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.
I, like many of you, spend a lot of time in my car. I always feel like I’m rushing from one thing to the next and I never have enough time for anything. As I was driving to work the other day there was a car that I ended up behind in the turning lane that didn’t increase its speed once it turned. At first, I found myself annoyed and thought “Are you kidding me? Come on, GO!!” I was looking in my side and rear-view mirrors to try to change lanes but there was a steady stream of cars in the lane next to me. I, then, realized that I didn’t need to rush, I was going to have half an hour in the office before my client’s appointment and I calmed down.
I thought to myself as I paid
more attention to the car in front of me that it was probably someone old
driving the car because I couldn’t see the driver’s head above the head rest.
When I was finally able to change lanes and go around this car, I looked over
at the driver as I passed. Sure enough, it was a little old lady, hunched over
and barely seeing over the steering wheel. A smile came to my face as I thought
of this woman who likely had slowed down in many aspects of her life, only one
of which was driving, and how I am always in such a rush. It made me wonder how
often I missed things from not paying attention and always rushing from one
thing to the next.
We live in such a fast-paced
world with so many things demanding our attention at once. I find myself
getting lost in the mundane routine that is my life as crazy and busy as it is
right now. But when I can slow down and just be present in the moment, I find
that while there are parts of my life that are mundane, there are also pretty
amazing things that happen around me and inside of me every single day. If we
are constantly chasing the next thing, we can never truly just be with
ourselves. But maybe that is part of why we don’t slow down.
Slowing down can be vulnerable.
When we allow ourselves to be still, things can surface that we’ve been avoiding.
We constantly measure ourselves by what we do and what we accomplish, so who
are we when we slow down? Maybe we aren’t enough, maybe we are too much, maybe
our emotions are too overwhelming, maybe it will be too vulnerable. Brené Brown
has dedicated her life to studying vulnerability, authenticity, and courage. It
takes courage to be still, to allow vulnerability, and to show up
authentically. She says, “authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of
who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we are.” Slowing down,
embracing who we really are, and being still with whoever we are right now can
be scary but can also be powerful.
So how are you going to
demonstrate your courage to slow down, be still, and embrace that you are
In my work with people from all walks of life and circumstances, the one thing I have found to be true in every case is that humility always aids in healthier interactions and higher quality relationships. Another observation, is that humility is not very easy to come by. We, as human beings, kind of stink at this humility thing.
So, what is this humility
thing? Well, in my personal and very unofficial definition it means not viewing
yourself (or anyone for that matter) as better than anyone else. It is throwing
out the right vs wrong, better or worse than mentality. I think that the
following two beliefs are an essential first step in maintaining humility.
Remember that every single human being on this
earth has had and will have an entirely unique experience. None of us can have
the exact same experiences and views as someone else.
Each one of those unique human experiences and
vantage points are valid.
Not only do these beliefs lay the
ground work for much kinder and constructive interactions, but it will ease you
of the stress that comes from expectations to be right or better than. Humility
might sound like this:
“I think it is like this, but I could be mistaken.”
“I want to try this, and I would love to hear what you would
like to try.”
“Can you tell me what that is like for you?”
“I was mistaken.”
“I am sorry about the pain you are feeling due to my choice.
Will you tell me more about it?”
I challenge you
to incorporate even one of these phrases into your conversations, perhaps with
someone you haven’t been getting along with very well, and see how the
relationship improves. Even if you don’t find the outcome you were looking for,
kindness and softness are never wasted.
We live in a world of chaos filled with
the hustle and bustle of life. There are school, work, home, church, family,
and social obligations and responsibilities that are flying at us 24/7; it can
be difficult to find the quiet in a world filled with noise. Sometimes our
minds scream for the peace and quiet, they need a break from the noise of our
lives. How often are you giving yourself a break? Do you allow yourself to stop
for just a moment and find that peace? Wonder if you haven’t found your quiet
place yet? Create it!
Choose to take a moment and make a
space for yourself, if even in your mind, where you can go to feel calm and
peaceful. This is a place that is all your own, it can be anything you want it
to be. The key to this place is that it is a space where you feel completely at
ease. There is comfort in your place. There is safety in your place. This is a
Here’s a list of questions for you to
answer, in your mind or aloud, to help you start to create a quiet place in
your mind. Initially, read through the questions to become familiar with them. After
some contemplation, read through them again and experience them from a deeper,
more visceral place. Envision how you feel and allow yourself to go into that
Where’s your quiet place? This can be as broad as “at the
beach” or as specific as “sitting on my pink and white canopy bed, holding my
Cabbage Patch doll in my childhood bedroom on Forest Street in Podunk, USA”.
Is it a place that
you once visited or is it a place that you only dream of?
If you’ve been there, when did you visit and what kind of
memories does thinking about it bring to mind? If it’s a real place with
memories attached, dive into those memories. Allow yourself to feel and
re-experience what made this place your “quiet” place.
If it’s a figment of your imagination, when did you start
daydreaming of going there? Do you remember? Maybe this is a place that you
have dreamed of since you were a kid. Maybe you saw a picture somewhere.
What does your quiet
place look like? Use colors, textures, and other descriptive language to be as
specific as possible.
What does it smell like? Again, be descriptive. “Good”,
won’t have the same sensory impact as describing the scent of the ocean or the
pine of the forest after it rains.
What do you hear when
you are there? Trying to engage all your senses, do you hear insects? Birds?
Do you feel the sun on your face or the wind on your cheeks?
Are you warm or cold? What else do you feel? Sand under your feet? The spongy
feel of the forest after a big rain?
Are you there by
yourself or do you have people with you? Who? Let’s be honest there are some
people that do not help us feel calm, they don’t need to be included in your
quiet place. Yep, even if they are your parents, children, spouse, or best
friend. Sometimes we need to find peace away from even those that we love the
Lastly, after you’ve created a picture
with sound, touch, smell, and maybe taste too. Give yourself permission to
visit this place when you feel the noise of the world is too much. I have
clients that use this as part of their morning or bedtime routine to help them
get into a quiet headspace to start their day or go to sleep. Personally, I
like doing it for a few minutes in the middle of my day when I have a break. I
close my office door, take a few deep belly breaths, visualize a place (I have
several), and let the experience encompass my senses and clear my head so that
I can move on with my day with a newfound sense of quiet and calmness.
A 1999 study (Berman J, Berman L, Goldstein I. Female sexual dysfunction: incidence, pathophysiology, evaluation, and treatment options. Urology. 1999;54:385–391) found that 43 percent of women suffer from some type of sexual dysfunction. That’s nearly half of all women! There is a lot of history and research behind how we got to this 43 percent number, but simplifying it comes down to the medicalization of female sexuality.
Dr. Leonore Tiefer is an author, researcher, educator, and therapist who has spoken out against the problems she has seen in viewing female sexuality through a medical lens. Dr. Tiefer uses the metaphors of dancing and digestion.
Dancing is something we learn, a skill that is built over time. Dancing has history and culture that informs it. Our enjoyment of dance, and our participation in it can change throughout our lives. People experience differently, but it is often something we share.
Digestion on the other hand is a process that happens to us. It is something that is consistent over the course of our lives, and deviation from the standard is a problem requiring treatment of some sort. We have healthy digestion and unhealthy digestion. Unless there are problems, we don’t spend much time considering our digestion, and sometimes we feel uncomfortable talking about when things aren’t working the way they’re supposed to.
Dancing is a helpful metaphor for looking at sexuality through a behavioral lens, and digestion is more applicable to a medical model. Both approaches have their place, and certainly those experiencing sexual concerns would be wise to rule out obvious medical issues, but Dr. Tiefer suggests we spend more time considering the cultural, educational, behavioral and relational issues that impact female sexual health.
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.
It’s a story I hear about all of the time in my personal and professional life. “My last child is going to kindergarten, or first grade. Yay!! I’m going to have so much more time for other things!” And inevitably, a month later, I hear a very different story. “I don’t quite know who I am anymore. Or what I want to do with my time.” A lot of these women have been stay at home mothers, or work part time, while they have young children. Once the children are in school, their life changes quite drastically. They have more time to focus on themselves and their own interests. While this sounds like a time of liberation, a lot of women find it to be a time of high anxiety.
For years, society has taught women that their primary, and sometimes only, role is to be a mother. Whether you subscribe to this mentality or not, it is very present in our society. Therefore, a lot of women take that role on as their only sense of self. As a mother, sometimes I find myself getting lost in child rearing. I have to remind myself that while I love being a mother and it is important to me, I can still have interests and passions outside of that realm. This realization comes to light quickly when all of your children are attending school full time. So, to all of the mothers who are sending their youngest off to kindergarten/first grade, or to the mothers of young children that need to revisit who they are I challenge you to answer the following five questions.
What do I like to do for fun?
What do I do for self care that reenergizes me?
What relationships would I like to strengthen?
Do I want to go back to work, or work more?
Other than being a mom what do I want to be known for in my life?
These questions can help guide you to some career choices, as well as just things you can do for yourself when you have the time. If you are having a difficult time defining who you are, and who you want to become in the future come into therapy. Working with women to find their inner strength is something I love to do! Good luck as your kiddos head off to school. I’ll be at Wasatch Family Therapy with lots of congratulations and the tissues.
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.