Amanda Luterman on Erotic Empathy – Smart Sex, Smart Love

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On this episode Joe chats about Erotic Empathy with psychotherapist and founder for the Center for Erotic Empathy, Amanda Luterman. Amanda, who works in private practice in Montreal, Canada, believes eroticism within a couple’s relationship is very important. Her clinical work focuses on prioritizing a couple’s connection with empathy; an approach and skill set she has developed called, ‘Erotic Empathy.’

“You need to accept your partner can view you in a light that you may not see yourself,” says Amanda. “We need to validate and include the unique experience of the person that is right in front of you and be more present for sex. Then you can more easily be your authentic sexual selves.”

Check out Amanda’s workshop on Erotic Empathy on the Modern Sex Therapy Institutes Website HERE!

Connect with Amanda Luterman:
Website | Workshop | Facebook

Speaker 1:

Welcome to smart sex, smart love. We’re talking about sex, goes beyond the taboos and talking about love goes beyond the honeymoon. I’m dr Joe Kort. Thanks for tuning in.

Speaker 2:

[inaudible]

Speaker 1:

hi everyone and welcome back. And today on smart sex smart love. I’m chatting about erotic empathy with my guest, Amanda Luterman. Amanda’s just celebrated the 10 year anniversary of her private practice in Montreal, Canada, where she works as a psychotherapist with a special interest in the erotic dynamic of relationships. Her clinical work focuses on fostering optimal romantic relationships through her client’s willingness to engage with imperfection and differences in relationships and prioritizing a connection with empathy and approach and skillset she has developed called erotic empathy. We’re going to look at what distinguishes erotic empathy from sexology or sex therapy. Welcome, Amanda.

Speaker 3:

Hi Joe.

Speaker 1:

So nice to have you here. So long awaited. Um, I always, I’d love to just tell everyone how, uh, I mean, I think I knew you before that cab ride, but that’s when I really got to know you a thing. It was a over a year ago, we were in a cab going to an SDR PRL event, which we were all excited to do. And all of a sudden you in the back, we’re talking to Rachel needle and you said, um, erotic empathy. And my head turned around like Linda Blair. Like what was that? Like? Those two words put together, I had never heard of. It’s so simple yet so complex. So I’m glad you’re on the show to talk about it.

Speaker 3:

Oh, I’m thrilled to be. Thank you so much for inviting me.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, no problem. I love it. So tell me, could you start with, um, what’s erotic empathy? What is it?

Speaker 3:

Okay, so all erotic again, but has, has evolved, um, over the little course of the last few years. Um, Mo, right now, most succinctly, it is a skillset. It’s a skillset that I’m offering. Um, I had just recently, most offered, actually dr Rachel needle, um, had had me, uh, in West Palm beach software training for therapists. Um, so I’m offering it as a, as a competence that therapists can, can hone for their practices, web, uh, specifically when they are not sex therapists for example, to be able to dialogue concerns of eroticism more effectively and, and um, and more comfortably, uh, when, when working with couples. And it is also a term that I use when treating my clients, something that they can develop and hone within themselves for themselves and for their relationships.

Speaker 1:

I like this. I, I hope that couples and individuals listening who are in relationships can learn from you, but I didn’t realize and I wish I could have gone that when you were at the training in West Palm beach for modern sex therapy institutes, you were, you were actually introducing the skill set to therapists. Is that right?

Speaker 3:

That’s right. Yeah. I’m hoping to, I’m sort of right now honing it exactly as a, a, a competency. So erotic empathy, uh, competence for, for the therapists not trained in sex therapy is, it’s really something on my high up on my to do list.

Speaker 1:

I love the language. Um, erotic empathy competency. Unlike, like what I heard you say once, that you don’t have to be a sex therapist to do have the skill of erotic empathy as a therapist working with clients. Can you talk about that?

Speaker 3:

Absolutely. So, you know, the most, the way I begin talking about this is something I think most of us can relate to. You know, you ever been watching TV with let’s say a grandparent or a parent in the room and something sexual comes on, somebody starts kissing somebody on the television and that immediate feeling of Oh, wincing, sort of squirmy feeling, you get of embarrassment that whoever it is in the room with you is not somebody you want to think of you as a sexual person. And it’s not somebody per se that you want to think about as a sexual person. Right? So that, that thing that happens when something sexual comes up, um, is, is basically they’ve, they’re not too many topics, right, that do this and make us think personally about ourselves. Sexuality is one of them. And so the best of therapists, you know, highly effective therapists, unfortunately if they don’t have experience dialoguing and navigating those intricate, awkward, sometimes very awkward conversations about sexuality might have that, that personal leaning, that slight little tinge of, of embarrassment that can come up when sexuality is mentioned.

Speaker 3:

And so in session it, you know, therapists, um, are trained in emphasizing and being objective about so many concerns that come up. So if you’re talking about your workplace stresses, you’re talking about illness, you’re talking about financial stress, um, sibling rivalry, same it, all those wonderful things that can come up with, um, and, and are well-treated in, in therapy, sometimes from sex comes up, the, the therapist might have that little push away reflex that can come up for them personally, that disables their capacity to emphasize as they normally would across a very various other topics. So I really believe that if you, if compassion and empathy are within your toolbox as a therapist, then why not expand it to include specifically and quite distinctly, um, this other area of empathy called erotic empathy, where you validate and include the unique experience of whomever’s in front of you as a sexual being. Totally and completely distinct from yourself without judgment and with compassion. Yeah,

Speaker 1:

very well said. Very well said. Um, you made me think about when I was in my early twenties, uh, I was, um, over my, uh, my father’s wife and I were watching a movie and, uh, and a sex scene came on, it was going to be a lengthy sex and you could tell, and she looked at me and she said, one of us has to leave the room. Either I’m going upstairs or you’re going upstairs to watch it somewhere else. And I, and I, I agreed, you know, because it was so uncomfortable for the two of us to be in the room and watch this. And you’re right. That’s the feeling that people get around this. Is that right?

Speaker 3:

That’s right. So in that moment, they, they feel personal, they feel that intimacy within themselves awakened. And in some, I think in some cases, quite frankly, you just may want to experience that sex scene. You just may want to note like feel it and let it run over you. You know what I mean? Let’s sort of let that, that gentle warm shower water of experience just sort of enjoy the experience, make that part of what happens for you. And you can’t, if somebody in the room is either, uh, at risk of judging you, uh, you’re at risk of being judged, I should say or, or you know, you’re sort of interfering with something. Um, you know, there’s an interference, so to speak between you and that other person when it comes to being able to be present with yourself. And that is all too often also, unfortunately happening in couples where people do love each other and they, they are attracted to each other, but there is this noise between them. There’s this feeling that they’re not fully acceptable, they’re not fully received. Um, they’re not able to really truly be their authentic erotic self. And that that’s kind of similar to that noise that would come up in an awkward family moment in front of the TV. You might as well be kind of drawing a similarity there in your couple.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. Yeah.

Speaker 3:

You know, and that’s that judgment or that shame. It might be projected. Some people are not being judged, but they feel like they might be. And so even if there isn’t a high risk of it, it doesn’t need to be clarified. Right. It does need to be brought into the couple session, for example, or to just the relationship and to say, how do you feel about me when I need that or when I want that is, is this okay? Right. Is it the proverbial, am I normal question as it comes up within the couple,

Speaker 1:

do you distinguish between eroticism and sexuality? Can you explain that on this show?

Speaker 3:

Sure. Um, so sexuality, um, I describe as a essentially a diagnostic thicker medical word, right? When we’re talking about sexuality, people most often reflect upon function and dysfunction where, and it’s often also located within one person’s body. So we’re talking about the sexuality of a person or you know, um, sexual experiences. We tend to be talking about each person’s capacity for, for orgasm or for pleasure. Eroticism. I just sign as a, as really an interpersonal sexuality. It’s, it’s that capacity to evoke desire between, uh, someone in something or between two people. So if I look at it, if I look at a stiletto, you know, I kind of to, if I look at shoes, I might say, Ooh, that’s so sexy, right? That that shoe, um, as a fetishistic object ultimately evokes desire. It does something that stimulates a, an interest as an erotic symbol and, and erotic system within the couple is so important because it means that we each want to instill a feeling of desire or sexuality, right? But, uh, uh, between each other. So eroticism is really the focus actually, when you think about it, of the other erotic relationships, that’s the one we’re looking at. Two people wanting to feel desired and desirable within the couple. That’s, that’s that flow, that erotic dynamic of relationships. How successfully we’re each able to call upon our own individual sexuality in each other’s company.

Speaker 1:

So maybe you could explain more because you wrote a great article on medium.com called I M carrot cake, a lesson in erotic empathy. And I thought it’s great and I share that in every one of my lectures. And the, um, most of the, uh, the audience are women and they love it. Can you explain what you meant by I’m a carrot cake?

Speaker 3:

Sure. If I am carrot cake, it’s a cute thing. I carry that article, got written out of, um, a little inspiration from my husband. He loves carrot cake. I don’t, um, and I, what I tend to say is that I don’t like vegetables in my dessert. Not really, it’s not my thing. Um, but I certainly can appreciate that he enjoys it and I can support and enjoy his enjoyment of it without ever yucking his yum, you know, without ever telling him you, that’s gross. Why do you like that? Uh, and that’s, that’s why I am care cake. I don’t necessarily find myself to be appealing. Um, you know, as, as he might, but as he does, but who am I to tell him that I’m not appealing? Who am I to tell him, but he doesn’t have the right to find me attractive, um, and to enjoy me if I want him to enjoy me.

Speaker 3:

Right? And so that, that’s where, uh, erotic empathy really gone. Um, it’s sort of synthesize, you know, really captured. Um, in that way, erotic entity is ultimately the ability to allow your partner to find you attractive. I defined in the article, even when you don’t feel you are, if that act is that practice of accepting that your partner can experience you in a light you yourself, do not have of yourself, you know, you do not have or understand and, and really allowing that to, you know, I’ll give you an example. Um, you know, if I get home from the gym and I feel sweaty and gross and my husband is sort of, you know, approaching me as though that is not his experience with me. Uh, one of the fault, one of the greatest errors I think that we make in longterm relationships is we reject our partners initiative, uh, or our partners generally because we don’t feel attractive. We don’t have that active out affilia at the moment.

Speaker 1:

So what do you you’re go ahead. Yeah, no, so, okay. So let’s say you do, I, I’ve, I had that experience, right? You come home and you’re smelly, you’re sweaty, and, and then your partner is like, God, I’m turned down. Let’s do this, but you feel gross. How does this, how does erotic empathy work then?

Speaker 3:

So the difference between erotic empathy and the classic, um, no reflex of the moment is that erotic empathy says, let me, let me adjust this moment to include the conditions I require to be able to feel erotically present. So in that moment, what did I need? And what I did was I gave him a kiss and I said, you know, I put my hand on his chest and I say, be right with you. I love that. Don’t move. I need 12 minutes and I will go rinse off so that I can be within my experience of my own body in a way that’s pleasant for me enough to then be present with him and to relax into it. If I don’t feel I can enjoy my own body, um, it can be a distraction or a difficulty, uh, cause a difficulty to be present with him. And so those adjustments are really important. And oftentimes people don’t realize that it can be subtle. They don’t, they’re not enormous adjustments. You don’t have to leave the room and lose 50 pounds to come back and enjoy.

Speaker 1:

Love it. So, right.

Speaker 3:

You don’t, and, and you know, you don’t have to adjust to it tremendously. Oftentimes it’s doing something that just decreases the feeling of self betrayal that you would have if you don’t adjust. So had I just gone with it while not feeling attractive, there might’ve been this part of me that says, but I don’t really want this and I’m doing it because he wants it. And that reflex is one of the most important things to diminish in, in, in longterm relationships. Because the more you do something that you’re not really on board with, the more you ultimately are de-motivating the desire to initiate the X across time.

Speaker 1:

So what do you mean by that? What does that mean? That last part?

Speaker 3:

Yeah. So if you, you know, when you do something you don’t like doing, then the next time that same stimulus comes up, um, you’re probably going to have a little bit of, uh, a little disappointment or a little bit of a, but I didn’t want to last time feeling

Speaker 4:

[inaudible]

Speaker 3:

and that distinct disappointment, which I call the, those are self betrayal, um, risks. So you know something if you’re afraid to say no because you don’t want to hurt someone else’s feelings. And so you overwrite your own feeling that’s called, that’s self betrayal. You’re in a relationship with yourself that tells you you are less important than whomever else is there with you.

Speaker 1:

I, Oh my God, I’m telling you, I just love this because really when people think of erotic empathy, when I say it, they think of, Oh, having empathy for my partner. But you’re describing it. Yes. And empathy for oneself. And not to portray oneself. That’s really well said.

Speaker 3:

Thank you.

Speaker 1:

So then we’ll go ahead. No, no, go ahead.

Speaker 3:

Well, I think just the, you know, the, there is a, a bit of an absence of relationship with the self in, in a lot of focuses on the clinical focus on the couples. We’re looking at sexual functioning, you know, mechanics sometimes, um, histories of trauma with out necessarily looking at the residual impacts of all those things on each person with themselves in the company of the person they love.

Speaker 1:

So how does this relate, cause I see a lot of couples that come through my office, heterosexual. So I’ll say a mixed sex, right? One male, one female, primarily heterosexual, and she finds his porn and she has a disgust response to what she has found and actually even thinks that he’s, it’s like cheating on her. And so how would, how would then would your model help this couple negotiate the fact that he’s been looking at something that she is vehemently against and actually disgusted by?

Speaker 3:

Okay. Yeah. Actually I can tell you this very, very, very common. Um, and those kinds of concerns are first and foremost rooted in the fear that what our partners are looking at in porn, um, is, is ultimately in direct contrast to what we offer them as opposed to, um, in addition to what we offer them. I think that’s so emphasizing when I think about erotic empathy, we think about it being inclusive of remember that whole, that unique and valid erotic experience of each person in a relationship. So each person in a relationship has a plethora, a wide variety, often of, of things that interest them sexually speaking. And we in couples or in relationships are not necessarily everything that our partners find attractive. We are some of what our partners find attractive. And so we yet our insecurities within ourselves individually often speak to needing to be, um, everything and how or, or the fear of being inadequate or the fear of losing desire.

Speaker 3:

Our partner losing desire in us, uh, for us across time. I can tell you about a couple of, just last week that I worked with where she identifies with having, um, she says very cute but very small breasts. And, and she says, and one day I was using the laptop and I came across a search history and I said, with honestly open-mindedness, um, all right, I want to see what he looks at. And she looked and noticed that the recent videos were all of larger breasts. And she thought, Oh, she felt immediately overcome by this sense of just huge betrayal. You know, she just said right away she felt angry. She said, if you didn’t, if you’d like breasts and why didn’t you read me for somebody who would find me to be the hottest, you know, why, why do I feel like you’re settling now for who I am and what I look like?

Speaker 3:

Um, and she felt totally disgusted with the fact that he was looking at all this stuff, but looks, looks nothing like her, for example. And, and then, you know, what? He needed the space to be able to, to say to her, he needed to be able to, to, to include, um, what I thought was actually really precious response. He said to her, if you had large breasts, I probably would be looking at small breasts. On the internet. Right, exactly. Isn’t that precious. Says what I love is enthusiastic looking sex from people with breasts and all that kind of, it really was about the fact that it’s a yes and response and not a this or that either or you know, um, competing stimulus that was really beautiful. So they actually did have a very safe erotically empathic conversation wherein even though she has insecurities that preexist her being with him, right, that say her breasts are inadequate and those kinds of things, she actually has a sibling who, who, um, got breast and has been surgery.

Speaker 3:

And so, you know, there’s been a lot of that topic in her life. And can you imagine, I mean, she just, suddenly all her insecurities were validated by this search history. She found the erotic, the erotic empathy piece is about her willingness to include his total erotic, um, repertoire, if you will be experience of that which instills desire in him is far more inclusive than she had previously thought and feared. And that really worked out well for them. And what you’re talking about when it comes to discuss, if I, if I get you right, is, is what happens when, when your partner’s looking at something that you actually can’t wrap your head around being arousing at all. So like she understands the large breasts are arousing to him. And so she just fears not being able to embody that for him. Right? But what happens when he’s looking at, let’s say, you know, the classic step would be, um, let’s say multi-partner anal sex, rough stuff, BDSM, you name it.

Speaker 3:

Whatever’s sort of escalated his, uh, you know, his sensations while watching porn that he doesn’t necessarily need with his partner. And that she feels just totally horrified by seeing. And in that case, we again want to understand the sensations he experiences, what that’s about for him when emotionally also he’s looking at that stuff. Is it out of boredom? Is it out of, uh, seeking that psychological charge to, to Quicken arousal that can happen when you look at porn? Um, that is not as we know in the literature, right? Not synonymous with what people desire in real life. Right? And, and that’s a discussion, um, that does, I think it’s really helped in therapy. I think people do really well in those discussions and couples work where we talk about the fact that what you’re looking at online allows you that quicker, more effortless experience of psychological escalation, of erotic sensation that doesn’t necessarily need to take place in the same way when you’re having sex with someone in person.

Speaker 1:

Do you think there’s, Oh, go ahead. Yeah. Do you think there’s an equivalent to the two males having the similar response to females in mixed sex relationships when a cause, this is usually what I see them, the women being, um, you know, having a reaction to the porn. But what about the men and Abbott? Them having a Radic empathy.

Speaker 3:

Yes. So a lot of times women, particularly women who have a difficulty bringing forth their sexual desire, um, the flow of their desires. Like, for example, when a woman suddenly wants sex more than her husband does or her partner does in a heterosexual relationship, there’s a lot of shame when women begin to feel like their man is not initiating as often as they used to. And women, we know that across time women begin to feel more comfortable with their sexual urges, uh, after the say their thirties, whereas in their twenties in some cases they’re waiting to be the subject of the male desire. So they’re waiting upon the initiatives of the male and you know, starting it up and receiving. Whereas, you know, as the subject of arousal, feeling comfortable and validated in those instances, but there not as much as as likely to go after the sex that they want in their twenties or this women age.

Speaker 3:

I think we get a little bit more era sort of like, this is what I want, you know, where are you going after it? And that actually can cause shame if it’s not received well. Right. And so the fantasy that I hear about a lot is women really being desired and taken by multiple men. For example, you know, being that, that subject of desire as it decreases in their, their relationship, it might show up as them watching, um, like gangbang style narrative in, in porn when a man discovers that a woman is watching, how they’re watching what their woman wants to watch, which is, you know, them being taken by multiple men, it can sometimes give them, throw them back and say, Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, Whoa. You want what? Or changes their view of, you know, they’re a quote unquote respected partner before that. And that’s really, that can be very upsetting. A woman doesn’t want to feel her man loses respect for her because she fantasizes being the subject of desire by multiple men. Right? This fantasy.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. You are one of the few people in this field, I have to tell you, and I mean this with all my heart who wake my brain up, you, my brain just comes alive and starts. It’s completely awake when you talk about these things cause they’re, they’re not, you’re not saying it in typical ways that we talk about it in therapy. You’re saying it in configuring words and sentences and concepts. Really it’s in the spirit. SDR. PRL, I really mean that. And your work and that your work is going to come with a skillset is even better. I wish that I had the intelligence to do that. I feel like I do a lot of good work, but I don’t have a skill set to give people and that you’re going to bring that to to therapists is invaluable.

Speaker 3:

Wow. Wow. Woo. I just got chills.

Speaker 1:

I mean, I mean it, ever since I met you, I just feel this way and I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t cause and I was looking forward to the show and I know that modern sex therapy institutes, uh, videotapes, they’re, um, they’re a speaker. So yours was recorded, right? It could be. It could be. Yeah.

Speaker 3:

Was, yes, it’s on their site. And one of the things about the skill set, I think that’s really cool. I spoke with somebody right after the talk, um, that illuminated something for me. I hadn’t thought about, um, was, you know, I said things I thought maybe I feared rather are, were, were obvious and, and I’m really happy I included some of these thoughts, you know, when you include a couple of slides, sort of as an afterthought in a presentation thinking. Yeah. All right, I’ll throw that in. I included things like use casual language, but use it professionally. That’s one of the skills within erotic empathy is not to stay formal and clinical. So I don’t necessarily only refer to, um, you know, penetrative intercourse or something like that. You know, I will often use the language that the clients are using after requesting their consent to repeat those words because sometimes people say things that they’re comfortable saying but not comfortable hearing back.

Speaker 3:

So I’ll, I’ll just make sure that they’re comfortable with me using words like let’s say blowjob instead of oral sex. Um, and I will just, when I say I use casual language professionally, it means we’re, we’re using and creating a safety around how people actually think about their sex lives. Um, and that’s what’s really important too. So that’s, that’ll, that’ll come across in the whole erotic empathy approach is being real and talking about things in a way that I, I’d like to think is a nice extension of how people actually think about themselves sexually. And talk about the nuances around of eroticism and that, that flow of energy between people without being too clinical. I don’t want to come across obviously with that purely academic. Um, I have a side of me too and love that nerdy part of me, but I think when we’re in the room with people, we gotta be like genuinely present with them and meet them where they’re at.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely. So Amanda, where can people find you online?

Speaker 3:

Um, so erotic empathy, uh, social media and the website are now launched. They are in their rudimentary stages, but they’re there. So that’s on Instagram and uh, as erotic empathy@eroticempathyandthewebsiteiseroticempathy.com. Um, my personal email, I always welcome questions and concerns. I’m super accessible that way. It’s a Luterman, F a, L U, T E R M, a, n@eroticempathy.ca for the website. I am in Canada. And um, where else? Otherwise, Amanda Luterman, uh, is the rest of my social media. Everything like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, uh, Amanda Luterman, it can be reachable as well.

Speaker 1:

Awesome. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Too short, but really well, uh, like I think this was intense and had a lot of good information and maybe we’ll have you back and maybe there’ll be part too. So thank you for being on the show.

Speaker 3:

I so appreciate it. Thank you. Thank you, Amanda.

Speaker 1:

Thanks for listening to this episode of smart sex, smart love. I’m dr Joel court and you can find me on Joe kort.com. That’s J O E K O R t.com. See you next time.

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