Emily Nagoski is a sex educator and author of the book “Come as You Are, The Surprising New Science that will Transform your Sex Life”. Sexuality can be a difficult topic because so many of us have been raised with the idea that sexuality isn’t okay. Because of this we avoid talking about it and don’t try to find solutions if we are experiencing difficulties. In my experience, problems with sexual intimacy have ranked fairly high among the issues couples bring up in therapy sessions. Shame over feeling “broken” can also make us uncomfortable bringing it up. The good news is that there is a lot we can do to become more satisfied with this important area in our lives and relationships. I recently attended a presentation Dr. Nagoski gave and found the information so useful, that I thought I’d share some of it here.
All the Same Parts:
The biggest takeaway I got from her lecture (as well as from reading her book) is that throughout our lives we are presented with an idea of what is normal in both our physical bodies and how we approach our sexuality. This presentation comes largely from the media, and leads us to believe that because we are not the same as what is presented, that there is something wrong with us. Dr. Nagoski talks about how we all have the same parts, (physically and sexually) but are arranged differently and that we are not broken or deficient just because we are different from someone else.
The Dual Control Method:
Dr. Nagoski calls them accelerators and brakes. Accelerators are things which signal our brains to respond favorably to sexually relevant stimuli. Accelerators might be things like our partner wearing a cologne or perfume we like, or coming home to a candlelight dinner our partner has surprised us with. Brakes are things which signal our brains that we are not interested at the moment. Examples of brakes can range from things like sitting in a boring meeting to lack of sleep to body odor. Performance anxiety can also be a huge brake. There is a questionnaire to evaluate your sensitivity to brakes (or Inhibitors) and accelerators (or Excitors) at http://www.thedirtynormal.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Sexual-Temperament-Questionnaire.pdf.
How we interpret and respond to brakes and accelerators depend largely on context. If our partner approaches us from behind and kisses our neck when we are in the middle of changing a messy diaper, our response might be very different than if they did the same thing after a romantic dinner. It’s all about context. Dr. Nagoski has a worksheet to help individuals discover what contexts appeal sexually, to them, and what contexts do not, at http://www.thedirtynormal.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Sexy-Context-Worksheets.pdf.
Concordance and Non Concordance:
Concordance refers to the relationship between a physical genital response and an individual’s self reported level of arousal. Men average a 50% concordance rate, which means that half of the time when they are experiencing a physical sexual response to stimuli, they also report feeling aroused. For women, the concordance rate is 10%. One of the things that is often portrayed in media is that when we are physically stimulated, we are also aroused. This leads rape victims to feel guilt for being “aroused” by their rape, when really what happened was just a normal physical response to genital stimulation. It does not mean that it was wanted. It can also lead men who are experiencing erection difficulties to feel guilt, thinking that their lack of erection means they are not aroused by their partner.
Two key terms here are sexual relevance and sexual appeal. Sexual relevance is associated with the physical response to stimuli. An erection stemming from seeing his partner in bed would be an example of an expected sexual stimuli. Sexual appeal is linked to subjective arousal, or an individual’s self-report of arousal. Something can be sexually relevant but not appealing (sexual violence for example), things can also be sexually appealing but not sexually relevant (a fetish for example). Creating healthy, wanted sexual experiences with our partner means creating environments and situations that are both sexually relevant for us as well as sexually appealing.
John Gottman’s research on couples found that the two traits most correlated with a strong, sustained sexual connection lasting decades was 1) a trusting friendship, and 2) making sex a priority. Sometimes when sex isn’t working the way you’d like it to, it feels easier to just let go of sexual intimacy in your relationship. It doesn’t have to be that way. Make a healthy sexual relationship a priority and come in for some couple’s counseling. We can address your concerns and find solutions for them in supportive, respectful ways. I also recommend reading Emily Nagoski’s book for much more of the science and a more thorough coverage of this topic.
If any of that applies to you then welcome to the club. You’re not alone. During times of intense stress and anxiety, things can get bleak, dark, dreary, and grey very quick. You need something to shake things up in order to maintain your sense of purpose and also your sense of sanity. Well I have just the thing (or three things rather) to help you out because like Andre 3000 you know I got your back like chiroprac…tic!
1) Plan something to look forward to. Life wouldn’t be very awesome if there wasn’t anything to strive toward so plan the prize to keep your eye on while you battle the imminent forces life presents you. This way when you feel defeated or spread like butter across too much bread like my boy Bilbo, you have that motivation to carry on solider!
2) Give yourself permission to be good enough. We put an enormous amount of pressure on ourselves to be perfect all the time in our society and that is overwhelming in and of itself. Do not fall victim to this popular mindset as it is a one way ticket to the Hotel California where you can check-out any time you like but you can never leave! Instead, give yourself permission to be good enough as is because you know what? YOU ARE! Now come on you target for faraway laughter, come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine!
3) Treat yourself. I’m pretty sure I’ve said this in a previous blog and for good reason! Tom and Donna were really onto something in Parks and Recreation and you should tap into this goldmine of validation and confidence boosting! Rewarding yourself for all your hard work in persevering through the ebb and flow of life is what it’s all about! So TREAT YO SELF 2016 baby!
Now for those of you who were paying attention…name all the song lyrics and movie references laced throughout this blog and reward yourself for being awesome and observant!
Until next time reader…live long and prosper!
One of the things I spend time doing, explaining and reiterating with myself, as well as my clients with and without children, is emotional intelligence. If there’s anything that gets in the way of living a full, rich, and meaningful life, it’s our experience with our emotions. The ability to gain emotional intelligence is a key skill in allowing us to truly understand ourselves and our reactions to events around us, because those are the only things we can really control – ourselves and our reactions. As we enter a new school year and support the children in our lives with the changes that inevitably come with it, I am sharing a few key concepts related to emotional intelligence as a starting point for a successful year.
Emotional Intelligence is briefly discussed here by its popular advocate and author – Dr. Daniel Goleman. One of the first things he says is that Emotional Intelligence is that it is how we handle ourselves in our relationships.
Then, he lists 4 domains that create emotional intelligence:
- Self awareness – knowing what we’re feeling and why we’re feeling it.
- Self management – handling distressing emotions in an effective way so that they don’t cripple you & tuning into them for what they can teach you – because even though they aren’t fun, they still serve a purpose and it’s okay to explore what that purpose is.
- Empathy – knowing what someone else is feeling.
- Social Interaction Skills – Putting it all together as a skill in significant relationships.
He then talks about how the part of our brain that allows us to do this is the part that grows the slowest – chronologically and developmentally – in our brains. He then goes on to talk about neuroplasticity which is basically the flexible nature of the brain as an organ. He mentions that our brains develop based on repeated experiences and he uses that as the foundation to encourage us to talk about self-awareness, self-management, empathy, and social skills with kids at early ages and in systematic ways.
There are a number of books that have helped revolutionize parenting in this respect and they have been really helpful to me, personally and professionally. One of the struggles in parenting that I have seen with other parents and caregivers is the habit we have of associating our ability to make sense of the world to our children’s abilities to do the same thing in the same way. On our lesser days, it can be frustrating when they don’t act like the little adults that many of us may have been raised to be when we were kids! Yet, when we remember Goleman’s words, we can remind ourselves that neurotypical children’s brains are not developmentally capable of verbally articulating the four concepts outlined above if they aren’t taught to recognize what the 4 concepts feel like and helped to identify when they are feeling any of the four concepts. That is our job as the adult in a child’s life.
The important thing that has helped me, the parents, and caregivers that I work with has been to understand that our kids feel a lot of things – good and bad – that they struggle to explain to us in words. Again, our job as parents, is to help them gain the vocabulary to do so. However, we can’t teach them what we don’t know or haven’t personally experienced, so it’s important that we practice becoming aware of our own emotional experiences, managing them, practicing empathy, and enhancing our social skills in the relationships that matter most to us, especially with the people who depend on us for guidance and support.
Emotional intelligence is probably the coolest thing to have in our backpacks as we head into the new school year! Find ways that you can sharpen your skillset and pass your understanding on to your kids by modeling healthy steps towards emotional intelligence.
We have all likely experienced frustration while driving. Someone turned left in front of me suddenly, just this morning, when I had the green light. We don’t always take time to think about our response to these kinds of frustrating situations. Most of the time they pass without causing us any major difficulties, but sometimes our response isn’t something we feel good about, and we wish we could have handled things differently. In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, there is the idea of the “cognitive triangle”, this triangle links our thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and is at the heart of recognizing and changing our behaviors.
I imagine the driver from the news story pulled up behind the driving student and when she missed her turn to go, he began to imagine why this driver was holding him up. He may have thought she was a terrible driver, he may have thought she was purposely making him late. Then he likely started to feel angry that she was making him late. His anger and frustration built up, leading him to act out.
This cycle of thoughts, feeling and behaviors can feed on each other leading us to behave in ways we may not have intended. If we can find a way to stop the cycle, we can change our behavior, and how we feel about difficult situations we may be facing.
Imagine if this driver had pulled up behind the student, she hesitated and missed opportunities to turn, and he started to think about what a terrible driver she was. What if at that point he had asked himself, “What could another explanation be for this situation?”
Maybe he would have come up with the idea that she was a new driver (which was true), maybe he would have thought she was having a bad day. There are several possible explanations for hesitating at a stop sign. If he had taken a few minutes to consider other possibilities, it might have changed how he felt about the situation. He may have still been frustrated, but he may have also felt some compassion or understanding. Without feeding his frustration or anger, his behavior certainly would have changed. He likely would have continued on his way, and would have missed out entirely on the altercation.
Not all of us have problems with road rage. Most of us have thoughts or behaviors that cause us problems in some way or another. Learning to recognize the cycle of our thoughts, feelings and behaviors can help us change our trajectory. At any point in that cycle, we can stop and ask ourselves questions such as:
Every new experience is a new change for learning to do things differently. It’s okay to not be perfect right away, but with practice, we can change to be the kind of person we really want to be!
As a child therapist, there is one thing I know about exceptionally intelligent kids: they are often misunderstood, and for good reason. Gifted children possess an inner world so rich and complex, that quite frankly, others just don’t get them. We tend to view gifted and talented kids narrowly, in terms of their performance: “Wow, Landon has a huge vocabulary. Jane made a fully functioning robot. Sam reads all day.” This is where we sometimes miss the mark. Yes, gifted kids think more, know more, create more, but to truly understand them, is to see how uniquely they experience the world. If the young gifted child could teach us, this is what she might say:
- “My feelings are bigger and different than everybody else’s.”
Super Sensitivity and Emotional Intensity: Just as gifted kids’ thinking is more complex, so is their feeling. Teachers, friends, and parents often see their emotional eruptions as a sign of instability, when actually their ability to sense and feel on such a deep level is one of their greatest strengths.
- “I don’t feel my age.”
Uneven Development: Gifted children’s intellect, social skills, and emotional self-control can progress at different rates. If you can imagine a child housed in an eight-year-old body, with the mind of a thirteen-year-old, and the social skills of a six-year-old, then you can begin to comprehend how complicated daily life can get for these kids.
- “People don’t make sense and I’m the only one who cares.”
Deep Social Concerns: Gifted kids are often highly troubled by issues of suffering, injustice, and hypocrisy. As such, they can react intensely when such things directly affect them or they observe this is the larger world. Most people will understand how an adult approaching mid-life could worry about the meaning of life, death, pain, and the injustice of the world, but when the 5th grader is crying about such issues during recess, it leaves most people rather confused and even uncomfortable.
- “There is no one in the whole world like me.”
Profound Sense of Loneliness: A keen self-awareness accompanied by the feeling of being different can leave gifted kids feeling like aliens––it doesn’t help that their passionate curiosity and interests often do not match those of their classmates. Because of these difficulties, the school experience for gifted kids can be sometimes one of painful rejection.
Despite their many differences, gifted children have the same basic emotional needs of every other kid: they long to be accepted and understood. As parents, educators, and mental health professionals, we can help by simply listening when they try to show us that being exceptional does NOT always feel like a “gift.”More
In my opinion, there are several of our societal norms that are alarming. Many of the values that our nation used to rate high on the list are slipping. Worst of all, this value shift has led to increasing health, social, and economic crises. It is my belief that if a person is not deliberate about how they want to become and how, they will get swept up in the societal messages and goals that lead to so much unrest and discontentment. Here are 3 books to date, which have shaped my person and helped me to be deliberate about what I am becoming:
- Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
This book teaches lessons that are applicable to almost all areas in life. This work is based in research. Most meaningfully however, I believe is the instruction on how to allow vulnerability in our lives to foster connection, creativity, and self-worth. If applied, the principles in this book can change the way you see yourself, and therefore the way you interact with and experience the world around you. Living this stuff makes you actually feel like you are living. Society doesn’t condone this kind of living, but people are responding to this research, which means we are hungry for something different than society is feeding us.
- Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman
This book completely changed the way I treated my body and the way I saw my body. It, like Daring Greatly, is all research based. I had no idea the degree to which I had been mistreating my body with food. Since reading, and applying these principles, I feel happier, well rested, energetic, strong, and clean. It takes a lot of effort to do this, because society (even some in the medical field) goes completely against these nutrition ideals, but it is worth it!
- The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
Another area of peoples’ lives that usually needs a tune-up is personal finance. We live in a society that idealizes money to the point that many people go deep into debt in order to achieve an empty ideal. This book will make you rethink the way you earn and spend money. Most people aren’t thoughtful enough about how they earn or spend. This book teaches you how to make your money do what you want it to, no matter what your person goals may be. Security is the name of this game.
I hope these books are as useful to you as they have been to me. Happy reading!More
You’ve probably been getting marriage advice since you first started dating, or even earlier! Some of it has been solicited and helpful, some of it has not. I hope, since you clicked on this article, that my advice can fall into the first category.
People, apparently myself included, are eager to share what they have learned about what works (and what doesn’t) in marriage. About half of the clients that I have seen over the past seven years have been couples.
Here is a link to an article I recently wrote on my blog understandingtherapy.com. It’s my #1 Marriage Advice that I have gleaned from observing and counseling distressed couples.