By Margie Nichols, Ph.D. There is a Buddhist story about a man steering a boat on a river in the early dawn when the river is shrouded in mist. Another boat collides with him, and the driver of the first boat rails at the second boat and its driver, who is obscured by the fog. In a few moments, the mist dissipates….and the second boat is seen to be empty, adrift in the river alone. This story is used as a metaphor for human relationships. We rail at ghosts in the mists, ghosts of our own making. Every day I see the evidence in my office: a man describes his road rage, and slowly what emerges is that the rudeness of the other driver triggered the same fear and anger he experienced as a child being berated by a contemptuous father. A woman cowers when her husband scowls, because his facial expression mimics the look that was on her mother’s face just before mom used to terrorize her as a child. I’m not really analytic in my therapy approach- but I am a fan of neuroscience, which increasingly gives us explanations for our behavior based in biology, not theory. The… Read more »


“To study the Way is to study the self, to study the self is to forget the self, to forget the self is to be enlightened by all things.” — Dogen, Zen Teacher, 13th Century. I have known people who lived or are living a life of loving-kindness, compassion, justice, joy and peace—what I consider the molecular structure of happiness– and have not ever practiced meditation. Some folks I know and admire have found that meditating put them in touch with too much fear and pain. My wife Lee experienced exactly that, when she began to practice meditation forty years ago, during our sojourn on a Greek island. She did however, much later, find her way into a mantra meditation she finds rewarding. I respect anyone’s decision to forego meditation, temporarily or permanently. Meditation is clearly not the only way to achieve inner happiness. As a matter of fact, some meditation teachers have said that most mothers do not have to practice meditation, because being a mother IS a meditation. Many mothers, when I tell them that, immediately nod their head in approval. Meditation may be inappropriate for some people, but for those of us who stick with it in… Read more »

Talkin’ Teen Sex Part 2

By Margie Nichols, Ph.D. Well, it didn’t take long for me to nix the Sinclair Institute DVD idea. For one thing, in the atmosphere of hysteria that surrounds anything combining under-age minor and sex in the same sentence in the U.S., the DYFS fear isn’t all that paranoid. But, more importantly, I realized that I don’t want to inadvertently send a message that I think it’s okay for a 12 year old (or 15 year old) to be watching real-life movies of sex acts on anything more than a one-time educational basis. I don’t want my ideology to get in front of common sense. Even if I can’t ultimately prevent it, I don’t want to do anything to encourage viewing porn when the real message I want to be sending is — I’ll help you understand sex, but you are too young, too tender, too wounded to be ready for it now. For now, I’m gonna become an expert on really good books and DVDs about sex for teens. And try to keep that conversation coming, try to stay one beat ahead of my daughter’s challenges. But even as I make this decision, I’m so upset that I have to,… Read more »

Talkin’ Teen Sex Blues

By Margie Nichols, Ph.D. The Guttmacher Institute tells us that 13% of teens have had sexual intercourse by age 15, and that by age 18 nearly 60% have. At my sex therapy and research conference two weeks ago, Surgeon General Dr. Jocelyn Elders told us that after a number of years of decline, teen pregnancy is beginning to rise again. And every media venue possible assaults us with news of changes in adolescent sexual mores, from ‘hooking up’ to ‘sexting,’ ‘friends with benefits’ to ‘oral sex is the new third base.’ Depending on your perspective, these facts are interesting, alarming, signs of decadence or signs of the failure of ‘abstinence only’ sex ed. But if you are the mother of teenage girls, you have a VERY different take on things. You know deep inside you that your job is to get your girls to postpone sex for as long as possible, preferably age 30, you know that is impossible, you worry constantly. Until recently, my only experience with adolescence was raising my now 26-year old son. Then, four and a half years ago I adopted a pair of sisters from a Guatemalan orphanage. They are now 15 and 12, and… Read more »


By Margie Nichols, Ph.D.  There’s a word for constant, unmitigated happiness about your life: denial. Barbara Ehrenreich skewers the positive psychology field in her new book “Bright Sided.“ It’s about time. First of all, it’s become a veritable industry, with top motivational speakers making tens of thousands of dollars and books on ‘happiness research’ flying off the shelves. The message of this research, some of which is quite solid and interesting, has become diluted down to: smile, be happy, and you’ll be healthier and have your dream life. But the research itself is more nuanced and ambiguous- for example, some ‘negative’ people are actually healthier than optimists. Let’s face it, at times pessimism is a more appropriate view of life. The skill is to learn to cope with life’s curve balls without melting down, not to look the other way in ignorance. More support for the nuanced view of ‘positive thinking’ comes from research reported in this month’s issue of Psychology Today (sorry folks, the actual paper magazine, not online yet). This study correlated scores on a test measuring trust in people with household income. Turns out there’s an optimal level of trust: too little and you miss opportunities because… Read more »

Meditation: The Spiritual Practice To Find Love

VISUALIZING LOVE by Neil Selden 4/10 Talk about the power of visualization! Yearning for the warming and healing presence of all the darlings we know and love, and all the darlings we may never know but wish to love, and so grateful for the yearning… Here’s a recent emanation from my ruminations about how I would do my days if I am ever completely unwanted, homeless, and using my years of so-called spiritual practice to find loving kindness, compassion, joy and peace, as I sit with my meager belongings in a small pack or bag, in some park or train station, do all my meditations, smiling, laughing and singing and dancing inside, sending visualized hugs and kisses and blessings and thanksgiving to everyone I have every known and loved, and those I may never know, but wish to love– and creating, creating, creating (my beloved collaborator/role model/brother-in-law Bob Imbrie taught me that our mission is to love and create– ergo, in the park, on a wooden bench, I ask myself, what is the first word of a new poem? Any word may do… ‘Beginning’ is the word that comes to me, and the rest follows effortlessly: Beginning nothing,

Really? We’re Still Discussing This?

By Margie Nichols, PH.D. Our colleague James Cantor, Ph.D., published a CNN article showing physiological evidence that gay men are not pedophiles. He pointed to differences in brain structure, and differences in “phallometric” response (that’s right, a ‘peter meter’). Gay men’s brains look like those of straight men; both differ from the pedophiles brain in some distinct ways. And straight and gay men alike have very little phallometric response to images of children, in contrast with child molesters. Cantor wrote this article at the request of CNN and of course because the Catholic Church is trying to blame gays for the horrible child abuse perpetrated by its priests. But what saddens me about this is that we still have to refute such claims. Images of sleazy men in raincoats lurking around school yards were what came to mind when you thought about homosexuality – in the 50’s. Sixty years later, we have science to argue against this belief, not just Cantor’s research but a ton of research documenting very clearly that are pedophiles aren’t gay and vice versa. I’m glad we have a mountain of research. I’m sorry we still need it.

Sex And Lies: The Truth About Sexual Fantasies

By Margie Nichols, Ph.D. Two weeks ago I was at a sex research and therapy conference where multiple speakers extolled the virtues of sexual fantasy – not just for masturbation, but during sex with a partner, shared or not shared with partner. Yesterday in my therapy office I heard yet another distressed woman ‘confess’ that she always fantasized just before orgasm with a partner to get herself over that last little ‘hump.’ She felt terribly guilty that she was not ‘connected’ to her spouse during sex, whom she loves dearly. Someday people are going to look back at the way most people view sexual fantasies now and regard it at about the same level as the belief that masturbation grows hair on your hands. That day is not today. The two most common issues I hear are: guilt about content; and guilt about fantasies that aren’t about partner and/or guilt about fantasizing during sex with partner. Guilt about content warrants several blogs on it’s own, but for now let me say a couple of things for those of you who feel guilty about ‘rape’ fantasies, fetishistic fantasies, group sex fantasies, and the like. First, you have about the same control… Read more »


By Margie Nichols, Ph.D. We’re off to a good start. I’ll be writing on “EXPANDING MIND” about general issues of psychology, mental health, or human nature, and other IPG people will be “Guest Authors.” Our resident Guru, Neil Selden, is posting his poetry, meditations and pearls of wisdom on ‘PIECES OF MY HEART’ The wise and funny Sue Menahem will blog on “THE L WORD” about….you’ll figure it out. And many of us will be writing on “ALTERNATIVE THOUGHTS”, focusing on issues of interest to the L/G/B/T, kink, and poly communities.