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.
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.
Are you tired of reading relationship books with a few tips and advice that may put a band aid on your marital discourse? Dr. Sue Johnson, author of Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations For A Lifetime Of Love, relationship researcher and expert, believes that the attachment bond individuals have with their partners is crucial for a happy, healthy relationship. Just as an infant feels close, attached, and loved when her mother gazes in her eyes, adults have the same need. We innately feel a desire to connect, be loved, depended on, and to feel safe. When the attachment is insecure with our spouse or partner, there is greater likelihood for disconnection, isolation, and distance. Hold Me Tight looks to address that attachment bond.
Wasatch Family Therapy is pleased to announce that we are, once again, offering a Hold Me Tight workshop. Based on Dr. Sue Johnson’s Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) approach. An approach in which empirical research shows that 70-75% of couples move from distress to recovery. The workshop will take readers through the following seven transforming conversations:
Recognizing Demon Dialogues
Finding the Raw Spots
Revisiting a Rocky Moment
Hold Me Tight
Bonding Through Sex and Touch
Keeping Your Love Alive
Join us, Alice Roberts, CSW and Tekulve Jackson-Vann, LMFT, for this six-week course beginning Tuesday nights on January 8th in the Cottonwood Heights location from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Register now and find the emotional connection that can come as partners reach for one another, holding tight.
Abuse is a tough topic to talk about, but it’s so important that we know signs to watch out for. While physical abuse is easy to identify, emotional abuse can be more subtle but can be just as damaging (while most everyone has mistreated their partner at times, we are talking about repeated and consistent behavior). Here are some signs of emotional abuse in marriage:
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.
I recently sat down with the ladies of “Family Looking Up” to discuss how women’s assertiveness can help our families. The conversation included clearing up misconceptions about assertiveness (such as the false idea that it equates to being aggressive or selfish) and also how women can view their own needs as being equal to that of their children and their partner. If you’re interested in learning more about how to improve your communication style, practice self-compassion, and say no without guilt, take a listen!
Click here to learn more about my book “The Assertiveness Guide For Women: How to Communicate Your Needs, Set Healthy Boundaries, and Transform Relationships.”
As I continually work with couples on improving their sex lives, one concern I hear frequently is, “Are we having the normal amount of sex?” They worry that if they are having less sex than they did at other points in the relationship, that maybe their sex life is getting worse. The reality is, the number of times you are your partner have sex, isn’t the most valuable information about whether or not you have a high-quality sex life. It is very natural for the quantity of sex to eb and flow throughout a lifetime together. Here are some perfectly normal times to see some changes in the frequency, and perhaps quality of your sex with your partner:
Pregnancy: Though there are some changes in the body during pregnancy that can make sex more enjoyable for women, there are certainly some changes that do not. Some women report that fatigue and sickness during the first trimester of pregnancy, make them feel less sexual desire. Typically, women report the most enjoyable sex during their second trimester of pregnancy. During the third trimester, it is a fight for space in the female body! Additionally, after baby comes, there is no sex at all for at least 6 weeks.
Death and Grieving: Some people report that when they are grieving the loss of a loving one, they feel less desire to be sexually intimate. That being said, some don’t feel that way at all. You shouldn’t feel weird or guilty if you still do have a desire for sex after the death of a loved one. All of these responses fall under the normal umbrella.
Illness: Most people don’t feel like being sexually intimate when they are sick. When our bodies are fighting off illness, survival takes precedence over procreation. Luckily, illness usually only influences our sex lives for a week or so. However, when chronic illness is involved this can take a toll on a relationship. When a partner has cancer, or dementia, or kidney failure, sex becomes one of the last priorities, though sex can still be missed and longed for by both partners.
Distance: This one is obvious… You can’t have sex when you are miles apart. Many couples have to spend time apart due to work, deployments, etc. In these cases, couples should have a plan for how they will maintain intimacy and connection during the time apart.
Depression and Anxiety: Mental health issues can certainly influence sex. Specifically, anxiety and depression, somewhat highjack the mechanisms in the brain and nervous systems that influence our sexual reactivity and receptivity. With professional help and treatment of the illness, these concerns can be resolved or better managed, and couples can learn to have functioning sexual relationships.
Stress and Fatigue: Stress also interferes with some of the biological mechanisms that influence sexual receptivity. When our bloodstream is raging with the stress hormone Cortisol, our nervous system is not typically apt to engage in sex. High levels of fatigue can also decrease desire. You may be noticing a pattern. There is an order of operations in the body; survival first, everything else after. Since sex is not essential for survival, but sleep is, the body will prioritize accordingly.
These certainly aren’t all the reason sex may struggle in a marriage. They are however, some of the big ones. Men and women all report times when sex wains. There are stereotypes that men always want to have sex and that women are always the ones turn men down. That’ s simply not true. Men and women,though different, have many sexual similarities. For help with your sexual relationship, schedule an appointment today.
So often in relationships, we are aware of the other person’s needs and work to fulfill them. While this is a wonderful trait, it can lead to burnout if we chronically neglect ourselves. Here are some self-care tips that actually help strengthen our relationships with others:
We often hear of the challenges that single parents have, but another group sometimes get overlooked: solo parents are those who are not divorced or widowed but carry a very large portion of the family load because their spouse is often away. Whether it’s due to military service, religious commitments, or irregular work hours, many parents (women in particular) find themselves shouldering the bulk of the home and family responsibilities. Here are some strategies to cope as a solo parent:
Marriage is a wonderful change, but it certainly brings some challenges, not just for the couple involved, but also for the in-law relationship dynamic. I recently sat down with the Good Things Utah to share my top 3 tips for daughter-in-laws and mother-in-laws: