Whether unwanted pornography use has impacted you directly or not, this series of youtube videos hosted by Nate Bagley, with Kristin Hodson, LCSW, and Doug Braun-Harvey, MFT, CGP, is a must watch. They’re looking to change the conversation surrounding porn to decrease shame and increase the ability for individuals who need help, to get it.
In the first video, Doug states that under the current treatment model, people have to hurt those they care about before they get help. Having more open conversations is one way to change that. If you are struggling with unwanted pornography use or feel you might have an addiction, set up a session with Alice by calling 801-944-4555.
As you’re likely all too aware, couples can struggle with many key issues in their marriage. For example, differing perspectives on how to discipline the children are common. Rapport with the in-laws (or the lack thereof) is not unusual. Religious and faith journeys are fairly common discussions for couples in my counseling office. How your spouse spends his or her time when not at home is also a challenge for many couples.
However, likely the bigger problems arise from our views on how to manage money. Perhaps even more challenging is our views on sex and affection. Getting our needs met in these critical areas of our marital relationships can seem daunting if not overwhelming.
** Please note that the examples I utilize in this blog are a compilation of many conversations and also not real names.
Money—Balancing the Relationship Budget
As a counselor that has worked with couples for many years, I find that disagreements about money are common in most relationships. Whether its about how to spend our income on a daily basis. Or how to save for the future, next years vacation, or even for retirement, men and women can just see things differently. Over the years I’ve used an example regarding going back to school (pre-COVID!) that has proved helpful.
In our example, Ricky* (* not his real name) is 13 and is about to begin his first year of middle school. Ricky and his mom go to a local store to purchase school clothes for him. Ricky’s mom and dad have recently agreed on a budget for both he and his siblings clothing budget. They feel comfortable with the amount they’re spending and finally feel that they’ve made progress. That sounds great right? Absolutely, until the unexpected happens, which seems to happen often with busy families.
Please know that the back story here is that Ricky’s parents were raised in homes that see money vastly different. Ricky’s mom was raised in an affluent home where money challenges similar to my example were just NOT an issue. Meanwhile, Ricky’s father was raised in home where money challenges and balance were common.
Ricky loves to skateboard and has done so for several years. He is boarding with friends when he takes a spill and tears the knee out of his new school pants. These are his favorite pants and Ricky is devastated as he considers telling his parents. He musters up the courage and tells his mom who responds essentially “don’t worry, we’ll get you a new pair before school starts.” He is relieved and feels better. Later that evening when his mom and dad discuss the issue, his father is pretty upset by his wife’s perspective. He reminds her of the budget they’d both agreed to live by. How important not waffling on their new spending plan is to him. He states that we need to “just patch the pants” and send him to school. Besides, Ricky needs to learn to be “…responsible and take care of his things.”
What would you do to balance the relationship “budget???”
Sex – Balancing the Relationship’s Affection Needs
As if understanding your wife’s perspectives on money isn’t challenging enough, another area maybe even more key. That area is sex, which I like to refer to as overall “affection” in the relationship.
While working with couples regarding their romantic and sexual needs, one thing has become very apparent. Men and women just see sex differently. While I’ve used many examples to discuss sex with couples in counseling, one has seemed particularly germane for this blog. Tim and Sandy* (* not their real names) have been married for 5 years. They have a 3 y/o daughter who goes to daycare while her parents are working. Tim is a local school Vice Principal and Sandy is the head of Human Resources at a local, fast growing start-up company.
Tim and Sandy want to have a relationship that balances in most areas. However, their sex life seems to be one of their biggest challenges. For example, recently Tim was feeling extra close to his wife and that having connective sex that night sounded great. When he included some heart emoticons in texts to his wife during the day, she said supportively she would talk to him when she got home. Over dinner, Sandy mentions to her husband that although interested, she’s really tired but would love to get together tomorrow night. Tim finds her response to be supportive and feels understood.
The following day Sandy anticipates a busy day at work. She drops their child off at daycare and makes sure to plan her day well. Sandy also remembered her commitment to her husband and made a focused effort to think emotionally connective thoughts about him, e.g., he’s a great husband, great support, great lover. As the day moves on, Sandy is feeling really good about the prospect of spending some quality time with her husband. Later that afternoon, Sandy receives a text from her boss regarding a meeting she was to attend with her CEO tomorrow. Her boss notes that the team member who was going to present was being tested for COVID and wouldn’t be able to attend the meeting. This means she is now presenting and would need to have it ready by 9 AM tomorrow morning. Although the meeting may end up being virtual, please plan on attending in their corporate offices.
While Sandy feels encouraged that her boss would ask her to fill in, there is a problem. She now will be up much of the night preparing for the critical presentation. She is also really disappointed that she won’t be able to give her relationship the time it so desperately needs. She considers all options but ultimately decides to ask her husband if they can spend time together tomorrow night. How will he react? Will he feel hurt or dismissed?
What would you do to balance the relationship’s “affection” budget?
Balance is the Key
Whether Tim feels hurt or dismissed will depend on how he believes the relationship has been overall previous to this challenge. Let’s say that both he and Sandy have worked on keeping their relationship open and honest. Then likely Tim won’t feel dismissed and he will be able to weather this potential hurricane of negative feelings and resentment. Meanwhile, Sandy won’t feel guilty that she is asking for some relationship latitude but rather also feel understood and appreciated. Do you see a positive pattern here? Absolutely!
It has been my experience that open communication is the key. Being able to have critical conversations safely that may not be easy but will benefit the relationship’s sex and affection needs. Other keys include:
* Trust. Building trust includes, but isn’t limited to, knowing that your spouse will allow you to share her opinion without feeling judged or questioned for her perspective. Trust is particularly important for a woman as feeling emotionally safe and close to her husband is often contingent on trusting him deeply.
* Respect. When couples trust each other then it is quite natural that a deeper level of respect will likely also follow. Thus trust and respect go essentially hand in hand resulting in a marriage where connective conversations can naturally occur.
* Love. You can love your partner but not necessarily trust or respect them. The oft used adage of “Love Conquers All” isn’t always true particularly regarding trust related to money and sex. Couples that have nurtured trust in their relationships report a deeper level of commitment to the relationship. Essentially, that my spouse “has my back!”
What’s Next? Achieving Balance
Whether you struggle with discussions regarding money or sex really isn’t the question. Many couples struggle in these key areas. The most important thing is to be able to move forward through the challenges. Increase trust, respect, and ultimately the love in the relationship. Here are 3 suggestions to achieve these relationship goals.
First, absolutely set goals to communicate openly and often. I typically assign the couples I work with to have a “check-in” each day. It doesn’t have to be long BUT it does need to be more than just “how was your day?” Ask questions that support each others challenges. For Tim as a Vice Principal, empathic questions related to returning to school may be most germane. However, the key is that the communication is open to ANY thing that seems important to the partners in their marriage.
Secondly, I’ve often heard it said that “couple’s that play together, stay together.” That has been my experience particularly when couples play often and in ways that connect the relationship. Couples can connect each evening. Couples can “play together” on the hiking trail. On the ski slopes, or on vacation, whether it’s in California or Park City.
And for the subject of affection in marriage, couples that play (connection/affection/sex) together often will stay together! It absolutely works and is worth working on in a loving ways.
Lastly, absolutely be flexible and recognize that plans change. And please totally be aware that just because your wife isn’t available for sex this evening doesn’t mean that she’s not into you. In fact, be aware that her asking to get together tomorrow night is likely totally sincere. She does want to be with you. Please take a risk and ask her (or him!). You may be pleasantly surprised by her response.
Michael Boman, LCSW, is a clinical therapist at Wasatch Family Therapy. Michael has over 20 years experience in working with couples and families.
Join Kathleen Baxter on the Eve Unleashed Podcast to talk about sex. Kathleen discusses the difficulties of navigating sex conversations in the home with spouses and children. Join through this link and wherever podcasts are streamed.
I recently came across an article by Dr. Chris Donaghue PhD, LCSW, CST. Dr. Chris, as he is known, talks about how performance pressures on men to get and maintain hard erections actually lead to erectile difficulties. These difficulties can lead men to seek out performance enhancing drugs in order to “have good sex”. Dr. Chris shares 8 tips for overcoming erectile disappointment.
1- Have realistic expectations for how a penis functions.
2- Develop a more expansive view of sex.
4- Diversify your sexual skills.
5- Work on your “erotic esteem”.
6- Stay in the moment.
7- Allow each partner to be responsible for their own orgasm.
8- Be a sex and body positive activist.
If you or a partner have ever experienced erectile disappointment, check out the full article here then schedule a session with Alice at 801-944-4555 to help guide you through these steps.
Today I want to share an new approach to what is commonly referred to as “porn addiction” treatment. I talk with many individuals and couples who are experiencing pain or distress due to unwanted sexual behaviors or use of sexual imagery.
He states that porn is the cough. Instead of treating the cough, we need to treat the cold, which could be depression, anxiety, lack of accurate sex education, shame, or lack of coping strategies. If you are dealing with sexual behaviors that feel out of control and would like help, call 801-944-4555 to schedule a session with Alice today.
Scary title huh? We don’t want to think about kids and pornography in the same vein regardless of context. Unfortunately, the reality is that first pornography exposure happens often during early adolescence or even childhood. You read correctly, childhood. I’m talking about playground and recess aged kids here. As parents in the digital age, I think most of us are aware that our teenagers have access to inappropriate content at their fingertips; however, we are less aware of the proliferation of it targeting younger children. As a result, we are often caught off guard about how to talk about pornography with young children. Sadly, being unprepared can often lead to some instinctual reactions, that while quite normal, can have unintended consequences in the messaging that kids receive. Mainly, that they did something wrong and that makes them “bad”; shame is not productive nor helpful for healthy sexual development.
Shame, as a parenting strategy, is not effective at creating healthy change in behaviors (notice the bolded…healthy). In fact, it is just the opposite. While shame may enact change in behaviors, it does so by undermining self-worth and value. Often with the universal emotion, shame, we feel like we are fundamentally flawed as human beings and irrevocably broken. Now with the parents I’ve worked, this isn’t the message that they are trying to instill in their children; assuredly, they are trying to empower and support their children. This is the reason why I think it’s imperative that parents be prepared with the messaging and a script, of sorts, for these conversations. Here are some of the most common questions that I get asked about dealing with pornography exposure and young children aged 6-12 years old:
When should I talk to my child about pornography?
If your child is using the internet then you need to start having age and developmentally appropriate conversations about pornography. Yes, if your 5 year old is watching videos or playing games then they can come across it, even with filters and other safeguards.
Example: Sometimes adults put stuff on the internet that looks like it’s for kids, like cartoons that show body parts that we’ve talked about being private like a penis or breasts. It isn’t appropriate for kids and it can be really confusing. We want to you show us if you see something that feels confusing, like it might be for adults, but you aren’t sure. We won’t be angry or mad, we love you and want to be able to play your games safely.
How did my child start looking at pornography?
Typically, a child’s first exposure to pornography happens in one of two ways: they either accidentally click on a link that takes them to a porn site or a friend shows them. Kids are curious and they tend to share their curiosity with their peers. Sadly, kids can be labeled as “bad” or being a “bad influence” when a child reports that their friend Timmy showed them a picture, video, or link that includes pornographic images. This sends the same messaging that was discussed above, that being curious about sexual imagery, sexual acts, or sexuality in general is “bad” or “off limits”. If we want our children to learn about sex from us, their parents, then we need to take ownership of having the conversations.
Thus, talk to your child about their curiosity. Work to normalize their curiosity about sex and the feelings that they experienced. Create an environment that is safe, even if you or they are uncomfortable, to discuss sex and pornography and your beliefs and values regarding them. They will get their sexual education from other sources regardless if we abdicate this role in our children’s development.
Example: Joey, thank you for telling us when you clicked on that link; you did exactly what we’d talked about you doing. We’ve talked about how sex and sexual feelings are normal and healthy, I wonder if you’re curious about any of the images that you saw? What did you feel when you looked at the images? Sometimes it feels really exciting to see things that we don’t know a lot about, like naked body parts or sexual acts, these feelings are normal and nothing to feel ashamed about. We value sexuality and feel that explicit sexual images are harmful to that development because they can portray sex in a way that isn’t realistic or healthy.
How do I teach my child that porn isn’t realistic?
For very young children, framing it as the actors are playing pretend puts the concept into a form that they understand as they often engage in pretending. Keep it simple, short and provide an opportunity to ask questions if they remain curious.
Example: Joey, you and your friends love to play superheroes right? Sometimes you even dress up as your favorites superheroes and pretend to save the world. The movie that you saw, the people are actors and are playing and pretending too. They were playing, sex is a way that adults play, but they were playing pretend in that movie.
Older children typically can conceptualize the difference between real and pretend without the fantastical examples; however, as pornography depicts real acts it can sometimes be difficult for them to understand how it isn’t real. I like to use an example of something that is also real but exaggerate like driving in the Fast and Furious movies. Go on YouTube and find a driving scene and watch it together and discuss how, while some of the basic concepts are real, the actual movie isn’t. For example, it was filmed on a sound stage or movie lot with a professional driver doing the stunt maneuvers. Adult films are also filmed as a movie production with actors, the maneuvers are scripted and practiced, the vocalizations and facials are exaggerated, etc. So, while the act itself is real, the depiction of the act isn’t.
While I just skimmed the surface, I hope this gives parents some ideas to start the conversation. This subject is scary and can be very intimidating for parents to explore with children, especially young children. However, parents have the opportunity to influence the narrative that children are exposed to in a way that creates a safe environment for healthy sexual development without shame.
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:
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.
As a clinician who frequently works with sexual problems, I talk about genitals a lot! A lot! As I embark on these conversations with my clients, I have noticed how many people either don’t use the correct words for their genitals, or don’t even say the words at all. One of the most common errors I see is that people commonly say men have a penis and women have a vagina. While this is true, they are not the equivalent of one another.
I see this error in common culture verbiage also, people
referring to the female genitalia only as her vagina. The vagina however is one
part of the female genitals. It is the canal that leads from the vaginal
opening to the cervix. This is an internal part of the female anatomy. I hear
many people use the word “vagina” to refer to a woman’s external genitalia.
This would be somewhat equivalent to calling the male external genitals a vas
deferens (male internal tube) instead of a penis.
What people mean to say is that men have a penis and women
have a vulva. Vulva is the correct term to refer to the external female
genitals. It is made up of the 2 sets of lips called the labia majora and
minora. It protects the internal components of the female reproductive system.
So, next time you say the word vagina, make sure you are
referring to the correct anatomy. If you have never even said the word vulva, I
encourage you to start using it as the appropriate term for female external
Sexuality is a charged topic for both adults and some children. Messages about what behaviors are appropriate and inappropriate are woven into the fabric of our cultural traditions, moral codes of conduct, and family systems. Negative messages cause a great deal of harm, mainly when the message contains sexual shaming. Masturbation is one of these topics.
Masturbation is extremely common, yet because it is private, we don’t talk about it with our children or a spouse. According to research, self-stimulation is a normal activity experienced by nearly all people starting at very young ages and can be observed in utero (Yang et al., 2005). Masturbation (like any behavior) can be both healthy and problematic; it is also experienced differently based on age. It well understood that nearly all males and most females will, at some point in their lifetime, masturbate.
When is it Healthy?
Nearly all professionals agree age-appropriate stages of self-stimulation is healthy. For example, exploring one’s body and how it responds sexually is a beneficial aspect of maturation. Men and women can learn what an orgasm is, so they are better equipped to educate their spouse on what types of sexual touch they enjoy. Also, individuals can use masturbation to self-sooth as a coping mechanism for mood regulation. For many people who (for whatever reason) are not in an intimate relationship, masturbation can be a healthy outlet to release sexual tension. Many relationships do not have an equal balance of libido. For some “higher libido” partners, masturbation can offer a method to balance sexual needs.
When is it Not Healthy?
Behaviors become problematic when they negatively impact, work, school, or one’s social life. Like all sexual behaviors, masturbation may conflict with religious values. In a recent study from students at Brigham Young University, researchers reported the perception of pornography (a common corollary with masturbation) is the primary predictor of negative outcomes, not the pornography use itself (Leonhardt, Willoughby, Young-Peterse, 2018). It is important to inventory what our values are and why we have them. It can be helpful to challenge what we believe, while still honoring our values and the values of others. In many situations, individuals with strict religious tenets regarding masturbation find themselves in harmful shame cycles leading to increased rates of depression, compulsivity, or suicidal ideation (Beagan & Hattie, 2015). Researchers don’t diminish the value of traditional moral values. However, they do suggest creating a healthy relationship with our values within the normal range of human experiences.
Myths about Masturbation
We tell stories and create myths to justify attitudes about sexuality. Some common myths include masturbation causes homosexuality, is an addiction, leads to infidelity, will lower sexual desire, create hypersexuality, may cause you to go blind, and causes cancer in men. These things are not true. However, there are things that do occur. For example, a partner may feel betrayed when they learn their spouse masturbates. Couples can contract what cheating is, and what betrayal is. Feelings of betrayal are especially common when erotic material is involved. People engage in negatively impacting habit-forming behaviors with all sorts of things, including masturbation. Also, some coping mechanisms prevent healthy attachment in relationships.
Talking about Masturbation to our Children
It’s helpful for parents to have discussions with their children about masturbation in age-appropriate ways. For example, 5-year-old children don’t typically need to learn about orgasm mechanics, but talking about what “feels good” is more appropriate. Also, shaming a child by saying, “don’t touch that,” could be replaced with useful comments such as “that feels good, maybe you should do that in private.”. Children without parental guidance will learn about masturbation from friends or erotic material. Pornography doesn’t typically represent healthy sexual education. It is also beneficial to create safety for children, so as they begin to explore their sexuality (in person or with others), they feel safe to engage a parent about their experiences. Normalizing sexual desire, response, and anxieties create wellbeing for developing children. Lastly, it’s helpful to remember that not all children have the same sexual interests, levels of desire, or attractions at the same age as other children. It’s important to meet our children where they are at.
Talking about Masturbation to a Partner
An important aspect of contracting between couples includes the topic of masturbation. As a part of healthy sexual practices, discussing what is acceptable (or not) is essential. While there are many options, some couples will incorporate self-pleasuring behaviors into their relationship as a method to balance sex-drive differences. Often one partner may feel betrayal if they learn their spouse masturbates. When couples talk openly with each other about their feelings and attitudes regarding sexuality, it usually removes the stress in these situations. A good place to start is becoming aware of your own sexual biases and perspectives. Some couples find it helpful to discuss these feelings with a competent therapist. It’s important to remember masturbation doesn’t constitute cheating. Marriage isn’t the antidote for fulfilling all sexual needs. Many married people masturbate. Much of the time, masturbation creates better sexual experiences for couples.
Talking about Masturbation to Church Leaders
In many faith traditions, ecclesiastical leaders counsel parishioners regarding sexual behavior. Not all religions have sex-positive perspectives. In many cases, such leaders have no training regarding sexuality, trauma, or psychological situations. A lack of training can be problematic. This doesn’t suggest the support of an ecclesiastical leader cannot be helpful. Individuals seeking counsel from their church leader should remember boundaries are essential. It’s okay to tell a church leader what questions or statements are inappropriate or feel uncomfortable. This is especially true for parents whose children may be questioned regarding their sexual behavior, to communicate what forms of communication are acceptable and what is not.
Leonhardt, N. D., Willoughby, B. J., & Young-Petersen, B. (2018). Damaged goods: Perception of pornography addiction as a mediator between religiosity and relationship anxiety surrounding pornography use. The Journal of Sex Research, 55(3), 357-368.
Beagan, B. L., & Hattie, B. (2015). Religion, spirituality, and LGBTQ identity integration. Journal of LGBT Issues in Counseling, 9(2), 92-117.Yang, M. L., Fullwood, E., Goldstein, J., & Mink, J. W. (2005). Masturbation in infancy and early childhood presenting as a movement disorder: 12 cases and a review of the literature. Pediatrics, 116(6), 1427-1432.
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.