It’s 2017, and you’ve decided it is time to tell some folks the truth about you: you’re gay, you’ve BEEN gay, and you’re tired of hiding it in both big and small ways. If you’ve been agonizing about exactly how to tell people you’re gay let me say this first: the most important part of this exchange is YOU. Your needs, your feelings, your future, and your lifestyle. This conversation can be short and sweet.
Convey your message in simple language so no one gets it twisted:
“Hello? It’s me. I was wondering if you knew that I’m gay. Yes? You suspected already? Ok great just checking, I thought I’d officially confirm it. M’kay bye!” (Hang up phone and start belting out lyrics to your favorite power workout song.)
“Hello? It’s me. I was wondering if you knew that I’m gay. No? Ok well glad I checked because I am. Hella gay. Happy to share with you some ways you could support me, if you’re interested. If not, we can talk about something else now.”
This is an exercise in getting something off your chest for you, about you. Maybe the person you’ve told has questions about ‘how sure you are’, ‘if this could be a phase’, or feels compelled to wonder out loud if ‘maybe you just haven’t met the right person yet.’ If the person you’ve just told you’re gay responds with doubtful comments and questions you can respond like this:
2. Convey you do not have doubts about your sexuality. If they have difficulty believing you are in fact, gay, they should work through those feelings on their own. Maybe they need some professional support and/or expertise to become better informed about how sexuality works.
“It seems like you’re having a hard time believing that I understand my own feelings and my own sexuality. What if I were asking you these same questions about your sexuality? I don’t want to debate my sexuality, just like I’m sure you don’t want to debate yours.”
“It sounds like you could use some time to think about what I’ve just told you, based on your comments and questions. I’ve already thought A LOT about it, and I’m done now. I’ve made peace with the fact that I’m gay. There’s nothing else to think about- I’m gay, the end. When you’ve reached that place too, you’ll feel at peace with it, just like I do.”
3. Convey you have choices about how you live your life, and the people in it. Make it clear that while you’d like your personal and professional relationships to remain unaffected by your sexuality, the fact is some people will have a hard time accepting this. The best thing you can do is surround yourself with people who respect and support your goals and are willing to treat you fairly regardless of your sexuality. This will be a lifelong endeavor, but worth the effort so that you can live your best, happiest, most fulfilled life.
“I understand there will be people who won’t like me because I’m gay. That’s not really any different than people who might not like you (or anyone for that matter) because of things they can’t change about themselves. If someone doesn’t like me because I’m gay that’s their problem not mine.”
“Maybe it’s not obvious, but I’d rather not have to deal with people treating me unfairly or excluding me from opportunities or even basic rights because I’m gay. The best thing I can do is pursue personal relationships and professional opportunities that allow me to be myself, grow, and pursue fulfilling goals. It would be great if you could support me. If not, I understand that’s your choice. You should understand it’s my choice to build a support group of people who accept me.”
The emotional toll of having these conversations should not be underestimated. It’s normal to feel anxious, overwhelmed, and exhausted by the prospects of sharing news about yourself that may not be well-received. This is a good time to invest in regular self care activities and connect with people who accept and support you as you are.
Telling people you’re gay need not be a long, complicated, agonizing conversation. You do not have to allow anyone to make you feel like you’re wrong, unhealthy, or unlovable. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that this is your life, and no matter what your sexuality is you can find a way to pursue happiness, love, fulfillment and success. We can’t control how people feel about sexual diversity, but we can take strides to protect ourselves from feeling negatively judged by limiting the air time we give them, and focus our attention on building a life of positive self acceptance.
I want to begin this piece by sharing how challenging it can be for me to understand the underpinnings of American masculinity as an American woman of color. Even after 10 years of experience as a clinical psychologist, coach and professor I still feel stumped sometimes in helping men navigate their career development and improve their interpersonal relationships, particularly as it relates to their masculine identity. I have a deep sense of curiosity and motivation to understand the perspectives of all my clientele. Public figures can also also stir my intellectual curiosity, especially when similar issues are cropping up among those I’m helping in my practice. I write as a way to synthesize the research and consultation I do with professional colleagues and members of various social groups to increase my understanding of particular clinical issues. By improving my understanding of how men operate within their gender framework, I can more effectively support their goals for happiness and achievement while respecting their values and world view.
Donald Trump’s entire public life provides a rich opportunity to examine how male gender expression, at it’s extreme, can lead to a toxic psychological crisis in masculine identity. In this article I’d like to set aside drawing conclusions about his potential to effectively lead as President of The United States of America. Why? Just imagine for a moment, what it would be like to be Donald Trump’s therapist. You see, as difficult as it may be, therapists must aim to reserve judgment in order to understand and assess how to be helpful in creating healthy change and growth. If we can we understand Donald Trump’s psychological make-up as it relates to masculinity, surely we can learn something about the gender confines that men face in getting their psychological needs met as they strive for fulfillment and achievement. Why is this important? Trump reflects the toxic side of American masculinity, and if we don’t take a close look at how and why toxicity develops and festers within male culture, we can’t begin to stop it from infecting others in small or large ways in men everywhere.
Imagine for a moment, a four way street intersection, where gas fueling stations are housed on each of the four corners. At each fueling station, you can ‘fill up your tank’ on:
Money/Influence of Financial Wealth
Control/Influence Upon Others (at work or in personal relationships)
Sexual Prowess and Virility/Sexual Satisfaction
These four fueling stations can be seen as representing the most traditional, socially acceptable, even socially celebrated opportunities for men to fuel their sense of masculinity. Whether or not you personally agree with this, the vast majority of American men are measured by others against these four standards of traditional masculinity at various points in their life. While men also aim for other forms of achievement (e.g. intellectual development, family life development, practice of religious faith) those strivings aren’t typically seen as embodying strength of masculinity in and of themselves. Traditional masculine-affirming pursuits do not have to be at the expense of other’s rights, take on a quality of malicious manipulation and oppression, or require a man to rely on them as his sole means for fulfillment. Masculine identity serves men best when it allows space for them to thrive in these traditional areas should they choose, but also allows them ample space to enrich their lives through other areas of fulfillment and connectivity.
As a woman and mental health professional, it can be tempting to say “hmmm…have you considered seeking fulfillment from OTHER areas? You’ve already experienced objectively high levels of achievement through these traditional areas, and you’re telling me you’re still unhappy/unsatisfied. Why not pivot and diversify? See if some other areas of personal development could help you feel better/more fulfilled for the long term?” In my professional experience, toxicity can take root in a man’s masculine identity when he gets stuck searching for fulfillment from these 4 traditional areas of masculinity only. Without diversification, it can lead to toxic overdose! In Donald Trump’s case, he keeps going back for more and more like an addict- all of his accomplishments are no longer getting him that desired high, so he keeps upping the ante. Overdosed on orange self-tanner and sporting a shellacked comb over, surrounding himself with garish gold interiors, aggressively forcing himself sexually upon countless women, accruing more debt in the relentless pursuit of financial return, publicly decrying ideas of racial superiority that benefit himself at the expense of others, and finally, seeking political office as the world’s most powerfully influential men. He is feeding his own internal beast and he does not appear to be slowing down. I suspect there is a deep, empty abyss inside his sense of identity that is always starving for increasingly grandiose, self-serving displays of ‘success’. This particular phenomenon of toxic masculinity is not only psychologically unhealthy, but socially destructive when public figures like Donald Trump effectively normalize misogyny, sexism, racism and xenophobia.
While many American men aspire to experience some degree of his accomplishments in the areas of wealth, power, influence, access and opportunity with beautiful women, it’s important to underscore that these gains alone may very well NOT lead to the level of fulfillment and happiness one might imagine. Encouraging a more well-rounded sense of masculine identity, one that allows room for pursuits that go beyond the traditional male gender constructs will increase men’s opportunity for lasting and balanced happiness. Research by Levant and other psychologists reveal healthy aspects of masculinity might actually protect and improve men’s health. These healthy aspects of masculinity include:
Aiming to grow and diversify oneself in these key areas can help men achieve lasting personal fulfillment beyond traditional masculine pursuits for success. Each are common treatment goals I work on with the high-achieving men in my executive coaching practice. Many have shared with me how rewarding it feels to build upon what they’ve already mastered and thrive in these important life aspirations.
Yesterday I spent my day coaching 7 different young adults through completely different stages of their relationship development. All of them have proven to be tremendously capable in their chosen professional field. Even in the teetering tech market of Silicon Vally they’ve earned impressive merit based raises, gifted pricy vacations abroad with company funds, landed on prestigious lists like Forbes Top 30 under 30, deemed essential in corporate leadership, and set trends in the startup world of the San Francisco Bay Area. All of them are navigating the perilous task of determining who to invest in for a long term romantic partnership. These are people prone to approaching goals with a steely pace and scrupulous plan for a high success rate. Yet interpersonal relationship development and decision making doesn’t easily succumb to this style of problem solving. How does one successfully determine when to invest in relationship growth versus separation, especially in the face of elusive feelings like ‘attraction, chemistry and connection’? How much compatibility is enough? How much compromise is too much? This article aims to offer some guiding points to lead you in your decision towards continuing in the relationship or breaking things off with the hopes of finding a better fit.
Predetermine what matters most in ANY sort of close, long term relationship. Do this exercise. Pretend you’re searching for a new platonic best friend, based on what has proven to be the most essential qualities you’ve enjoyed in other close friendships. Make a list of top 5 descriptive traits you believe would be most important for the friendship to be awesome.I asked people with various types of personalities to share this with me, in order to get a sense of what people prioritize when they decide to invest in growing a relationship. I was actually surprised by what some people said! (I won’t list any here because I think it’s more effective to create your list without external influences.) Now ask yourself ‘How can I find out if this person has enough of my 5 most valued traits? What will I look for? How long will it take? Does this person demonstrate these traits consistently with me as well as other key people in their life, or are they sporadic?’ Are the qualities on my list part of how I’ve identified and maintained ‘chemistry’ with people in the past? If you find yourself dating someone who doesn’t exhibit these qualities consistently with you, chances are it’s just not going to work.
Is there considerable evidence that this person adds measurable value to your life right now? I ask this because many people decide to invest in relationships based on factors they believe will be valuable at some future point. Nothing is wrong with considering things like compatible achievement/financial goals, similar hypothetical timelines for marriage, or believing someone would make an amazing parent. The problem with this focus is that people lose track of evaluating how much they actually enjoy the relationship in the here and now. I can’t tell you how many people come into my office stating “my problem is that I tend to date two different kinds of people; one is super hot and we have great physical chemistry but not a lot in common/we can’t stand each other outside the bedroom, and the other one has a lot of what I want in a life partner but I’m just not as attracted to them physically.” Choices, choices people! Here’s the bottom line. If someone doesn’t currently hold your interest enough for you to exclusively focus on them on a day-to-day basis, chances are you’re going to be so focused on an upgrade it’s bound to fail! It does not matter that their potential is great, or the timing is off, etc. Move on. But accept this:
THERE IS NO HOLY GRAIL of a partner. It doesn’t even matter how much of a catch you are (tragically!) Don’t believe me? Do this: find an older person who describes their early relationship as having exactly the experience you’ve always wanted- that feeling of butterflies and fireworks going off, sitting and daydreaming about when you get to spend time alone with them again, listening to them talk in awe of how amazing/intelligent/funny/interesting they are, doing stuff with them is so easy and fun, the physical attraction is there, ‘this is THE ONE’ feeling is there, the feeling is mutual, etc. etc. Even when this whole ‘madly in love’ experience remains unwavering for years between two people, they will STILL tell you that eventually the honeymoon phase does end (You’ve heard this before. Still, you long to be impervious to this truth, so you avoid it by chasing new honeymoons with different people). So this is when the hard work of committed relationship compromise begins, in order for you to enjoy the reality of a long-term relationship beyond the honeymoon phase.
Now if you’ve managed to make a connection with someone to even consider any of the above questions, you’re off to a decent start. These days in the dating world it’s a challenge to even get beyond the right swipe of a dating app, let alone past the cutting room floor of a first date/hang out session. Think about how you want to address the idea of investing in this next period of relationship evaluation.
Clarify the deal of commitment. Even though these conversations are awkward, if avoid it you’ll have no idea if investing more of your time makes sense. First figure out what you want. Would you prefer if the two of you are only dating each other in this next phase? Or dating other people but sexually exclusive? Do you know if marriage is something they want for themselves, and if so, how soon do they imagine being ready for marriage?
Spend time thinking about where you are and are not willing to compromise. The other person may need more time to feel it out. Many people operate under the belief that “compatible” people start out wanting commitment changes to happen at exactly the same time. This couldn’t be further from the truth, some people just need more time to process their thoughts and feelings. It is your job however, to decide whether the discrepancies that exist between the two of you are just too big to establish and maintain a fulfilling relationship. How you ask?
Notice the patterns that exist between you: Are routinely important habits in their life persistently difficult for you to bear? Do you see a feasible way for you to accept these things, even if they never change? Can you communicate while problem-solving without spiraling into attack or stonewalling mode with each other? Do you set each other off in consistently destructive ways? Is the emotional toll of engaging in this relationship negatively impacting other important areas of your life such as your ability to work effectively in your chosen path? Are you able to maintain the relationships you’ve determined are important to you while you’re dating this person?
Make a clear decision about the relationship for a specific period of time and execute towards that plan, rather than spending days or even months going back and forth about whether to stay in the relationship.‘Should I end this relationship? Yesterday I struggled with thinking I should, but today I feel like I want to make things work.’ This type of deliberation can be paralyzing and spiral into even bigger problems, like anxiety and depression, which exacerbate the situation. You’re not going to move forward in either your relationship or personally if you remain plagued with indecisiveness. By not committing to a concrete plan, you are not actively working to gain resolution. The irony of staying in a relationship with one foot out the door is that you neither benefit from the comfort of intimacy nor gain the necessary closure for moving on with your life.
Accept that even the happiest couples have perpetual problems. Manage conflict with the understanding that not all problems can be permanently solved. If I learned anything from studying the work of John Gottman (the leading expert on marital stability and relationship analysis through scientific direct observations) it was this- you are setting yourself up for failure if you approach all your relationship problems with the expectation of permanent resolution. Perpetual problems stem from fundamental differences in your personalities or lifestyle habits, and can lead to gridlock when attempts to communicate and compromise fail.
Learn to practice effective conflict management. Enlist emotional intelligence skills and aim to avoid toxic communication styles. Create a system of shared meaning in your relationship that fosters collaboration and friendship in order to bypass power struggles. What matters is not solving perpetual problems, but establishing a dialogue that communicates acceptance of your partner with humor, affection, and even amusement, to actively cope with the unresolvable problem without it tearing down the relationship.
If all else fails, seek professional help to help you figure out how to effectively invest the time and effort necessary for building and maintaining a healthy relationship. Work through your breakup story if that’s the route you take, but move on so you can benefit from the invaluable rewards of love and intimacy.
Millennials coming of age experience in the United States has been uniquely influenced by their access to the free, unlimited sexual content widely available on the internet. This access has served not only as a resource for their sexual curiosity and consumption, but as a primary resource for easily connecting to people who share their sexual preferences on the dating sites of the moment. Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University analyzed data from a survey of more than 33,000 adults in the U.S. to measure the country’s shifting sexual landscape. The data revealed that Millennials were the most likely generation to acknowledge having casual sex; 45 percent of them said they had slept with someone other than a boyfriend/girlfriend or spouse during their late teens or 20s. Overall, adult acceptance of premarital sex increased from 42 percent in 2000 to 58 percent in 2012, an all-time high. “Americans are spending more of their lifetime unmarried, so they have more opportunities to engage in sex with more partners, and less reason to disapprove of non-marital sex” reports Twenge. She opines that increasingly permissive attitudes toward sex are a sign of the rise of individualism in America. She explains “when a culture places more emphasis on the needs of the self and less on social rules, more relaxed attitudes toward sexuality are the almost inevitable result.”
As a coach and mental health expert I help people develop and practice the necessary skills for optimizing their new sexual experiences and increase their ability to find, establish and maintain satisfying relationships. This article aims to provide some practical guidelines for optimizing the outcomes of your casual sex encounters while dating, and insightful tips for decoding the opposite sex along the way.
Men seeking sexual encounters with women:
Adopt an early communication style that encourages a positive response from women. What does that mean? Skip the crude humor in online and text exchanges- chances are, you’re likely only entertaining yourself (or infamously landing yourself in one those Buzzfeed Tinder Fail lists) and that’s not the point is it? Humor is fine, and can be a good initial approach online, but seriously, a little goes a long way. Increase your odds of getting a genuine response from women by taking yourself out of the dregs of online dating wasteland- try telling an original, funny story about yourself, relate to something personal on a woman’s profile, or at minimum, send a quick hello with your array of pics to see if what you have going on is of interest to her. Have a friend (preferably female) screen your online pics. It may seem trivial, but poorly chosen pics can make or break your online dating success.
Once you’re corresponding consistently with someone, be proactive and suggest a specific plan toget together. While this seems like a no-brainer, a lot of guys fail to get the ball rolling while they have a woman’s attention. Comedian Aziz Ansari conducted focus groups with hundreds of people for his new book Modern Romance, getting intimate details on why people have problems with dating. He shares “The lack of clarity over whether the meet-up is even an actual date frustrates both sexes to no end, but since it’s usually the guys initiating, this is a clear area where men can step it up.” So guys, to optimize your chances of establishing a sexual encounter, strike while the iron is hot. While you’re keeping someone around as a text buddy, someone else is closing the deal as her new sex partner by making specific plans. It might be entertaining and easy to have an assortment of women to text and exchange photos with, but these women will eventually fade you out of the picture for someone they know in real life.
Be sincere and honest about what your ideal arrangement is right now. Just because you’re wanting to keep things casual doesn’t mean you’re decreasing your chances for sexual opportunities with women. There are plenty of women who are open to keeping things casual too! Plenty. It doesn’t make sense to allude to wanting a more committed relationship if you actually don’t- doing so only increases the odds of introducing drama I’m sure you’d rather avoid. Women can absolutely relate to wanting to experience an array of people before settling into a committed relationship, and understand you may be in a stage of your life where you’re prioritizing other life goals above romantic relationships. In short, aim for integrity when you engage with someone in pursuit of sex. Establishing this mutual understanding up front will create a space where both of you can focus on what you’re actually there for- sexual pleasure.
Real talk: If you aren’t asking what you can do to help a woman achieve orgasm and/or paying close attention to figuring out what she enjoys (and spending more than a little time doing this) it’s safe to guess you’re coming up short in bed. Which of course, is your choice. Just consider that when a woman finally does come along that you actually care about pleasing (even if it’s years and countless women from now), you likely still won’t have much of a clue about how to get her off (especially if you’re a fan of male produced porn). There’s a good chance you’ll pale in comparison to other guys she’s been with, which is not a good look if you want to become that person’s significant other/favorite sexual partner. If that’s not enough motivation, consider this: when a woman reaches full sexual attraction to a sex partner she is going to be much more agreeable and feel more confident about trying new things for the sake of her partner’s pleasure. That sexual fantasy you’ve had since the 8th grade? That could go down if you play your cards right. #Thankmelater
Women seeking sexual encounters with men:
Speak Up Clearly and Consistently To Avoid Confusion. Taking a meek approach in communicating your sexual preferences is going to seriously set back your sexual pleasure (and possibly compromise your sexual safety). Remind yourself: Men cannot read your mind (and your subtle non-verbals can go unnoticed) because men and women are culturally socialized to communicate in different styles. Be direct with your words and your actions about what you like and what you don’t like. Think about it: when men engage sexually, most do a pretty good job of getting their sexual needs met. Porn and sex in movies perpetuate the myth that men do exactly what women love during sex (and women are supposed love it, regardless of how ridiculous it is!)
Set The Pace: Literally and Figuratively. Figuring out a sexual pace that feels good between two people comes from familiarity and predictability, neither of which have been established when you’ve only recently met someone. So in addition to communicating openly, take the time to find a pace that works for both of you. Try not to approach sex like it’s fast food eaten at 2 am after staying out all night- which is usually on a whim, followed by almost instant regret. Take your time and do it right– these SOS Band song lyrics were a hit for a reason!
STOP FAKING IT IN BED.Really. Pretending that you enjoy things during sex that you don’t is synonymous with digging your own sexual grave. Take one for the team, and stop sending guys the wrong message that what they are doing sexually is awesome when you know that it’s not. Funny but true story: A 25 year-old attractive Asian woman I’m coaching tells me “So I met this guy randomly, and after we talked and hung out for a while, we eventually decide to go back to his place where we end up having sex. Right away he starts fingering me with way too much force, to the point where it’s actually hurting me and I’m going numb from it! So I stop him and say ‘hey when you touch me like that it hurts’and he looks at me and says a little defensively “ok well… some women like it like that.” She deadpans, “Christina I had to break it to him… “Um NO. NO ONE likes it like that!” We both had a good laugh at her candor in the moment.I could not have been more proud of her for speaking up for herself!
Stop filtering and dismissing guys so quickly- be optimistic about seeing if you can develop good sexual chemistry with guys who don’t fit your bill. These days, you can swipe right to meet guys using more filters than your favorite photo editing app offers- you can specify height, body type, education level, location, age, etc. One of the most common complaints I get from women is that they rarely feel attracted enough to guys to even see them a first or second time. But who you think will be attracted to sexually may not be a good match in real life. Scientists working with Match.com found that we are horrible at knowing what we want; the kind of partner people said they wanted often didn’t match up with what they were actually interested in long term. What works well for predicting good first dates doesn’t tell us much about the long-term success of a couple let alone their sexual chemistry. Psychologists like Robert B. Zajonc explains, “while we are initially attracted to people by their physical appearance and traits we can quickly recognize, the things that make us more attracted to someone are their deeper, more personal qualities, which come out only during sustained interactions” – the “mere exposure effect” is repeated exposure to a stimulus which tends to enhance one’s feelings toward it.
This last point applies to anyone and everyone seeking sexual or romantic connections of any and all kinds:
Do Not Let FOMO Take Over. You’ve read about, you’ve experienced it, you’re sick of hearing about how Millennials are responsible for amplifying this toxic trend in a digital era. That said, I’ve seen far too many people spend endless amounts of time spinning their wheels, agonizing over not meeting/dating enough people they find interest in. A billion and one first dates later, still…nothing. Begin to rethink what this could mean…maybe this isn’t the strategy that is going unearth the person who gets you excited and holds your attention. Switch it up, peel your eyes away from your phone, pull your earbuds out and take a look around you. Make eye contact and smile, maybe even say hi to the person next to you- this could be your first moment together of many better ones to come.
15 years ago, I completed my doctoral dissertation examining cultural and gender influences of sexual risk behavior among Latino women. For the past 10 years in my clinical practice, I’ve enjoyed helping women embrace their sexuality, overcome obstacles to safe sex practices, and empower themselves for a lifetime of sexual wellness. I’ve served as a Relationship Expert on social media websites like GuysAskGirls.com, and written a range of articles on sex, dating and relationships, with media publications and interviews in popular media sites such as techcrunch. This week I orchestrated what turned out to be an amazing workshop for nearly 40 women on Navigating Sex, Relationships, and Dating in San Francisco. I feel so privileged to have the opportunity to do this important work. Thank you to all those that participated, there will be more to come! In the coming weeks I will be recruiting a diverse group of men in various stages of their dating life and relationship experience- from single to married. These men will form an expert panel for an open Q & A session for an audience of Bay Area women who’d like to better understand why guys do what they do! I will facilitate an honest and respectful dialogue that will surely be insightful, informative and instrumental in improving dating and relationship experiences for all.
Here are a few candid snapshots from the event on May 27th, 2015, we had a great time!
A UK Guardian review proposes that Fifty Shades of Grey thrusts erotica into mainstream media, transforming the way erotic fiction is consumed by the public. According to the publisher’s data, “gleaned from Facebook, Google searches, and fan sites”, more than half the women reading the book are in their 20s and 30s, in spite of the prevailing stereotype that the largest consumer of this series are middle-aged suburban women, sexually frustrated Twilight fans, or conservatives foraying into adult fiction in search of more palatable sexual fantasy reading material.
Dr. Mehmet Oz dedicated a recent show to exploring this book series with an audience of women and men who have read them. EL James “has gotten people talking about sex in a way that no one else could get them to talk about it,” Dr. Oz said from the red carpet of a gala honoring Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. Dr. Oz included James with the likes of President Barack Obama and Rihanna stating “this book is about people having an honest conversation about what sex should be like, what makes it feel better, what are the timing issues, how do we make it an important issue in our life rather than an afterthought.”
As a clinical psychologist in private practice, a large segment of my psychotherapy patients are young women in their twenties and early thirties. Like the protagonist in Fifty Shades of Grey, many are struggling to awaken and understand their sexuality during a developmental time when the goal is often to find and secure a loving life partner.
In my professional opinion, one of the biggest challenges these women face is learning how to cultivate the necessary self-confidence to enjoy sex. This is a generation that grew up watching Sex in the City, had a wealth of sexual content at their fingertips via the world wide web, and whose favorite musical artists and actors relied upon sexual exposure at younger ages and more heavily then ever before in American history. Perhaps due to wide-spread sexual overexposure that continues to objectify women, this generation of women continues to struggle with identifying and indulging their sexual desires as did earlier, more sexually conservative generations.
During psychotherapy sessions I conduct with many women, I hear feelings of inadequacy based on pressure to be aesthetically perfect for their partners, or a focus on fulfilling partners’ desires without identifying or communicating their own- all of which which robs them of their ability to truly develop their own unique sexual identity, and discover one of life’s greatest pleasures. As a clinical psychologist, I use a problem-solving cognitive-behavioral approach to help individuals become more comfortable with the process of awakening and fostering their sexual identity.
What are some treatment recommendations for developing one’s sexual identity?
explore (with a mental health professional, peers or through journaling) how cultural, familial, gender and religious norms, values, experiences and biases may have shaped your views of sexual behavior in both positive and negative ways
explore the expectations you place upon yourself and others when engaging in sexual behavior- do these these expectations allow for healthy self care? Reciprocity? Are they realistic?
Identify images, fantasies and forms of touch that awaken your desire- what kind of judgment do you place upon them? How might you gradually increase your comfort level with them in order to fulfill your needs?
The hallmark of most new romantic relationships is a passionate physical connection. But when one or both partners suffer from clinical depression, a couple’s sexual chemistry can suffer. Approximately 35 to 47 percent of people with clinical depression report having sexual problems. Sexual problems worsen depending on the severity of one’s depression; sixty one percent of people with severe depression report having sexual problems. In my practice as a clinical psychologist, problematic sexual functioning is a common complaint of people seeking treatment for depression and anxiety.
What leads to the reduction of sexual functioning in those experiencing depression?
The human brain is the body’s most powerful “sex organ.” Sexual desire begins in the brain, shaping our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters help brain cells communicate with each other in order to stimulate blood flow to the sex organs. In a depressed person, their neurotransmitters are out of balance, which can lead to diminished sexual desire. In addition, low levels neurotransmitters can dull a person’s ability to experience pleasure, both physical and emotional.
Are men and women’s sexual functioning affected differently by depression?
Both men and women suffering from depression describe experiencing a host of the following symptoms:
intense sadness that inhibits one’s ability to carry out daily activities
loss of interest in things that were previously enjoyable
changes in appetite, weight, and/or sleep patterns
feelings of guilt, irritability and worthlessness
loss of energy, feeling slowed down, or ‘keyed up’
thoughts of death or suicide.
But some important gender differences may be found in how people experience depression. Many men fail to identify themselves as clinically depressed because they don’t relate to feeling sadness. Their depressive symptoms may only include feelings of tiredness, inability to concentrate or sleep well, hopelessness, as well and loss of interest or pleasure- all of which may be associated with loss of libido and erection problems.
For women, depression can commonly be experienced as feelings of sadness, feeling physically slowed down, worthlessness, and/or guilt along with loss of interest or pleasure- all of which can lead to lack of interest in sex and/or difficulty in reaching orgasm.
Helpful tips in coping with a relationship impacted by depression:
Seek out professional consultation. Many people are reticent to reach out for professional help because they feel they ought to be able to overcome problems on their own, or worry about the financial or time commitment of psychotherapy. But an experienced mental health professional will be able to use their expertise to establish what type of support and resources are best suited for you, given your personal, familial and medical history. A consultation can typically take place in 1-3 visits, after which, you should have a clear picture of what your options are for improvment. Evidence-based treatment such as Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be suggested for you, a widely accepted form of treatment for clinical depression.
Try to avoid saying “I know what you’re going through” to your partner. You don’t. Instead, try: ‘I can’t know exactly how you’re feeling, but I am trying very hard to understand and help.’
Take care of yourself. Being in a relationship with a depressed person can be incredibly taxing, so make sure you do whatever it is that helps you feel healthy and happy. See friends, get in touch with your body through enjoyable physical activity, pursue your own interests and goals, and spend some time away from your partner. Depressed people often want to stay home and/or isolate themselves from the world. If you attempt to join them in this pattern, you’re sure to end up feeling badly too.
Try not to take your partner’s lack of sexual interest personally. This is crucial to staying invested in making the relationship work. If you come to believe that your partner will not ever regain their sexual interest, you may end up terminating the relationship before determining if treatment can help.
With all the celebrities that have admitted themselves into ‘sex rehab’ centers recently, you might be curious about what goes on there. How does sex rehab work? Is it effective, or is this just an excuse to ask others for forgiveness? You might even scoff at the idea that someone needs to enter a sex rehab center. Perhaps you believe all they really need to do is come clean and stop cheating on their significant other, or choose to live a single life so as to not hurt others with lies and increased exposure to sexually transmitted diseases. This article serves to explain what sexual rehabilitation or ‘sex rehab’ is, and how a person with a sexual addiction might benefit from this form of treatment.
Treatment for sexual addiction tends to focus on two main areas:
1) Separating the addict from opportunities to continue harmful sexual patterns of behavior, much in the same way drug addicts need to be separated from their drug-filled lifestyle. This is why inpatient or residential treatment is often the suggested setting. An inpatient setting provides a controlled setting, which aims to eliminate opportunities for compulsive behavior.
2) Utilization of a safe, therapeutic setting with trained professionals to help individuals begin to face the guilt, shame and depression that is common amongst sexual addicts.
Sexual rehabilitation centers may vary in the variety of psychological treatment modalities they provide, but this list contains a broad overview of therapeutic strategies that have proven to be effective at helping people overcome sexual addiction.
12-Step Programs. Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) is a 12 step program which utilizes principles similar to those used in other addiction programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA.) However, unlike AA, where the goal is complete abstinence from all alcohol, SA pursues abstinence only from compulsive, destructive sexual behavior. By admitting powerlessness over their addiction, seeking the help of God or a higher power, working the 12 different steps, seeking a sponsor and attending meetings consistently, many addicts have been able to regain intimacy in their personal relationships.
Cognitive-Behavior Therapy (CBT).
This form of therapy helps people to examine the relationship between their thoughts, feelings and behaviors as they relate to their addictive patterns. By targeting the triggers and reinforcers that perpetuate the addictive pattern, people can begin to short-circuit the process and make healthy changes. Treatment can include teaching addicts therapeutic tools such as thought stopping, behavioral substitution, and thought record keeping, as a means to prevent the relapse of addictive patterns.
Interpersonal Therapy. Traditional “talk therapy” or counseling with an individual therapist can be helpful in providing a space for individuals to sort through past experiences that shaped addictive behavior, as well as manage mood symptoms, increase the ability to cope with stressors, and learn healthier lifestyle patterns and behaviors.
Group therapy typically consists mental health professional(s) facilitating a group of people that engage in dialogue around addiction issues, and learn from related psychoeducational materials. A group environment is thought to enable people to learn from others’ experiences, strengths and relapses. It is also an ideal setting for people to learn through the confrontation of denial and rationalizations common among addicts in various stages of their rehabilitation.
Recent developments in the literature suggest that certain psychotropic medications (antidepressants) may prove to be useful for many people in managing sexual addiction. In addition to treating mood symptoms common among sex addicts, these medications may have some benefit in reducing sexual obsessions and ruminations.
This article was composed by Dr. Christina Villarreal, Clinical Psychologist in Oakland, CA
After years of fighting off rumors about his sexuality, Latin singer Ricky Martin has finally just posted the following message on his official Web site, coming out and telling the world he is gay.
“Today is my day, this is my time, and this is my moment. These years in silence and reflection made me stronger and reminded me that acceptance has to come from within and that this kind of truth gives me the power to conquer emotions I didn’t even know existed … I am proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man. I am very blessed to be who I am,” he wrote.
Coming out as gay, lesbian bisexual or transgendered is a process that for many, is experienced in stages of change. While there are different models and theories about coming out, the six-step process (The Model of Homosexuality Identity Formation) was created by psychological theorist Vivienne Cass in 1979 and is still an accepted model for understanding the experience. While many will not experience these steps in a linear course, the following steps capture essential components of the coming out process. These steps are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and can be experienced simultaneously. For example other theorists have said that it is not uncommon for people go back and forth in their sexual identity development.
Step One: Identity Confusion
“Who am I?” is the major question in this step. People in this stage of the coming out process start to notice their attraction to same-sex people and really question what it means. Am I gay? Am I a lesbian? Am I transgendered? Am I bisexual? Within this stage there may be a denial of inner feelings as a person continues to see themselves as a member of the mainstream, heterosexual population. Some may consider their behaviors as ‘just experimenting’. Some people in this stage might keep emotional involvement separate from their sexual activity; others may choose to have deeply emotional relationships that are non-sexual.
Step Two: Identity Comparison
At this stage, a person may try to find an explanation for why they are having the feelings they are experiencing. “Maybe I am gay. Or maybe I’m bisexual.” Feelings of isolation & alienation are common in this stage. A person might wonder “Is this a phase?” “Am I only attracted to this one same sex person, or is this going to be a permanent trend?”
Step Three: Identity Tolerance
In this stage, a person might begin to accept identifying as gay, lesbian or transgendered or bisexual. Some might come to terms with some parts of being a gay, but not fully embrace it. One might accept participating in sexual activity with woman and consider it okay, but may not be ready to identity as lesbian or bisexual for example, in public- thus, leading a ‘double life.’ Or a man may come to accept that he has fallen in love with another man, but considers this an isolated situation. At this stage, it is common for people to seek out a gay/lesbian/bi-sexual community or social group as a way to explore or experience identifying with other people of the same sexual orientation as a means for support.
Step Four: Identity Acceptance In this stage a person has begun to accept, rather than just tolerate their sexual identity. People often begin forming friendships with other gay, lesbian, transgendered or bisexual people. Many begin to realize that being lesbian or bisexual is acceptable, and that their life can and will be happy and fulfilling. At this stage, it is common to begin coming out to a few trusted individuals.
Step Five: Identity Pride
People who are in this stage feel a sense of pride of their sexual orientation, and feel comfortable interacting in gay communities. They start coming out to others in their lives, by making their sexual orientation publicly known. It’s also common for people to feel angry and resentful because of the lack of legal and social rights that gay and lesbian people are not afforded by the majority culture. Some people may get involved in gay and lesbian activism. Others may feel the need to isolate
Step Six: Identity Synthesis
In this stage, a person’s sexual orientation is integrated into their whole identity. For many, this includes a holistic view of the self and people often feel equally comfortable in straight and gay, lesbian, transgendered or bi-sexual environments.