Blog Section

Bridging The Gap

Desire discrepancy in couples is one of the most common sources of distress within sexual relationships.  Couples may find themselves in situations where one parter is the high desire partner (HDP) and the other is the low desire partner (LDP).  These labels can lead one or both partners to feel broken and blamed for problems in the relationship.  Other couples may find resentment builds when their partner either “doesn’t want them sexually” or “only wants them for sexual release”.  

If you and your partner are stuck in this sort of dynamic, first, know that neither one of you is broken.  All levels of desire are normal, and very few relationships involve couples with consistently balanced interest in sex.  

Second, if you can step away from looking at your partner’s level of sexual desire as the problem, it will be much easier to work together to bridge the gap.  

Bridging The Gap:

If you find yourself wanting sex more often than your partner, ask yourself, “what am I horny for”.  Dr. Neil Cannon lists the following as motives for seeking sex:  

  • Orgasm/Sexual Release
  • Touch
  • Connection
  • Calming Anxiety
  • Mood Elevation
  • Kink
  • Reassurance/Validation

When you identify what your motive for sex is, you can examine whether some of those desires could be met in other ways.  This begins to reduce pressure on your partner, narrowing the gap between your experienced desire.  

Another tool you can use to help bridge gaps in desire is to identify, as Emily Nagoski calls them, your sexual brakes and accelerators.  What turns you on?  What turns you off?  How can you as an individual and as a couple work to minimize brakes and maximize accelerators?  

One huge brake many individuals experience is not enjoying the sex they are having.  This is usually a result of poor communication or shame surrounding sexuality.  Using the brakes and accelerators framework can be a great way to improve communication about sexual preferences.  Make sure you speak up so your partner knows what you enjoy and what you don’t enjoy.  Make sure to listen so you really hear what your partner is sharing with you.  Think of this as an opportunity to learn about your partner, increasing mutual pleasure and satisfaction in your relationship.

Lastly, try scheduling sex in your calendar.  On the appointed day, work on managing your own brakes/accelerators to help you get in the mood.  Recognize when there are things you can do to help your partner look forward to the experience with positive anticipation.  Text and flirt throughout the day. Make sure that when it comes down to it, saying “not tonight”, is still an option, this reduces pressure. If you are the partner who wants to say no, consider saying yes to something else instead.  For example, “I’m really not feeling up to penetrative sex tonight, but I’d love to cuddle, skin to skin”, or, “I’m not feeling up for penis-in-vagina sex at the moment, but I’d really love to just make out with you”.  Then leave the door open for whatever may (or may not) follow, pressure free.  Regardless of the outcome, you will feel more connected and you will have improved your ability to communicate about your wants and desires. 

If you’d like to learn more about bridging a desire gap in your relationship, call 801-944-4555 to schedule a session with Alice today.

More

Managing Your Stress Response

In Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski’s book, Burnout, they talk about how understanding the difference between a stressor and a stress response is crucial in helping us respond to both in healthy ways.  A stressor is anything in our lives which causes strain or tension.  A stress response refers to the physical changes in our bodies which occur in response to the stressor.

 
A deadline at work, an argument with our partner, a child who is struggling at school, or a to-do list that is longer than we have time for are all common examples of stressors.  Your response and your neighbor’s response to any of these stressors may look very different. Sometimes resolving the stressor is fairly simple.  We can work overtime to meet the deadline.  We can resolve arguments with our partner.  We can seek additional support for a child who is struggling in school.  We can complete the to do list eventually.  Some of these stressors will take longer than others to resolve, but whether by completion or the passage of time, the stressor will fade.  What is left behind is the accumulation of the stress response.  


Often we feel that the resolution of the stressor is sufficient, but Nagoski and Nagoski assert that it is not.  We must also address the physical response to the stressor, and if we do not, the stress response will accumulate in our bodies to the point where it impacts our physical health.  They suggest 12 methods for addressing stress response build up:

  1. Exercise
  2. Sleep
  3. Mindful breathing
  4. Creative self expression
  5. Using your imagination
  6. Mindful crying
  7. Superficial social connection
  8. Intimate social connection
  9. Connection with nature, landscape, or animals
  10. Spiritual connection
  11. Laughter
  12. Mindful self compassion.


The next time you feel stressed, take a minute to increase your awareness of your stress response.  What changes do you notice in your body?  What happens to those changes when you participate with intention, in one of the above methods?


If you find yourself overwhelmed with stress in your life and aren’t sure how to manage your stress response, give these suggestions a try, or for one-on-one support call 801-944-4555 to schedule a session with Alice today.

More

Dancing, Digestion, and Female Sexuality

A 1999 study (Berman J, Berman L, Goldstein I. Female sexual dysfunction: incidence, pathophysiology, evaluation, and treatment options. Urology. 1999;54:385–391) found that 43 percent of women suffer from some type of sexual dysfunction.  That’s nearly half of all women!  There is a lot of history and research behind how we got to this 43 percent number, but simplifying it comes down to the medicalization of female sexuality.  

Dr. Leonore Tiefer is an author, researcher, educator, and therapist who has spoken out against the problems she has seen in viewing female sexuality through a medical lens.  Dr. Tiefer uses the metaphors of dancing and digestion.

Dancing is something we learn, a skill that is built over time.  Dancing has history and culture that informs it.  Our enjoyment of dance, and our participation in it can change throughout our lives.  People experience differently, but it is often something we share.  

Digestion on the other hand is a process that happens to us.  It is something that is consistent over the course of our lives, and deviation from the standard is a problem requiring treatment of some sort.  We have healthy digestion and unhealthy digestion.  Unless there are problems, we don’t spend much time considering our digestion, and sometimes we feel uncomfortable talking about when things aren’t working the way they’re supposed to.

Dancing is a helpful metaphor for looking at sexuality through a behavioral lens, and digestion is more applicable to a medical model.  Both approaches have their place, and certainly those experiencing sexual concerns would be wise to rule out obvious medical issues, but Dr. Tiefer suggests we spend more time considering the cultural, educational, behavioral and relational issues that impact female sexual health.  

For more information on Dr. Tiefer’s approach to healthy sexuality, see her presentation at Indiana State University in 2016, here: https://iu.mediaspace.kaltura.com/media/Tiefer+Talk+IU/1_wiqs4bjz

If you are experiencing sexual concerns, schedule an appointment with Alice at 801-944-4555 today.

More

Sex Therapy FAQs

Sex therapy is one area of mental health that doesn’t always get talked about.  Many individuals feel hesitant to bring up sexual concerns with their therapist, waiting until later in the therapy process to introduce the topic.  Others misunderstand what sex therapy is, and continue to struggle on their own. 

What is sex therapy?

Sex therapy is therapy to improve sexual functioning and treat sexual dysfunction.  Sex therapy can be done in individual and couples therapy. 

What happens in sex therapy?

Just like other areas of therapy, in sex therapy, the therapist will complete an intake process with the client to gather information on the nature of the problem and begin to create a treatment plan.  This plan might include goals about visiting with a medical doctor to rule out or diagnose medical issues.  

Is sex therapy safe for my value system? 

Just like other areas of therapy, your therapist is trained to be respectful of and work within their client’s values system.  If you have any concerns that the content of sex therapy might not fit within your values, talk to the therapist up front.  Talking about our sexuality with a therapist can be a new experience, and that might feel uncomfortable, but therapists want to make you feel as safe and at ease as possible. 

Will the therapist take sides?

The therapist’s job is not to prove one person right and one person wrong, but to explore the history and nature of the concern.  The therapist will help the couple or individual explore their beliefs and values surrounding sex, identifying and helping to shift harmful or inaccurate beliefs, and provide resources and educational materials. The therapist will create a safe, supportive environment as the clients create new, value congruent, healthy patterns of behavior. 

What can a sex therapist help me with?

A sex therapist can provide support, education and hope in creating sexual wholeness.  They can work with a broad range of sexual issues.  Desire discrepancy (where one partner has a higher or lower libido than the other), problematic sexual behaviors (particularly compulsive, or what are sometimes referred to as addictive behaviors), LGBTQ issues (orientation concerns, transitioning, or parenting), trauma, infidelity, “sexless” marriages, orgasm concerns, ED/premature/delayed ejaculation, painful intercourse, polyamory, kink, pornography concerns, or resolving spiritual/sexual conflicts. 

If you have been struggling with an area of your sexuality or sexual relationships, but have been hesitant to talk about it, schedule an appointment with Alice at 801-944-4555 today.  Sexual health is an important aspect of good mental health, and you do not need to suffer alone when there is hope and help available.

More

A House on Fire

 

If you think back to the last time you experienced a crisis in your relationship, you may remember the feelings of panic and fear.  You may even remember feeling uncertain about whether your partner was going to be there for you.

 

In those moments, it is easy to let our fear build, until it transforms from a few sparks into a full-on house fire.  When our relationship-house is on fire, we turn to the person we need the most for help.  In our panicked state, we don’t always have the mindset to calmly explain that we are in crisis and need help.  More often, we attempt to let our loved one know that we are in crisis, that our house is on fire, by throwing little bits of the fire in their direction.  What we intend as a “hey, I’m really hurting right now, and I’m scared and need to know that you’re here for me”, comes out as anger directed toward the person we are turning to for help.

 

If I throw fire at my partner’s house, they’re going to take protective measures to keep their house from also catching on fire.

 

This intensifies whatever cycle has already been occurring in the relationship.  One partner feels uncertain, and lashes out (when really, they’re looking for reassurance), the other partner backs away further, uncomfortable with the intensity of the first partner.  This backing away leads the partner to feel further abandoned, and deeper into their crisis, fanning the flames, and turning the small bits of fire they throw at their partner into a raging fireball.

 

If we can understand this cycle, and recognize it when it happens, we can begin to stop it.  Initially that might look like a “hey, I see what we’re doing here- we’re in our fire cycle”.  Next one partner might say, “yes, I know I’m lashing out, because I’m anger, and under the anger is fear that you aren’t going to be here when I need you”.  Or the other partner might say, “I see you lashing out, I know you feel anger, but I want you to know I’m here for you”.

 

If we can acknowledge the anger and the more vulnerable emotion behind it, we can slow the cycle and find connection in our relationships.

 

If you find yourself stuck in this cycle, and need help getting out of it, set up an appointment with Alice today by calling 801.944.4555.
More

Help! I’m Sexually Broken!

One of the most common statements I hear from women when it comes to sexual dysfunction is, “I know it’s important to my husband, and I want to give that to him, but I just have zero desire for sex.  I’m just broken!”

Our culture feeds us the line that there is only one kind of sexual desire.  It tells us that sexual desire should suddenly appear, that it’s a wave of hormones that hit us out of the blue.  We’re going about our day, filing paperwork, prepping meals, filling the car up with gas, and WHAM, we’re hit with an urge to have sex.  

Now sometimes that happens, and when it does, it’s called, according to sex educator, Emily Nagoski, spontaenous desire.  Many individuals experience spontaneous desire at least some of the time.  Research seems to point toward men experiencing spontaneous desire far more often than women.  Women are more likely to experience what is called responsive desire.  

Responsive desire means that desire builds in *response* to positive sexual cues.  

What does this mean?  This means that a woman who finds herself in bed with her partner at the end of a long, tiring day, isn’t broken when she’s not interested in sex.  It just means she lacks context for sexual excitement.  She’s normal.  Not broken.  Too often our culture treats women as broken when their sexual response isn’t the same as men’s sexual response.  We treat men’s response as the default normal, and anything less than that makes us feel like there’s something wrong with us.  

Unfortunately, the idea that we’re broken is one extra hurdle to developing a satisfying sexual relationship with our partner.  

Emily Nagoski gave a Ted Talk last year where she shared two keys to sexual well-being.  They are confidence and joy.  Nagoski states that confidence means knowing what is true about your body.  Joy is loving what is true.  

If you are someone who feels broken because your experience is not the spontaneous desire depicted in every romantic comedy you’ve ever seen, knowing that your desire, which builds in response to safety, loving connection, physical touch, or other sexually relevant stimuli, is normal, can help you know what it true about your body.  Accepting this part of yourself as good and valid can help you love what it true.  

For more details on these concepts, check out Emily’s Ted Talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/emily_nagoski_the_keys_to_a_happier_healthier_sex_life?language=en

For help working through sexual desire discrepancies in your relationship, or if you struggle to accept and love what is true about your body or your own sexual experience, schedule a session with Alice today.  801-944-4555

 

Alice Roberts, CSW
More

Boundaries

Who has ever said yes to something but were internally screaming a no?  

We all have people asking us for time, money, attention, physical or emotional connection, labor, and on and on.  Helping others, giving them our time or attention is a good thing, so I want to clarify that boundaries are not just about saying no.  Boundaries are about making thoughtful choices which allow us to say yes to the things we want to say yes to.  

We humans are social creatures.  We are driven to seek connections with others.  Forming connections, or attachments, helps us navigate challenges in life.  Much like a toddler will cling to her parent’s leg, step away to explore, then run back when they need reassurance.  Saying no to a request goes against our need to connect with others.  However, when we repeatedly say yes to things we don’t feel good about, we can end up neglecting our own needs.  This turns an act of kindness that helped us feel good and brought us joy, into a burden that we feel resentful of.

Resentment is an interesting experience.  It’s a low simmer, just under the surface, that tells us something isn’t right.  Something about the situation feels off.  We might feel taken advantage of, unheard, or manipulated.  Each experience where we feel resentment adds a link in our chain of resentment.  They build upon each other, and if we continue to carry the chain around, and add to it, it will get heavier and heavier.  This resentment chain makes it difficult to want to say yes to anything, because we’re constantly on guard, looking to protect ourselves. 

Setting boundaries allows us to set down the chain.  When we can stop carrying it around, we’ll have more energy to make the kind of thoughtful decisions that bring us joy.  

Why is it hard to set boundaries?

-fear on loss/abandonment/loneliness

-fear of anger

-fear of self perception (I’m a good person, good people sacrifice for others)

-fear of approval (will other people think I’m a good person?)

-guilt for disappointing or hurting someone.  

Feelings of resentment, fear, or guilt are indicators that there is an area of your life that needs boundary work.  

Here are three concrete tools for helping to establish boundaries in your own life.  

1. Have a Plan

It can be difficult to think clearly if you feel put on the spot.  Having responses planned out ahead can help buy you time to evaluate whether the request is something you are willing or able to meet.  One example, “I’ll have to check my calendar, but I’ll get back to you” can buy you some time to evaluate if the request is something you have the time/energy/desire to meet.

2. Don’t Explain

Sometimes, in an attempt to soften our “no”, we offer explanations that may or may not accurately represent our true reasons for saying no.  This can be dangerous as it gives the requester the ability to counter with an adapted request that may feel more difficult to refuse.  

3. Offer an Alternative

Offer an alternative if there is one that you feel good about.  “I’m not able to make that planning meeting, but I will write up my proposal and email it to you before friday”.  

All of us have boundaries.  Whether we communicate them openly or not, we are setting boundaries.  Holding back, or acquiescing out of fear or guilt means we are setting an loose boundary that will likely lead us to feel resentment.  Setting clear and proactive boundaries allows us to form relationships with others, free of resentment, and allows us a greater sense of peace and joy.  

If you are struggling to set boundaries in your life, and would like help learning how to make changes to reduce feelings of fear, resentment, or anger, call and schedule an appointment with Alice.  801-944-4555.  

  

Alice Roberts, CSW

More

Six Sexual Health Principles to Discuss With Your Partner

I often hear stories from men and women who discover their partner has sexual secrets. Sometimes those secrets involve pornography, sometimes they involve infidelity, sometimes they involve fantasy or sexual preferences. The individuals who share these stories with me often feel betrayed because the expectations they had about the sexual agreements within their relationship were not kept. The first problem to address is that most of the time, these sexual agreements were unspoken.

I want to encourage couples to make these unspoken agreements spoken. All couples should talk about their expectations for their sexual relationship. In order to facilitate this discussion, here are six principles that constitute healthy sexuality. Spend some time with your partner and discuss each one, what it means to each of you as individuals and how it relates to you as a couple. (One word of caution, avoid having this discussion during or after sex. Those times are likely to bring with them heightened vulnerability, which if the discussion is difficult in any area, can lead to increased defensiveness and conflict. The discussion will go much more smoothly if you schedule it for another time.)

*******

The following 6 principles of sexual health were developed by Doug Braun-Harvey. Learn more about his these principles in his books Treating Out of Control Sexual Behavior: Rethinking Sex Addiction & Sexual Health in Drug and Alcohol Treatment

1. Consent

Consent in this context means that someone has given permission for something involving their body to occur. Are there sexual behaviors in your relationship that you’d like your partner to ask specific consent for each time? Are there sexual behaviors that you don’t feel your partner needs to ask first? Talk about these, and create clear guidelines to shape how consent looks in your relationship. Remember that feelings about specific sexual behaviors can change, and it’s okay to change your sexual agreements in the future.

2. Non-Exploitative

Non-exploitative means that one partner does not take advantage or manipulate the other into sexual behaviors. This includes using power dynamics to coerce the other person. Are there behaviors that one partner participates in hesitantly? Use this opportunity to talk about what those behaviors mean to each partner. If there are exploitative behaviors in your relationship, this is an area where reaching out for help with a therapist may be necessary to resolve them and set healthy boundaries.

3. Protection from STIs, HIV, and Unplanned Pregnancy

If either person has had previous sexual partners, have they been checked for sexually transmitted infections or HIV? What is the plan surrounding birth control?

4. Honesty

Are both partners able to be fully honest about their sexual history, and is there room in the relationship to honestly discuss fantasy and sexual preferences?

5. Shared Values

Creating sexual agreements are crucial for couples, and the largest part of the discussion will likely revolve around values. What behaviors fall within your value systems as individuals and as a couple? If there are value differences, can you create workable compromises? If there are value conflicts within a relationship, a professional can help explore resolutions that feel workable to both partners.

6. Mutual Pleasure

Sadly, many individuals grow up with the idea that sex is something men like and women tolerate. When this is the background, women can feel used and resentful about sex, even when they’re otherwise happy in their relationship. Breaking out of this mindset is going to be difficult if the couple has not found mutually pleasurable sexual activities. If one partner wants a specific type of sex exclusively, and the other partner doesn’t enjoy that activity, neither partner will be able to truly experience the kind of sexual relationship that is fulfilling and strengthens the relationship.

If after reviewing these six principles, you find some areas that you and your partner need help with, schedule an appointment with Alice today.  801-944-4555.

More

War and Peace, the Internal Version

A few months ago, I stood on the edge of a 15 foot cliff overhanging the ocean. Several family members had already jumped and were calling to me to join them.  This may not seem like a particularly high distance to some, but it was high enough for me to activate an internal battle.

Part of me wanted to jump. The water was clear and beautiful. My family was having a great time in the water below. Part of me was afraid of hurting myself. Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a theory that uses the idea that all of us have internal “parts”, which generally work together, creating the unique individual that we are. When our parts are not fully integrated, we can experience internal battles, which cause difficulty in our ability to function the way we would like.

IFS categorizes our parts as managers, firefighters, exiles, and Self.

Managers act as our protectors. They are manifest as controller, striver, judge, caretaker, passive, pessimist, planner, and self-critic. These managers work to keep things in our lives going smoothly to avoid pain or rejection.

Firefighters are also protectors, but do so in a reactive way, attempting to soothe our exiles through compulsive behaviors, distraction, or rage.

Exiles are the parts of us that hold pain and vulnerability. Our managers push them away to protect the rest of us from having to experience the pain, shame, dependency, neediness, worthlessness, or grief that exiles carry.

Our Self is the core of who we are. Our Self is calm, curious, compassionate, connected, confident, creative, and has clarity. When we are able to look at the world or situations with these eight “C’s” we’re working from our Self. When managers, firefighters or exiles take over we lose our ability act from our true Self.

As I stood on the cliff with my internal battle, I wasn’t able to recognize the various parts involved. Looking back on the experience, it’s much easier to identify the manager that created anxiety, the one that told me “if you jump, you’ll get hurt.” I can also identify the manager who told me that I had better jump to avoid being teased by my family. It was this manager who pushed through and reminded me that the cliff wasn’t that high, the water was clear, and that everyone else had jumped safely.

Often, the internal battles our parts engage in are of more significant consequence than whether we will be teased for not jumping into the ocean. Sometimes our care-taking managers prevent us from setting clear boundaries with others, leading to resentment or exhaustion. Sometimes our firefighters seek to soothe scared exiles by numbing with behaviors or substances that are not in line with our value system.  When this happens, our managers beat up on our firefighters, and our firefighters respond by doubling down on their soothing behavior.

When we experience these internal battles, it’s tempting to try to ignore or reject the parts of us that seem to be causing the problems. Instead of ignoring or rejecting (which doesn’t work anyway), we can start a conversation with these parts to examine why they are behaving the way they are. We might discover that our firefighter is pushing us to lash out in anger in an attempt to protect our exiles from having to experience the pain of rejection that we’ve felt before. We might discover a manager who constantly tells us we’re lazy is really just terrified of becoming the thing it was called as a child.  Understanding why our parts behave the way they do, we can begin to have some compassion for them. Compassion helps us soothe the internal battles and increase our ability to act as our true Self.

If you recognize some of these kinds of parts within yourself and would like help integrating them, call and schedule a session with Alice today.  801-944-4555.

More

That’s So Meta

That’s So Meta

In couple’s therapy, one skill that I regularly work on with clients is increasing the ability to communicate effectively with their partner.  Sometimes our communications get twisted up with fears, expectations, and familiar patterns, which can be difficult to break out of. 

One tool that I find useful is to “go meta”.  Meta means self-referential.  Another way to view it is the thoughts we have about our thoughts (or our words).  

If you are feeling hurt that your partner forgot your lunch date, you might lash out at them in anger.  As you are lashing out, if you examine the thoughts in your head, you might discover that you are lashing out because you are angry and you are angry because you are hurt.  You are hurt because having your partner forget your lunch date triggers a fear response in you that tells you your partner doesn’t value you in the way you hope they do.  The story you are telling yourself, that your partner doesn’t value you is scary, and that fear drives the hurt and the anger to more speaking out in anger because it matters to you so much and you really want your partner to see your hurt, and in turn, see you.  

Speaking the meta means that instead of lashing out, you verbalize this internal dialogue.  You might try, “It really hurt me that you forgot about our lunch date.  I know you love me, but when things like that happen, part of me worries that you don’t really enjoy spending time with me.  That scares me, because spending time together is so important to me and really helps remind me how much you care”.  

Being able to share the fear that had previously remained tucked away inside your head creates vulnerability instead of anger, and reinforcing that the vulnerability is there precisely because your partner is so important to you helps create a place where your partner will also be able to express vulnerability rather than defensiveness.  

Next time you find yourself in a sticky spot with someone you love, examine the thoughts you have about the words you are saying.  Where are those words coming from?  You might find those thoughts give you greater insight into what the real issue is.  Figuring out the real issue is the beginning of greater effectiveness in your communication with your partner.  

If you and your partner could use help identifying these meta thoughts, and learning new ways to communicate with each other, schedule an appointment with Alice today.  801-944-4555.

More