Sexuality is a charged topic for both adults and some children. Messages about what behaviors are appropriate and inappropriate are woven into the fabric of our cultural traditions, moral codes of conduct, and family systems. Negative messages cause a great deal of harm, mainly when the message contains sexual shaming. Masturbation is one of these topics.
Masturbation is extremely common, yet because it is private, we don’t talk about it with our children or a spouse. According to research, self-stimulation is a normal activity experienced by nearly all people starting at very young ages and can be observed in utero (Yang et al., 2005). Masturbation (like any behavior) can be both healthy and problematic; it is also experienced differently based on age. It well understood that nearly all males and most females will, at some point in their lifetime, masturbate.
When is it Healthy?
Nearly all professionals agree age-appropriate stages of self-stimulation is healthy. For example, exploring one’s body and how it responds sexually is a beneficial aspect of maturation. Men and women can learn what an orgasm is, so they are better equipped to educate their spouse on what types of sexual touch they enjoy. Also, individuals can use masturbation to self-sooth as a coping mechanism for mood regulation. For many people who (for whatever reason) are not in an intimate relationship, masturbation can be a healthy outlet to release sexual tension. Many relationships do not have an equal balance of libido. For some “higher libido” partners, masturbation can offer a method to balance sexual needs.
When is it Not Healthy?
Behaviors become problematic when they negatively impact, work, school, or one’s social life. Like all sexual behaviors, masturbation may conflict with religious values. In a recent study from students at Brigham Young University, researchers reported the perception of pornography (a common corollary with masturbation) is the primary predictor of negative outcomes, not the pornography use itself (Leonhardt, Willoughby, Young-Peterse, 2018). It is important to inventory what our values are and why we have them. It can be helpful to challenge what we believe, while still honoring our values and the values of others. In many situations, individuals with strict religious tenets regarding masturbation find themselves in harmful shame cycles leading to increased rates of depression, compulsivity, or suicidal ideation (Beagan & Hattie, 2015). Researchers don’t diminish the value of traditional moral values. However, they do suggest creating a healthy relationship with our values within the normal range of human experiences.
Myths about Masturbation
We tell stories and create myths to justify attitudes about sexuality. Some common myths include masturbation causes homosexuality, is an addiction, leads to infidelity, will lower sexual desire, create hypersexuality, may cause you to go blind, and causes cancer in men. These things are not true. However, there are things that do occur. For example, a partner may feel betrayed when they learn their spouse masturbates. Couples can contract what cheating is, and what betrayal is. Feelings of betrayal are especially common when erotic material is involved. People engage in negatively impacting habit-forming behaviors with all sorts of things, including masturbation. Also, some coping mechanisms prevent healthy attachment in relationships.
Talking about Masturbation to our Children
It’s helpful for parents to have discussions with their children about masturbation in age-appropriate ways. For example, 5-year-old children don’t typically need to learn about orgasm mechanics, but talking about what “feels good” is more appropriate. Also, shaming a child by saying, “don’t touch that,” could be replaced with useful comments such as “that feels good, maybe you should do that in private.”. Children without parental guidance will learn about masturbation from friends or erotic material. Pornography doesn’t typically represent healthy sexual education. It is also beneficial to create safety for children, so as they begin to explore their sexuality (in person or with others), they feel safe to engage a parent about their experiences. Normalizing sexual desire, response, and anxieties create wellbeing for developing children. Lastly, it’s helpful to remember that not all children have the same sexual interests, levels of desire, or attractions at the same age as other children. It’s important to meet our children where they are at.
Talking about Masturbation to a Partner
An important aspect of contracting between couples includes the topic of masturbation. As a part of healthy sexual practices, discussing what is acceptable (or not) is essential. While there are many options, some couples will incorporate self-pleasuring behaviors into their relationship as a method to balance sex-drive differences. Often one partner may feel betrayal if they learn their spouse masturbates. When couples talk openly with each other about their feelings and attitudes regarding sexuality, it usually removes the stress in these situations. A good place to start is becoming aware of your own sexual biases and perspectives. Some couples find it helpful to discuss these feelings with a competent therapist. It’s important to remember masturbation doesn’t constitute cheating. Marriage isn’t the antidote for fulfilling all sexual needs. Many married people masturbate. Much of the time, masturbation creates better sexual experiences for couples.
Talking about Masturbation to Church Leaders
In many faith traditions, ecclesiastical leaders counsel parishioners regarding sexual behavior. Not all religions have sex-positive perspectives. In many cases, such leaders have no training regarding sexuality, trauma, or psychological situations. A lack of training can be problematic. This doesn’t suggest the support of an ecclesiastical leader cannot be helpful. Individuals seeking counsel from their church leader should remember boundaries are essential. It’s okay to tell a church leader what questions or statements are inappropriate or feel uncomfortable. This is especially true for parents whose children may be questioned regarding their sexual behavior, to communicate what forms of communication are acceptable and what is not.
Leonhardt, N. D., Willoughby, B. J., & Young-Petersen, B. (2018). Damaged goods: Perception of pornography addiction as a mediator between religiosity and relationship anxiety surrounding pornography use. The Journal of Sex Research, 55(3), 357-368.
Beagan, B. L., & Hattie, B. (2015). Religion, spirituality, and LGBTQ identity integration. Journal of LGBT Issues in Counseling, 9(2), 92-117.Yang, M. L., Fullwood, E., Goldstein, J., & Mink, J. W. (2005). Masturbation in infancy and early childhood presenting as a movement disorder: 12 cases and a review of the literature. Pediatrics, 116(6), 1427-1432.
Brainstorm with your child a short ritual you will both perform every time you say goodbye. This could be a secret handshake, a special song, a mantra you say together or a combination of words and touch. Anything that is meaningful for both you and your child will work.
Don’t Use Tough Love as
a Go To
Karen Young of Hey Sigmund explains how
fighting against our natural fight or flight instincts is a losing battle.
“We humans are
wired towards keeping ourselves safe above everything else. It’s instinctive,
automatic, and powerful. This is why tough love, punishment or negotiation just
won’t work. If you were in quicksand, no amount of any of that would keep you
there while you got sucked under. You’d fight for your life at any cost. School
is less dramatic than quicksand but to a brain and a body in fight or flight,
it feels the same.
empower your children by teaching them how this primitive part of our brain
works and breathing exercises they can employ to combat them.
Do Encourage Your Child
To Express Feelings Through Art
One of the most therapeutic and helpful things your child can do to understand and combat their anxiety is to explore their fears and experiences through art. A study conducted by Khadar et al. (2013) showed that the boys with separation anxiety developed more adaptive behaviors and emotions, and the children tended to share more feelings and improved their communication skills. This particular study used the medium of paint, but drawing, sculpting or any other medium that appeals to your child can be used.
Don’t Teach Your Child
to Fight Their Anxiety
teach your child to recognize and verbally point out what they are feeling and
where in their body they are feeling it as an outside observer. Have your child
thank their anxiety for doing its best to keep them safe. But use their
thinking brain to then tell the anxiety that they are safe and that they’ve got
Do Externalize the
Have your child describe their anxiety—what it feels like, what it says and what it looks like. Then have your child design a creature that embodies anxiety. Have your child name the object and talk through the aspects of the creature your child creates. This gives you and your child a way to visualize, separate their feelings from who they are and a new language to speak about their anxiety.
If your child is experiencing separation anxiety that is concerning you, please schedule an appointment with me by calling 801.944.4555
Human beings are social creatures and need connection. Psychologists, anthropologists, and philosophers have suggested many reasons for why we need connection. These reasons include: providing for physical and emotional needs, creating tribal safety, invoking social and economic efficiency, and offering structure for human development.
explored this topic, I find our need for others is multifaceted. In mental
health, there are overlapping influences, often termed the biopsychosocial
model of health. This phonetic amalgamation promotes the importance of
three overarching schools of thought: (1) our biology, (2) our thoughts and
emotions, and (3) our social environment. Our social connections are no
small matter. We experience social connection with family, friends, church
relationships, clubs, and work situations.
One reason I feel we need others, is to create affirmation and validation for our life journey. As children, we look to authority figures for validation. At first, this person is usually a parent or guardian. When we enter our adolescence, we turn to friends. As adults, we may seek approval from peers, or authority figures such as church leaders, a spouse, or a boss at work. Marriage relationships uniquely create opportunities for seeking intimate affirmation and validation. As a therapist, I see couples desiring validation if they are “enough,” or if they are “doing things right.” These bids for validation are expressed in a variety of scenarios in the kitchen to the bedroom.
we arrive at a place where self-confidence eclipses the need to seek validation
from others. When this occurs, we help
support others, and our self-esteem is self-sufficient. I don’t think this process is a bad thing.
Instead, I feel the understanding we gain is helpful and includes three
as other people bid for validation from us, we should feel complimented, as we
are now a companion in their healing journey. Affirming another is an
opportunity to support and honor the path and choices others make in a way that
creates self-awareness and growth, confidence, and security while allowing for
a space of safety.
we need to know how hurtful rejection can be for those who seek for an
affirming voice from us. As children, we are often told “no,” “don’t,” or
“you cannot.” Usually, these commands are barked from parents who want to
protect their children. However, as a conscience being willing to aid in
the healing journey of others, an affirming voice such as “you can,” “you’ve
got this,” or “I trust you,” is more effective.
understanding your attachment style, or the attachment style of others can
assist in explaining how validation and affirmation are expressed. An
assessment of how you engage with others can aid you and those you love to help
establish securely attached relationships.
For example, some people will anxiously seek for attention, and others
pull back when things get messy, avoiding receiving the needed help the
As humans, we connect with others for a variety of meaningful ways. Seeking affirmation and validation is a human characteristic that moves people toward a place of self-confidence. We start by trusting the voices of others we trust, and then we move to trust our internal voice. We do these in elaborate dances that deserve our attention and our nonjudgmental observation.
If you or a loved one needs help in understanding or seeking validation, please give me a call at 801.944.4555 to schedule an appointment today.
You’ve decided you want to be
together forever. Now what?
Whether our relationships are old or new, there a few important topics that I believe should be discussed before long term commitment or marriage. At times, we think we know our partner inside and out. I have outlined four important topics that can be a starting point of conversation to set our relationships up for success.
How do we feel about kids?
Each partner needs to discuss what they are expecting in terms of wanting kids, not wanting kids, or how many kids each partner envisions. Does one partner only one or maybe two children while the other wants four or five? Once you have an understanding what each partner wants, you can discuss whether there is any flexibility in their wants. This should be an ongoing conversation with your partner as road bumps happen along the road, including infertility or that one partner no longer wants more children. What if one partner wants to change directions in their career and be a stay at home parent? These are all important things to not only talk about, but truly understand our partner’s wants and desires.
Conflict and Communication
SPOILER ALERT: Conflict will happen
in your marriage! It is not whether you have conflict or not that determines if
your relationship will last; it is how you handle conflict. It can be easy to
develop poor communication habits with your partner. These bad habits can
include stonewalling, holding onto resentments, or not giving your partner
space when needed to calm down. If you’re developing any bad habits during your
arguments, or are curious about your communication style, then it might be
helpful to explore some resources. The books Hold Me Tight by Sue
Johnson or Seven Principles forMaking Marriage Work by John
Gottman are a great starting place. You can also seek out a great couple’s therapist!
Time together and alone
When you are in the dating stage you often are inseparable and spend a majority of your time together. While this stage you are learning about each other it is also important to understand what time together and alone will look like once you get married. If our partner had weekly outings with friends to the club, outlets, rock climbing, or a weekend trip will this still be ok once we’re married? Is our partner used to going to the gym alone and has been doing this for years? These various activities can be very important for our partner. If we think that after marriage we want them to change or adjust their habits and the way they spend their time then we need to communicate that now. We cannot expect them to just change while we stay at home and harbor resentment. While time together with our partner fosters a healthy relationship, we also need to foster relationships with friends and family. At times, we may need quality time with close friends or other family members too, or even just alone time to be with our self. It is okay for us to want these things as long as it is something communicated to our partner.
How is our partner allowed to talk with coworkers, friend etc.
When our partner is not with us they
will be among other people at work, the gym, and friends. While this time spent
with others is needed there are some important questions to discuss with your
What are intimate details of our relationship how or should be shared with others? How do we talk to others about our relationship?
What constitutes an emotional affair for your or your partner?
While every situation varies for each couple. It is important to understand what ours or our partner’s behaviors might be. The more we understand them and have conversations about what our relationship boundaries should be then the healthier our relationship is in the long run. If you would be hurt if your partner went to lunch with female co-workers then let them know. If it causes hurt when your partner comments on an ex’s post, let them know! Do not let these things fester and build until serious relationship difficulties come up.
Communication with our partner is essential to building a healthy, lasting relationship. When we have a conversation with our partner about the four topics discussed above and many more, we can then avoid resentment, future conflict, and have healthy boundaries in our relationship. If you would like more information about the topics above, a better understanding of your current relationship, or just want to have a safe place to discuss future and/or current relationship goals reach out to me at (801)-944-4555.
Wasatch Family Therapy is excited to announce this school year’s social skills group. This group is opened ended allowing kids to come into the group throughout the school year. There is a six session commitment, but children can stay longer, if needed. Groups are $50 per session, due at the time of the group. Please contact us at 801-944-4555 to register for the group.
Sex therapy is one area of mental health that
doesn’t always get talked about. Many
individuals feel hesitant to bring up sexual concerns with their therapist,
waiting until later in the therapy process to introduce the topic. Others misunderstand what sex therapy is, and
continue to struggle on their own.
What is sex therapy?
Sex therapy is therapy to improve sexual
functioning and treat sexual dysfunction.
Sex therapy can be done in individual and couples therapy.
What happens in sex therapy?
Just like other areas of therapy, in sex
therapy, the therapist will complete an intake process with the client to
gather information on the nature of the problem and begin to create a treatment
plan. This plan might include goals
about visiting with a medical doctor to rule out or diagnose medical issues.
Is sex therapy safe for my value system?
Just like other areas of therapy, your
therapist is trained to be respectful of and work within their client’s values
system. If you have any concerns that
the content of sex therapy might not fit within your values, talk to the
therapist up front. Talking about our
sexuality with a therapist can be a new experience, and that might feel
uncomfortable, but therapists want to make you feel as safe and at ease as
Will the therapist take sides?
The therapist’s job is not to prove one person
right and one person wrong, but to explore the history and nature of the
concern. The therapist will help the
couple or individual explore their beliefs and values surrounding sex,
identifying and helping to shift harmful or inaccurate beliefs, and provide
resources and educational materials. The therapist will create a safe,
supportive environment as the clients create new, value congruent, healthy
patterns of behavior.
What can a sex therapist help me with?
A sex therapist can provide support, education
and hope in creating sexual wholeness.
They can work with a broad range of sexual issues. Desire discrepancy (where one partner has a
higher or lower libido than the other), problematic sexual behaviors (particularly
compulsive, or what are sometimes referred to as addictive behaviors), LGBTQ
issues (orientation concerns, transitioning, or parenting), trauma, infidelity,
“sexless” marriages, orgasm concerns, ED/premature/delayed ejaculation, painful
intercourse, polyamory, kink, pornography concerns, or resolving
If you have been struggling with an area of
your sexuality or sexual relationships, but have been hesitant to talk about
it, schedule an appointment with Alice at 801-944-4555 today. Sexual health is an important aspect of good
mental health, and you do not need to suffer alone when there is hope and help
If you frequent the many on-line
resources (message boards, blogs, advice columns, podcasts, etc.) related to
dating, specifically dating at a more “advanced” age, you will surely encounter
at least one article about “compatibility” in relationships. What exactly does
compatibility mean? If you read all the advice on the internet, this post
included, then you’ll find that there is a wide array of opinions offered.
Opinions range from the alignment of interests and goals to the notion that
there can’t be any disagreements or conflicts within relationships. However,
according to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary compatibility is, “being capable of existing together in harmony”. Dr. John Gottman (2016), the world-renowned
relationship researcher, described compatibility as, “Agreeability and conscientiousness are the
characteristics that people really mean when they talk about “compatibility.”
These qualities are indexed by a person being able to say things like “Good
point,” or “That’s interesting, tell me more” or, “You may be right, and I may
be wrong” during a disagreement.”
It’s always interesting
to me that couples often fear that they are incompatible if they encounter
conflict within their relationship. Conflict and the ability to address and
resolve it are important aspects to relationships; it says a lot about the
relationship’s strength when a couple or family is willing to confront the
areas of conflict in their relationships. However, there is a myth perpetuated
by society and the media that “healthy” relationships are conflict-free. That’s
an unachievable expectation that can be dangerous to a connected relationship.
How can everyone’s needs
be met if unmet needs can’t be expressed because it is seen as starting a
fight? You’ll notice I changed the wording in my last question from conflict to
fight; I’ve noticed that many times the two words are used interchangeably.
Fight, typically, has a negative connotation that denotes a level of aggression
or force, however. While conflict simply implies a disagreement. Often though,
couples and families see any form of disagreement as a fight and it can feel
dangerous to the relationships. I teach my clients that it’s important to
recognize that you can have a conflict/argument/disagreement and the
relationship can still feel safe. How can you safely have a disagreement? I
believe that if couples can set up a few rules to how they are going to “fight”
that they can maintain safety, not just physical but emotional and
psychological as well. Below I’ve listed a few of the boundaries that I
recommend couples start with while encouraging them to add their own personal
ones that are relevant to their situations:
Use “I” and “me”- if it’s important to you than make sure you are keeping it about who it is important to. “You” statements can feel very blaming.
Keep the volume in check- while some people’s voices get very animated and the volume increases as they get elevated, regardless if it’s from excitement or frustration, it can be very scary. No yelling and screaming!!!
Keep the language respectful. Personal attacks on character, name calling, mocking, being sarcastic, condescending, or patronizing are all ways that can leave people feeling devalued and demoralized.
Telling your partner how they do or should be feeling. Everyone is entitled to their feelings regardless of whether they make sense to others. Use this as an opportunity to be curious about your partner and their experience.
Timeouts aren’t just for kids. A negotiated and stated 20-minute timeout to re-group and calm down can do wonders for a disagreement while reinforcing the importance of safety in the relationship.
Conflict is an important part of relationships, as Dr. Gottman said they introduce diversity and make relationships more interesting. Additionally, they can be used as avenues to deepen our connections with partners by exposing and discussing vulnerabilities. However, for a conflict to be an opportunity to grow it must feel safe for both parties to express those vulnerabilities. Fight for your relationships and connections, not against them!
An empath is often described as one who identifies with
another person’s emotions as if they were their own. This personality trait
goes beyond the usual definitions of relating to others. For example, being sympathetic is merely understanding
another’s experience. Empathy moves
beyond this definition, where somebody feels for or with another person. Sometimes highly sensitive beings perceive
what others are feeling so intensely their emotions are being pulled about with
little understanding why. This
experience can be challenging for some because their life can turn upside down
when family members or close friends experience the agitating cycles of life.
Despite this challenge, this form of empathy is often
thought of as a gift. I agree with this
perspective. Those who relate
emotionally to the experiences of others in this fashion often assist in the
healing experiences for others because they validate others feelings in
meaningful ways. Sometimes those who are
empathic bridge communication gaps where language has no nourishment.
Recently neuroscientists have discovered the human brain
contains specific brain circuit structures called mirror neurons. These neurons primarily respond by
interpreting the emotional state of others, then translating these experiences
into mirrored responses. This research
provides scientific answers to how this process occurs. Furthermore, the latest research describes
how human beings experience and interact in their environment and how we are
wired to connect.
If you’re very empathic and highly sensitive, what can you do to create emotional stability? I recommend taking a moment in the morning to establish an emotional baseline. As you feel a shift during the day, ask yourself, “is this mine?”. It may also be helpful instead of thinking “why” are you feeling this way, ask yourself “who” may be feeling this that you are picking up on. This isn’t to say all emotions belong to others. When it is your emotions, it’s possible there is somebody in your social-field who is picking up on you whom you can connect with. This reality of the human experience presents an ideal opportunity to become vulnerable and realize that you’re not alone. After all, we are biologically wired to understand how others feel and experience the world together.
If you have been wondering what our Director of Child & Adolescent Services, Clair Mellenthin, LCSW, RPT-S has been up to, here are a few of her recent TV segments and magazine articles to catch up on!
The Red Flags of Child Abuse – Fresh Living KUTV
Spring Clean Your Soul – Fresh Living KUTV
I Became a More Peaceful Parent Using These 4 Strategies – Hilary Thompson – MOTHERLY
It is no secret to the people I work with that I love the work of Brene Brown. Her books, podcasts, articles, Netflix special, and basically everything else she has done is phenomenal. One of the key topics she speaks regularly on is the idea of vulnerability. This is an important key to any successful relationship. I first noticed this when I started doing marriage therapy, almost fifteen years ago. Brene Brown helped me put a name and research behind what I had been seeing for so long. Couples and individuals that are struggling in relationships have a difficult time being vulnerable.
What does someone who struggles with vulnerability look like? It is the person who has a difficult time identifying and expressing primary emotions-or in other words those really hard sticky emotions like hurt, sadness, loneliness, grief etc. For countless years I have seen couples come into my office and as they express their feelings of anger they create a solid wall or barrier between themselves and their partner. As we work on knocking that wall down and identifying those hard emotions it is very difficult for these couples because they have stopped the vulnerability in their marriage for so long. Sometimes years. Sometimes decades. What happens when vulnerability is turned off? That wall between the couple gets higher and thicker. Emotions are not expressed, except through anger or passive aggression. Resentment grows. Communication decreases. Emotional and sexual intimacy decreases. The couple starts to lead completely different lives.
In therapy, we work tirelessly on creating a safe space where each person in the relationship can express their feelings and be truly vulnerable. It is amazing to see the progress when they can look at each other and state they feel lonely and unimportant rather than yelling. The couples I work with laugh because I am always saying to them “turn to each other. Talk to each other not to me.” Through this sometimes uncomfortable process comes true vulnerability. Through vulnerability couples are able to better share their emotions, thoughts, and feelings without the fear of judgement. These couples communicate better, fight more productively, and have better emotional and sometimes sexual intimacy. The ability to be vulnerable with your partner is a game changer!
I challenge you to work hard to implement more vulnerability into your marriage. If your marriage is in trouble and you feel this is lacking please come in for counseling! Working on this and other essential keys can help rejuvenate your marriage.