that  similarities between people have been shown to be unrelated to relationship satisfaction, and that some of the traits E-Harmony matches on are predictive in only one direction.  ‘Agreeableness’ is such a trait.  ‘Agreeable’ people report more relationship satisfaction in general; partners who ‘match’ on low levels of this characteristic are not going to be happy even though they are similar. So the debate has me thinking about what IS important in predicting relationship happiness, what actually are the components of success.  Mostly I think – hell if I know.  There are too many quirky variables and indefiniable elements of attraction to be to come up with a list of ‘rules.’ Not to mention real-life factors that the… Read more »

Is the LGBT Community ‘Recruiting the Young?’

By Margie Nichols, Ph.D. Recently I saw a special report put out by the Gallup organization on the results of polling done last year.  Gallup asked 120,000 people the following questions: ‘Do you, personally, identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender?’  This is the largest number of Americans who have EVER been polled about their sexual orientation in history (by comparison, the highly regarded NORC survey done by University of Chicago asked 2,000 people). The results are fascinating, and upend some of the more common stereotypes about queer people.  3.4% answered ‘yes,’  92.2% answered ‘no,’ and 4.4% said they didn’t know, or refused to answer. It’s important to understand that the 3.4% represent people who are willing to publicly declare their queerness to a pollster, and that this number is  far smaller than: The number of people who identify this way but won’t disclose this, which in turn is smaller than The number of people who live an LGBT life but don’t self-identify, which is smaller than The number of people who experience LGBT attractions and inclinations but don’t act on them Anyway, you get the idea – a very significant minority of people are at least a little bit… Read more »

Why Lisa Ling Is A Pioneer

by Margie Nichols, Ph.D. On January 22, 2013, Lisa Ling premiered her third season of ‘Our America,’ her documentary series on the Oprah Winfrey Network, with ‘Shades of Kink,’ an exploration of BDSM. I was the ‘expert’ featured on the show, and I was apprehensive about how this very sensitive topic would be handled.  But my fears were unwarranted.  The show was empathic, avoided sensationalism, and stressed the consensual, caring aspects of this type of sexuality. Ling addressed issues of feminism and racism, and she even portrayed the healing aspects of kinky play.  Her subjects were real, honest, authentic – and could have lived next door to many of us.   And in an article about why she did the show, published on the OWN website, Ling stressed the discrimination faced by people in the ‘kink scene’  and echoed a comment I made on the show: the real danger kinky people face is not from their sexual practices, but from social condemnation – and punishment. So I don’t get some of the criticism.  While many of the comments posted were positive, there were two types of critiques.  Not surprisingly, there were those who were shocked, appalled, saw the show as obscene… Read more »

The Truth about the BDSM Community’s ‘Consent Counts’ Project

by Margie Nichols, Ph.D. Last November, Harvard’s approval of a BDSM club on campus sparked news stories about the prevalence of these organizations on college campuses, and the predictable backlash against them.  Some articles wrote of what seemed like an upsurge of rapes –non consensual BDSM sex, or kinky sex that violated someone’s ‘boundaries’ or wishes – as a result of these clubs. And a quotation of Susan Wright’s, the head of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, the advocacy/legal support group protecting the kink, swing, and poly communities, has been repeated as ‘proof’ of BDSM’s ‘violent nature.’  Susan was quoted as saying over 30% of the 5,000 reports they had so far from their ‘Consent Counts’ Project involved transgressions of consent.  The author used her quote as an example of the ‘prevalence’ of violence in the kink community. In a blog I wrote at the time I pointed out that the percentages quoted put violence in the kink community at about the same or a little less than that of ‘vanilla’ people.  At the time, I wasn’t aware that the nature of the Consent Project, as NCSF calls it, had been distorted so greatly. The Consent Counts Project isn’t really about nonconsensual… Read more »

Hot Healthy And Horny: What I Wish I’d Said To Lisa Ling About BDSM

by Margie Nichols     “Our America with Lisa Ling” – Shades of Kink – airs on OWN (the Oprah Winfrey Network)  on Tuesday, January 22 at 10 p.m. ET/PT. Last Fall, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Ms. Ling, whose critically acclaimed show begins its fourth season on the Oprah Winfrey Network .  She’s tackling the topic of BDSM and felt she needed an ‘expert’ – a sex therapist knowledgeable about the kink community- to help explain some things to the viewing public.    Ling is intelligent, sincere, and amazingly open minded.  It was a lot of fun being interviewed by her – she made it easy.  After the interview I thought of lots of things I wished I’d said, which I’m sure is normal.  But a few issues stuck in my mind, so I decided to write about them. And now that I’ve seen the ‘Sneak Peek’ for the show I have a suggestion for viewers.     The one question that threw me involved a scenario Lisa asked me to ‘explain’ to viewers who might be shocked or repulsed.  Apparently they will show footage of someone who likes to be burned by cigars. How, asked Ling, are we to understand this?  As I remember,… Read more »

What Therapists Can Learn From Placebos

   by Margie Nichols What does the placebo effect have to do with psychotherapy – other than to cast doubt on its validity? The placebo effect is the tendency of people to get better if they think they’ve been given medicine or treatment to ‘cure’ them, even when all they’ve gotten is a sugar pill.  The public equates the term ‘placebo’ with ‘It doesn’t really work, it’s all in your head.’  In pharmaceutical studies, it is a ‘noise’ factor as well as a bar of sorts:  if your drug doesn’t out-perform a placebo, it’s no good. But there are a slew of scientists who are studying the placebo effect, and its sinister counterpart, the nocebo effect (you’ll get worse if you think you’ve been given something harmful) to learn how to improve health care. So I started thinking about what the placebo effect findings suggest for the field of psychotherapy, and I was surprised at how relevant placebo research may be. Let’s start by being clear on what placebo effects can and can’t do.  They don’t shrink tumors or cure viruses; the placebo effect isn’t evidence for the ability to ‘think yourself well.’ So there is no ‘placebo effect’ for… Read more »

Are Kinky Sex Clubs On Colleges Campuses A Good Idea? Hell Yeah!

by Margie Nichols, Ph.D. I’ve been watching media reports on kink ever since ‘Fifty Shades’ made the subject popular, and I ran across one of the more heinous recently, a blog by an educator named Judy Molland questioning whether the current trend of college campuses to develop BDSM support organizations, in the manner of LGBTQ orgs, is a good idea. You may not know about this.  Harvard made the news with its club this year, but apparently scores of colleges have been sprouting kinky groups for the last twenty years.  Never mind that Molland calls these organizations ‘kinky sex clubs,’ conjuring up visions of dungeons and chains, when they are designed primarily to help students affirm socially stigmatized alternative sexual identities.  Besides invoking images of unbridled hedonism, Molland takes statistics garnered from the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, a respected organization that champions the civil rights of people who participate in kinky sex, and distorts their meaning shamefully. A little background: NCSF originated because people who are discovered to be BDSM aficionados can legally go to jail, lose their jobs, housing and children in many states.  There are many people for whom kinky sex is a take-it-or-leave –it proposition, but… Read more »

Reflections on the Trajectory of Grief : for the Newtown Parents from a Fellow Traveler

  by Margie Nichols I’m not sure that ‘The Holidays’ – the part of year from Thanksgiving through New Year – can ever be truly fun again for someone who has lost a child.  I lost my daughter Jesse in June 2004, four days before her tenth birthday.  That first holiday season was one of the darkest times I remember.  Things have improved a lot but it’s never something I look forward to. The Newtown murders have brought back memories of that first year, but also reflections on how things have changed for me.  I think a lot about the parents of the twenty children that died, and my heart aches for what I imagine they are going through.  I say ‘imagine,’ because if I’ve learned one thing from talking to other parents who’ve lost kids it’s that everyone has a different process.  Nevertheless, there are some common reactions that many, if not most, people in this situation experience. The first is shock.  I’ve heard and read a little of what the parents themselves are saying, and they sound like they are still in that dazed, dis-believing state where you know your child is gone, you are even crying for… Read more »

The Newtown Massacre and An Angry Mom

  by Margie Nichols When Courtney Zehnder, our Social Media Coordinator and my son’s S.O., asked if I wanted to blog about the massacre that occurred this morning, my first reaction was ‘I have nothing new to say.’  What can you say about a senseless tragedy that hasn’t already been said more eloquently by others? But then I listened to the news on the way home – and had a sudden, vivid picture of children aged 5  to 10.  And a crystal clear picture of my own daughter Jesse, who died another senseless death four days before her tenth birthday, in 2004.  At first it seems the circumstances of Jesse’s death couldn’t be less similar to the deaths of those little angels in Sandy Hook school. She died of Stevens Johnson Syndrome, a horrible drug reaction. But the reaction happened because Pfizer hid negative information about the medications, including about how they interact, from doctors and pharmacists in order to protect profits.  And, as I’ll discuss later, these kids died because of corporate greed as well – the greed of gun manufacturers. But first – I have some things to say to the parents of the children who were murdered,… Read more »

How to Talk About Sex. I Mean REALLY Talk About Sex

By Margie Nichols, Ph.D. I’m frustrated by hearing sex experts tell people to ‘communicate better’ about sex.  I’m impatient with advice to ‘tell your partner what you want.’  For one thing, many people don’t know what they want.  Even those who can be pretty specific tend to know only what they want OUT OF THE THINGS THEY HAVE ALREADY TRIED.   And the problem is, most people haven’t tried that much, and don’t have a good sexual imagination. Specific sex conversations –  intimate discussions of sexual acts – are particularly helpful for couples stuck in a rut.  You may have done just fine for a while doing the same four things -touch skin, touch genitals, a little oral sex, put it in.   But now you’re bored, you want to mix it up to bring back some of the excitement, but you don’t know how.  You’d like to be adventurous – but you don’t know where to start.   If any of this sounds familiar, this article has your name on it. A few caveats.  If your relationship in general is a train wreck, you probably want to sort that out before you worry about sexual enhancement.  If you can’t talk about sex without… Read more »