Part 2: Sex, Love, and Relationships

I’m here again with Dr. Renée Hilliard as we had so much to talk about during our last show and we ran out of time!

We talked about her program Seriously Sexy and about getting your vagina stoned. Yes, you did just read that. Here’s what we talked about during Part 2:

Dr. Hilliard, for those that haven’t seen part 1, can you please tell us more about you?

Sure. I’ve been in the field of gynecology for over 20 years. I spent over 18 years delivering babies, but in the last couple of years, I have developed a sex, love, and relationship coaching program. I received certification from the tantric institute of integrated sexuality to inform this work. I did this mainly to help my patients have better sex lives and to deepen their connections in relationships.

That’s something that every single one of my patients would love to have. Having sex feels like work after a very short period when trying to conceive.

Yes, many of my patients feel that sex is a chore. Or like going to the gym. It’s exercise. That’s especially true when going through fertility treatment.

Yes, and that's exactly what we talked about in Part 1.

I’d like to spend more time reviewing:

  1. Self-care
  2. The importance of challenging your beliefs around the diagnosis
  3. Acceptance of the diagnosis

Let’s stop there. Talk to me about how you work with your patients on this.

Sure. Oftentimes with fertility care our mind starts to go to many places. Often it means thinking about our past and second-guessing and being self-critical of decisions we’ve made.

We think about our every move and wonder if it contributed to where we are now and the fertility struggles we’re experiencing. While this is normal, it’s also not helpful. It’s why I encourage patients to think about the serenity prayer. To accept the things you can’t change and work on changing what you can and know the difference between the two.

In my opinion, the non-acceptance of things you can’t change just adds to the stress of the situation. Things you don’t have control over — your age or how your eggs are functioning. But the next step is to figure out what you can change and to work on that.

It’s true. You have to do what’s right for you at the moment and just move on and as Elsa in Frozen would sing, “Let it go”.

4. Stop feeding your stress

How do you help your patients do that?

A big one in our society is technology. This can increase our stress levels as it puts us in a perpetual fight or flight mode. The brain doesn’t really know the difference between real stress and technology-induced stress. Often technology use can increase our cortisol levels. So one of the first things I encourage people to do is to unplug the technology when they can.

Obviously there are reasons that people need to be plugged into their phones. Often people go on social media and start to compare their situation to others and that doesn’t help. Or negative news or media can add an unhealthy and negative filter on everything in our life. As is the case with violent entertainment. Going through fertility treatment isn’t a time to increase your exposure to negativity.

5. Strengthen your couple bubble

Tell me more about that. I love that term.

Yes, thank you. I didn’t come up with it. It’s something Stan Tatkin coins in his book, “Wired for Love” which breaks down the neuroscience of relationships in a very approachable manner.

What happens is that for many people, they let others get in the middle of their relationships. One person in the relationship may be a very private person whereas the other one likes to talk everything out with their sister or friend. That can really harm a relationship especially if there are struggles. The person talking only shares one side of the story and so it may result in one partner feeling like they are being put in a bad spot. It just doesn’t do much to strengthen a partnership.

I try and get clients to see their partnership as a sacred entity where they develop better communication. Then they keep information for just them vs. for outside influences. This means having each other’s backs and helping a partner if they seem stressed by family conversation and questions.

How do you coach patients with respect to family members asking questions that may make them feel uncomfortable?

Many times, even outside of the holidays, other people feel like they can comment on our reproductive lives and our fertility. “You’re not getting any younger.” Or “your baby needs a younger sister or brother.” Or a parent may comment about money being spent on fertility care. I encourage my patients to have conversations with their partners to agree with each other how much they will share. It’s not easy. Sometimes you have to notify work that you’re not going to be present due to treatment. There are ways to talk about it that don’t need to reveal more detail than you’re comfortable with. Also the same is true for family or friends that may become intrusive. It’s up to you and your partner to decide how much you’ll share and really come close together inside that couple bubble. Decide as a couple what you’ll protect and come up with an appropriate response to people.

Remind yourself that your fertility is nobody’s business. If someone asks you a question you can politely say, “we don’t talk about our fertility.” Or you can deflect it by changing the topic.

Can you tell us more about the stat you mentioned last time about sexual activity within marriages?

Yes, the stat is that 20–30% of people are in sexless or nearly sexless relationships. Having sex less than ten times a year.

That’s one of the concerns that a lot of my patients have. Even younger patients. We sometimes think this is only something that happens when people are older. But I’ve had people in their 20s or 30s that have rarely had sex. Either because of discomfort or lack of desire. I help them to cultivate more desire using some holistic practices that I teach them.

How much is enough? What would be considered a healthy sex life?

It really depends on the individual and whatever a person decides is enough for them. There are often times mismatches in relationships. That’s one of the most common problems I see in a marriage where one partner has a higher sex drive. That requires learning how to develop outlets for the higher sex drive partner that they can use to be able to manage their needs and also help support the partner with a lower sex drive to increase theirs. And also communication. Many people know more about their partner’s food preferences than their sexual preferences. There are ways that they could develop support around the person with a lower sex drive to try and turn up their sexual cues. To figure out what’s going on with them and why they are blocked when it comes to sexual energy. It may be that they have aversions to sex because of either religious messaging, some trauma in the past, or some other issue and so learning how to heal that is critical to them experiencing their best sex life.

I imagine you might see a lot of couples that are on the brink of divorce over this issue.

For sure. Yes. Many people contemplate leaving the relationship or committing infidelity over this matter. I think it’s important to navigate issues like this with an expert.

I specialize in creative family building and you specialize in creative sex-life building.

That’s right!

If you were in charge of sexual health for Americans. What would you do to make America sexy again?

Normalize many of these issues that people go through. Many people think they are struggling alone when they experience sexual issues, but almost all of us have some issues with sexuality. For example, many of us who are serious-minded have a hard time surrendering, dropping into our body and connecting with our sexuality and sensations. Other people, especially as we age, struggle with health issues and sexuality. One partner may have health issues and the other doesn’t. What happens to the partner that’s healthy and still wants sex, but their partner can’t have it? These are the issues that come up and nobody talks about it. It’s time to be more open about these things and get people the help they need.

I agree. Yet, not many doctors are even comfortable talking about these things the way that you are.

Yes, that’s true. I’ve even heard from many of my patients that they’ve been to psychotherapists or talked to their gynecologist or urologist about their issues and they’ve gotten a little laugh or have been dismissed entirely. This is, of course, more a reflection of the doctor not being comfortable with it and can be quite damaging and even more wounding to the person struggling.

How do you do your consults?

I generally will do my consultations over a video conference call. My coaching sessions are also done over video. I have an office in Walnut Creek so if they’re local, I can meet in person. While I do meet with couples, more often my patient interaction is one-on-one. I’ve found that you can heal a lot of issues within relationships even just talking with one partner. Many people may have a partner that’s not completely on-board with the idea of coaching. In that case, I can work with one of the partners and teach tools that will help them communicate better with their partner and also heal individual issues that may be going on with them.

Also, I can work with couples in developing better communication tools and relating better sexually to one another. There are no clothes off in my coaching, but I can train them what to do for homework.

You talk a lot about tools. What I missed is you never said the word prescription. Many people see a doctor and are used to being handed prescriptions at the end of the visit.

Do you prescribe medications to your patients?

I don’t jump to that right away. Sometimes I’ll use vaginal estrogen therapy, but I’ve learned that holistic tools like breath-work, focus, moving energy through the body, sounding, and all of these other things can really awaken sexual desires in ways that other traditional medicines fail to do. There’s a lot of failures with medications because sometimes the issue isn’t really a blood flow issue or hormonal. Many of the issues are related to deep psychological imprinting in our nervous system that got wired around beliefs like sex being dirty. Or that sex is shameful. Or that “people like me” shouldn’t be having sex (serious-minded people). Many of these people carry tension in their pelvic floor area. These types of things can’t be helped with medication. Those things really need more holistic tools.

I think the way that I train people is more like yoga for your sexuality.

Or people can view me as a personal trainer for their sexual health. It’s a different way of approaching sexuality that makes it more pleasurable, or of making your desire increase. It makes you more relaxed and happier overall.

From start to finish with your Seriously Sexy program, what should someone expect to get from it?

It’s really individualized. The first step is for a program participant to get really clear on what they want. What is their desire as far as working with me? Then we go into what type of blockages there might be in having desires. If you didn’t have any blockages then you’d have your desire. So we uncover what is it that’s stopping you from getting what you want?

Then we look at those blockages we’ve identified and unwind them one-by-one. So, for example, this may involve updating your beliefs to be more useful that can help you get the kind of relationship or sexual life that you want. Then wiring into your nervous system — deep into your subconscious and unconscious in your brain and determine the things that may be impeding you from getting what you want. Other nourishing practices that help to boost sexual energy. Things like breast massage, testicular massage, vulvar massage. These can help to awaken sexual energy and move energy through the body. These have been known and practiced for thousands of years by eastern cultures, but are relatively new to ours.

Yes, especially when most people have a cell phone in one hand and a laptop in the other!

Yes, so you’ll have to make a choice and put one of those down to get in your pants!

Well, I love how comfortable you are talking about these things. I honestly don’t talk to my patients about these things. I just give them the prescription of when to have sex. So I think it’s great that you’re local to me and I’m definitely going to send my patients to you so they can learn more.

I have patients with blocked fallopian tubes, but it’s nice to have you to help get through sexual blockages. I have to imagine that helping people get through sexual blockages is really impactful for the quality of someone’s life.

Yes, it’s been very meaningful to me. Being able to help people in this way. I have people running around with enormous amounts of anxiety about their sexuality and not having anyone to share it with, including not being comfortable enough sharing with their partners. Many times the partner blames themselves and thinks they are doing something for the person to not desire them.

I’ve had people well into their 60s that have never had pleasurable sex lives and I teach them to relax and surrender and to finally get what they want in sex and to enjoy it. Many times they’ve thought their sex life is over and it can be an awakening for these people that it’s not and that they can enjoy it!

Well, thank you for everyone that joined us for part 2 of our chat with the fabulous Dr. Renée Hilliard. If you’re just joining then you can go back and read about our first show here, or watch it here.

If you’d like to learn more about the services Dr. Renée offers then please check out her website. If you put your information into her contact form with the code “Egg Whisperer” then she’ll send you a fertility meditation.

Thank you, Dr. Renée!

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As always, please comment below or send me a note if you have any questions about this show or if you have a suggested topic for a future show.

You can also catch more of me and topics like this through The Egg Whisperer Show. The episodes are live-streamed on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter and on Wednesdays at 7 PM PST. Subscribe to the podcast too!

Fertility Doctor, Reproductive Endocrinologist, Egg Whisperer:

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