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.
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.
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.
People have many reasons for why their life is so stressful. Why they can’t de-stress. Why they feel so out-of-control. Why they believe it will just never change.
While many reasons exist, my experience is that people have three key reasons why they can’t seem to de-stress their lives. Here are a few to think about.
1) My life is too complicated to change!
I’ve heard this reason or derivations of this excuse many times. Whether it’s multi-tasking a crazy schedule or simply feeling there is nothing I can change, this line of reasoning hamstrings us.
2) Life never gives me a darn break!
While this reason sounds similar to number 1, it’s actually quite different. Whether it’s a mom who is exhausted by their 3 kids or a dad trying to close that important deal to support their family, it’s exhausting. By the way, these roles can be switched and aren’t gender exclusive. The point is, we need to SEEK a break in our lives.
3) Stress keeps me young!
I’ve spoken with people who have told me that stress is “motivating” or that stress keeps me “involved in life.” And yes, even that it “keeps me young.” The latter has been spoken with a knowing chagrinned glance that it actually isn’t helping. Which actually begs the question of “how well is that working for you?” The reality is, it simply is NOT helping.
Ideas That Work!
Here are 50 wise and proven ways to de-stress your lives (Hint: The hard part is actually making the time, not in doing them!)
Read Garden Movies Hike Piano Affection Backpack New outfit Vacation Work (job) less Bucket list Friends Work out Increase Intimacy Get away Spirituality Sex Travel Education Walk Step back Make Love Change careers Re-connect Healthy Emotions Trail Run Date Flower Garden Exercise Religion Journal Volunteer Arts Ski Creativity Crafts Mountains Yoga Rock Climbing Symphony The Mighty 5 Bear Lake Sunset Opera Sunrise Thunder The Beach Work smarter Self-care Alone time Switch it up!
There are easily 50 more ideas to add to this list. However, that’s not the point, i.e., to add more stress. The critical point is that unless we make changes and do more for ourselves, we suffer. We’ll just experience more and more stress that just simply perpetuates itself. That. Makes. No. Sense!
What makes perfect sense is choosing several of the items from my list and just doing them. Hiking is amazing in the Wasatch. Watching a summer movie rocks. Journaling is helpful. Reading a book energizing!
And, I can (almost) guarantee that your stress level will drop. You will want to do more for yourself. Become fiercely loyal to it!!!
Michael Boman, LCSW has 20 years experience in helping people de-stress and reconnect. Reach out to him at 801.944.4555,
if you feel this blog has moved you to want to take back your life.
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
In honor of Pride month, I wanted to
share some knowledge about human sexuality that can be quite confusing.
Although some of these Frequently Asked Questions may seem obvious to some, I
think most people would be surprised at how little they really understand about
the differences between these words and phrases.
What is the difference between sex and gender?
Sex is defined by our biological position on the spectrum of femaleness and
maleness. Gender is defined by our psychological and sociocultural attributes
that are associated with being female or male.
What does gender identity mean?
Gender identity is defined by one’s personal, subjective
sense of their gender, which is different from our biological sex.
What is sexual orientation?
Sexual orientation is the unique pattern of sexual and romantic desire,
behavior, and identity that each person experiences.
Doesn’t sexual orientation consist of just three categories,
heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual?
No it does not. After several studies, Alfred Kinsey
discovered that sexual orientation is more of a continuum so he developed the
Kinsey Scale. On the Kinsey Scale, 0 represents exclusive patterns of
heterosexual behavior and attraction, and 6 represent an exclusive pattern of
homosexual behavior and attraction. The numbers in between the two represent
varying levels of bisexuality.
people use sex and gender interchangeably without realizing the difference.
While sex refers to our biology, gender defines our expectations about what
makes us feminine or masculine and is determined by psychological, social, and
cultural characteristics. Knowing the difference is not only important in order
to fully understand what someone is talking about but also important in order
to inform someone who may be confused about this. Additionally, many people
believe that our sex should determine our gender. This is where understanding
sexual identity comes into play. Sexual identity refers to a person’s individual
perception of being female or male. A person could have an outward appearance
of a male but have female sex organs and instead of identifying as female, identify
as male, which is a form of transgenderism. Sexual orientation is often lumped
into three categories such as heterosexual, bisexual, or homosexual. However,
thanks to Alfred Kinsey, we now know that sexual orientation is much more
complex than this and should be described as being a continuum as shown below.
research has shown that sexual minorities such as bisexual, gay, transgender, and
lesbian individuals are at a higher risk for depression than heterosexual
individuals. The reason being that they are (for varied reasons) less open
about their sexual orientation. Knowing this can help aid people in their
journey to discover their sexual orientation and become more comfortable and
supported in being open about it. It can also help you to be more aware of
things to be looking for like signs of depression, anxiety, suicide, and stress
in a friend, family member, co-worker, etc. who may be exploring their sexual
more support and acceptance of the LGBTQ community in this day and age, brings
about those who have been hiding their true gender identity or sexual
orientation. Now more than ever, it is important to understand important terms
and meanings of these terms in order to better serve this community and also
family members and friends of the LGBTQ community who may not understand the
research behind these terms and the importance of supporting them despite their
beliefs. By sharing our knowledge of sexual orientation, we can work together
to end hate and discrimination.
R., & Baur, K. (2017). Our sexuality, thirteenth edition. Cengage Learning.
J. J. (2013). The psychology of human sexuality. Sussex, UK: John Wiley &
der Star, A., Pachankis, J. E., & Bränström, R. (2019). Sexual orientation
openness and depression symptoms: A population-based study. Psychology
of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity.
One of the most common statements I hear from women when it comes to sexual dysfunction is, “I know it’s important to my husband, and I want to give that to him, but I just have zero desire for sex. I’m just broken!”
Our culture feeds us the line that there is only one kind of sexual desire. It tells us that sexual desire should suddenly appear, that it’s a wave of hormones that hit us out of the blue. We’re going about our day, filing paperwork, prepping meals, filling the car up with gas, and WHAM, we’re hit with an urge to have sex.
Now sometimes that happens, and when it does, it’s called, according to sex educator, Emily Nagoski, spontaenous desire. Many individuals experience spontaneous desire at least some of the time. Research seems to point toward men experiencing spontaneous desire far more often than women. Women are more likely to experience what is called responsive desire.
Responsive desire means that desire builds in *response* to positive sexual cues.
What does this mean? This means that a woman who finds herself in bed with her partner at the end of a long, tiring day, isn’t broken when she’s not interested in sex. It just means she lacks context for sexual excitement. She’s normal. Not broken. Too often our culture treats women as broken when their sexual response isn’t the same as men’s sexual response. We treat men’s response as the default normal, and anything less than that makes us feel like there’s something wrong with us.
Unfortunately, the idea that we’re broken is one extra hurdle to developing a satisfying sexual relationship with our partner.
Emily Nagoski gave a Ted Talk last year where she shared two keys to sexual well-being. They are confidence and joy. Nagoski states that confidence means knowing what is true about your body. Joy is loving what is true.
If you are someone who feels broken because your experience is not the spontaneous desire depicted in every romantic comedy you’ve ever seen, knowing that your desire, which builds in response to safety, loving connection, physical touch, or other sexually relevant stimuli, is normal, can help you know what it true about your body. Accepting this part of yourself as good and valid can help you love what it true.
For help working through sexual desire discrepancies in your relationship, or if you struggle to accept and love what is true about your body or your own sexual experience, schedule a session with Alice today. 801-944-4555
Recovering from a breakup can be a confusing time in life as your head and your heart struggle to get on the same page. You may have started grieving the loss of the relationship long before it ended, while family members and friends are just beginning to deal with their own feelings of loss. Your heart may be telling you to try again, while your head is filled with fears about suffering another loss. When we lose a partner to death, we are often given the social permission to dismiss their flaws and focus on their virtues. Losing a partner to a breakup can feel like the opposite, where we dismiss their virtues and focus on their flaws. Doing so often makes the recovery process difficult and longer than it has to be. Here are some helpful suggestions for navigating the process of healing from a breakup.
1. Assume total responsibility for the break up. At first glance, this will seem counterintuitive. Here’s the logic: by taking 100% of the responsibility (not the blame) for the breakup, you assume 100% of the capability to heal from it. If your partner is even 1% responsible, that’s 1% of the recovery process that it beyond your control.
2. Acknowledge the grief. By calling those emotions what they are, you increase your ability to understand them. By understanding what you are grieving (loss of the ideal relationship, loss of companionship, etc), you are able to determine what may motivate you to enter a new relationship too quickly. Remember, grief is a process.
3. Normalize the experience. The reality is every relationship will end until you find the one that doesn’t. Each relationship will teach you something significant in preparation for the one that will last. As you approach each relationship as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and how to teach you to another person, you will realize that breaking up is as normal as students failing a class, even with a gifted teacher, if they don’t make the effort to learn the material.
4. Maintain an attitude of gratitude. Nothing helps in the process of healing quite like gratitude. Can you be grateful for the experience? Can you be grateful for what you’ve learned? Can you be grateful that you are no longer tied to someone who wasn’t good for you?
5. Treat yourself. Buy yourself one thing that represents all that you’ve gained from the experience. For example, get yourself that pair of shoes you’ve been wanting to remind you of all the strength it took to walk away or get yourself those Superman cuff links to remind you of the strength you’ve gained to reclaim your life.
As the founder and executive director of Wasatch Family Therapy for over sixteen years now, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to be successful in business. If you have an idea in your head for a business or are thinking about starting your own, here are 4 P’s of Entrepreneurship:
Every married couple has problems, so why is it that when we’re struggling in our marriages we can feel so alone? I recently sat down with the ladies of “Good Things Utah” to answer some marriage questions that viewers had written in. Perhaps some of them will mirror your own experiences.