So, first things first, why expand “the talk” to your child beyond giving them a book, showing them a video, or describing anatomy without further explanation? As a sex therapist, the majority of my clients come in feeling embarrassed to talk about sex or have a lot of misconceptions about it as adults because no one ever talked to them about it. Many people were raised with the underlying message that sex is awkward, taboo, or shameful to talk about – some were fortunate enough to have parents that were a bit more open to talking about it, but may still have only learned about anatomy, and not much else otherwise.
By closing off our kids from talking about sex, we’re modeling the notion that there’s something inherently wrong with sex – that it needs to be hidden and can only be discussed with our partner. The problem with this is that as adults, most people have no one to turn to when they’re experiencing sexual difficulties. Forget about talking to a friend, co-worker, spiritual leader, etc. – most people just avoid the topic. And if the doctor doesn’t bring it up (which they probably won’t since they too feel awkward talking about sex), who can one turn to for guidance and advice? Porn? The industry that takes sex and scripts and edits it to look more like a movie than real life? I don’t think so. While porn might teach a technique or two, it doesn’t address issues such as pain, dysfunction, lack of desire, etc. Therefore, by setting a new trend and talking to your child about sex, you’re setting them and society up for better sex education and therefore better sexual health.
So, when is the best time to start talking to your child about sex? The reality is, as early as possible, so that it never becomes a taboo topic in your home. Teach your child from an early age to label their anatomy properly. Teach girls the difference between vulva and vagina and let boys know about their penis and how sometimes it might grow, and that’s normal! Also, teach your children from an early age about consent. Rather than forcing hugs, kisses, or tickles, ask them if it’s okay to give them a hug, or ask them if they’d like to give Grandma a kiss. Teaching them from an early age that it’s okay to say “no” will help give them a voice early on to advocate for their own rights when it comes to their bodies. This is important not only for lessening any potential shame around sex and our bodies, but it’s also very important in the court of law. There have been cases where a perpetrator did not receive a full conviction because the child didn’t know how to describe the assault that happened to them, since they didn’t know how to properly label their body parts. And while this is an extreme example, it highlights the importance of teaching children proper anatomy and consent.
As children get older, continue to have the conversation about sex. Answer questions honestly and make yourself available as someone to talk to. If you catch your child self-pleasuring, rather than yelling, smacking hands, shaming, etc., provide a gentle tone and have a discussion with them in private and set the standard that you and your household value. If your values indicate that self-pleasure is not okay, calmly explain to your child why without including shame messages. If your values align more with self-pleasure being acceptable, try explaining to your child that it’s fine for them to do it, but in the privacy of their own room, etc. It’s natural for children to explore their bodies, including their genitals as they age. It’s very likely that at a young age, they will discover masturbation and experiment with it. However, by addressing it in a way that reduces shame through a gentle tone and explanation (rather than just telling them “no” or “don’t do that in public!” ), they are much more likely to be open to coming to you when sexual issues arise. In addition, shame around their body and their natural desires will be much lower.
Into adolescent and teen years, continue having the conversation. Explain to them about puberty changes so it doesn’t come as a shock when their bodies begin to change. You can give them a “welcome to puberty” package (razor, shaving cream, deodorant, tampons, pads, etc.) and let them know they can come to you with any questions they have about these changes. Make sure you explain to your kids not only the physical repercussions of sex (some potential side effects such as pregnancy, STIs, potential physical enjoyment, etc.) but also the emotional side effects (potential feelings of joy, connectedness, sadness, shame, etc. depending on the outcome of their experience) and again, that they can come to you to process any of these feelings/outcomes. Check and see if your child has a mentor with whom they’re comfortable talking about sex in case they still feel awkward talking about it with you.
While there is plenty of other information to be considered regarding the sex talk, the biggest highlights are these:
By being open with your kids about sex and their bodies, the hope is that in the future they will experience less shame and be more empowered with making their own decisions regarding their choices. No matter what phase of life they are in right now, it’s never too late to have the talk. You’ve got this!
There is a very familiar rhythm that most couples who have been in a relationship for a while tend to notice. When the honeymoon phase slowly dies away, people begin to get into rhythms of life: wake up, go to work, come home, rest, sleep, repeat. And with kids, this can become even more complicated! Date nights quickly fade and get replaced with evenings of catching up on chores or work. Sex becomes compromised for television or sleep, because the physical exertion and the thought of seducing our partner just seems like too much work when you could just snuggle instead. So how do you fan the flame and rekindle some of that old passion that was present when you first got married?
There are two bodies of thought regarding this matter (and probably a few others too!). One comes from Esther Perel, sex and relationship therapist, who discusses the importance of mystery in a relationship in order to continue to feel passion. She discussed in TedTalks and books how as people, we desire familiarity and trust in relationships, but we also desire mystery and the chase. This can be especially prevalent for couples who spend all of their time together. You drive to work together, go to the store together, hang out with friends together, watch the same shows together, etc. and have probably run out of things to talk about. It’s likely you’ve lost a sense of your individual identity and have morphed into the identity you have as a couple. To resolve this, start doing a few things on your own. Call up some old friends and have a girls’/guys’ night out (take turns watching the kids to permit this if you can’t find a sitter), pick a hobby that’s your own, read a book or listen to an audiobook in a genre that you particularly enjoy. Take some time to find things that you love. The saying “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is true. A little time apart and some individual development is great for having stories to come back and share with one another.
The other line of thinking is to work on the development of friendship, which Dr.’s John and Julie Gottman discuss in their trainings. Oftentimes, people get caught in a habitual rut with their partner in which they spend time talking about chores and household tasks that need to get accomplished (are the bills paid, who’s taking the kids to soccer this week, etc.) that they’ve stopped connecting on a deeper emotional level. This can be true for couples in the aforementioned situations, or for those who spend too much time apart. You start becoming roommates and realize that your friends are more fun to hang out with than your spouse, who’s constantly reminding you of all the tasks you need to complete. How do you remedy this? Schedule more intentional time together. Set a weekly date night. Have a “State of the Union” conversation on a weekly basis to address what’s going well in the relationship and areas of growth. Pinterest “questions to ask other than ‘how was your day?’” if you’re struggling to think of topics to ask your partner. Be intentional about connecting with one another.
Both of these schools of thought are relevant and the approach you take really depends on your situation with your partner and what aligns most with you. Something that pretty much all of my couples find useful is The Five Love Languages book, by Gary Chapman. Typically, we love people the way that we enjoy receiving love, rather than loving others the way that they enjoy receiving love. To better understand this, check out the book, or just take their free quiz online!
Lastly, for sexual connection, once the emotional connection starts to get reignited, this tends to follow; however, it’s not always the case. Most couples don’t talk much about sex – so start by having an actual conversation about it. Discuss what turns you on and what turns you off. Discuss what situations open you up more for sex than others (is it a certain setting, such as candles and dark lighting? Or is it that the house is clean and the tasks for the day are able to be put away? Maybe a mixture of both!) Talk about what fantasies you have and how you’d like to utilize them in your time together. Practice giving each other a sensual massage. All sorts of options are out there, but often, couples aren’t having the conversation about sex, so they’re missing a beautiful connection that could occur.
Rekindling a relationship isn’t always easy. If you’re finding you’re having difficulty in this area and can’t seem to make it on your own, reach out to a couple’s therapist or relationship coach. They’re trained with tools and skills to help mediate the process and might have some new insights you hadn’t previously considered!
We’ve all seen it in the movies: a couple is overcome with passion, dives into one another’s arms, and engages in the best sex of their lives with both people deeply satisfied by the experience. Sometimes we even hear from our friends how amazing sex is. So why is that for some people (especially women), sex doesn’t always seem all that it’s cracked up to be? In fact, it actually hurts.
Let me start by saying that sex should never be painful (unless you consensually desire it to be). If it’s painful and you continue with it anyway, you are likely causing damage to the delicate tissues of your vaginal walls. Therefore, it is important to understand the root of the pain and eliminate it before continuing to engage in any sort of penetrative act. There are several different reasons that pain may be occurring, which I’ll address.
One reason that sex may be painful is because you’re simply not lubricated enough (naturally or otherwise). Sometimes when the vagina is too dry, the friction between the vagina and the penis, fingers, vibrator, etc. can create pain. One solution, if your body isn’t naturally wet enough in the moment, is to grab some lube and apply liberally. This should help ease the pain. For some women, especially those who are post-menopause, lubrication alone isn’t enough. There can be some hormonal shifts that occur (which could also be caused by birth control) that create dryness that lube alone cannot fix. If this is the case, consult your gynecologist and he/she can present you with different options that can address this.
Another reason that sex can be painful is due to a condition called dyspareunia, which can sometimes be an umbrella term for other issues such as vaginismus. When a woman has dyspareunia, the walls of the vagina tighten up or spasm and may even completely close the opening so that penetration is very difficult if not impossible and is incredibly painful (sometimes to the point that even tampon insertion is painful). This can be caused by a variety of issues ranging from sexual trauma, a sports injury, a urinary tract infection, etc. There is absolutely treatment for this; however, it does range widely, based on the origin of the injury. Therefore, it would be pertinent to consult a medical professional to determine the best course of treatment. Some options might include therapy to process through the sexual trauma and learn about relaxation techniques, physical therapy to strengthen your pelvic floor, the use of dilators to relax the muscles of the vagina, and more.
Speaking of physical therapy, another reason sex may be painful is because the muscles of the pelvic floor are weak. The pelvic floor plays a major role in sexual pleasure and by toning and strengthening those muscles, sex can not only begin to feel good, but it can also increase the pleasure even more than normal. There are different ways to strengthen the pelvic floor, again, based on the severity of the problem, which can range from yoga, specific pelvic floor exercises prescribed by a physical therapist, kegel exercises, and more.
Even positioning at times can create pain. For some women, if the penis, fingers, vibrators, etc. are touching the cervix, it can really hurt! Sometimes altering the position or the depth can help alleviate pain as well.
All in all, sex should never be painful. If it is, consult your gynecologist to try to get to the root of the problem so that you can resolve it! If left untreated, the problem can exacerbate and be even more difficult to treat. Instead, once you notice the pain, talk to your partner about alternatives that aren’t painful (engage in sex that is non-penetrative to the vagina) so that you can continue to engage in intimate connection while you work on healing your body. You can also consult a sex coach or therapist if you feel that the issue is more mental than it is physical (though they’ll likely suggest you visit a gynecologist to rule out the potential for any medical underlying causes). Remember, trust yourself and your body. It’ll tell you when something is off!
If you would like a space to be open and vulnerable and would like to schedule an appointment with Julie, please call our office at 513-939-0300
What is sex therapy?
A variety of ideas can come to mind when someone first hears the words, “sex therapy.”
Most people tend to either tighten up and feel uncomfortable or blossom with curiosity about the “freaky/kinky/weird” clients that I might see. And while I fully understand both responses and they are completely normal, it seems that once people truly understand what sex therapy is, they tend to soften and gain a different perspective on the overall experience.
The first thing I tell most of my clients to not only lighten the mood, but also to debunk one of the bigger myths about sex therapy is that everyone is going to keep their clothes on and
we’ll be staying on our respective sides of the room. Sex therapy is not sex surrogacy (which is
legal only in certain states in the U.S.). Instead, sex therapy is the opportunity to verbally process with a specialist the sexual difficulties you (and potentially your partner) are experiencing. It’s the opportunity to take a more in-depth approach to exploring the beliefs that culture, family, friends, church, schools, etc. have told you about sex, relationships, and intimacy, and determine how those beliefs have influenced your life to lead you where you are today (which is my therapy office). It’s an opportunity to grieve the way you may feel that your body has betrayed you (whether it’s because you feel like a freak for desiring a certain person/act, etc., because your body isn’t responding the way you’d like for it to (or because it’s responding in ways you don’t want it to), because hormones and medicine have changed your desire or response, and more. It’s a space to ask all the questions you were afraid to ask because it’s been taboo all of your life to talk about sex. It’s a space to be open and vulnerable about a topic that causes a lot of doubt, fear, discomfort, blissful joy, curiosity, tantalizing excitement, and more.
So, while some people might believe that sex therapy is only for those who are into kinky
sex or have terrible sex life, it can actually be for a wide variety of topics. I see couples and
individuals for concerns such as painful sex, low libido, sexual trauma, erectile dysfunction,
vaginismus, compulsive sexual behaviors, infidelity, questioning identity, education about sex in
general, feeling something is wrong with them because they want sex too much or too little or
feel they have strange desires/fantasies, and more.
If you come in for any of these issues (or something not listed), what can you expect from
a typical session? You can expect that for the initial session, I will take some time to get to know
who you are and what you’re coming into therapy for. We’ll just get to know one another and
determine if we are a good fit (can I help you with what you’re bringing in). You can then expect
that for the second session, we’ll review an assessment that you complete, outlining your sexual history, so we can get a full picture of how your past experiences and the beliefs you’ve been given about sex have influenced your life such that you’re now seeking help. For our third
session, we will carve out goals so that we’re on the same page regarding the work you want to do and what you’d like to accomplish in our time together. After that, you can expect that I will check in on your goals from the past week. We’ll process whatever new developments have
taken place (whether we’re celebrating a win or collaborating on how to adjust our work when
something didn’t quite pan out the way we expected it to) and begin to implement different
interventions that, based on my education and the research provided in the field, seem to be the
best fit for you. Once we feel that you have met your goals and you have no further concerns,
you are on your merry way and may just come in every once and a while for maintenance.
As you can see, sex therapy isn’t cringe worthy or altogether full of wild stories. It’s more about tapping into a part of you or your relationship that our society has difficulty processing together. It’s an opportunity to have a safe space to be fully who you are without judgement, so that you can have the most fulfilling sex and intimacy in your life that you desire.
If you would like a space to be open and vulnerable and would like to schedule an appointment with Julie, please call our office at 513-939-0300