Sex Therapy: A Look into Female Sexuality

After a plethora of failed attempts (and millions of dollars later) at making a female Viagra, one can only wonder what it is that such medication is addressing in men that it isn’t in females. Where erection-enhancing drugs assist in matching a male’s physiological response to their psychological arousal, for females, the medication would need to be the opposite.  A woman can be physically aroused, even have an orgasm, but not have an interest (desire) in sex. 

Being that frequency of sexual intercourse and arousal has little to do with sexual desire in females, let us further define what exactly is sexual arousal and desire: 

  • Sexual desire (also coined ‘sex drive’ or ‘libido’), is controlled by the brain and is the innate force that makes us think about sex and act sexually.
  • Sexual arousal (also coined being 'turned on), is referring to physical response such as vaginal lubrication, increased blow flow to the vagina and rapid heart rate.

In the past women’s sexuality was misunderstood and unexplored until the women’s liberation encouraged a curious stance and growing awareness in the ways in which women’s sexuality differed from men’s. Still, there still are many unanswered questions to the multifaceted complexities of female arousal.

It is still neurologically unclear how desire works or what triggers it (as this varies per individual). What is easier to examine is the reason behind desire's loss or absence. As described by Esther Perel in her informative book “Mating in Captivity”, the very things that boost sexual desire, such as risk, excitement, and newness, are contradictory to what we gain in committed long term relationships, such as safety, stability, and comfort. This confirms why desire is more likely to diminish in long-term relationships, however, it has been found that for women the loss is more severe.

A sense of mystery and thrill of the unknown that is often experienced at the beginning of relationships can get lost in domestic life. With this in mind, although there may not be an exact solution, consider how a little distance can go a long way in terms of promoting desire. Spending all your time with someone is great and all but does not leave much room for lust. Sex gets easily put on the back-burner because, well, ‘you’re both tired and it’s no biggie to do it tomorrow, next week, or next month’-Get the point?

Communication is sexy and will help you and your partner better meet your sexual needs. What does desire look like to you? Is there something you want from your partner or for yourself that you are shying away discussing due to fears/anxiety regarding your partner (or societies) response? Well, you don’t know what you don’t know and until you ask, you won't know! 

The infamous sex educator Betty Dodson discusses how negative consequences, such as high levels of anxiety, result in low levels of sexual desire. She writes, “When we are anxious, and concerned about our well being, sexual arousal is quiet. Anxiety turns libido off. The interesting idea here is that from the brain's perspective, individual survival is primary, and sexual survival secondary.” This is a prime example of how mental health and wellness are correlated with sexual health. 

Working with a sex therapist will provide the support and encouragement to develop the tools necessary to make changes in your life, to reframe sexual dysfunction, and to improve experienced desire. A sex therapist and relationship counselor will help you to reframe the way you look at sex and desire by disputing any irrational beliefs (“I should always feel desire when I am with my partner and if I do not then I must be in the wrong relationship or something must be wrong with me”) that are hindering you from having the sex life and sexual connections you want.

Lauren is a Therapist in New York providing relationship counseling and sex therapy for individuals and couples. Are you ready for insight and change?

Difficulties Dating in the Digital Age

We are living in a digital age where accessibility is a norm and privacy is limited. The Internet has significantly affected how we communicate and connect with others so it is only fair to consider the impact this has had on relationships – and risk of infidelity. With the delete button at our fingertips, it is quite easy to (or one may presume) get away with cheating. So, how do you help your relationship remain a faithful one when opportunities are endless?

Firstly, consider whether there is a mutually definitive understanding of what cheating is in your relationship. What is acceptable to one partner may not be to the other. Without communicating these expectations and boundaries you are increasing the likeliness of finding yourself and the relationship in a disappointing, hurtful place on more than one occasion. It is possible that, for example, one person in the relationship deems flirtation as innocent fun, while the other believes it is crossing the line. The important point to remember is that neither are wrong, rather, what worked in one relationship will not necessarily work in all, and that is OK. It comes down to being able to effectively communicate your needs (without blaming or shaming), express empathy and validation, and being open to compromise.

An option to explore when you and your partner are having difficulty agreeing on terms of fidelity is that even without the internet factor, consensual non-monogamy and non-traditional relationships are a thing (yes, there are open relationships beyond being the side piece) – and although they may not be for everyone, it might be worth considering whether your relationship’s wellbeing is solely based on it’s sexual exclusivity and where such a concept originated. If your relationship is comprised of other parts you both find meaningful, maybe reconsider how not restricting sexual boundaries could encourage openness, honesty, and support.

If non-monogamy is not your thing but the temptation of endless dating apps is still playing on you or your partner's mind that does not signify you are in the wrong relationship. Familiarity and domesticity decreases the sexy in relationships. Instead of going on a guilt-trip for your wandering eye, try something effective such as evaluating the cost-benefit ratios of acting on these desires. A few moments of satisfaction may be more costly than you anticipated in the moment, but because we can’t alter what is already done, applying this decision making model when temptation is heightened would be a useful tool. 

Cognitive behavioral therapies, including evidence-based REBT, offer an effective means of exploring infidelity, understanding the origins of jealously and working towards a relationship resolution of sorts. A relationship and sex therapist can assist you in discussing boundaries, roles and rules that work for your unique relationship’s needs.

Lauren is a Therapist in New York providing relationship counseling and sex therapy for individuals and couples. Are you ready for insight and change?

Why Autonomy Benefits Relationships

During the early phase of relationships individuals may find that they are willing, even eager to, go out of their way to present heir best version of self, which for some is not being themselves at all. Instead, they suddenly take on the attitudes and belief system of the person of interest. They like hiking so, after a lifetime of disinterest in physical activity, you are enthusiastic about hiking; they enjoy spicy food so you are willing to give it a go despite knowing the stomach pains that await you later.

Let’s consider Julia Roberts role in the movie Runaway Bride. Richard Gere helps to point out this behavior in that the fleeing bride tends to adjust her likes and dislikes (what type of eggs she likes and ‘her’ hobbies) depending on her most recent fiancé. Although this movie attempts to utilize humor to highlight the barrier preventing her from walking down the aisle, a Psychologist named Murray Bowen coined this Differentiation of Self: the ability to separate thoughts and feelings.

·      Poorly Differentiated Individuals: Tend to fuse with others; struggle to formulate ‘I’ thinking due to their emotionally dependency on others; emotionally reactive; dependent, avoidant or distant in relationships; concerned about what others think.

·      Highly Differentiated Individuals: Feel, think and act for themselves; autonomous; in relationships they do not fear risk of losing identity in their partner rather they enjoy closeness and can bear small arguments.

Lack of differentiation in relationships can lead to enmeshment. This sort of attachment hinders individual growth and autonomy, which is a vital contributor to experienced wellness. This infatuation of sorts is not necessarily equally maintained and experienced by each partner. Although you may want to spend all your time together initially, a partner may grow comfortable and begin to desire to bring focus on additional life priorities (hobbies, friends, family, etc.). When only one partner transitions out of the enmeshed phase this often leads to confusion, feelings of loss, overbearing behavior; distance, resentment, stonewall and so forth.

It is valuable to highlight the importance of differentiation prior to even entering a relationship. In gaining an understanding of the benefits of such, when entering a partnership one will be better prepared to compromise on a balanced state of interdependence.

Working with a relationship counselor can help to work through unresolved conflict in our lives that contributed to poor differentiation. In learning how experiences of relationships from the past (including caregiver) play a significant role on how we experience others and ourselves will help to promote consciousness and prepare for positive change.  

Lauren is a Therapist in New York providing relationship counseling and sex therapy for individuals and couples. Are you ready for insight and change?

Monday Blues: The 'Weekend Effect'

Have you ever wondered why Monday elicits such negative emotions? There appears to be a general consensus over this experience that can be observed on social media platforms through humor, venting Facebook statuses, and the use of memes. Well this angst appears to be correlated to something bigger than a socialized norm one picked up on and is actually not isolated to the adult population. As some of you may know, school age children also are not necessarily fond of the start of their school week. In a society where Friday stands for freedom and Mondaze signify responsibilities, it would make sense that people may not be in the best of moods regarding the latter of the two.

A study of daily mood variation in employed adults published in the January 2010 issue of the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology describes this experience as the 'weekend effect'. The weekend presents us the opportunity to choose how we fill our time, whether that is bonding with family or friends, personal ‘me’ time, or engaging in hobbies; it is our freedom of choice that is so appealing.  Richard Ryan, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester discusses the study by noting all considered variables: “The results demonstrated that men and women alike consistently feel better mentally and physically on the weekend. They feel better regardless of how much money they make, how many hours they work, how educated they happen to be, or whether they work in the trades, the service industry, or in a professional capacity. They feel better whether they are single, married, living together, divorced, or widowed. And, they feel better regardless of age.”

We live in a society that tends to prioritize professional success over, let's just say, family. This specific example is evident in the limited allotted time to paid maternity leave, demonstrating little regards to the importance of parent-child bonding time to the child's developing (which could even benefit society in the long run). This brings attention to how one's experienced wellness is dependent on more than just their professional achievements. Rather, the weekend’s appeal derives from the provision of free time and thus the freedom to actively meet one’s basic need for autonomy and relatedness. With that in mind, no wonder so many people experience Monday blues.

If you find that there is limited time to dedicate to other valuable parts of you (lover, artist, introvert) to the point that it is triggering negative consequences, including anxiety and depression, it may be beneficial to work with a cognitive behavioral therapist. A rational emotive behavioral professional specializes in examining how barriers are being maintained in our lives through our irrational belief systems (“I must never use my vacation time otherwise my colleagues will think I am lazy”) and how they contribute to the negative consequences experienced. It is collaborative work that aims towards the development of useful tools to aid in re-prioritizing your life to more consciously incorporate aforementioned valuable parts of you into your daily routine. In doing so, the 'weekend effect' may not be such a normalized experience, rather, striving for balance and advocating for the importance of well-being could become a trend more commonly portrayed in memes and supported in work environments and educational systems.

Lauren is a Therapist in New York providing relationship counseling and sex therapy for individuals and couples. Are you ready for insight and change?

Feeling Bad About Feeling Bad

Feeling bad about feeling bad - the human tendency to feel badly about their negative, rather non-ideal, emotional or behavioral responses to activating life events. This is something that Albert Ellis addresses in the ABC model of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy and is described as reinforcing an already self defeating belief system.

In doing this we invalidate the human experience and encourage the irrational belief that, if faced with difficulty one should always have their armor handy because, well, all negative emotions are BAD.

It is useful to point out that negative emotions do not all fit into the ‘unhealthy’ category. Unhealthy emotions can actually be quite useful to humans (feeling scared of walking in the dark alleyway alone at night) and act as appropriate responses to let’s say, loss. Unhealthy negative emotions, according to the REBT approach, are described as: depressed mood, rage, fear, unbearableness, anxiety and any emotion that creates barriers for one to see the possibility of a brighter tomorrow. Unhealthy behavioral consequences are comprised of those that are harmful in some way (I.e. social isolation).

Let’s say, for example, you have been procrastinating with an assignment and later experience feelings of worthlessness upon reflecting about the procrastination. This is a total double wammy to ones well-being and is a prime example of how it is ones own belief system that is the causation of the barriers they are encountering, preventing one from actually accomplishing the task at hand, not the task itself.

If you find yourself in this position all too often working with a professional who specialize in REBT will help you identify self defeating beliefs and work towards developing unconditional acceptance. Instead of feeling bad about feeling bad, therapy guides you towards developing the tools to actively dispute the irrational beliefs that elicit the negative unhealthy emotions.

An REBT counselor understands the difference between positive thinking and healthy thinking and will promote emotional responsibility. So instead of feeling bad about feeling bad, we can acknowledge the complexities of life and the negative emotions they elicit, but most importantly that you have control over the way you feel in those difficult circumstances by thinking in an accepting way.

Lauren is a Therapist in New York providing relationship counseling and sex therapy for individuals and couples. Are you ready for insight and change?

The Pressure of Valentine's Day on Relationships

A holiday dedicated to celebrate relationships may actually put a damper on them and here's why:

Placing expectations on your partner, especially without discussing and negotiating such, increases the likeliness of experiencing disappointment. In terms of Valentine's Day, an entire culture encourages expectations to be placed on one day, setting the bar exceptionally high. Individuals using social media often reinforce such ideals by displaying the most picturesque moments and experiences. People are able to tailor their image to portray only specific moments of reality, often only including the best version of a much more detailed story.

Constantly being flooded with these ideals may lead to comparisons and have a toll on one's own experience of happiness. There may be blurred lines between what you value and would consider a great Valentine's Day experience or gift versus what others convey that you should expect or want from the day and your partner. Valentine's Day could be a positive extension of admiration and love that compliment's your connection and commitment to your partner. Instead of placing pressure on proving one's love in one day, consider how as a couple you can begin to emphasize love and affection in your daily lives to promote the well-being and longevity of the relationship. Focus on communicating what you both would like to experience more of: romantic dinners, vacations, intimacy, and make a conscious effort to make these changes and meet each other's needs. When both partners feel love and fulfillment in their everyday relationship, Valentine's Day is just Wednesday!

If there are concerns in your relationship that you are having difficulty addressing, speaking with a professional is a great tool to help identify expectations, facilitate effective communication and work on establishing goals.

Lauren is a Therapist in New York providing relationship counseling and sex therapy for individuals and couples. Are you ready for insight and change?

Bedroom Blues: Navigating Intimacy Challenges in Relationships

When choosing a romantic partner there are often several variables one may consider prior to commitment, with sexual compatibility often not being an exception. But what happens when the person who compliments you in many valuable ways, does not seem to match you sexually? This can weigh heavy on the potential of the relationship and may even hinder each partner’s experienced happiness despite the many other aspects of their partner that elicits joy. But fret not lovers; sexual compatibility is not an inflexible concept. Firstly, keep in mind that neither partner is wrong for how frequent or infrequent they desire sex. Placing an expectation in relationships that because two people stimulate each other mentally and emotionally that they also are ‘supposed’ to want the same things sexually can negatively impact the wellness of the relationship. It creates an idealistic platform when entering relationships that, if not met, will result in disappointment, judgment, shame and/or blame. Even the most passionate of partners will experience waves of uncertainty and differing sex drives at certain points in their relationship. With that in mind, a goal for couples would be to begin to remove such unrealistic demands and instead highlight the importance of communication and compromise in all aspects of a relationship, including sex and intimacy.  Communication can be challenging if partners are in defensive and offensive mode due to built up frustration over ‘incompatible’ sex drives. If possible, seek a couple’s counselor who specializes in sexuality to aid in identifying and revising cognitive distortions including– “My partner ‘must’ want sex every time I do or we are not compatible enough.” A professional is a great resource to help couples come to a compromise on what a happy and healthy sex life looks like for their UNIQUE relationship. Don’t be afraid to explore your sexuality together so you can create your own love language. A little direction goes a long way, so keep in mind the benefits of positive reinforcement when your partner is pleasing you in a way you want to encourage for the future. A satisfying sex life most greatly begins and ends with compromise. This may include one partner having sex even when they are not in the mood or the other using masturbation as means of feeding their sexual hunger. Consider whether sexual exclusivity, familiarity and lack of novelty are negatively affecting sexual intimacy in the relationship. Engaging in a new sexual activity together may spark that previously experienced passion; or some simple distance may also do the trick. The key is not to adhere to a socialized norm of what relationships and sexuality looks like; to create your own love story that leaves you satisfied with no apologies necessary.

Lauren is a Therapist in New York providing relationship counseling and sex therapy for individuals and couples. Are you ready for insight and change?

Meditation

As a therapist in New York I found this article about thousand dollar workshops in meditation to be really interesting.

I get it. It's good. I meditate – I also go to therapy which some have called a form of meditation.  Because it's hard to "sit" - especially when there are things on your mind- like irrational beliefs you are barely conscious of.  I imagine it might also be especially hard to sit when you are in a networking meditation class costing you $1000 for a four-day introduction. 

But, as Laura M. Holson reports, "now, meditation studios and conferences catering to Type A Manhattan careerists are becoming a new hub for networking without the crass obviousness of looking for a job."

So, I guess that means -best learn how to sit with yourself and get your head and finances in order!  Whatever way you can!

PS I think therapy helps...

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/23/fashion/how-to-find-a-job-with-meditation-and-mindfulness.html

Anna Wilson

Psychotherapist

http://www.mytherapist.info/anna

Smell

As a therapist in NY working with couples and individuals on issues related to sex, this discovery is particularly interesting.

Apparently our whole body smells!  If you didn't love your mammalian body before knowing something about the science of smell, then check this out, and let this bring you to your senses! 

Alex Stone writes, "Over the last decade or so, scientists have discovered that odor receptors are not solely confined to the nose, but found throughout body — in the liver, the heart, the kidneys and even sperm — where they play a pivotal role in a host of physiological functions.

Now, a team of biologists at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany has found that our skin is bristling with olfactory receptors..." http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/14/science/smell-turns-up-in-unexpected-places.html

Source: http://mytherapist.info/anna

Dating and Choices

Looking for just the right person with hook-up sites can be a thorny quest.  And as a therapist in New York, I agree with Leah Reich in her article about sites like Tinder that we may not have the processing power to sift through thousands of matches.  But I wonder, could the quest be fun? If it is like a game that you "keep playing" on your phone, maybe the task becomes how to find our own joy in the process-- our own play in the "playing".  

She writes in, "Playing the Numbers in Digital Dating: What if more choices only make it harder to find one good match?"  that "digital dating allows us to increase our numbers of suitors and objects of interest — Tinder says it has made 2 billion matches to date — but unless you’re a math genius or a hacker who can beat these algorithms at their own game, more isn’t necessarily the answer. It’s about finding good matches in smaller sets. Maybe algorithms aren’t there yet. Or maybe that’s not the goal of the game. Even without computers and phones, long before screens, we’ve always wondered, “But is there someone better?” There’s a simple reason for that, although the simple reason does not have a simple solution: Dating involves humans. We are strange creatures, sometimes brutal, not always photogenic, often delicate. We’re fascinated by metrics, big pictures and endless horizons of possibility. And we always, always want more."

I wonder if the "goal of the game" isn't something closer to accepting our "strange creature" full of endless desire and fascination-- to question "is there someone better" about ourselves-- then, with playful hope-- to enjoy the game!

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NYC Sex Therapist Talks: SEXUAL BEHAVIOR AND SEX ROLES IN UNIVERSITY STUDENTS (DeMarco, 2006)

It's almost my seven year anniversary of completing my doctoral dissertation, so I thought I'd share it.  Here's the abstract for the skimmers.  ;)  

 

ABSTRACT The matter of sexual compulsivity / sex addiction is controversial among sexologists. However, sexually driven behavior varies among individuals as assessed by validated instruments like the Sexual Compulsivity Scale (SCS). The purpose of this research study was to investigate the relation between sexual compulsive behavior and gender role traits (masculinity/femininity) using the SCS and the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI) in a nonclinical setting with healthy university students. The working hypothesis was that individuals who score highly on the SCS will also score highly in the masculine areas of the BSRI. The study comprised of 116 students (54 male, 62 female). Men scored significantly higher than women in the SCS, and differed with respect to key questions predicting their individual SCS score. While the SCS was not associated with ethnicity, religion, relationship status or sexual orientation, students with addictive tendencies (tobacco, alcohol or drug abuse) scored significantly higher on this instrument. In the BSRI, female students showed significantly higher “femininity” than male, but no difference in the “masculinity”. The gender role traits were not clearly associated with other demographic characteristics. A direct correlation between sexual compulsivity and gender role traits could only be identified in males: The SCS and masculinity score from BSRI were positively correlated in male participants, and sex-typed “masculine males” scored significantly higher on the SCS. No such association was found with femininity / feminine personality in males or for female students at all. Patients from a sexologist’s office served as a positive control group with significantly higher SCS scores. In conclusion, men show generally increased sexual compulsivity than women, and this phenomenon is directly linked to masculine gender role traits. However, sexually driven behavior in women is more complex and cannot be associated with classical gender role traits.

(Click for Complete Paper)

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Does Trying to Be Happy Make Us Unhappy?

Searching for happiness might lead us to misery. "As we muddle through our days, the quest for happiness looms large. In the US., citizens are granted three inalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In the kingdom of Bhutan, there's a national index to measure happiness. But what if searching for happiness actually prevents us from finding it? There's reason to believe that the quest for happiness might be a recipe for misery." (read entire article)

Posted by Courtney Stevenson

The Power of Firsts

Your first kiss, your first game-winning shot, your first experience with death, your first lie... "certain youthful experiences can cast a long shadow, revealing character and at times actually shaping it." (read entire article)

A Cranky Pessimist's Guide to Getting Things Done

Negatively disposed towards positive thinking? There's an alternative. "Insights from contemporary psychology, and from several ancient philosophical traditions, suggest that the cranky, under-motivated pessimists among us don't actually need to undergo total personality transformations in order to get on with what needs to be done." Click here for 4 alternatives.

Posted by Courtney Stevenson

A New You?

Old Dogs, New Tricks... Can people change? Or are some parts of us set in stone? " 'He’ll never learn,' 'she always was a bad kid,' and 'once a cheater, always a cheater' all reflect a common belief: People never really change. While there may be a kernel of truth in this folk wisdom, it doesn’t square with recent research." (click here to set the record straight)

Posted by Courtney Stevenson