‘not -talked-about’ themes in Human Sexuality – normalizing

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Quick summary – the topic of ‘normal’ or ‘day to day’ sex is perhaps not always given as much attention as could be helpful to the masses. As sexual education slowly decreases while pornography and celebrity gossip increases we find ourselves in a society that does not always know if they are more different or more the same as every one else. I will not pretend to tell you what normal sex is (though I could use a bell curve and list a bunch of stats), instead I am using this space to write about topics with brevity that happen in most people’s sex lives… to normalize events that people might go through.

 

note -there can be biological causes that lead to the below instances and there can be sexual difficulties that result from more involved psychological themes such as trauma – you can assume that I am not talking specifically about issues that arrive from those two disciplines in this blog post. If such is the case for you, it is a good idea to seek the help from a medical professional, a sex therapist, or a therapist who is trained in trauma recovery (most therapist are – but to different degrees).

 

Orgasm does not always happen – Many women seem to be aware of this as it pertains to female orgasm, but men and women alike can be unfamiliar that this can happen to males as well. Lack of orgasm can result in males and in females from: a need for greater emotional intimacy, hormone and libido cycles, normal aging, stress, and technique and duration of foreplay to name a few.

–         Foreplay is a misleading term as many women need continual clitoral stimulation throughout the sexual experience – so for some it is not the “before the sex play” it is the sex.

Not every woman can have a vaginal orgasm (penetration alone) – many women need clitoral stimulation to reach orgasm, this can also change during the female’s life (some women require more stimulation later in life).

There is no “one size fits all technique” – different people need different methodologies to reach optimal satisfaction – this can also differ for the same person at different times. “Too hard” one day can be “too soft” on another day = keep communication lines open.

Many men and women cannot locate the clitoris– Even bookstore chains now have sections on human sexuality that can offer education in many different forms. “I will look at a diagram or ask my partner but about where is it?” – The vulva is the female genitalia – the vagina is the actual canal (can’t usually see it from the outside) the labia are the “lips” that cover the vagina (and sometimes the clitoris – all vulvas are different) the clitoris is the bean shaped entity above the vaginal opening and below where the two sides of the labia meet.

Women can orgasm second – as has been noted, clitoral stimulation is perhaps the more effective means for a woman to reach orgasm – so (if the woman so desires) she can attain orgasm through clitoral stimulation after the penis has found itself flaccid.

Many men have had or will have a time when they can’t get an erection – There are many cognitive factors that can lead to erectile dysfunction? One answer to this is very simple – many men can’t get an erection if they are “trying to get one.” This is like the walking phenomenon – try to walk “correctly” – you will find that you don’t know how to – which will make you walk funny. The same is true with the penis – an erection happens somewhat automatically… thinking tends to get in the way.

–         Stress and anxiety are huge culprits – this is a feedback loop as not getting an erection can cause stress and anxiety – which makes the erection less likely to happen – which increases the stress yet again.

–         The guy worries about what his partner thinks and the partner worries that it is his/her fault = more stress. Suggestion? – don’t over think it – it happens. try talking about it to relieve some of the anxiety – explain what you think the reason is (your partner will appreciate this) – “sorry I had too much to drink” …”I’m in my head…I’m over thinking it”… “I think I need to wake up more.”

–         It is a cardiovascular phenomenon – a muscle loosens and blood flows in.

  • So if you are having an ‘over-thinking’ problem… don’t think “flex” think “release”.
  • If your heart rate is low (morning or alcohol) – you might have trouble.

 

Not every one can “model” while having sex – Sex in the movies can give viewers the perception that people having sex can maintain Zen like physiological composure. Most people that are giving themselves freely to the sexual experience will not look like they are posing for a photo-shoot when they are mid-orgasm.

Sex is great sometimes, ok sometimes, bad sometimes, and good most of the time (relatively speaking of course) – It is normal for us to focus on the great and the bad (just think of the nightly news) – despite the stories that people tell, no one cooks up perfection on a regular basis – ups and downs are a natural part of life – someone would not have the reference to tell you that their sex life was great if they didn’t know what it was like when sex was not so great.

Most male penises are the same size (6 inches-ish) – In sexually explicit material they often prefer extremely large penises or else it is difficult to video both genitalia during penetration.

The female Vulva (genitals all together) looks very different from female to female – pubic hair, the labia, and the clitoris etc. all very in size, color and shape naturally.

People of all different body types are sexually arousing – We, as people in a society; vary in the degree to which our perception of “beauty” or “sexy” is determined by social influences. We all can struggle with accepting that how sexy we are in the eyes of our partner is separate (and perhaps more important) than how sexy we are in relation to current social trends – which are just that – trends.

People have very healthy sex in their later years – we as a society have an unfortunate prejudice against people who are older having sex. For many, sex continues their entire life.

Many people in relationships do not talk about sex specifically or openly with their partner – no one every taught you how… don’t be hard on yourself because you can’t give anatomically specific direction to your partner… and if you would like more open and specific communication, the resources are available (books and specifically trained therapists).

Many men and women in and out of relationships practice masturbation – female number are getting closer to male numbers in terms of percentages.

Sex means something different to everybody – ask ten people what it is and you will get 10 different responses.

I could go on but this blog is getting too long – you may comment if there is another theme that you would like me to cover.

 

My next blog on the topic of sex will be about why misinformation is quite understandable… or I will write about how expectations influence the experience…

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Why might we be misinformed about human sexuality?

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Quick summary: Why might we be misinformed about human sexuality? I will isolate some themes to help people to understand why our at times distorted view of sexuality is actually quite understandable given the circumstances. 

We talk more about interesting story lines – I go skiing quite often and I have some stories that my friends have probably heard a few times… it seems that the stories I tell most often were either the really bad days – “I got way out of bounds and had to hitch hike back to the mountain”… “I tore apart my left shoulder” etc. the other stories are the really good days … “I hiked up in the middle of the night and had a fresh powder run under a full moon”… “Vail pass was closed and I had the whole day with zero people from the Front Range and two feet of powder” etc.

–         It is normal human behavior to tell stories that are abnormalso the sex stories that you hear from your friends, family, or from the media are probably more often the awesomely good or the particularly bad stories – we therefore don’t get to hear about everything in-between – which can distort our perspectives about what sex is like most of the time.

Education is very limited considering the frequency of the Activity – How many hours did you spend reading and sitting in class learning about chemistry or history or calculus?… now how many hours in a month are you involved with any of those subjects? How many hours have you spent reading and sitting in a class concerning human sexuality? How many hours a month are you involved with that subject?

–         Where are we getting out knowledge about human sexuality from… is it a trusted source?

–         What is our reference point for deducing whether or not what we hear in the media is accurate? It is easy for many of us to point out a flaw when a subject is being presented that we know something about (ex. if you watch a movie and your profession you can generally say if the actor is doing something that is not normal), it is more difficult if you do not have a good reference point.

Porn –though we don’t talk about sexuality – many people are watching porn. Porn is not always bad in relation to human sexuality – there is a degree of benefit at it relates to technique (though much of the technique is adjusted for the camera), experimentation, and exploring different types of arousal etc – but if the only sexual education that is widespread in our country is coming from pornography then we are missing the emotional and spiritual components of the activity (the medium can also have a negative effect on how women are viewed and treated). 

Cultural constructs or rules – in many cultures it is inappropriate to talk openly about human sexuality or human anatomy in general. – This can make it hard and/or inappropriate to share important information.

If no one talks about something then it can be awkward to talk about – would you be comfortable saying words such as vulva, vagina, scrotum, or penis in a classroom filled with your peers? Even if you were comfortable, how many people in the classroom would feel a bit awkward?

There seems to be a belief that if you don’t talk about sex then our youth will not engage in the behavior – withholding sexual education and promoting abstinence practices (without sexual education) – can actually increase risky sexual behavior and unwanted pregnancy (if the youth do not understand human reproduction it makes sense that they will be less able to avoid it. This practice also creates an unwanted consequence being a teenager believing that –“it is not safe for me to talk with my parents or to adults about certain subjects so I will get my information from my friends”).

Liability issues and the few ruining it for the masses – unfortunately child abuse, sexual harassment, and sexual abuse are real problems in this country.  The unintended effects of protecting our communities from perpetrators is that we can be hyper suspicious of those who are not perpetrators. Because of this many people have no interest is offering education on human sexuality as doing so can pose a huge liability issue.

Institutionalized Sexism – Much of the early science on human sexuality was distorted in that the work was done solely by males – many of whom had a fairly overt bias. Justice and equality for females in something that we are still striving for in this country… it was not that long ago in our history that woman began to have a greater influence on the literature pertaining to human sexuality – as such there is still a whole lot that the scientific community does not know.

The nature or nurture (biology or learned) issue concerning human sexuality is indeed confusing – it is hard to arrive at what aspects of our sexuality are related to learned behavior and agreed upon social beliefs – and what aspects are more related to our biology.

 

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Human Sexuality and Stress Management

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Quick summary: Sex has a positive impact on stress and yet stress has a negative impact on sexual frequency and desire. I have two suggestions: one, intentionally engage in practices that reduce the distracting power of stress so that you and your partner are more able to focus on the potential of sexuality in the moment, and two, allow your insight and knowledge of the relationship between sex and stress to serve as a motivator to initiate foreplay so that the resulting sex can help you to manage your stress. Either way, increasing sexuality in a committed relationship has been researched to be linked with decreased stress (an incidentally, an increased immune system). If you look at what chemicals (I will be calling hormones and neurotransmitters chemicals for simplicity) are released in the brain when you take anti-anxiety and/or depression medications you will find that your body naturally releases many of the same chemicals during sex (and exercise and unfortunately when eating high calorie foods – this is why we crave items that are not in the best interest of our bodies – increasing calorie intake was historically necessary for survival – now the opposite is often true, but our biology has not changed). Sex does not have all the side effects of medication such as a reduced libido. Sex in a committed relationship (yes the improvements are more significant in a trusting relationship… some of the positive chemicals are not released simply do to orgasm) has a wide range of positive impacts.

Disclosure – for this article I will not be talking about the impact of trauma, family of origin issues, culture, lack of proper technique,  or deeper relationship variables as related to human sexuality. The suggestions in this post are best suited for individuals in a relatively good committed relationship who are looking for practical ways to reduce stress with increased sexuality.

Most people reading this are probably not all too surprised that sex is extremely good for your mental, spiritual, and physical health.

Many of you are probably thinking, “Well I know that… I want more sex… but I have no idea how to increase frequency or desire.”

My first suggestion is insight or knowledge based – knowledge can be used to positively influence behavior.

 

  • There many people out there that are perfectly able to motivate themselves to engage in advantageous behaviors so long as they are informed as to which behaviors are advantageous and why.

 

  • This means that some people will do it if you give them a good reason to.

 

Here is what some of the research has said about human sexuality and wellness. (Note: that there is such thing as too much sex – most research seems to suggest that 2- 4 times a week is ideal for most people… of course this will vary from couple to couple.)

  • A healthy sex life has been show to increase immunity to disease in humans (humans that have sex 2-3 times a week have greater immunity than those who are not having sex). Researchers found that you produce more immunoglobin which combats flus and colds.

 

  • Use foreplay to increase desire and avoid letting desire alone dictate when you initiate foreplay. It is very common to not “feel” like having sex. If you have good communication around your foreplay needs you can use foreplay to increase the desire for sex.

  

  • Foreplay means something different for everyone; it could be kissing, a romantic dinner, engaging in a shared hobby, genital stimulation, provocative language, cuddling, emotionally supportive communication etc.

 

  • Healthy sex has a dramatic effect on promoting a positive mood. When you have sex you release the “feel good” chemicals in your brain.

  

  • A healthy sex life greatly reduces feelings of stress and anxiety.

 

  • Sex makes you feel more bonded and/or attached to your partner… sex increases your feeling of love and intimacy. Sex in a committed relationship causes your body to release Oxytocin – which gives you those love sensations.

 

  • Sexual frequency is directly related to male marital satisfaction (and therefore indirectly related to female marital satisfaction in a heterosexual relationship as your marital satisfaction is related to the marital satisfaction of your partner.)

 

  • Some spiritual teachers have commented on how sex is the only time that some people have the opportunity to live 100% in the moment without being distracted by their regular ruminating thought patterns.

 

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    • some teachers go so far as to say that sex is the only time that some people experience spirituality (many people cognitively access concepts concerning spirituality, such as engaging in theological investigation… many people never actually experience the spirituality that they might have a dedicated knowledge of…. you can read every book in the world about forgiveness and compassion without ever experiencing them.)

 

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    • Sex can be a place to access individual spirituality, deep spiritual connection to another, and an egoless state (selfless and non-judgmental presence in the moment). 

 

  • A healthy sex life is crucial for the proper function of the human reproductive organs.

 

  • A healthy sexual relationship promotes a continued healthy sexual relationship… healthy sex = less stress = more healthy sex = more stress reduction etc… this is a positive feedback loop.

 

Here are some practical behaviors and ideas that will increase the likely hood of sexuality in your relationship.

 

  • Exercise regularly and eat healthy foods.

 

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    • Exercise is the absolute best way to reduce the presence of cortisol in your brain; you need some cortisol, but too much cortisol plays a huge part in maintaining your stress cycle (people in a stress cycle have consistent feeling of anxiety and/or hyper vigilance (always looking for potential problems or dangers); people often feel like they are hopelessly trapped – exercise can break the cycle).

 

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    • Exercise reduces stress and anxiety and increases your libido.

 

  •  
    • Eating too much high calorie food will make you lethargic and unmotivated to engage in most any activity… sex included. This makes sense – your body switches from “activity mode” to “digestive mode” – if you eat too much you will be in “digestive mode” for longer.

 

  • Make an effort to manage your ruminating or your “over thinking”. It is extraordinarily hard to be successful in the US without developing an overly active mind… It is extraordinarily difficult to live a healthy stress free life (if not near impossible) with an overly active mind.

 

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    • Set appropriate boundaries for yourself… now your limits and do your best to stay within those limits (turn your work phone off at home, don’t volunteer for extra tasks if your are already overworked, be clear with your boundaries so as to not allow friends, family or co-workers to take advantage of you, make time for yourself etc.)

 

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    • Value your leisure time as being just as important as your work time. (If you have trouble doing this consider the research which states that your effectiveness at work is directly related to your ability to take needed breaks and to avoid overworking.
      • The US work force is overworked… I find it frustrating that the research has clearly shown that we would be more effective if we worked less hours… in short our work model is somewhat insane.

 

  • Be emotionally available to your partner so that you can meet the needs of your partner…

 

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    • Generally both men and women need emotional support (empathetic listening, a hug, understanding, compassion etc) far more often than they need you to fix something. Learn to empathetically listen and you will increase the bonding and trust in your relationships while decreasing the feelings of stress that your partner carries….
      • Supportive Listening should be your default… if it is unclear what your partner needs you should ask, “do you need me to listen or do you want me to take action?”

 

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    • If your partner is less stressed and feels more secure you are more likely to engage in sex, which can further increase security and further decrease stress.

 

  • Engage in behaviors that you know will greatly reduce the stress and anxiety of your partner.

 

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    • What does your spouse need so that they can feel like they can relax? Figure it out and do it.
      • People have a tendency to label their partners as being neurotic… How does your label help your sex life?
      • Yes, most of us have our neurosis and it can be great to get some help for that…but…
        • If you want to have more sex I would suggest doing some of the little things that most positively impact the anxiety of your partner (if they need the kitchen clean – clean it, if they need the drapes closed – close um’, if they need the kids lunches packed before 5 pm – pack um’, if they need printed direction for the road trip next month – print them, if they need the gas tank always full – fill it up etc).

 

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    • John Gottman (a famous couples researcher) found that male sexual satisfaction was directly tied to the amount of house work that the male completed
      • If your spouse is doing all the housework then your spouse is probably pretty stressed. (Gottman also suggested that when men believe they are doing 100% of the housework they are typically doing around 50%)

 

Most people are distracted by things that are not present in the moment… this means that most people are distracted from having sex because they lack the ability to focus their attention on right now.

 

You can train your mind just like you can train your bicep… and just like training your bicep you must practice with regularity and continuity.

 

If you want to increase your sex life it is best that you make your self available for the moments that sex becomes relevant… practice mindfulness.

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

‘The Good Enough Sex Model’ (Metz and MaCarthy 2007) – a review and summary

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Quick summary: I am offering a review of – Michael E. Metz; Barry W. McCarthy. The “Good-Enough Sex” model for couple sexual satisfaction. Sexual and Relationship Therapy; August 2007; Volume 22 No. 3 Pages 351 – 362 – this is by far my favorite article of the subject of human sexuality… I am very thankful to the authors for putting this wonderful piece together. I use the information from this article all the time with my clients… If you want to help your self or your clients to have more sexual satisfaction within a relationship I would highly recommend you attain this article.

the Good enough sex model can be found on Dr. Metz’s website at http://www.michaelmetzphd.com/ – you will also find other information and publications.

This is an exceptional article which gives a very clear and organized presentation of a multi dimensional sex therapy treatment called the Good Enough Sex Model. The model suggests that sex therapist have historically looked at sexual dysfunction from a limited perspective (just medical or just psychoanalytic etc). This Model proposes that psycho biosocial approach be utilized. The model uses “cognitive, behavioral, emotional, and relation factors to promote cohesion, cooperation, and intimacy” (Metz and MaCarthy 2007). The model helps people to lessen focus on performance while increasing awareness of pleasure, happiness, and emotional intimacy.

Cognitive approaches are used to aid individuals in developing a commitment to sexual health, a responsibility for growth, a willingness for behavioral suggestions, and to promote realistic expectations about sex (Metz and MaCarthy 2007).

Emotional approaches involve accepting and expressing honest feeling about sex and body image (Metz and MaCarthy 2007).  .

Behavioral interventions are used to teach physical relaxation (which is believed to be of paramount importance), sensual self-entrancement and arousal (Metz and MaCarthy 2007). 

Relational methods are used to increase cooperation, emotional empathy and to allow open dialog about couples’ issues such as forgiving each other for past sexual disappointment (Metz and MaCarthy 2007).

The model then lists twelve essential principles of the Good Enough Sex Model. I will give you a summary of the author’s basic idea’s… again, the author came up with all this useful information.

  • Sex is a positive part of life which can benefit things like intimacy, self-confidence, and trust etc.

 

  • Relationships satisfaction and sexual satisfaction are very related… in this way a couple can work together to increase satisfaction.

 

  • Realistic expectations about sex greatly helps sexual satisfaction – this is a huge part of the article. The authors try and normalize the truth that sex is good sometimes, not good sometimes and great sometimes.

 

  • Healthy behaviors that encourage good physical health are of paramount importance for good sexual health.

 

  • Relaxation and the ability to self-sooth (anxiety) or to calm your physiology is very helpful in relation to both pleasure (reaching orgasm) and function (ED, longevity)

 

  • Focusing on and valuing flexibility in relation to sexual experiences is a great way to avoid sexual dysfunction –The authors suggest that you focus on the positive sexual experiences while accepting that the less than positive experiences are perfectly normal. The authors suggest ways of removing performance pressure, fears of failure, and worries about rejection.

 

  • The Authors suggest that couples talk openly about all the different purposes of sex (romance, emotional intimacy, play etc). Couples can benefit from using sex for multiple purposes (if sex is purely for romance in your relationship they might suggest adding play or emotional intimacy).

 

  • The article then talks about arousal and how there are different ways of creating arousal.

 

  • Any differences that arise from culture, gender, etc are given respect.

 

  • The authors suggest that sex be looked at developmentally… is grows and changes as life grows and changes… these changes can be celebrated.

 

  • Sexuality can be personalized… the authors suggest that you allow yourself to hold acceptance for the meaning that you place on the experience.

 

Michael E. Metz; Barry W. McCarthy. The “Good-Enough Sex” model for couple sexual satisfaction. Sexual and Relationship Therapy; August 2007; Volume 22 No. 3 Pages 351 – 362

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.