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Understanding Human Sexuality

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.

Q: What is the difference between sex and gender?

A: 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.

Q: What does gender identity mean?

A: Gender identity is defined by one’s personal, subjective sense of their gender, which is different from our biological sex.

Q: What is sexual orientation?

A: Sexual orientation is the unique pattern of sexual and romantic desire, behavior, and identity that each person experiences.

Q: Doesn’t sexual orientation consist of just three categories, heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual?

A: 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.

            Many 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.

            New 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 orientation.

With 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.

References

Crooks, R., & Baur, K. (2017). Our sexuality, thirteenth edition. Cengage Learning. Boston, MA.

Lehmiller, J. J. (2013). The psychology of human sexuality. Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

van 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. https://doi-org.proxy1.ncu.edu/10.1037/sgd0000335

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Creating Emotional Equality for Your Kids: From Your Threenager to your Teenager

 

Life seems to be getting busier and busier from soccer practice to choir rehearsals, school projects, and bedtime stories. I think we sometimes forget how intense life can be for a teenager or even for your three-year old learner. As an adult, we often get stuck in a mindset where we believe our adult problems are real and our teens problems are miniscule in comparison. Sometimes we forget how difficult life can be in high school. Maintaining friendships seem more difficult these days, with all the technology and social media barriers. Your little ones experience these difficulties as well. This could be with making friends at daycare and when family members are too busy to play or acknowledge their presence. When your child is experiencing all these stressors, they may come across as having a bad attitude, disrespectful, over-sensitive, or selfish. In reality, our kids are really just trying to figure out how to navigate life and may lack skills or verbiage to describe their stress and pain.

At the same time my daughter was experiencing her newfound emotions as a teen, I had the joy of also raising a three-year old who I deemed was like a threenager.

Threenager: A three-year-old child who has just as big of an attitude and overwhelming emotions as a teenager but with even less words or skills to regulate themselves.

I felt a little overwhelmed at times with all of their emotions as well as my own. Here are some tips and tricks I used to not only survive this time but also help my children thrive during these hard times.

  • Do not minimize your children’s emotional experience. Even if their problem seems small or easily solvable to you. They are having a hard time.

Instead, listen to their story, validate their feelings and offer your unconditional love and support.

  • Avoid Blame. There are times when your child is experiencing a natural consequence such as losing a friend because they wouldn’t share or added to a rumor about them.

What they really need is empathy and support. “It’s hard when you lose a friend.” Or “you seem to have had a bad day.”

  • They don’t need you to fix it. It may seem easier as a parent with life skills to solve problems for our kids but there is a bigger reward when they learn to solve the problem on their own.

You can sit with them and help them come up with their own solutions, “how do you think you can fix this?” or “what would you like to be different?” Also never underestimate the power of sitting and problem solving with your child over a glass of chocolate milk. It does wonders in my home.

  • Respect their boundaries. If your child is having a hard day and they do not want to talk about it or refuse a hug, do not personalize it, allow them time to work on the problem on their own.

Be there for them when they are ready for a hug or to talk. You can offer reassurance by telling them “I can see you want some space right now, I am here if you need me.”

These simple reframes as a parent have gone a long way to create a safe and equal relationship with my kids. It has eased some stress on my end and helped my children to gain emotional intelligence and gain life skills that are invaluable into adulthood.

If you would like to schedule a family session or session for your child, please call us at Wasatch Family Therapy at 801-944-4555

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3 Ways to Raise Healthy Kids in an Anxious World

There’s a lot of scary things going on in our culture, and it’s very easy for children to get overwhelmed. Here are some strategies to raise healthy kinds in an anxious world:

1. Manage Your Own Worries  

Think you can hide your fears from your child? You may need to think again. Children learn to read their parents’ facial expressions from a very young age. For instance, a toddler will glance back at his mother’s face before exploring a new area. If he detects calm from the parent, the toddler may feel reassured and explore the new environment; if he senses her fear, he may move closer to mom because he senses that there is danger nearby. All this can happen without any dialogue. Over time, a child may learn to fear going to new places because he has picked up on subtle parental messages of danger. Parents who learn to manage their own worries may help prevent anxiety in children.

2. Turn off the Evening News

The U.S. media outlets often use fear and sensationalism to attract more viewers. Kidnappings and extreme violence are reported frequently, while common acts of kindness and community support are rarely given weight. With repeated exposure, children, and even adults, may begin to believe that the world is more dangerous than it actually is. Even young children who appear to be occupied in play can tune in to environmental messages. Parents who choose to turn off the television and intentionally relay good news may help their children avoid the growing anxiety so common among today’s kids.

3. Encourage Kids to Face their Fears

For most parents, it is hard to watch their children struggle. It can be tempting to swoop in and rescue the child from a frightening challenge. There are situations where children could benefit from parents’ sensitive support and encouragement to confront feared tasks: first, give validity to the child’s feeling (fear or worry), and then encourage the child to move forward anyway. In this case, parents send the message that our fears do not have to debilitate us.

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5 Things NOT to Say to a Pregnant Woman

canstockphoto5848638

So someone in your life is going to be having a baby. How exciting! This can be a very fun time, not only for the expectant parents, but also for friends and family awaiting the arrival of a new little baby into the world. As someone who is currently pregnant and expecting my third child in a few weeks, I can say that while having people be interested and excited about your pregnancy is wonderful, there are also some comments that one could live without. If you are one of the many who is sometimes looking for ways to talk to someone in your life (or even a random stranger) about her pregnancy, here are a few of the “do’s and don’ts”:

Wow, you’re sure getting big!”

Any variation of this kind of statement is inappropriate. Things such as “Wow! You look like you’re going to pop any day!” or “Yep-you definitely look pregnant!” feel like you may as well be saying, “You look horrible and fat. I’ve definitely noticed your weight gain.” Individuals who make these kind of statements may think it’s okay to do so because a woman is expected to grow during her pregnancy, but it still doesn’t feel good to a vulnerable pregnant woman who already may be feeling uncomfortable and insecure with all the constant body changes that come with carrying a child. If you want to show that you notice or would like to acknowledge someone’s pregnancy, all you simply need to say is “You look great! How are you feeling?” or ask basic questions about the impending arrival, such as the due date, gender, etc.

“You shouldn’t wish for your pregnancy to end. Once it does, you’re not going to get any sleep, and you’ll be drowning in diapers!”

Sometimes, especially towards the end of a pregnancy, an expectant mother is asked about if she’s “ready” for her baby to come. She may reply by expressing just how ready she is, (because she can’t wait for the discomfort of pregnancy to end), people often fire back with this type of response. When a woman becomes pregnant, is she not supposed to want a baby at the end of it? Do you think she got pregnant because she loves morning sickness, aches, pains, heartburn, and low energy and just hopes it lasts forever?! There is enough anxiety and worry about the arrival of a new baby that pregnant women don’t need more negativity-even if it’s meant to be said in jest. If a person is talking about wanting to be done, a nice response might be, “I’m so excited for you! I can’t wait to meet the new addition!” or “When you’re feeling tired or overwhelmed, let me know. I’d be happy to watch baby for a couple of hours while you get some extra sleep.”

“Just wait! Adding another kid is going to be so hard! It’s a game changer!”

This is another kind of comment that raises anxiety and fear during pregnancy when there’s already enough there as it is. Most pregnant women are already stressing about how they are going to adjust to adding a new member to their family, or becoming a parent for the first time, and they really need to feel support and empowerment from those around them. If you’re worried about someone you know and their ability to adjust, or if they are expressing concern about it, a helpful way to respond would be, “When your baby comes, how can I help you? I’m confident you’ll adjust just fine, but how can I help to make the transition less stressful for you?”

“Can I touch your belly?”

While it is better to at least ask than simply run up to a pregnant woman and start rubbing their stomach, it’s usually better just not to ask at all. Rule of thumb-if it’s something you wouldn’t do to someone that’s not pregnant, it doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily like it even though they are pregnant. Different people have different comfort levels when it comes to personal space, and most women I’ve talked to who have experienced pregnancy (myself included) don’t wish to be touched in this way. However, even by asking, they are placed in the awkward position to either have to tell you “no,: or just go along with it even though they feel uncomfortable. If you’re just dying to touch someone’s pregnant belly, maybe “feel them out” first. Ask them how they’ve felt about this subject, or how they’ve responded to this before in order to get an idea of whether of not they’d be okay with you asking. Otherwise, simply wait for an invitation. If you have the type of relationship with someone where they’d want you to feel their belly, they will likely get excited when they start to feel kicks and ask you if you’d like to feel.

“Can I be in the delivery room when your baby is born?”

This is another situation where you simply need to wait for an invitation. Giving birth can be an incredibly stressful and overwhelming experience (not to mention a personal one). I’ve known of women who ended up allowing people in the room they didn’t want to have in there, simply because they didn’t want to say “no.” They then are deprived of the type of delivery experience they wanted. If you want to be truly supportive of the arrival of a baby, allow the parents of that child to decide what type of experience they want. If they want you in the room, they’ll ask.

I realize that these type of comments aren’t meant to be harmful, and that by in large, people are often just trying to express their excitement about and support of a pregnancy. If you have been guilty of these types of comments, don’t feel bad! None of us is perfect, and we often don’t realize the way something can come across. Hopefully after reading through some of the alternatives, you feel better equipped to connect with the pregnant women in your life.

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10 Things To/Not To Say To A Single Person

10 Things (WFT)
While in grad school, I had the opportunity to study the experience young adults are having being single in today’s world. I had particular interest in the topic given that I myself am single and work with single people regularly in my therapy practice. After a year of study and research, I was asked to share what I learned at a regional mental health conference.

Early on in my presentation, a man in the audience (probably mid 50’s) raised his hand and asked, ”so why aren’t you married?” Thinking it was a joke, I chuckled and quipped back with something to the effect of, “That’s a great question, and I’d love to know the answer when you figure it out!” Everyone in the room laughed except for this gentleman. After clearly not answering his question, he fired back more intently: “No really, what’s wrong with all of these single people today? What’s keeping you guys from getting married?” By the looks on the faces of the audience members (a mix of single and married individuals), it was safe to say that the majority of us were taken aback by the question. Realizing that he wasn’t trying to be funny, I did my best to address his question as professionally as possible without becoming emotionally reactive. However, inside I was thinking, “how dare he ask me to defend/expose one of my greatest insecurities in front of this audience?” Another part was able to look past the abrasiveness of the delivery and focus on the underlying issue at hand. Which is, because relationships (or the lack thereof) are so personal, sometimes it’s hard for us to know how to talk about them.

Ironically, the core message of my presentation focused on understanding the experience, pressures, and judgement young single adults face in today’s society. I genuinely believe that my new friend had no malicious intent. Rather, he used poor tact when asking an honest question.

So, in hopes that we can promote more safety/support and less judgement in our conversations, here are 10 suggestions of “things no to” and “things to” say to your single friends:

10 Things NOT To Say To A Single Person
1. You are such a catch! I’m surprised you aren’t married yet.
2. What about ______? They’re single too!
3. I wish I was single again. Life was so much easier.
4. Maybe you’re just being too picky.
5. Don’t worry, there are always more fish in the sea.
6. Maybe you’re just not putting yourself out there enough.
7. You need to hurry and get married or you won’t be able to have kids.
8. Look aren’t everything-they will change after you’re married.
9. Your time will come. I just know it.
10. You’re probably having too much fun being single, huh?

 

10 Things TO Say To A Single Person
 
1. You are such a catch.
2. Let me know if you like being set up. I know some really good people.
3. Do you want to talk about dating? Or would you rather not?
4. I think you’re great. You deserve to find someone you think is great too.
5. You really seemed to like _______. I’m sorry that things didn’t work out.
6. I’ve noticed that you’ve been doing _________. How is that going?
8. I would really love for you to find someone you’re compatible with.
9. What do you have coming up that you’re looking forward to?
10. I’m headed to ________. Would you like to join me?
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4 Tips for Working with a Discouraged Child

canstockphoto11822062Four tips for working with a discouraged child…

When working with a discouraged child, work to see them as a discouraged individual. Feeling discouraged isn’t just an emotion experienced by children, it is a very relatable feeling that adults often experience as well. Children, while developmentally less mature, are not experiencing something you lack the ability to empathize with. So lets start there! Empathy can soften even the most escalated situations. Now that we are going into this situation with empathy, explore how the four tips below could be implemented when you encounter a situation with your child who may be experiencing a moment of discouragement

1. How would you want someone to react to you if you were discouraged? Think back to a time when you last felt discouraged. How would you have like a loved one to respond to you? What would have felt good, comforting and supportive? Begin to respond to your child in a similar fashion.

2. How can you encourage the child to self-soothe and problem solve independently? Encourage your child to identify the state of discouragement and empower them to problem solve to help themselves to find relief and solutions.

3. Offer yourself as a resource but don’t insist on being one. When a child is discouraged it may be nice to know they are not alone and that you are there as a resource in their life to offer support when they feel they need it. You might say something like. “I can see you are discouraged right now. I know you are a great problem solver but if you need any help problem solving or if you just need a hug, I am here for you”

4. Acknowledge, validate and commend your child for overcoming a challenging emotional experience. When you see your child may be de-escalating, has successfully problem solved, or is just finding their way through feeling discouraged, acknowledge them and their emotional work. That might look something like this. “Wow, I could see that you were really discouraged and I bet that was tough, but you really handled that nicely and found a way to help yourself through it and/or coped with that discouragement really well. I am happy you are starting to feel better”

If you identify that you may have a child struggling beyond your and their ability to cope with everyday emotions it may be a great time to explore the idea of seeking professional support. A licensed therapist can support you and your child in exploring ways to cope with difficult emotions and emotional reactions. Connecting with a therapist during hard times can aid in coping strategies and building family skills!

Melanie works closely with children, teens and parents to develop healthy and positive coping strategies. If you would like to schedule a session with Melanie D. Davis, CMHC, NCC contact Wasatch Family Therapy at 801-944-4555

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Happy Mother’s Day! Let’s Do This Together

two-female-friendsAs a school psychologist working in a high school, I have the privilege of interacting with a multitude of people – adults and adolescents alike – with a common purpose; to help each other do their best each day at school and when the school day is through. Each time a parent, student, or teacher courageously walks into my office or picks up the phone to contact me, initiating some level of support, there is a striking similarity to most all referrals that come through my doorway. Regardless of the nature of the situation requiring help or support, it is almost certain that the people involved feel a sense of isolation – often deeply so – as if they are completely alone. For any of us who have felt that sense of isolation, how much courage it takes to reach out and ask for help ! Sincerely, be it a parent asking for feedback from a teacher, a teacher asking for help from a school psychologist, or an adolescent asking help from anyone is incredibly difficult.

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Supporting Loved Ones In Coming Out: KSL News

Holly Willard was featured on KSL about the importance of unconditional love and understanding when a family member comes out of the closet. The issue is very emotional and difficult so here are some tips when a family member discloses their homosexuality to you:

1. Let them know that you love them.  They need your acceptance and unconditional love.  They have felt alone and rejected for a long time.  Saying you love them defuses the fear and provides healing.

2. Tell them they belong and will always be a part of your family.   The decision to come out of the closet takes a lot of courage because of the many horror stories of families who disown their children.  They need to know that they are yours and will always be.  They need to know they belong.

3.  Don’t Lecture.  They are probably aware of your religious beliefs/values.  Most likely they have done a lot of research on the topic because they are trying to reconcile their beliefs and feelings.

4. Recognize that they have come out to you because they care about your relationship.  When someone comes out of the closet, they are asking, ” Can you see me for who I am and accept that.”  They are being open and honest. The emotional message that they are trying to convey is that they want to be closer to you.

5.  Find a safe and supportive place to explore your feelings.  Acceptance is a process, be patient with yourself.  Find someone you can talk to i.e. support group, friend, or therapist.  The process can be especially difficult when your child discloses.  Most parents grieve who they thought their child was or what they wanted for their future. Parents want to protect their child and they  might be scared of the societal challenges their child may face. It is usually not helpful to talk through these issues with the person because they may see it as rejection or you wanting to change them.

6. Have an open dialogue about what they want for their future.  Keep the door open to continue the conversation so you can discuss their goals and how you can support them.

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