Do You Tell Your Kids the Truth?

Photo by SalFalko on Flikr

Photo by SalFalko on Flikr

I grew up in a household where both my parents did anger in big and expressive ways.  As luck would have it, I was an introverted, happy-go-lucky, but sensitive kid.  This combo meant I learned very quickly to watch and read the emotional climate of my parents – and if the boilers were high, stay out of the way. Unfortunately this also meant I learned it was often unsafe or inconvenient for me to have feelings, or at least to express them.  I could not be sure there would be someone to listen or understand.  If one of my parents was caught in their whirlwind, my emotion would be dismissed or I would be needed to calm the storm.

Since I was often frightened by the strength of their anger, either at me or each other, I also decided I had better not do anger, for fear my anger might hurt, as theirs did.  This led to years and years of stuffing my feelings and focusing almost entirely on the emotional climate of others.  This deficit in knowing my own feelings, how to manage and express them, and much about what drew me to others, shaped my choices in partners, friends, even my career. My twenties and thirties were spent in therapy and grad-school unpacking these influences and reclaiming the wisdom of my feelings and the ‘me’ inside them.

I tell this story because I believe we do the same thing in the Christian church with sexual desire and sexual want.  We frighten children from the time they are young right through their adolescents.  We ignore the fact they will feel it.  We fail to teach them about sexual desire, about the larger purposes it, or how to be honoring with all their sexuality – as they grow up. We fail to have the nuanced conversations about the role of self-control and surrender, of intimacy in all her colors – emotional, spiritual, intellectual, physical and sexual.  We fail to help them understand the ways the world deals with sexual desire and sexual want, how that is contrasted with what God’s potential, purpose and hopes might be for us, and under what conditions God’s potential is most likely to be experienced. We fail to make this an ongoing integrated conversation along with all the other important conversations we have along the way.

Instead we tell kids about the power of sexual desire in such a way that it frightens them. We tell them to stay away from it, to stop it, to run from it. We tell them that to act on it is to somehow risk ruining their future. We begin when they are five or six telling them to ‘watch-out’, and continue with scaring them with sexual information like this which offers at a click of a button, videos that scare them half to death!  But of course, it does not stop them from feeling, it just helps them send their feelings underground where they can become ignorant of the feeling or how the feeling is shaping their life or their decisions.  It delays their access to their wisdom or to the integration of the feeling of sexual desire with their values and their faith.  It also interrupts their ability to see their parents as a resource to them as they are figuring it all out.  This learning delay can (and does) have a much more negative result – and negates their parents as a resource!

I realize that what I am proposing, requires that parents become more comfortable with this subject and with the reality of how kids (humans) learn to manage sexual desire.  All of us learn the delicate balance of self-control and emotional surrender as we mature. And most adolescents and young adults are low on self-control.  God actually made the pre-frontal cortex of our brains, where we have the highest access to executive decision making, to not be completely formed until 25-28 years old. We are made to learn through trial and error.  What we know from research, is that kids who have parents who talk (and listen) about sexuality, help them understand their developing sexual bodies, the sexually complex world around them, and who remain a safe place for them to ask questions and bring their mistakes, actually make less mistakes, have less regrets and make better decisions.  They choose better partners and delay sexual involvement. And, my favorite research statistic, they describe themselves as closer to their parents overall!  I love that! 

The blessing of my family growing up, is that while my parents were explosive, they were comfortable talking about sex and sexuality.  To this day, I am eternally grateful to them for that. For all their foibles and imperfections, that one gift, made raising my kids so much easier!!  We did open communication about sex and faith integration, and IT WORKED!!

Posted in God, parenting, Relationships, Sex, Sex Ed, Sex, God, and The Church, sexual health, sexuality, spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

To All the Waiting, Struggling, Ashamed Virgins …

iStock_000004033416Large

I have had the privilege over the last two weeks to read the dissertation of a brilliant woman who has been studying how adult conservative Christians in Northern Ireland manage their sexuality and intimate relationships prior to marriage. I will leave later next week to go over and be the external examiner as she defends her research.

There are stunning similarities between how Christian’s are taught (or not taught) to understand and cope with sexuality here in America  …

1. Adults are marrying later there as well – mid to late 20’s early 30’s.

2. Just like here, they have no approved access to sex education and no safe place to go to ask questions when they have concerns about how to manage their sexual desire or sexual decisions. They believe if they were to seek out information or ask questions they would be judged as not faithful, Godly, serious about their faith, strong, or trusting of God. In their ignorance, women feel afraid of their wedding night, men feel entitled to sex, both are filled with misconceptions and assumptions of each other, themselves, bodies, sexuality, gender and how to pleasure each other.

3. These adults desperately try not to become sexually involved, may attempt to delay involvement once they ‘fall in love’, eventually find themselves sexually crossing ‘boundaries’, shame themselves, hide their involvement, condemn themselves and each other, and then believe that anything negative they experience (pain, low sexual desire, sexual dysfunction, abuse … even conflict in their relationship) is a byproduct of not being faithful enough. They then feel more shame and hide even further; (sound familiar??).

4.  And then, like here, when people get married, the years of saying no, of deadening desire, of shaming their body and its wants, of monitoring the passion in their partner, yields low sexual desire, obligatory sex, confusion, and still so much that is misunderstood … the assumptions never corrected.  Women are taught to put out and men are taught to take what they can get.  Neither know how to show up to each other with their heart open, body open, secure and aware of themselves first – sexually or relationally. So neither receive the love they crave.  She gives obligatory sex that is destined to kill her desire. And in receiving obligatory sex, he is destined to never receive the heart, heat and desire of her he craves. Both are left lonely and alone.

Why is it that we have turned a blind eye to the anguish felt by our young adults? They desperately want to be given REAL information, REAL guidance, REAL vision for how the sex God created and desires for us stands up against the sex the world offers … and yet we give them … DON’T and DO and NOTHING. It’s pathetic and heartbreaking.

For more on this subject here is an interview with colleague Jonalyn Fincher from Soulation (it’s more light-hearted than my little rant above …)

Here is what Jonalyn says about the interview:

In 7 minutes, Dr. Sellers covers:

  • the connection between the purity movement and sexual abuse (minute 3:48)
  • why the Christian idea of  “my body is a temple” includes your genitals (minute 1:23)
  • and how sexual stewardship before marriage plays into sexual pleasure after marriage (minute 2:58)

Pay close attention at minute 6:11 when she talks about what men want the most in bed. It’s more honest than what I’ve read in Cosmo.

Posted in God, intimacy, marriage, Relationships, Sex, Sex Ed, Sex, God, and The Church, sexual health, sexuality, spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What I Wish Everyone At 20 (& 30…) Understood About Marriage

Photo by Epsos.de flickr.com/people/epsos

Photo by Epsos.de
flickr.com/people/epsos

The goal of our life is…to bring more love and truth into the world. We marry to assist each other in this process. Leo Tolstoy

A dear friend of mine said on the eve of his oldest daughter’s thirteenth birthday, “Today is my last day to be an expert on adolescents!”  I giggled when I heard him say this thinking of the myriad of times I have had to learn this lesson.  It is so easy to think we know something before we are knee deep in the complexity of what it is REALLY LIKE!  That is certainly true of marriage.  The onlookers view of marriage and what pulls us into its gravity are only a painter’s brushstroke on the landscape of the actual nitty-gritty day to day of wedded life.  The descriptor is hardly the same as the lived heartbeat.

People get pulled into partnership through the disguise of a person they cannot live without. A person who initially reminds them in countless delicious ways of their inestimable value, talent, humor and creativity.  A person who for a time, invites only the best in them. But in time, as our uniqueness to each other gives way to familiarity and life’s demands bring forth our frustration and discouragement, we begin to reveal our cracks; our places of fear and insecurity.  This often invites us to act toward our partners in less than generous and loving ways.  If our partner is not already in their own cycle of frustration and discouragement, fear and insecurity, our new behavior toward them, usually takes them there.  Their response to us is one of defensiveness and criticism, anger and withdrawal.  We begin a cycle of relating which does not bring out the best in each other and does not give each other the benefit of the doubt.  Instead it inadvertently reinforces our insecurities and deepest fears – that we aren’t lovable or valuable after all … and our partner knows it and is on the verge of rejecting us.

So if marriage is not the stage of a never ending play of happiness and delight, what is the larger purpose in marriage?  If this pattern of challenges in relating is inevitable, how do we rise above it? Transcend it? Or are we meant for a series of short albeit intense relationships?

We know from research the yummy ‘love’ feelings and the brain chemicals that produce them last for about four years.  The “Your job is to make me happy” marriage lasts less than eight. With all of the centrifugal force pulling partnerships apart, what are we to do if we want our relationship to last a lifetime?  How do we do that? What do we need to do to cultivate a love that thrives? How do we defy the statistics?

Here are 3 tips that can help a relationship go the distance:

  1. Marriage is not about your partner making you happy

No one will make you more crazy, more frustrated, push more of your buttons or triggers than your partner … because no one will be closer to the nucleus of who you are and where you need to grow.   At the heart of what your partner will demand is usually an invitation to learn to love more fully and unselfishly.  He or she will ask you to listen better, be more emotionally engaged, understand their perspective and be more patient. All these requests are requests that ask you to love more deeply. Their behavior may require you to grow more voice or understand yourself more fully.  Their behavior may require you to understand your infinite value and believe in yourself more.  All of these things are also invitations to love more deeply.  I often think of the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.  This commandment is predicated on the fact that we love ourselves.  The degree to which we can love someone else is always limited by the degree to which we love and accept ourselves. Marriage is precisely a spiritual path because it is a path that teaches us to love ourselves and love someone else better … especially when it is most difficult to do.  When we extend grace to ourselves and seek to learn instead of condemn; when we extend grace to our partner and seek to learn instead of condemn, we learn to love.  When we extend the benefit of the doubt to ourselves as well as the benefit of the doubt to our beloved, we learn more what it means to love. This is the larger purpose in marriage – to grow us up; help us show up and shape up.  Ultimately, to teach us to love a perfectly valuable perfectly imperfect beloved other.

  1. Marriage is not about having someone who will always put you first

Here is another paradox of marriage.  When we go into marriage expecting this person to continue to make us happy by constantly affirming how awesome we are, and by channeling their life energy toward helping us achieve our goals, we spin a self-focused and self-centered dance that eventually leaves our partner feeling unseen, unloved and uncared for.  This happens slowly since initially in a relationship both people are usually singing each other’s praises so much that it gives the false impression that each CAN EXPECT THE OTHER TO STAY FOCUSED ON THEM ALWAYS.  Of course that does not happen.  Marriage and love are dances of paradox … when you put your needs and wants first and foremost, you find yourself frustrated and resentful with a partner who feels neglected and uncared for.  But when you put the other first, you are much more likely to find your needs being met.   Ironically when we put loving and affirming our partner and our relationship at the top of our list it has a way of affirming and supporting all other areas of our life.  It is as if all other areas are made stronger and put in clear view when we make this person and this relationship as loved and strong as we can.

I once challenged a client who ran a consulting business to put his partner and his marriage first for a month.  He had a habit of letting his anxiety cause him to work longer and longer hours, putting undue strain on their marriage but often without the financial result he wanted. I had him put together a grid where he tracked how he invested time with his wife based on ideas they had drafted up together – ways she especially felt his love and care.  Then a grid monitoring his consulting opportunities and jobs.  At the end of the month he learned that as he intentionally invested in his wife, his wife invested in him and his career.  She partnered much more with him around his work needs and did not see his work demands as a threat to their relationship.  He actually spent more time focused on work and had many more successes. They worked as a team, spent more quality time together, felt more connected, had more fun and he was much more successful and happy that month!

 

  1. Marriage is an advanced spiritual practice and not for the faint of heart

I once heard a quote that said, “If you want to love God don’t get married, but if you want to love like God, get married.” A person could be sitting alone on their prayer cushion studying the practices of compassion, forgiveness and loving kindness and have one experience. But I believe it is quite another to try and keep your heart open in the face of the fear of rejection, or intense conflict, disappointment or betrayal from someone who you are deeply attached to. Intimate relationships such as these are a fire, a kiln, where we are challenged to put into practice all the great spiritual teachings of surrender, compassion, forgiveness, patience and love.  There is no place to hide in the reflection of intimate partnership.  Our beloved reflects both our inner beauty and all the areas left to grow and heal.  Our partner is the one who lives with us behind closed doors and sees our darkest corners and uncleaned closets.  There is no hiding.  And if they love us well, they invite us to grow – to clean out those closets – to not settle for what can be healed, learned or strengthened.  They gently push us forward into uncharted waters where we can be more of who we were created to be.

 

The optimal marriage is when BOTH partners see their relationship as a place of intense learning, a place to practice the paradox of putting the other first, and ultimately a spiritual practice of compassion, surrender, forgiveness, patience and love.  When this happens both can walk with eyes of wonder and discovery observing what is being crafted in their hearts and lives. They can marvel at how they are becoming better lovers through this process as they see where body, mind, soul and spirit come together in the way they talk and touch and are together. They are free to see conflict as a time of growth and learning, instead of a sign of trouble or an opportunity to blame, shame or criticize.  Rather than focus on what their partner is doing wrong, they can look at themselves in conflict and examine their communication, their attitude, their approach – because conflict is THEIR opportunity for growth. There is enormous liberation when couples see marriage as a lifetime spiritual practice rather than the latest purchase guaranteed to make them finally happy.

 

 

Posted in intimacy, marriage, Relationships, Sex, sexual health, sexuality, spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Miraculous Love Drug …

Photo by Miran Rijavec

Photo by Miran Rijavec

Several months ago a friend of mine told me she had begun having terrible menstrual cramps.  I suggested next time she try masturbating to orgasm one of the days her cramps were bad.  I explained that orgasm releases a brain chemical called oxytocin which, among other things, is a natural pain killer.  I described a bit about the miracle of this chemical and all the ways it adds joy to our lives … how this was just another very cool attribute.  A few months later she called to tell me a funny story.  Her husband walked in on her that morning masturbating. Apparently that led to a curious conversation between the two of them. He was a bit confused at first. She said my advice worked and the orgasm was great too!

Today’s post is a re-post of a blog I found on Oxytocin in 2012.  It is fascinating – and shows us once again how amazing our bodies are!  Oxytocin, as you will see, is one of the important reasons why we all need to make loving touch a significant part of our every day life.  We all could use more hugging, kissing, holding, gazing, and giving and receiving love from those we care about.  Right up there with adequate sleep, eating well, and an active lifestyle is loving touch!  Each and every day!!

How are you doing making this a priority in your health care routine??

10 Reasons Why Oxytocin Is The Most Amazing Molecule In The World

Though often referred to as the “trust hormone” oxytocin is increasingly being seen as a brain chemical that does a lot more than just bring couples closer together.

New research is suggesting that oxytocin plays a crucial part in enabling us to not just forge and strengthen our social relations, but in helping us to stave off a number of psychological and physiological problems as well. But more conceptually, oxytocin is proving to be a crucial ingredient to what makes us human. Here are ten reasons why oxytocin is simply the most incredible molecule on the planet:

1. It’s easy to get

One of the neat things about oxytocin is that you can get your fix anywhere and at any time. All you need to do is simply hug someone or shake their hand. The simple act of bodily contact will cause your brain to release low levels of oxytocin — both in yourself and in the person you’re touching. It’s a near-instantaneous way to establish trust. And the good news is that the effect lingers afterward. There’s even evidence that simply gazing at someone will do the trick — or even just thinking about them. And you shouldn’t feel limited by the human species; it also helps to hug and play with your pets. And for those who can’t produce enough oxytocin on their own, or who feel they could use a boost, the molecule can be easily synthesized and administered as a drug.

2. A love potion that’s built right in

Often referred to as the “love molecule”, oxytocin is typically associated with helping couples establish a greater sense of intimacy and attachment. Oxytocin, along with dopamine and norepinephrine, are believed to be highly critical in human pair-bonding. But not only that, it also increases the desire for couples to gaze at one another, it creates sexual arousal, and it helps males maintain their erections. When you’re sexually aroused or excited, oxytocin levels increase in your brain significantly — a primary factor for bringing about an orgasm. And during the orgasm itself, the brain is flooded with oxytocin — a possible explanation for why (some) couples like to cuddle after.

3. It helps mom to be mom

But oxytocin isn’t just limited to helping couples come together — it’s an indispensable part of childbirth and mother-child bonding. Oxytocin helps women get through labour by stimulating uterine contractions, which is why it’s sometimes administered (as Pitocin) during labor. It’s been known to promote delivery and speed up contractions. After birth, mothers can establish intimacy and trust with their baby through gentle touches and even a loving gaze. In addition, mothers can pass on oxytocin to their babies through breast milk. And it’s worth noting that fathers can reap the benefits of oxytocin as well; new dads who are given a whiff of oxytocin nasal spray are more likely to encourage their children to explore during playtime and are less likely to be hostile.

4. Reduces social fears

Given its ability to break-down social barriers, induce feelings of optimism, increase self-esteem, and build trust, oxytocin is increasingly being seen as something that can help people overcome their social inhibitions and fears. Studies are showing that it may be effective in treating debilitating shyness, or to help people with social anxieties and mood disorders. It’s also thought that oxytocin could help people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. In addition, given that autism is essentially a social communication disorder, it’s being considered as a way of helping people on the spectrum as well. And lastly, oxytocin, through its trust-building actions, can help heal the wounds of a damaged relationship — another example of how the mind gets its plasticity.

5. Healing and pain relief

Amazingly, oxytocin can also be used to heal wounds (through its anti-inflammatory properties). Studies have also shown that a rise in oxytocin levels can relieve pain — everything from headaches, cramps and overall body aches. Now, that being said, the trick is to get some oxytocin action while you’re in pain — which is not so easy. This is where synthetics can certainly help. Alternately, if you find yourself in physical discomfort, you could always ask your partner for a roll in the hay. So guys, be sure to use this crucial information the next time your significant other declines your advances and tells you she has a headache.

6. A diet aid

Perhaps surprisingly, it can also be used to prevent obesity in some instances. Researchers have observed that oxytocin and oxytocin receptor-deficient mice become obese later in life — and with normal food intake. Scientists believe that the hormone might be responsible for a series of beneficial metabolic effects, both in mice and humans. Moreover, by giving oxytocin-deficient obese mice oxytocin infusions, their weight returned back to normal levels. The mice also showed a reduced glucose intolerance and insulin resistance. This clearly suggests an alternative option for those struggling to keep the weight off.

7. An antidepressant

Oxytocin was first observed to have a connection to depression through its effects on mothers suffering from postpartum syndrome. Researchers found that some new mothers were dealing with depression on account of low levels of oxytocin. In fact, they were able to predict postpartum during the pregnancy if the expectant mother had low levels of oxytocin. Recent studies of blood levels and genetic factors in depressed patients have revealed the potential for treating people with clinical depression, and even anxiety disorders.

8. Stress relief

Not surprisingly, given its ability to alleviate social anxiety and produce feelings of trust, oxytocin has the peripheral ability to reduce stress — which is no small thing when you consider the toll that stress takes on the body. Oxytocin has been observed to reduce cortisol in the body and lower blood pressure. It’s also been known to improve digestion, which is often disturbed by high stress levels. Interestingly, oxytocin and the oxytocin receptors have been found in the intestinal tract; it improves gut motility and decreases intestinal inflammation.

9. Increases generosity

In what could be seen as either a good or bad thing, oxytocin has been observed to increase generosity in humans. Evolutionary biologists, particularly those who subscribe to the selfish gene theory, have long struggled to understand why people sometimes share or give away things — often at a personal cost. But several lines of research have connected oxytocin to feelings of empathy. In one study that required persons to share money with a stranger, infusions of oxytocin were shown to make some subjects as much as 80% (wow!) more generous than those on a placebo.

10. It’s what makes us human

In other words, all the above. It’s clear that we really wouldn’t be human without it — we would simply lack the ability to be the social, caring species that we are. Now, it should be noted, however, that, while oxytocin increases in-group trust, it produces the opposite feeling for those in the out-group — so it’s not the “perfect drug” some might proclaim it to be. That being said, oxytocin plays a crucial role in forging our ability to spark and maintain relationships, while endowing us with the ability to empathize, trust, and even love one another. Without it, we would be something significantly less than what we are.

Posted in intimacy, marriage, parenting, Relationships, Sex, Sex Ed, sexual health, sexuality | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Letter to my Son on the Eve of His Wedding

CD Em champagne.compressed

Ever wonder what a marriage, family, sex and intimacy therapist might say to one of her children as they were about to get married? Let me give you just a little peek …

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I recently had an extraordinary experience … a profound rush of feeling I could not explain.  I was in the foreign territory of my first child getting married … (think groping in a dark room). I have long said, your oldest takes you to places never before traveled on the parenting journey … and once again, there I was, completely caught off guard by the strength of my emotion. This took the stretching pain to a whole new level. Six years ago he left to travel the world with his playmate … on this day he was going to marry her. Their relationship had been refined through years of travel, ups and downs, excitement and hardship, feast and famine … they were perfect for each other.  I was beyond grateful.

 

Uluwatu, Bali

Uluwatu, Bali

After my children’s well-being, there was nothing I wanted more than for them to find a loving partner (should they choose to partner). My parenting centered on helping them develop the relationship skills of intimacy – good communication, emotional intelligence, good self-esteem, conflict management, sexual intelligence, integrity, a loving heart and the ability to discern quality friends.  He was so much more relationally mature than I was at 28 … by a long shot!!  So here is what I said about the journey of marriage and my hopes for he and his beloved:

Engagement - Alpine Meadows, Tahoe

Engagement – Alpine Meadows, Tahoe

My beautiful grown man, son –
You will wed today your extraordinary beloved, and promise to be at her side, and she by yours through whatever life may bring. This is a key moment. You are making one of the most important and life altering decisions of your life. It feels like a passage for me as well – tho I am not quite sure how to name it. I just know that I feel it in my bones and my body weeps. I only know it is big … and how proud I am of you … and how much I love you … and how blessed I am by who you have become … and how honored I have been to be your mom. That is all I know as these tears cascade unending.

And the snot … unending.

To love with your whole heart, with every fiber of your being is such a powerful thing … and such a risky thing. You give it all to each other trusting the other will care for the heart they now hold as their own. I am so grateful that you love deeply and well, and that you have chosen someone who also loves deeply and well. It is only this kind of person who you can trust to hold the weight of your heart and trust them to care for it as you care for theirs. Marriage is choosing well, then making that choice work, every day. And in this process of making it work, you learn more and more what it means to really love, and a little more about the nuances of God’s relentless love for you.

Love is both a feeling and an action – a noun and a verb.

It is patient and kind, not jealous, mean, selfish or rude. It believes the best in the other, even when they are struggling to believe the best in themselves. It is living faith, living hope, living love … every day … simply because on that day, all those days, months, years ago, you chose each other to be your beloved. Living your vows, loving each other, regardless of the circumstance, makes you a better person.

And when you both do this, it makes your love, unbreakable.

I so often wish I could have given you a better example of this … Lord knows I wanted to … but life, doesn’t always unfold the way one hopes. Ultimately it will always take two to get into a relationship, two to make it work, and one to end it. But all I learned and fought to survive … and all the love I poured into our family through all our ups and downs, made me a better person … and with God’s sweet grace, made us all stronger, wiser and a deeply grateful and loving bunch. We might be a motley configuration of a family – but we are a lovely crew.

Forgiveness and grace are real entities … and miracles do happen.

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While you and your love have been building a life for over six years, you are about to embark on one of the most important adventures of the human experience. The commitment of marriage is both a clearly articulated promise and a ritual filled with mystery. You agree to walk into the forest together, willing to face whatever life brings, as a team, defending, protecting, loving, infusing hope. There will be times of darkness in this forest – blackness brought on by the density of life. There will also be darkness inside each of you which you will be invited to face. Each of these passages is another invitation to find the light within you and within your relationship to be the beacon through the darkness. Cling to each other, care for your relationship and take nothing for granted. Life and relationships are organic entities – they can be fragile and uncertain – they need intentional care.

Here are the seven things that over a hundred happy couples all had in common. I already see how you practice these things. Of all the things I see in you that make me feel like maybe I did a good job as a mom, it is seeing you demonstrate these things to and with your beloved. I am so inspired by you. But life will make these things harder and harder to do. In part because daily life can scream louder as time goes on, and the routine of life can conceal the needs of the relationship and each other. Your love, like a garden, will need seasonal care. If you ignore it, it will eventually let you know. Clean up is always worse and more painful than daily maintenance. Make tending a habit and your love will be the inspiration, confidence and security behind all your creative pursuits and life work.

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Wisdom from the happiest couples:
They believe they are beloved. Happy couples are made up of emotionally healthy and independently happy individuals. These are people who take good care of themselves and who see themselves as valuable. They understand that how they treat themselves is an extension of how they treat their partner and their relationship. They are intentional in their self-care and self-love. People who see themselves as beloved, know that others are beloved as well and thus know how to forgive and extend grace in conflict. They are self-aware enough to be assertive but emotionally stable enough to consider the opinions and feelings of the other.
They are committed. Happy couples know that beyond a shadow of a doubt their partner will stand by their side. They know that when things get really hard, especially hard, the other will be there, fighting alongside them. Fighting for the health of the relationship and fighting for the health of themselves and the other. Inside this firm alliance is the freedom to be exactly who they are – to bring all their vulnerabilities, to take off all masks, to open their hearts and be fully naked. They are safe to be seen, known, loved and accepted.
They Trust Each Other. Happy couples have earned each other’s trust through countless interactions. They don’t worry the other person will undermine them or throw them under the bus. They have proven over and over again through their actions, not just their words, that they are their biggest fan and will come to their defense when needed. This trust is built through daily tasks agreed and done, speaking one’s truth and trusting the other to hear that truth, and living out whatever promises honor the fidelity and integrity of the relationship. Trust is built stronger through consistency and reliability. This is what builds the emotional security and ultimately the depth of intimacy experienced.
They are Intentional. Happy couples make their relationship a priority through daily loving actions. These are the couples that don’t allow ‘fly-by’ kisses or hugs, but instead will catch each other in the kitchen and hug for three minutes until they finally relax and can feel each-other’s love and beating heart. These are the couples that give at least one juicy 10 second kiss a day (unrelated to sex) and love to embarrass their kids by how they flirt. That leave their children behind to go away on a date regularly or away for a weekend. These are the couple’s that say “I love you”. They understand that their romantic connection and the fun that drew them together in the first place, can easily get overshadowed by the demands of life, and because of this, they are mindful to keep a pulse on that connection.
They Don’t Fight to Win. Happy couples understand that to fight to win or convince each other their opinion is right, is to always hurt the relationship. They realize that their relationship is an entity that can be damaged by how they manage and cope with conflict. These couples neither sweep things under the rug nor fight until there is a bloody victor. Instead they deal with conflict in a way that is mindful of the effect of their dealings on the relationship itself. They are willing at times to forgo their wants for the other to protect the relationship, knowing that when the time comes, the other will do the same.
They Seek to Understand the Point of View of the Other. Happy couples understand that sometimes in conflict the content that is being argued about is not exactly what is going on underneath. They know how to slow the conversations down and be truly curious seeking to understand what is really going on. They ask real questions to get underneath the complaint. They seek to know when and if they have hurt the other and listen reflecting back their understanding, apologizing for the hurt and reassuring their love. This is all long before explaining the circumstances of the event.
They are Kind. Happy couples are kind to one another. They don’t call each other names, they don’t tease in hurtful ways, they don’t criticize each other in front of others and they don’t cast blame. These couples are mindful that words can in fact hurt, affecting safety and trust. Therefore they manage their emotions and work very hard to think before they speak.

Family Wedding Dinner

Family Wedding Dinner

My lovely son, I am so proud you have chosen to walk this holy path of love and I am so very grateful that you were given such a perfect partner to walk this journey with. After your safety and health, who and how you would choose to love has been my most earnest prayer; so much more than what college you would go to or what profession you would choose. To be a man of emotional integrity and strength, to love well, takes more courage, self-discipline and fortitude than most other life endeavors. Generations of strong families are not built upon professional accomplishment as much as they are on the love and integrity of parents … and the child’s ability to respect and admire who their parents are in the world. You already are that man. You will be a wonderful husband as you have already been a wonderful life partner. Maybe someday you will have the scary, mysterious, powerful, amazing honor to pass that love on to your child. And the story will continue.

May God bless you and keep you – make his face to shine upon you – and give your love all it needs to nourish you both in all the days and years to come.
I love you!

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5 Secrets Every Sex Therapist Wants You to Know …

The other day one of my clients came in and said, “All these years, I’ve had it all wrong! I had no idea sex could be this good – this much fun!”  I thought to myself, “I seriously have the best job in the world!! I get paid to help people be better lovers … which in America (where porn and media are our primary sex educators), isn’t rocket science!!”

Happy woman lying among yellow wildflowers

The majority of folks who come in and see me, come for differences in their sex drives, difficulties having orgasms or ejaculating too soon.  Often they just have lots and lots of inaccurate information which we can easily clear up with going over some of the basics like, “Did you know men and women’s arousal cycles can be quite different. Let me draw you a picture.”  … and off I go drawing something out.   “Therefore men need to learn to warm up slow and learn to follow her – let me give you an example of what I mean …”   Sometimes it is looking at the larger picture of a couple’s life and seeing if sleep is being squeezed out and what affect that is having on sexual desire.  Often the combination of limited information and misinformation has amounted to a narrow understanding of what fun pleasurable sex can be.  This unfortunately leads many couples into a predictable and boring sexual routine.  I have the fun job of blowing their minds by expanding their notions of erotic pleasure and their definitions of sex.  This is where the fun begins!

Learning to adjust your definition of sex can not only lead to better sex right away, but can guarantee your sex life continue to stay fun and fresh for decades to come.  Let me give you a few ideas to help you expand your experience of love-making …

Make pleasure your number one focus – both the giving of pleasure and the receiving of pleasure.

Make sure you are both having lots of pleasure!  This is more important than the specific behavior you are or are not doing.  Trust me on this!  If one of you is bored, in pain, or not into it … it will kill sexual desire.  You want to both be focusing on feeling and expanding the experience of pleasure – yours and your partners.  This is not a NASCAR performance and you are not on trial.  If you are not feeling pleasure – adjust. Sharing intimate pleasure is one of the key purposes of erotic touch. Forget the “we should do this …”, “we should do that …” bologna and just notice what feels pleasurable.

 

Make connection your number two focus – you want to feel more connected to each other.

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This is the second key purpose in erotic touch – it needs to connect you.  It needs to be fun and/or loving and/or playful and/or intimate. Look into each others eyes and really see each other – let yourself been seen, known, loved and accepted.  It is what we all crave!!  Erotic touch needs to feel unique to your relationship – something that binds you closer. Again, it matters less what behaviors you do, as long as connection is a byproduct of what you do and/or say during erotic touch. If whatever sexual behaviors you share do not ultimately connect you more, then you have defeated the purpose and one or both of you won’t be into it as much next time.

 

Be more Playful – don’t take sex too seriously.  Be content with good-enough sex.

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Not all dinners are gourmet dinners … not all sexual encounters will rock your world.  But if you show up, heart open, focused on pleasure and connection, ready to be playful and enjoy each other, no matter what happens it will be fun – and probably not routine or boring or the same as it was last time! Just enjoy yourself and each other. That’s the point! If you feel like you are getting stuck in a routine, talk about what the routine is, then decide to not do anything on the routine list for two weeks.  If intercourse always is in the routine, take intercourse off the table for two weeks; if its oral sex, take it off the table for two weeks; whatever it is.  Then for two weeks figure out as many different other ways to make love that don’t include those particular behaviors.  See how many other ways you can come up with.  Pretend you are in junior high again and “you can’t do IT” yet … IT is not allowed!!  You have to find all kinds of other ways to turn each other on! Make it fun and HOT!!

 

Toughen up your Skin – get better at Let’s GoNot Tonight

Embrace sad spouse

Learning the skills of initiation and rejection in the tender arena of sexuality are skills most of us never learn and thus are easily bruised.  This can cause all kinds of difficulty in a relationship and set up a pattern of withdrawal and hurt feelings that never get resolved.  The pattern that most often happens is the partner that most often initiates and is rejected often becomes tired of being rejected – they feel too vulnerable – and begins to stop initiating.  The person who has been ‘saying no’ begins to feel undesirable and often becomes even more rejecting through criticism or withdrawal.   This sets up a hurtful dance. If someone initiates, and you do not feel up to it, take the time to listen to their desires, hear their heart of love for you, see if there is a compromise that can be struck. If not, be compassionate to their disappointment and talk about how connection and pleasure can be shared soon. If you are the one who feels rejected, listen to the reason the other was not able to extend themselves.  Try to hear their reason and try to navigate with them a way to accommodate.  Hear their heart of love for you even if they cannot meet you through erotic touch at this time.  Find a way to connect in another way. Keep your heart turned toward each other.  Most of the time the reason we cannot participate in erotic touch is not about rejecting the other person and more about something going on with us.

 

AND …

Never Take Your Sex Life For Granted

Senior couple walking on the beach in fall season

You might think that for a culture that has sex constantly on its mind we would do a better job taking care of our sexual relationships inside the connections that matter most … but you and I both know this is not the case!  Why do you think this is? I think it’s because we are creatures of habit.  And as creatures of habit, we have a way of ignoring what is commonplace in our lives.  For most of us, that often becomes the people we live with.  However, relationships are organic entities … they are like a garden.  If you ignore them, relationships dry up and die or get smothered in weeds.  If you don’t invest in your sexual relationship, in pleasure and connection, ensuring that it stays vibrant and healthy, it will slowly begin to fade away.  You can ignore it for a while, but it is only a matter of time. I cannot tell you how many times I have watched this happen.  And it always breaks my heart!!  Ignoring a relationship is not sustainable without significant cost … significant!   Here is what you need to put on your bathroom mirror and read every day:

  • Share erotic pleasure and connection often – loving touch nourishes body, mind, soul and relationship
  • Turn off all electronic devices the minute you are both in bed and make time to talk, read to each other, touch each other, snuggle, even just attend to each other in silence for a minute
  • You’ve heard me say it before … One 3 minute hug (until you fully relax!) and two 10 second juicy kisses a day (unrelated to sex!)
  • Do something different at least once a month – buy lingerie, a sex toy, go into a sex shop together, read a sex book on techniques or sex ed (keep learning!), play a sexual game, schedule a date night, play with a paint brush and chocolate sauce, anything playful. Find your inner 6 year old!
  • Check in with each other – take an intimacy pulse of the relationship – how do you both feel things are going? Any adjustments you want to make over the next month?
  • Learn to ask for what you want openly and honestly and learn to hear each other’s requests with kindness and grace. Ask questions and give each other the benefit of the doubt.  Always assume the best of each other around sex. This will help you both feel safe enough to be a little daring and have a lot of fun!
  • Most of all LIFE IS SHORT … ENJOY EACH OTHER!
Tina's Goofy Family in Santorini  Ashley Johnson Photography

Tina’s Goofy Family in Santorini
Ashley Johnson Photography

Posted in intimacy, marriage, Relationships, Sex, Sex Ed, sexual health, sexuality, spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Can You Let Yourself Experience Pleasure … or Does Guilt Get in Your Way?

For Week #10/52 Theme: "Guilty Pleasure" by Sonny Abesamis 2014

For Week #10/52 Theme: “Guilty Pleasure” by Sonny Abesamis 2014

The other day I sat with a beautiful 22 year old Christian woman.  She radiated youth – curious, insightful, earnest, just, vital. She had just finished college.  She had traveled to many places in the world where war and cruelty had ravaged the spirit, body and land of women and children. She was looking upon her life and the life around the globe with new eyes and asking new questions, and I found her tenacity and urgency invigorating.  Then she said, “When I came home from my travels I was so exhausted I felt unable to care for myself in even the most rudimentary way. Through this recovery process I slowly began to learn how important it was to listen to the wisdom of my body.  ‘It is time to sleep.’  ‘It is time to eat.’ ‘You need a hug, a listening ear.’ But now that I am recovered, I find I struggle with feeling selfish when I find myself enjoying a cup of coffee too much. When I feel too much pleasure. How am I to embrace my sexuality if I cannot even let myself fully enjoy a cup of coffee?”

Inside Christianity is a long history of the narrative warning against pleasure and valuing those who deny pleasure.  Serving others is often juxtaposed to pleasure, as if you cannot do both.  The narrative says that serving others is selfless and experiencing pleasure is selfish.  Thus if you are experiencing pleasure you must be doing something that is selfish and not truly in service of others.  For if it was truly in service of others you would not be receiving any pleasure from it at all.  Of course when we really think about this, we can hear how ridiculous it sounds. Yet this narrative lives on, tormenting those who struggle against guilt when they experience pleasure. For Christian women, sexual pleasure is one of the places most devastated by this narrative. They cannot imagine knowing the pleasure their body can bring them, and if they do, they cannot imagine celebrating it or being grateful for it.  Instead they feel shame and condemnation. One young woman said to me, “If I began to learn about my body through exploring my genitals, using a mirror, finding out what parts feel like to touch, learning about my own arousal cycle, seeing if I could have an orgasm, even masturbating, I could never tell my roommates.  NEVER! They believe this is absolutely wrong! We’ve all been told down-there is off-limits to us and to men until marriage.”

So how do we break free of this narrative?

Here are 3 things you can do:

  1. Understand that pleasure is a renewing gift from a loving God given to restore you so you can be filled up to do whatever work you are called to do in this world. Attend fully to this pleasure, let it fill you and nourish you.
  2. Let your heart be grateful. Pleasure is a gift – it is not something we earned or deserve – it is a gift for us to enjoy and care for.  Pleasure needs to care for us.  If we are sharing pleasure with someone else, it needs to care for them too, and for the relationship between us.  When we let ourselves feel our gratefulness our heart swells with joy and the pleasure we feel is multiplied.
  3. Help others know pleasure too. So many people are weighed down by stress, ‘should’s’, burden’s and narratives that forbid them from enjoying the gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, gratefulness and pleasure.  Helping them see these gifts in their lives will help balance and renew their spirits and give them new life and vitality.

What brings you pleasure? Do it!

  • Make a list of what brings you pleasure – take 15 minutes. Make sure there are things on your list you can do in 1 minute, 5 minutes and longer. Things you can do easily and things that take more planning. Things done alone and things shared.
  • Now, place on your calendar at least one pleasure a day, if you are brave 2 or more.
  • When you engage in pleasure, bring all 5 of your senses into the experience – feel it – see it, taste it, hear it, touch it, smell it. Bring all of your attention into the moment of pleasure and let it fill you up.
  • Let your heart be grateful and push away the voices of guilt and shame. These narratives are not true or helpful. They will leave you stuck and depleted, less able to be who you were created to be.
  • Share your story of pleasure with someone you trust. Support each other.
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