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.

Why Feeling Questions? – Emotional Expression Enhances Bonding

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Quick summary: Exciting new research done by therapists such as Dr. Sue Johnson (the pioneer of emotionally focused therapy) have added efficacy to therapeutic interventions which help clients to express emotions. By sharing your most intimate feelings to your partner you can increase the overall intimacy and relational strength of your union. This makes common sense if you think about it – when you decide to trust someone and to confide in him or her – most believe that this makes you closer or more bonded to that person.

Couples therapy can offer a safe place for partners to finally release the emotions that they have been holding; the therapist is available to help the couples to sit with and to support the expressed feelings. – In this way there does not need to be anything ‘wrong’ in the relationship for people to seek couples counseling; If a person chooses to heal with their partner present they will gain in two ways – they will overcome their difficulty and they will strengthen their relationship.

Need the scientific answer? – new research is finding that emotional intimacy (which can be arrived at by sharing emotions with your partner) can increase Oxytocin levels – (there is too much information about this for this blog) – in short Oxytocin is the hormone/neurotransmitter that is released during birth which elicits the love and bonding feelings. Oxytocin is also thought to be responsible for that “crazy – can’t sleep at night – miss the partner after minutes” type of love found typical in the beginning of relationships – this, by the way, goes away naturally (the ‘honeymoon period’ in biologically substantiated – so if after between six months to a year and a half do not fret when your love changes in feeling). So in short, there is a biological explanation for why sharing emotions increases bonding.

The “how do you feel” question has long been the punch line for satires about therapists… In reality some therapists are very interested about the client’s feelings, but they are significantly more tactful in their questions than Hollywood typically portrays.

The goal is for the clients to feel the emotions (both for themselves and empathetically for their partner), the reason that therapists get the reputation for asking lots of feeling questions is that it is very common for people to ‘tell’ about their emotions without allowing themselves to experience the emotions.  Most people have probably witnessed what I am talking about (as we all do it) – we watch people talk in a ‘matter of fact’ way about something incredibly emotional… it is not that these people are cold – they have just learned throughout life that restraining emotions in adaptive. For example -after a job I had in which I had to display and extremely high degree of emotional control I had to re-teach myself to cry… there was nothing to cognitively fix… I just needed the comfort of my wife’s presence and the freedom and safety of our bond to express myself.

Telling about your emotions instead of allowing yourself to feel your emotions has become very important in today’s professional cultures. There are unwritten rules at work which state that you are to restrain from expressing emotions fully (both laughing hysterically and crying tearfully tend to be looked down upon.)

Restraining emotions is also an adaptive way of ‘getting on with life.’ For many it would be hard to function if they were not avoiding, denying, or rationalizing etc. their emotions.

We all do it (or most at least) and I can only begin to tell you how good it feels to have your partner hear and care for the emotions that you express. A therapist can be very helpful as we have a tendency (men and women) to try and ‘fix’ our partner’s ‘problem’.

Emotions can get really bottlenecked… which often leads to stress, anxiety, and irritability.  Sometimes acknowledging an emotion to your partner is the best way to unburden yourself while reaping the benefits of increasing your intimacy. Again, a therapist can help to ensure that your partner does not “pick up” the emotional weight that you are sharing – supporting an emotional does not need to involve taking the emotion.

We can all struggle with blaming, defensiveness, avoidance and denial – so sometimes it is best to let a therapist help you on this journey.

In closing, I had a teacher who used the word dignity in relation to how to empathize with a person expressing emotions that you are supporting.

Allow your partner the dignity to carry his/her own emotions – your partner’s emotions are not for you to carry, but for you to support with your love, hope, compassion and trust.

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