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.
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.
Yes, we are going there. Though people come to therapy to talk about hard things, or things that take a lot of courage to say, the topic of changing physical attraction seems to be on the forbidden list. Try as I may to create a comfortable and safe environment for couple to discuss this very normal challenge, people won’t talk about it.
The truth is, ALL bodies change! Not one person is going to bed next to the same body that they initially married. We wrinkle, give birth, gain weight, lose weight, lose hair, lose body parts, get cancer, change skin tone and hair color, find stretch marks, get shorter, become less mobile, lose teeth, struggle becoming erect or lubricating, etc. I could go on and on. We are living organisms, and this earth breaks down living organisms over time. In fact, some estimates say that on average a person’s body is growing or developing only until around age 21, after which it is declining, breaking down, aging, and dying. The moral of the story; it is normal and it happens to all of us!
So, then the next question is, how does this impact your sexuality? For most of us, we need to re-evaluate what is physically attractive about our partner, or how much we value what our partner’s body looks like. Sadly, the solution I hear most people using to cope with these changes is to just turn the lights off. I don’t think turning a blind eye is the healthiest of solutions.
Might I suggest instead, changing your insides in tandem with those changing outsides.
Don’t have 1 dimensional sex. If you are hyper focused on your body or your partner’s body, you may be stuck in just the physical dimension of sex. Sex has the potential to be much more than that. According to Dr. Gina Ogden, sex should include body, mind, spirit and heart. Do you fixate on parts of your partner’s body during sex or have you ever thought about how much you love their kindness or nature or humility during sex? What parts of your partner are you currently neglecting to make love with, that may bring more satisfaction?
Within that physical dimension of sex, don’t focus on the parts of your own or your partner’s body that you are dissatisfied with. Rather, focus on the parts of their body you do enjoy. For instance, you could obsess about a fat roll, or you could admire their strong shoulders or beautiful eyes, or the sound of their voice.
Lastly, stop consuming large volumes of media that communicates inaccurate and unrealistic expectations of what bodies “should” look like. Research shows that our inaccurate interpretations of reality are directly related to how much media we consume. If you are going to bed expecting your spouse to look like the media version of a 21-year-old, 34-year-old, or 59-year-old, you will likely be disappointed. Comparing your partner’s body or your own body to anyone else’s body, is not going to serve your sexual relationship.
Work with your spouse to create new sexual expectations. I would guess that as you re-evaluate some of the expectations you have in your sex life, you will likely feel less shame and experience more connection and pleasure from sex.
If you and your spouse would like to create more meaningful and more pleasurable sexual experience, make an appointment today.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with my friends at “Good Things Utah” and answer some viewer questions that dealt with balancing a woman’s marriage with her motherhood responsibilities. Here are some questions (and my responses to them):
The #MeToo hashtag (and the subsequent exposing of many high-profile figures as sexual predators) has given us as a society a lot to grapple with. From a Latter-day Saint perspective, some are questioning how appropriate it is for bishops to be talking about sexual matters with young people (particularly girls). I recently sat down with hosts Peggy Fletcher Stack and David Noyce, and former LDS bishop Richard Ostler to talk about these critical issues for the Mormon Land Podcast. Here are some highlights from our discussion:
Why does this type of conversation take place in the first place? Why does the Church ask about sexuality at all? Part of our faith regulates sexual behavior, so there needs to be some questioning about that. Typically, bishops ask to what extent an individual is following the last of chastity for two reasons: the first is to grant a temple recommend (which requires a worthiness interview to determine whether the person is living the standards). The second is a general meeting that the bishop has with the youth about once a year to see how he/she is doing. What we may need to re-examine is the nature and the manner that these questions are asked in; how much detail is appropriate? How do we differentiate between issues like pornography usage, masturbation, or other sexual acts? What about cases of sexual abuse? All these nuances are important to consider in this very delicate subject of discussing sexuality with children.
Marriage is one of the most important relationships, but it can also be one of the most confusing! There are so many false beliefs perpetuating about what a good marriage really looks like. And while we may know in our minds that other couples have struggles as well, it’s not always something we talk about. Here are 4 common marriage myths:
Dr. Tina Sellers, author of Sex, God, and the Conservative Church, defines sexual shame as “a visceral feeling of humiliation and disgust toward one’s own body and identity as a sexual being, and a belief of being abnormal, inferior, and unworthy.”
Most of us grew up in a culture where parents didn’t often talk openly with their kids about bodies and sex, and a good number of us still don’t really know what to say to our own kids about the topic. In schools, many sex-education courses focuses on abstinence and skirt around topics deemed more appropriate for home discussions. Combined with our distorted, sex-saturated media, it’s no wonder so many individuals grow up with feelings of shame or inadequacy surrounding their bodies and their sexuality.
These feelings interfere with the development of our most important relationships, but they don’t have to.
Dr. Sellers suggests four steps for overcoming sexual shame:
The first step is to Frame. Framing means gaining accurate information on sexuality. Some of my favorite books on bodies, sex, and intimacy are:
For kids: “Sex is a Funny Word” by Cory Silverberg
For girls: “The Care and Keeping of You” by Valorie Schaefer
For boys: “Dating and Sex: A Guide for the 21st Century Teen Boy” by Andrew Smiler
For parents of teens: “For Goodness Sex” by Al Vernacchio
On female sexuality: “Come as You Are” by Emily Nagoski
On male sexuality: “The New Male Sexuality, Revised Edition” by Bernie Zilbergeld
For LDS couples: “What Your Parents Didn’t Tell You About Sex” by Anthony Hughs
There are many more great resources out there. Having accurate and open information about your body and what “normal” looks like can help dispel the sexual myths you may have picked up growing up or through media. Education can calm anxiety and help lay out a plan for gaining the approach to sexuality that you’d like to have in your life.
Dr. Sellers’ second step is to Name. This means finding a group you feel safe in, where you can tell your story and feel heard. This could be a therapy group, it could be a book group (using any of the above suggestions!), it could be an online support group. The important thing is to find a place where people can really hear and understand you so that you can name, or verbalize your own story.
The third step is Claim: Where sex is used so commonly to sell products (either by sexualizing our lunch or pointing out our flaws in order to get us to buy the product that will “fix” everything), media and marketing can throw a real punch to our sense of self worth. We need to claim our right to be okay just the way we are. If this is an area you struggle with, reading books and sharing your story can help, but sometimes you might find you need extra help learning to heal internalized shame. Find a therapist to talk to. Practice challenging negative self-talk. Claim the amazing things that make you who you are.
The last step is Aim. Aim means to write a new story for yourself. We all have stories or narratives that we tell ourselves, and if the old one hasn’t been helpful, begin writing a new story. Learning to look at your past in new ways can help open up potential for growth and new discoveries in your future. Let the keyword for your new narrative be “hope.”
If you have struggled with shame in connection with your body or sexuality and it’s holding you back from creating the connection and pleasure you hope for in your relationships, call and schedule an appointment today at 801-944-4555.
I recently chatted with Natasha Helfer Parker, LMFT about how the ability to develop good assertiveness skills can help with sexual satisfaction. We discussed cultural gender messages, both within Mormonism and without, that get in the way of such things as differentiation, communication skills, self-care and self-awareness. I share the 5 skills from my book The Assertiveness Guide for Women that can help shift these patterns around. We also discuss managing libido differences, increasing female arousal and pleasure, sexual education for our teens, how to get past “chastity” language and more.
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.