Kira Hower’s educational background includes an M.Ed. from Harvard University and a Coaching and Organizational Learning Certification from the Newfield Network. Holding a B.A. in Spanish and Italian, she is a member of the International Coaching Federation, as well on the coaching faculty at the Simmons School of Management's Executive Education program specializing in Women’s Leadership. She is a Certified Sex, Love, and Relationships Coach, certified by The Tantric Institute of Integrated Sexuality, focusing on Female Sexuality and Life Transitions. Kira is also a Black Belt Nia (an international mind/body movement technique) teacher, having taught for over a decade.
Dr. Barb: I'm Dr. Barb DePree, and today I’m happy to have Kira Hower. Kira is an empowerment coach who works with women from the mind/body perspective to help them create lives filled with passion, purpose, pleasure, and play.
Last time we talked about embodiment, but only had time to touch on sexuality. So we are back today with Kira so we can talk a little bit more about that. Welcome, Kira.
Kira: Hi. Thank you for having me.
Dr. Barb: So Kira, let's start out by reviewing embodiment. We spent time last time speaking about that, but for listeners who maybe did not hear about it, can you summarize or talk briefly about what you mean by that?
Kira: Sure, I’d be happy to. When I think of embodiment, I think of it as a process and a practice. Embodiment is really the practice of paying attention, of being curious and open, to connecting to your body as a tool for feeling and healing. Embodiment is really the experience of coming home to your body by using emotions and sensations as information. It would be information to make decisions, to change behaviors, to build empathy and compassion, both for yourself and for others. This is not as simple as just listening to your body. It’s the practice of connecting the sensations, the emotions, and the meaning that you make of all of it, and integrating the experience into yourself and your life in a way that helps you feel empowered to take action on what you need. So whether you sense hunger, or anger, or arousal, it’s the self-regulation practice of connecting with your body’s sensations and emotions so that you can fulfill your needs and desires.
When we disconnect from or ignore sensations and emotions, we are more likely to override our needs, which leads to us feeling unbalanced, anxious, or out of control, and unhealthy.
Dr. Barb: Thank you. I think that’s really helpful to start out with that basis and summary because it’s a critical path in understanding further about what we are going to talk about today. I’d like to spend a little bit of time talking about our relationship with our body and how it affects sexual pleasure.
Kira: Sure. Such an important conversation. Ah! Well, it greatly impacts it; it’s completely critical. When we feel shame, disgust, anger, frustration, fear about our body or a part of our body, it can completely override our ability to feel desire and arousal. We talked in the last podcast a little bit about the brain being our biggest sex organ, and we’ll probably talk about it again today. But when we have negative thoughts about our bodies—and I don’t know any women who don’t—then it translates the emotion into a sensation in our body. What the body feels normally is a contraction or a blockage or some kind of resistance—or it can lead to a full shutdown, whether it’s energetic, emotional, or physical—and we get very caught. Especially during love-making, we can get caught grandstanding or witnessing our own thoughts and becoming our most harsh critics. So it deeply affects our sexual pleasure, and it stops women from wanting sex altogether sometimes.
Dr. Barb: I certainly see that in my practice in talking with women about sexual health and, for me, it’s a clinical discussion around sexual functions, sexual pain, sexual health, etc., but many women can identify their self-image as a major barrier in their sexual function and enjoyment. So I think as you alluded to earlier, most women have some element of involvement of that. Are there any important first steps in trying to help women manage through that?
Kira: Well, I think first is to recognize it; to understand that our voice of being a critic exists. To understand that that voice is not only our voice; that we’ve enculturated messages from the time that we were very very small. As women as we grow in our culture, as we develop, we take on all these different messages—many of them very conflicting—about our sexual self and our bodies. So we absorb them; they land in our body, and then they show up as resistance; they show up as these blockages. So, the first thing is really around awareness, and recognizing that it’s not our fault. We are a product of our culture, and our sexuality is completely connected to our culture. I would say that the first step is recognizing that there isn’t something wrong with us, per se. That this is the water within which we swim.
Dr. Barb: Interesting. Along that line, we live in a society that values youth and promotes sexuality. Pornography is prevalent. But yet, in some ways the culture seems to be a bit prudish about sex, especially when it comes to women. Given that we can’t undo our experiences, our information, the messages we’ve received, how do we move forward with a healthier relationship with what we know, receive, and understand around sex?
Kira: Wow. This is such a great topic! [laughs] How much time do you have, Barbara? [laughs] Right? Yes, our culture is very very focused and values youth and equates beauty and youth. Okay, it’s a myth that is perpetuated in our media, and it has seeped into our conscious and our subconscious. To cut to the chase, I do believe that when women connect to their own desires and their own sense of pleasure, we can begin to dissolve the blockages. But we have to understand where the blockages come from first. Just recognizing and understanding that if we had a cultural belief, let’s say for example, that as women age, they become more beautiful, more sexy, more wise, then we would live in a very different reality. Right?
So I think it’s really important for women to recognize, first of all, how they feel about their bodies, how they think about their bodies, how they talk about their bodies—to themselves, to their children, their loved ones, their partners, their friends—and to really begin to question that. Yes, our country is both prudish and puritanical in some ways about sex and then completely obsessed with it. Right? It’s everywhere. Even more so now with technology being omnipresent in our lives. And yet, the government has spent two billion dollars on sex-stigmatizing abstinence programs. So we don’t have enough really healthy sex ed in our country, and I think that that’s one place where we as a culture need to look and make a big shift, I feel.
But going back to your question of what can women do, I think it’s really about recognizing that we have to change the way that we think about ourselves, our sexuality, our aging, and to begin to connect with a sense of a new reality. What would we want reality to be? What would be the ideal sexual society? And then, if we can begin to envision that, then one by one we can start to create that. And we create it within our own homes. We start in our body, create it within our own home. Right? But it takes courage. And it takes vulnerability. And it takes energy to do that.
Dr. Barb: So, a question: Do women innately know what their desires are and what their sexual needs are, or does it really take exploring something outside of, again, what culture and our present experiences have been? I guess what my question really more specifically is, are there resources that are helpful for women to try to understand how to reframe this, and rethink about it, and explore to have a healthier relationship with themselves around sexuality?
Kira: Yeah, well there’s so many different resources; it just depends on which path you want to go down. For people who like to read, it can be anywhere from a wonderful book that just came out called The Pleasure Gap by Catherine Rowland, which is slightly more academic, but also fascinating in terms of talking about women's desire and how complex our desire is. Our desire is not just our own sexual desire; our desire is also to please another. Right? And that gets really complicated pretty quickly. This is not always, but this is a big part of women’s sexual health is how we relate to our partner and what their desire is. So going back to the conversation about culture, our culture sees female sexuality through the lens of male sexuality. And that’s a big problem quite frankly. Because the two are quite different.
Dr. Barb: It’s interesting you say that because I just this week spoke with a patient, and her complaint was a decreased libido. But as we talked through it, her real concern was the intimate experience her husband was enjoying was very different than what she enjoys. Her words were “he likes kinky things,” and that was not her comfort zone. So it really wasn’t a loss of libido, it was an understanding of expectation of the partner. So back to your comment about an interesting thing of incorporating men’s desires, it is a somewhat unique scenario because much of sexuality is a shared experience—certainly not all—but trying to understand how to balance or incorporate your partner’s desires and needs, I think, adds some degree of complexity.
Kira: Absolutely! Women’s sexual health and satisfaction historically has come second fiddle to the main act of the men’s sexual needs. And the research shows that 50 to 75 percent of the women having heterosexual sex are not satisfied. Are not fulfilled. Whether you are rating it by orgasm or not, they’re dissatisfied. And 80 percent of female-to-female sex is seen as more fulfilling. That in and of itself I think is very interesting.
But I think that context, which is what I think you are talking about, is critical to women’s desire. When you said that your client felt that that wasn’t her thing and she didn’t feel comfortable with that, that wasn’t in her comfort zone—women have to feel safe. We have to have a sense of safety before we can feel desire, arousal. You know that safety has to be there, both physical and emotional. So that adds a level of complexity, and it’s something to think about for women who are listening, to say how safe do you feel emotionally? How safe do you feel physically? So I think that that’s a really important part of the complexity of it. I mean female sexuality —and you know this as a professional—it’s very complex. Not to say that men’s sexuality isn’t. Of course it is. But we are talking about female sexual health, right? So it’s complex, and it’s wonderfully complex. But there aren’t any silver bullets.
There are resources though. So going back to your question, what are the different resources that women can go towards to help them to better understand their sexuality and their sexual health. I think that it starts with, first of all, curiosity and a sense of exploration. So being able to just first understand how your body works. Understanding how our bodies work is key to understanding our sexual potential and our sexual health. If we don’t know our own anatomy, how do we expect somebody else to know it?
So picking up a mirror and looking at ourselves, which I know that some of the people listening right now are cringing; it’s just part of our culture. So we don’t educate girls on how their bodies actually work. A huge majority of college students who were surveyed didn’t know where their clitoris was. If we don’t know how our bodies work we can’t possibly expect somebody else to not only know how to please us, but how to get us to even greater states of ecstasy and bliss. Right?
So I think the first thing starts with education. There’s a fabulous book called Women’s Anatomy of Arousal [by Sheri Wilson, FNM, RN, BSN, LMT]. It has sections on it for partners to understand how the woman’s body works. Those are a couple of books that I think are really good. I know I mentioned last time Emily Nagoski’s book, Come As You Are. So there are books [laughs], and there are lots of… there is so much on the web right now. There are also websites that help women learn how to masturbate, which is incredible, you know? It’s a fabulous resource if someone is open to doing that. And then there are websites like yours that have wonderful products that help us to feel more connected to our bodies, and to increase sensation, and simulate more erotic sensations in one's body.
Dr. Barb: Yes. I think some of what you’ve said today is really about permission. It’s interesting how many women I speak with just haven’t given themselves permission to begin that process of exploration and, therefore, maybe pleasure and play. So I think it’s a big message for many women—certainly not all, and maybe a minority, I don’t know for sure—but I do think we need to give permission to women and encouragement to do the education and exploration. So I’m grateful that you kind of highlighted that as a basic tenet for beginning to reconnect with our bodies.
Kira: Yes. And I think again, let’s remember the messages that were told when we’re young girls is that we are not given permission, first of all. I mean I don’t know about you, Barbara, but I don’t know very many people, many girls who are given permission and encouraged to masturbate.
Dr. Barb: I would agree. That’s certainly the population that I’m in contact with. That wasn’t really part of their upbringing. And even the language around it wasn’t acceptable.
Kira: Yes. Exactly. We didn’t have language around it, and you know, I think the 1970s did bring on a wave of understanding that female pleasure needs to be part of the equation. And women were given more permission through the women’s movement, and yet there was still a very very strong attack on women who would show their sexual selves, you know? And really, to a certain degree, still is there. Women are told to “be sexy, but don’t be too sexual.” Because it’s powerful. Right? Be beautiful, but don’t be too sexual. And these are very very confusing messages for women. I think having permission to explore, the permission to learn, the permission to have conversations too with their partners about this, and to recognize that this is uncharted territory for a lot of relationships. A lot of partnerships don’t have these conversations, and they really suffer. Often it’s the women who are suffering from it.
Dr. Barb: Let’s go back to a comment you made early in our time together about the brain being one of the body’s largest sexual organs. How can we use that to our advantage, especially for midlife women? How would you encourage women to think about that?
Kira: Well, in a few different ways. One of the resources that I really love is Christiane Northrup’s book, The Wisdom of Menopause. And she really talks about—and you know all about this—about a woman’s nervous system really goes through tremendous changes in menopause and beyond. The brain has more increased activity in the temporal lobe, which gives way to insight. So it opens up a women’s ability to really discover and decide what’s right for her. It’s a time of really gaining clarity. What I’ve noticed for myself and my clients in this stage of life is that this clarity is helping to give voice to what’s really important.
And this is really critical in the area of sexual health and pleasure. It’s a time when women often begin to feel the deep deep need to speak up for themselves and her desires and to tap into that more body-centered awareness. Sometimes they can articulate it, but they know that something is deeply missing. Right? So I think we need to tap into that piece of embodiment, and then to be able to communicate what feels good. What brings you pleasure is really a critical component to having pleasure in sex. I think that we can’t expect our partners to be mind readers. We have to begin to track what our brain is thinking, and then also understand what that thought brings to the emotional and physical realm.
Going back to how do our thoughts about our body impact the way that we feel: If we go into an intimate situation or experience feeling and thinking that we are sensual, beautiful, sexual, worthy of pleasure, we are going to have a very very different experience than if we go in feeling and thinking, ”Well, I’m ashamed.” “I want to keep the light out.” “I don’t want to look at my body.” “I don’t want him or her to look at my body.” You know. So it’s a very different experience. That’s one piece of the brain tool. Does that make sense?
Dr. Barb: Yes. And I’m relating to that and thinking about the client I referenced earlier and thinking, yeah, maybe her bringing this up to me at this time was more about the processing and the speaking up and the voicing what’s important to her at this point in her relationship. Maybe for the last 20 years she hasn’t had the courage or the voice to do that.
Kira: Yeah. So often we are as women, I think, thinking about how to care for another person— this goes back to our original part of the conversation—but when we continue to do that, and we put somebody else’s pleasure first, even before the “we” or the “I” it really does shift the whole experience. So if she can begin to say, “What do I desire?” “What would pleasure look and feel like for me?” “Apart from the pleasing role, you know the human-given role, what would it look like for me and feel like?” and “How do I drop into my own fantasies?” That’s a place where the brain has—it’s like a playground—when we can play with creativity and fantasy, and use it in an erotic way; it’s fabulous. I think that role playing, silliness, even changing your environment, changing the room that you make love in can help stimulate our brain in a different way.
I think that one of the things that I really really want to emphasize is about pleasure and how when we experience pleasure in our bodies, it creates new neural pathways. There’s so much brain research about this. So it is so important for women to experience pleasure, and if they’re not experiencing pleasure in their sexual experience, then we really need to slow things down and begin to invite in the conversation around pleasure. How do you incorporate pleasure into your body? This is not an intellectual experience; this is full-on body experience. It can be as simple as taking one raisin, and looking at it, and slowly letting it move in your mouth, dissolving it, feeling the texture of the raisin, and really slowing it down; tasting the sweetness and the juiciness of it. This is the beginning of building body awareness. For some people, maybe it’s chocolate, you know? But letting it melt...
Pleasure can be found in very very simple ways. It doesn’t have to be in this explosive orgasmic experience, especially for women who haven't either ever experienced orgasm—which there are many—or women who don’t experience it very often. Beginning to introduce pleasure, and really sensing it as a physiological sensation is critical to building sexual health.
Dr. Barb: This seems like a really important message to equip women with, especially at this age and stage. I just find that many women are in somewhat of a discovery, recreation stage of life where maybe they’re no longer parenting children at home, and they are looking at their careers or future career opportunities, and they are looking at opportunities for expansion. So, I think it’s a really lovely message to bring to women at this time of their lives because, frankly, before that a lot of times, being the mother, daughter, sister, caregiver, employee hasn’t allowed much opportunity to really explore pleasure. I think many women are excited about what a future self might look like. It's a really great time in a woman’s life to bring this important message to them. I really appreciate your expertise and your articulation of the benefit of investing in ourselves in discovery. So, thank you for your time, Kira.
Kira: You are so welcome. I would like to say a couple of other things in terms of your last question about the brain and the body.
Dr. Barb: Yes, please.
Kira: I really want women to understand that the tools that they have within their body to create pleasure are there. Things like breath, sound, fantasy, imagination. They are there within their body. So if they can tap into those and use them, that can really help to increase their sense of sexual health and pleasure. You had asked also, I think: Erotica is a wonderful way—whether it’s erotic literature, you know—it’s a wonderful way to connect to that other part of your brain.
There are a couple of other tools. I know you always ask for tools, and what are paths, what are the resources that we can give the people who are listening?
One is around Tantra. You know Tantra is a wonderful thing to explore [for recommended resources, see editor’s note below], and it uses sexuality as a means of spiritual awakening. It uses energy circuits to connect with sensation, qualities of masculine or feminine, and makes sex much more sacred. So that’s one direction to go in. And there are a number of other directions in terms of some of the products that you offer—whether it’s lubrication, or other stimulation like vibrators, things like that—but it’s really about increasing the sexual quality and the presence, and slowing it down. That’s really something I just want to emphasize is slowing down. Right? Slowing down.
Dr. Barb: Interesting. Yes. And it’s not what we are typically wired to do, so again, I think it sounds simple, but it’s not easy.
Kira: Exactly. It’s not, and yet right now in this time in our lives we are being forced to slow down, right? And this is a perfect opportunity to begin to drop into our bodies. It’s actually a critical opportunity. If we disconnect from our anxiety, and our fear, and numb it, whether it’s television or alcohol or drugs or what have you, right? We don’t allow ourselves to feel all of the emotions we are feeling during this time in our world’s experience. We are losing our opportunity. And I think that this is a beautiful opportunity to connect with our sexual energy and our sexual health because it is completely connected to our creative self and our lifeforce. So this energy—if we can focus, begin to focus on pleasure and the sensation of pleasure, I really believe it will help us heal. It will build our immune systems. It will keep our sense of humor up, and it will keep us stronger. And we need that right now.
Dr. Barb: Yes. That’s a great message to share with others. Not just now. Obviously there will be future situations that require that. But on an ongoing basis, I think there’s been some very good basics for women to try to be mindful of.
The last time we wrapped up our time, I asked you about where you found fullness at this stage in your life, and you talked a bit about debunking the myths about women aging and women and sexuality. I don’t know whether you’ve had any other insights since our time together, which wasn’t too long ago, but any other things you’d like to share with the listeners?
Kira: I’m really deeply dropping into exploring my own personal inner voice around desire, what I really want, and how do I make that a reality in my life. It takes some ability and deep personal inquiry, creativity, and also courage. And I’m reflecting a lot on how to make the changes in my life and my body that bring more pleasure. And I’m reflecting a lot on how to impact more women’s lives in meaningful ways. So I want to help women feel healthy and vibrant and to find that sense of the embodied self-worth and entitlement to pleasure and desire, and to really help to give them—give their desire—a voice. I want to reshape their relationship to their desire and their bodies. And this requires, as I said before, safety, respect, physical comfort, self-compassion, and really full-body awareness. But it also requires agency and choice, and I believe that sexual health and sexual healing is such a great pathway to get there. So I’m finding a lot of fullness in helping women feel radically radiant, and really deserving of their desire.
Dr. Barb: Well, thank you for sharing and thank you for the important work you are doing, and the time you’ve taken today to share with listeners. So thanks again, Kira, I enjoyed our time together.
Kira: Well thank you for inviting me. And there’s so much more to say as well, right? I’m happy to be a resource to you and to anybody who is interested in talking about it and learning.
Dr. Barb: How can listeners find out more about you and the work you do?
Kira: Well they can go to my website, which is kirahower.com, and look at my website, shoot me an email, and I’m happy to connect. I can give people lots of resources if they are interested. That’s how to find me.
Dr. Barb: Good. Thanks again for your time.
Kira: Thank you so much.
Editor’s note: We asked Kira what resources she’d recommend for those readers who’d like to explore Tantra. She offers two options, The New Art of Sexual Ecstasy: Following the Path of Sacred Sexuality, by Margo Anand, and The Heart of Tantric Sex, by Diana Richardson.
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.