On Love and Affection: When PDA is Okay

“A healthy amount of PDA allows the couple to express their affection to each other, and also to the world. Best practices include using ‘on and off switches.’ Continual PDA loses its importance, and makes others uncomfortable.” ~ Susan Winter

How do you feel about public displays of affection? Are you the type of person that loves snuggling, holding hands or kissing your lover, no matter where you are and who might be watching? Or does the mere thought of holding hands in public give you actual anxiety? Odds are that you fall somewhere in the middle. It is completely natural and okay to want to be affectionate with someone you love. In fact, when you cuddle with someone you care about, oxytocin–the hormone that fosters feelings of love, bonding, and connection–is secreted, thus earning its nickname as the “cuddle” or “love” hormone. But even though PDA is normal and feels good, just keep in mind that there is a time, a place, and a limit for what is appropriate!

Falling in love is wonderful. When it happens, you may want the world to know. At the beginning of a romantic relationship, you are likely to always hold hands and exchanging loving glances. Most onlookers will admire your newfound love fondly. I have written before about how all human beings have an innate need to be loved and have meaningful physical interactions with others.  But there is such a thing as too much of a public display of affection while anyone/everyone is watching. Here is a safe, and slightly humorous, rule of thumb: Ask yourself if your grandmother would approve. 

Let’s talk about the specific ways to display affection and whether or not they are appropriate in public:

  • Kissing. There are certain times it is completely okay to kiss the person you love–such as when you are greeting someone or saying goodbye. However, long, drawn-out kissing in front of others can make them feel like they are involuntarily watching a scene from a RomCom. 
  • Touching. The resources at the end of this post were unanimous in saying that it is always okay to hold hands with someone. An arm draped around someone is okay when you are sitting or casually strolling through the park. It is never okay to touch anyone in a private area in public.
  • Groping. Groping is never acceptable in public. Certain gestures are even illegal in public.
  • Tasting and nibbling. Reminder: Your face is not a lollipop, and you are not a vampire, so experts kindly ask you to refrain from licking or biting the person you love in front of others.
  • Electronic Affection. You should never text, post, or communicate anything intimately personal in a public forum or on any social media platform. Not only can this make others uncomfortable, but you may also embarrass the person you love.

PDA is commonplace in many places –like during your engagement or wedding day, at farewells and homecomings, at the airport when one is about to be deployed, at the movies (especially romantic ones), on the dance floor, and when the clock strikes 12 on New Year’s Eve. I would venture to say that if you stay within the boundaries for the above actions, PDA is welcomed pretty much anywhere. But remember to ask yourself if Grandma would approve of how you are expressing your affection!

Showing appropriate levels of PDA can be healthy for a relationship. Being affectionate in public strengthens your love, shows a level of comfort with your partner, and allows others to identify you as a unit. Additionally, if things are not perfect in your relationship, PDA might be a way to spark connection again. PDA is really an unconscious form of staying connected; a brief kiss on the cheek, a hand placed gently at the small of the back, and an exchanged glance can get the heart pounding. This might even be the healing touch that can lead to amends or forgiveness in a relationship.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that not everyone wants to receive PDA. I have written at length about love languages (see sources below) because I believe in them. The fact is that, for some people, physical touch is the last way they communicate or receive love. For these people, touching in public may be very unwelcomed! Certain factors like personality, general comfort in public, safety, and regard for others’ feelings play a role in how someone interacts with their significant other in social situations.  I highly encourage you and your partner to openly discuss to what degree you wish to give and receive touch in public, and then to respect those wishes. That might sound counterintuitive, or even scarier than simply reaching out to hold his/her hand, but figuring out someone’s PDA comfort level is an important step toward understanding their love languages. Unwelcome touching can potentially damage a relationship and push your partner away–especially where abuse or addiction is associated with PDA. 

Even after the beginning stages of a relationship, PDA can help couples reaffirm their love and commitment to each other whether life is breezy or if it is a time of disconnect. All humans need reinforcement. If you and your partner are struggling in your relationship, please contact me to schedule a session. I am here to help. Remember that, when PDA is consensual, well-timed public displays of affection can provide a spark of hope and connection in relationships. 

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

Adding Affection To Your Agenda

Adding Affection To Your Agenda - Cluff Counseling - Denton Couples Therapist

Adding Affection To Your Agenda - Cluff Counseling - Denton Couples Therapist“Great marriages don’t happen by luck or by accident. They are the result of a consistent investment of time, thoughtfulness, forgiveness, affection, prayer, mutual respect, and a rock-solid commitment between a husband and wife.” ~Dave Willis

Last month I posted about scheduling time to be with your partner sexually. In this post, I want to add onto this idea of scheduling time for your partner. Think back to when you and your partner were dating. How did you display affection? What did you do to let your partner know you were interested in him/her? Did you hold hands often? Give back rubs? Bear hug? Link arms when walking? Now let me ask, how are you displaying affection TODAY in your relationship? If you are like most people in a long-term relationship or marriage, there is noticeable decline in your level of PDA or even private displays of affection. So this post is all about amping that up to increase the connection in your relationship.

Here is the truth. The best relationships and marriages engage in a lot of touching…sex being only one form of touching. Yes, it is the one our minds typically go to first as the healing or unifying display of affection, but there is a great deal of power in non-sexual affection as well. Researchers and love experts, Gary Smalley and John Trent, have written that, “8 to 10 meaningful touches a day is really a minimum requirement for a woman to stay emotionally and physically healthy.” And the same is true about men; I have found through years of counseling that both men and women crave affection and want to feel valued!

Are you and your partner sharing 8-10 meaningful touches a day? Most of us are so busy with life that the answer to this question is an unfortunate no! If this includes you, start by asking your partner how they like to receive affection and share with them specific ways you like to be touched. Use the list below to help you and your partner brainstorm ways you each like to be touched. It is important to note that if one partner has experienced trauma, there may be some types of touch that are triggering for them.

  1. Rub his arm
  2. Kiss his cheek
  3. Put your arm around her
  4. Hold his hand
  5. Play footsies
  6. Rub his leg
  7. Touch her elbow
  8. Run your fingers through his hair
  9. Touch her back
  10. Give him a bear hug and hold on
  11. Run your fingers over her cheek
  12. Kiss his neck
  13. Put your arm around her waist
  14. Hug him from behind and put your cheek next to his
  15. Kiss her gently on the lips
  16. Squeeze his bum
  17. Touch your forehead to hers
  18. Rest your head on his shoulder
  19. Dance with her
  20. Whisper in his ear
  21. Sit close together
  22. Spoon in bed
  23. Give him a scalp massage
  24. Hold her face in your hands and stare into her eyes
  25. Squeeze his hand

I would recommend choosing one a day, and committing yourself to implement it into your relationship. Aiming to do one a day allows flexibility–you have complete freedom in deciding what you will do and when you will do it. As you increase your levels of affection, you will notice that it will become reciprocal–your partner will begin to do the same. It is as if you will light a match that will turn into a rolling fire.

By definition, affection means a gentle feeling of fondness or liking, which can certainly include verbal expression. Here are three ideas: First idea, challenge or schedule yourself to say, “I love you,” three times a day. Second idea, express love and adoration in public. Many couples, who have been together for a long time, eventually act like they are simply sharing groceries when in public. No! Go back to the dating days! Shower your partner with affection, both verbal physical, in private and in public. And the third idea would be to tell your partner he/she is handsome/beautiful at least once a day. Pretty doable, right?

Scheduling sex can provide needed closeness, but only if regular, loving touch is a normal part of the everyday marriage or relationship. Expressing affection to your partner is powerful and can set you on a path to both heal and strengthen your relationship. I urge you to take the time to schedule closeness today–whether that is sexually or affectionately. And if you are feeling overwhelmed or unsure about how to implement this counsel, please feel free to contact or come see me. My door is always open!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

Adding Sex to Your Agenda

Adding Sex to Your Agenda - Cluff Counseling, Marriage & Family Therapy

Adding Sex to Your Agenda - Cluff Counseling, Marriage & Family Therapy“We all need attention, affection, and the feeling of being appreciated in our life, and it is great when you can give and get that from your partner on a regular basis.” —Lawrence Lovell

If you are like me, anything and everything important needs to go in my calendar. If I want to get something done, I need to write it down. I have found that if I do not make time for the important things, life gets in the way. I have to block time out for exercising, for religious worship, for sleep, as well as for my parents, friends, and other important people in my life. In like manner, scheduling intimacy is something I often recommend to clients because it can easily get pushed to the bottom of the list. I would imagine that you and your partner could benefit from penciling one-on-one time into the calendar!

This post will be the first of a two-part series on scheduling intimacy. This week we will focus on planning time for sexual intimacy, and the second Saturday of November I will post about scheduling time to be close to one another non-sexually.

When you are dating someone new, you are both willing to make sacrifices to create space and time for each other. But as time passes, life catches up. You may feel you are too busy and do not have time to read a book for fun, much less spontaneously have sex. For many couples, scheduling sex is the only way to ensure it actually happens. While it may be sad to recognize how life has forced sexual intimacy to take a backseat, I would encourage you to not get discouraged as you have the power to create a new sex life!

First, the refutation. Some couples are hesitant about scheduling intimacy because they envisioned their life as one overflowing with spontaneous passion. They feel that putting physical intimacy on the calendar can feel a little awkward, unromantic, forced, contrived. Additionally, they imagine that scheduling intimacy will make it more of a chore or a to-do than a pleasureful release.

While the above fits for some couples, this does not work for the majority of couples I have seen. Busyness and a life of passion often do not mix. If you wait until both you and your partner are overcome with passion, you will be sexually active much less than you want to be. To those that feel awkward about literally scheduling sex, I understand. Communicating sexually is awkward for most couples, so communicating about when to be sexual can definitely seem awkward!  One partner often has a higher sex drive and thus wants sex more than the other partner. Scheduling when to have sex is one way to honor both partners’ needs, while ensuring that sex is an active part of the relationship.

Relationship experts say scheduling intimacy can be a great thing for busy couples. Fran Walfish, a psychotherapist based in Beverly Hills, Calif., advises scheduling intimacy for couples who have kids under 10 years old, as well as for couples who struggle with different sexual appetites and stressful jobs. She says these couples often put more of their libido into their careers and work, and when they come home, they are overcome with exhaustion.

Here are some suggestions to get you started scheduling sex:

Option one: Write it down. Put your partner’s name in the Friday night spot, the Wednesday lunch hour, or maybe the Sunday afternoon space after your religious worship. Instead of looking at it like yet another to-do, build anticipation for the event!  Consider scheduling sex similar to being excited for reservations at a new restaurant. Talk about it beforehand, think about it, send text reminders about it, get dressed up (or down) for it, etc.

Option two: For some, writing it down makes it too distant or contractual. If you would prefer, simply verbally agree on a day/time with your partner–and be consistent. Always schedule on the same day, but be flexible depending on your partner’s work schedule and mood.

Option three, a wider window: Try something like, “If I wake up before you and the kids on any given weekday, I will initiate sex with you” or “any naptime that the kids are all asleep at once is game time.” This will ensure that both people are showing that they are committed to their partner’s happiness, not just to the schedule. Making the window wider may actually increase the number of times you have sex because it is not so much pressure, but it is still scheduled in your mind and can keep you accountable to your partner.

Two final words of advice: First, give “freebies.” Freebies go both ways; if either you or your partner is not feeling it at your scheduled time, a free pass can be given. Neither of you want to force sex because that could be detrimental to your relationship! Then be sure to add in some physical affection (freebies) at unscheduled times. Second, plan your sex date around a time when both you and your partner will have the most energy: it may be an early morning before the workday begins and the kids wake up, or an afternoon session on the weekend.

Scheduling one-on-one time solely to invest in your relationship takes ongoing effort. It can be hard to say no to all the other responsibilities. Dr. Walfish says sex can become intoxicating; “Once it is scheduled, it becomes a part of your regular life. A lot of people can develop a desire for it once it becomes weekly. Then, they miss it when it’s not there.” By scheduling sex and committing to a schedule that works for the both of you, sex can become a valuable and enjoyable part of your relationship again. In fact, as a consequence of such schedules, good, natural and instinctive habits may well develop and thrive over time! Keep in mind that while sex is perfectly natural, it is not always naturally perfect. Like anything worthwhile, sometimes it takes work! If you and your partner have questions or would like additional guidance, I am here for you. Contact me or schedule a session today!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

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How to Talk to Your Child About Porn, Part II

How to Talk to Your Child About Porn, Part II - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville Therapist

How to Talk to Your Child About Porn, Part II - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville Therapist

No parent wants to talk with their children about pornography. It can seem overwhelming, uncomfortable, and maybe unnecessarily early–depending on the age of your child. While there may be validity to all those feelings, I urge you to communicate openly, honestly, and early with your child about the fallacies and dangers of pornography… before they learn about it elsewhere.

Children are now learning to use electronic devices at a very young age, and often stumble upon inappropriate pictures or videos. Like many others, you may be caught off guard and quite surprised by how early in your child’s life this happens. Upon entering puberty, pre-teens may be curious about sex and sexuality as their brain, body, and hormones change and develop. Your children may hear things in the playground or at a friend’s house. Inevitably, they will want to know more and asking Mom or Dad about sex can be embarrassing. You can be ready for this conversation by preparing some talking points and creating an environment of open communication. You will be grateful you did so!

Last month, I posted the first part in this two-part series on talking with your children about pornography. The world is different than it was 20 years ago; the ease and and convenience of viewing porn at our fingertips–plus the increased dependence on technology–is a recipe for disaster. We must adapt to the pervasive and dangerous drug that is sweeping through our internet, TVs, phones, and homes. It is everywhere. Your children will see porn; it is a matter of when, not if. My wish with this post is to help you prepare for when you decide to talk with your children about pornography. I know it seems like a daunting, horrible thing to need to talk about, and you may want to put it off as long as possible, but I urge you to read this post and mindfully consider what will be best for your child(ren).

Part 1 focused on 9 foundational points that will help guide you as you prepare for this conversation (or hopefully the first of many conversations) with your children. Click here to read that post in its entirety. To briefly summarize, those 9 points are:

  1. Build trust.
  2. Talk about it sooner rather than later.
  3. Prepare for it now.
  4. Explain why porn is problematic.
  5. Teach that porn is inaccurate.
  6. Treat pornography the same for your daughter as you would your son.
  7. Teach them (especially daughters) that their worth is more than skin deep.
  8. What to do if my child comes to me with a porn addiction.
  9. Make it an ongoing conversation.

Again, I recommend reviewing that post because I explained each point in greater detail that will offer clarity and guidance as you apply them. The most important thing about this talk is that you deliver it with the needs/preferences/personality of your individual children in mind. Follow your innate parent gut and speak with love.

What do I say?!

It is 100% natural to have no idea where to begin. Might I suggest that you begin by asking questions and then LISTEN. Encourage two-way conversation. Questions may include (but are not limited to) the following: What do you know about pornography? Do any of the kids at school ever talk about it? What do they say? Have you ever seen it? Did someone show it to you? Or did you find it yourself? You may be surprised and/or horrified by their responses, but try to remain calm. Reassure your child(ren) they are not in trouble. Try to find out how they found it and why they were searching for it. If they have seen it, ask when/where they saw it and how it made them feel. Then discuss those feelings.

Because children are generally pure and tender, they may feel “yucky” for what they have seen.

Explain to them that pornography teaches attitudes towards sex and sexual behaviors that are inaccurate and unhealthy. I highly recommend utilizing the suggestions found in Kristen Jenson’s book Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn Proofing Today’s Kids. She explains how to make it a comfortable conversation about what pornography is, why it is dangerous, and how to reject it. By explaining porn in a developmentally appropriate way (found in the book), young kids are able to porn-proof their own brains. If having this conversation is making you feel nervous, remember that professionals actually encourage parents to have this talk with their children. Avoiding the subject will only lead your children to satisfy their curiosity by searching elsewhere!

You may choose to discuss some of the false content portrayed in pornographic material (such as lack of respect and consent, violence, and dangerous sexual practices) to help them understand why you are concerned about them viewing it. Talking about these feelings will help them understand that this is for their protection and not just another rule you wish to impose upon them.

Then help them prepare for the future. Ask them what they could do if someone tries to show them pornography again and let them suggest options. Discourage them from seeking it out and encourage them to come to you with further questions. Explain that you will put protection up to help avoid further exposure in your home (through parental controls on smartphones, TVs, computers, blocking certain sites, installing filters, etc). You can even work with your child to find ways to protect against pornography! Your children might surprise you by agreeing with or even suggesting certain ‘house rules’, such as not deliberately visiting these sites, avoiding searches with potentially dangerous keywords, using devices in open areas at home and not behind closed doors, being offline by a particular time of night, no sleepovers, keeping phones in mom and dad’s room at night, etc. Together come up with consequences, and then as the parent, enforce the rules.

Okay so at what age do I do this?

This will depend on you. There is no hard and fast rule. Devorah Heitner, author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World, says parents can talk about potential issues as early as third grade, because even the youngest children can pretty easily find things like pornography online. I know several families who have this chat as early as eight years old. Basically, follow your gut. If you are thinking about this already, there is probably a reason! And remember my final suggestion from Part 1 of this post, to make this an ongoing conversation. Let your children know that you are always available and willing to continue the discussion, and encourage them to come to you before looking elsewhere. And as they grow and progress developmentally, I invite you to tailor this same conversation to their understanding.

No one looks forward to having the pornography chat with their children. But you must have this conversation in order to protect and prepare them. If you still have questions or concerns after reading this series on talking with children about porn, please feel free to contact me! Please remember–pornography is not just a male or an adult problem, it is a human problem. The children in your life need protection from pornography. They need to understand what it is, why it is harmful, and have a plan when they see it. And they need to have our support through loving, mentoring relationships, and know that we will be there for them when (not if!) they see porn. Keep it short. Be honest. Try to make it part of an ongoing and open discussion about sexuality and sexual development. Let’s have the wisdom, courage, and compassion to face this problem head on so that our youth will not have to face it alone.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

How to Talk to Your Child About Porn, Part I

How to Talk to Your Child About Porn, Part I - Cluff Counselingn - Lewisville Therapist

How to Talk to Your Child About Porn, Part I - Cluff Counselingn - Lewisville Therapist“For some reason, we don’t talk very much to youth and children about one of the strongest urges and biggest temptations they will face. Our reluctance sets them up to be taught primarily by the internet, other children or teenagers, or even Hollywood.” -Joy D Jones

Children are now learning to use electronic devices at a very young age, and often stumble upon inappropriate pictures or videos. Like many others, you may be caught off guard and be quite surprised by how early in your child’s life this happens. Upon entering puberty, pre-teens may be curious about sex and sexuality as their brain, body, and hormones change. Your children may hear things in the playground or at a friend’s house. Inevitably, they will want to know more and asking Mom or Dad about sex can be embarrassing. You can be ready for this conversation by preparing some talking points and by creating an environment of open communication in your home. You will be grateful you did so!

Last month, I posted about how women can also fall prey to the temptations of pornography. Pornography is not just a male problem, it is a human problem. Knowing that women and girls are just as susceptible creates more of a sense of urgency to combat the pervasive nature of pornography. Your children will see porn; it is a matter of when not if. My wish with this post is to help you prepare for when you talk with your daughter or son about avoiding pornography. I know it seems like a daunting, horrible thing to talk about, and you may want to put it off as long as possible, but I urge you to read the following points and mindfully consider what will be best for your child(ren):

  1. Build trust. Your child needs to know that he/she can count on you to talk about the hard things and that your love is unconditional. It is impossible to have influence when there is no trust. Invest time in your relationship with your child to help them feel loved and accepted. Not only will discussions about sexual matters be more effective when you have a trusting relationship with your child, but they will feel safe coming to you with sensitive questions.
  2. Talk about it sooner rather than later. Kids are curious. Be the one to teach your children. If you do not, the Internet, Hollywood, or their friends will do it for you (and who knows how good of a job they will do)!
  3. Prepare for it now. This might entail talking with other moms, reading the latest research, contacting a reputable therapist for guidance, or conversing with your spouse/partner–whatever it is, plan and prepare today for this conversation with your children. It needs to be done correctly or else they may feel shame, guilt, or heightened curiosity–which could lead to further (and maybe secretive) internet searches.
  4. Explain why porn is problematic. For some families, this might include religious convictions. But regardless of your religious views, we can all agree that pornography depicts erotic material unsuitable for young children. It is imperative to help your child understand that explicit material is literally harmful for the developing brain (as taught by Kristen Jenson in Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr.: A Simple Plan to Protect Young Minds), and that it can lead to unrealistic expectations of oneself, unhealthy relationships with others, and even addiction.
  5. Teach that porn is inaccurate. Children (and adults) need to be reminded that porn stars get plastic surgery, that sex depicted in porn is unrealistic, and that the high porn gives is temporary at best. Having a frank conversation about the mechanics of sex will lead you perfectly into the realities (and fallacies) of pornography. Educate your children on the male vs. female sexual response, and teach them that pornography is a literal production and not a true representative of typical sexual encounters. If you have not yet done so, this may be an advantageous time to talk about masturbation as well.
  6. Treat pornography the same for your daughter as you would your son. Whatever pointers/rules/guidelines/lessons/lectures/rules you have in place for your son, they need to be the exact same for your daughter!  Use the same protective measures with your daughter as you do with your son. Help them to develop an “internal filter” against pornography from an early age by teaching them what pornography is, why it is harmful, and how to reject it with a plan when they are exposed to it.
  7. Teach them (especially daughters) that their worth is more than skin deep. Society will teach your children–daughters especially–that their outward appearance is what really matters, and pornography definitely builds on that. Your children need to know that their worth is so much deeper than what they see in the mirror. Compliment them on their accomplishments or character traits as much or more than their appearance. As I stated in point four, porn stars are not meant to look real; many of their bodies are surgically, hormonally, and photographically enhanced. No one should expect–or expect others–to look that way!
  8. What do I do if my child comes to me with a pornography problem?  It is incredibly difficult to have a child confess a pornography problem. But the very best advice I can offer is to remain emotionally neutral. It is critically important that you not become unglued in front of your child, as this will increase their shame as well as make them less likely to listen and open up to you in the future. Be encouraging and supportive. Remember, porn is the enemy, not your child!
  9. Make it an ongoing conversation. Help them know that while the topics of sex, pornography, or masturbation are certainly not easy things to discuss, that you are always available to talk with them. Teach them that your chat is not a one-time occurrence and that you are and will always be a safe place to ask questions!

These nine points are guidelines for you to use as you navigate the when and the how of talking to your children about pornography. Next month I will share part two of this post, which will include specifically what to say to your children, as well as when–what age–to say it.   

Absolutely no one wants to have the pornography chat with their children. But you must have this conversation in order to protect and prepare them. Keep it short. Be honest. Try to make it part of an ongoing and open discussion about sexuality and sexual development. The children in your life need protection from pornography. They need to understand what it is, why it is harmful, and have a plan for when they see it. And they need to have our support through loving, mentoring relationships, and know that we will be there for them when (not if!) they see porn.  Let’s have the wisdom, courage, and compassion to face this problem head on so that our youth will not have to face it alone.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

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Reclaiming the Bedroom, Part III: Communication in the Bedroom

Communication in the Bedroom - Cluff Counseling, Marriage & Family Therapy

Communication in the Bedroom - Cluff Counseling, Marriage & Family Therapy

Part 1: Benefits of Sex” and “Part 2: Hindrances to Sex” have laid the foundation for this third and final blog post in our series on reclaiming the bedroom. We all know that sex is good for us–both individually and as a couple–and we also know that life sometimes gets in the way of healthy, consistent sexual activity. We hear chatter about sex everywhere…except where we need it most. Here are practical suggestions to get you and partner talking about sex.

As with most things in life and relationships, communication is key, but it is not easy. Talking about sex is hard. It makes us feel uncomfortable. Perhaps sexual communication is so difficult because we grow up with the myth that it is unnecessary. Maybe, as a society, we believe that great sex comes naturally…your partner should know intuitively what you want and like, and good sex must be spontaneous! When, in reality, more often than not, great sex is much like a great meal–it does not just magically happen. It needs to be planned for, and then carried out with skill and thoughtfulness. People’s tastes, preferences and values with regard to sex—much like food—differ greatly. You need to know what your mate likes and dislikes before you cook for him or her; the same holds true for intimacy.

There is really no way around it: you must communicate with your partner about sex. It is nearly impossible for your sexual relationship to improve without some dialogue. Because many couples struggle in this area, a couple’s sexual relationship is a common topic in my office. Here are some suggestions that my client’s have found to be helpful to help them communicate in the bedroom:

Write
Possibly the least intimidating option is to write a letter. The goal is to communicate what you like, need, or want, while not shutting your partner down. Refrain from saying things like, “I don’t like when you…”  or “I wish you wouldn’t…” or “you always/never…” and instead use positive feedback. With this exercise, it is beneficial for both partners to write and exchange letters. Keep it simple and short but 100% clear. Follow up with verbal or written clarifying questions (“Did you mean this?” or “Tell more about that…”). If you are not sure what to say or how to say it in a way that your partner will hear it, a therapist can be a helpful resource.

Read
Now this combines sex communication with a potentially fun date idea. Head off to Barnes and Noble–or some place with a discrete adult book section–and read away. Once you find something that strikes your fancy, give it to your partner to read. And vice versa. There is so much sex education literature out there and some will be more helpful than others, so be careful. You may want to establish some guidelines, as a couple, about the type of literature you are seeking (an example could be books with nude drawings are okay, but not nude photographs).  If you are new to communicating about sex, this can be overwhelming. Instead, you could look on Amazon and together pick a book to buy and read together. You could also ask close family members or trusted friends for some recommendations. As a therapist, I get this question a lot. Click here to visit my website and see my list of book suggestions to help you get started.

Show
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Simply take turns showing each other what feels good for you. Demonstrate what you enjoy and what helps to arouse you. You may take your partner’s hand and guide them over your body. Then switch and listen and watch your partner, and follow their lead. Sensate focus exercises are a safe way to start! This is one of the best techniques I have found. Stay tuned for a future post solely dedicated to this technique!

Talk
My next suggestion is to simply just talk it through. Use your words. Although talking may seem the most obvious method of communicating sexual needs, it can be the hardest. Take courage, you can do it! Here are a few pointers to keep in mind:

  • Next time you have sex, with your partner, have a post-coital pillow-talk share. Discuss what you enjoyed, hope to repeat next time and want to try in the future.
  • Don’t save all the talking for post-coital, talk about your preferences throughout your sexual interaction.
  • Be careful to not criticize your partner’s performance.
  • Brainstorm possible solutions to common barriers to sex in your relationship (e.g. having kids barge in on you or being exhausted at the end of a work-day).
  • Practice breathing exercises and meditation to help calm your jittery nerves. Remember, your partner is unable to read your mind. Tell him or her what turns you on, what turns you off, what “gets” you, etc. Since you know your preferences, be prepared with dialogue!
  • State both what you like and do not like ( “Here are 3 things that really turn me on…”).
  • Be specific: “I like it when you touch me here…”
  • Ask clarifying questions (“not sure what you meant by ‘be more gentle’”), while not making defensive statements (“I didn’t do that”, “You didn’t…”).
  • Take turns sharing.
  • Spend a few moments, before talking to your partner, thinking about what you want to share so that you are able to say everything you want to when the time comes.

I have counseled couples who have been together for years, yet have never had an in-depth conversation about sex. It can be hard to know how or where to start. Most people are more likely to have fought about sex than to have had a thoughtful, constructive conversation about it. Here are a few ideas from Psychology Today to get you started:

  • My favorite thing about our sex life is…
  • If I were to write wedding vows for our sex life, this is what I would want to promise you…
  • I think you look best when you’re wearing…
  • The thing that I love about our sex life most is…
  • My favorite memories of being intimate with you include…
  • My favorite way to pleasure you is…
  • One time you surprised me (in a good way), by…
  • I feel the most turned on when…
  • I feel the most desired by you when…
  • I would describe my sexual style as…
  • I love when you initiate sex in this way…
  • My favorite sexual position is…
  • One thing I would like to explore with you is…
  • The part of your body that turns me on the most is…

Get help
Not only can your sex life be difficult to discuss with your partner, but it can also be hard to know where to turn for help in this area. A therapist can help you communicate your sexual concerns with your partner in a safe and structured setting. They can be your advocate, your cheerleader, your confidant. As your therapist, I will keep the intimate details of your life within the four walls of my office, and only between you, your partner, and me. At the end of the day, relationships are all about being honest, sensitive, and brave enough to say what needs to be said. Being sexually involved with someone is to be vulnerable and open. So take those attitudes with you outside of the bedroom, and talk about what you really need inside the bedroom. Set up your first session with me today and together we can overcome the barriers and help you reclaim the bedroom.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:
Cluff Counseling: “Choosing the Right Therapist for You”
Cluff Counseling: “Reclaiming the Bedroom, Part 1: Benefits of Sex”
Cluff Counseling: “Reclaiming the Bedroom, Part II: Hindrances to Sex”
Psychology Today: “5 Ways to Communicate about Sex”
Psychology Today: “14 Prompts to Help You Start Communicating About Sex”
Psychology Today: “Why Aren’t We Talking to Our Partners About Sex?”
USA Today: “How often should you have sex with your partner?”

Reclaiming the Bedroom, Part II: Hindrances to Sex

Hindrances to Sex - Cluff Counseling, Denton Marriage Family Therapist

Hindrances to Sex - Cluff Counseling, Denton Marriage Family TherapistIn last month’s post on relationships, I wrote about the many personal and relational benefits of sex. Sexual intimacy is important and even necessary to a healthy romantic relationship. In the early days of most relationships, creating chemistry is easy and the sex drive is strong. But it does not always last and it requires a consistent effort to keep the flame alive. Why? What happens? What gets in the way? In this post I will focus on a few of the most common hindrances to sex that I hear from my clients.

Not knowing partner’s sexual needs.
My advice to this one may seem silly… but the simple answer is to ask. In most relationships one partner has a higher sex drive than the other. If this is true in your relationship, know that you are not alone. Take some time to process your needs, before communicating them to your partner. Then patiently listen to their needs, without becoming defensive. Once you each have shared and listened, work together to come up with possible solutions.

Too busy for sex.
It is easy to get busy and let other things get in the way of our relationships.  If you are a planner or a to-do list person, try scheduling time for sex. Literally put it on your to-do list or schedule so you can plan on it and prepare for it. If having a healthy sexual relationship is important to you and your partner, prioritize it. If you are the type of person that feels overwhelmed by to-do lists and sex seems like one more thing you have to do, focus on the benefits of sex (refer to Part I of this series). Think of being with your spouse as a stress-reliever, a fun activity that you can share with your partner, a hobby, something important that you make time for because it helps you face the demands of life better.

Too tired for sex.
I hear ya! Your days are long and all you want to do as it nears bedtime is hop in bed…to sleep. My advice here is simple: mix it up. Be spontaneous right after dinner, first thing in the morning, or during your lunch break. Do not wait until you are too tired to be intimate. You need energy for sex, too, so plan accordingly. (An interesting fact here is that during ejaculation men release a cocktail of brain chemicals, including the hormone prolactin…which is tied to feeling sleepy. After women orgasm, they want to be close, connect, and cuddle. In short, both men and women will likely sleep better after sex!)

Too plugged in for sex.
It is possible that you have never used this as an up-front excuse for not having sex before, but many of us are guilty of it. So often I hear clients spending their time gaming, cruising Instagram, or tweeting, while their partner sits mere feet away on their electric device. Put your phone down, set aside technology and connect with your partner. Leave your phones outside your bedroom, schedule times to turn them off, or simply put them away. Do not be so focused on your screens that you miss prime time together!

Physiological issue.
The literal physical inability to have sex can quickly snowball into an emotional roadblock. If your husband experiences impotency, it is very likely he feels inadequate–and that thought can invoke fear and anxiety during sexual intimacy. (And just in case you are thinking this issue is uncommon…according to the Cleveland Clinic, as many as 52 percent of men experience erectile dysfunction!)

Unrealistic expectations.
Society and the media overemphasizes physical appearance. You cannot expect your husband to have a chiseled six pack, or your wife to have a perfectly flat tummy in order to be attracted to him or her. Eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, live a healthy lifestyle, and find the natural attractiveness in your spouse. Your sexual relationship with your partner will NOT always look like what you see in Hollywood–and that is okay!

Disconnected from your spouse.
When you feel emotionally disconnected from your partner, it is often difficult to connect sexually with him or her. Couples, I work with, often observe that connected sex is better than just physical sex. Once couples are in a place that they are experiencing connected sex more regularly, they often tell me that they only want to have sex when they feel connected with each other. Although we can not fully cover emotional connection in this post,  (please stay tuned for a future blog post on this important topic), communicating clearly and assertively that you feel disconnected and desire to be more connected is a powerful start to reconnecting. This is a common reason couples come see me, so please feel free to contact me!

A couple’s sex life is commonly seen as a private matter and not only can it be difficult to discuss with your partner,  it can also be hard to know where to turn for help. Therapists are trained, licensed individuals who can help you communicate your concerns about your sex life with your partner, in a safe and structured setting. Set up your first session with me today and together we can overcome the barriers and help you reclaim the bedroom.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:
Bustle: “What Happens To The Body After Orgasm? How Women & Men Experience Post-Coital Bliss Differently, According To Science”
Cluff Counseling: “Are You Addicted to Your Phone?”
Cluff Counseling: “Choosing the Right Therapist for You”
Cluff Counseling: “Outdoor Therapy: Nature’s Cure”
Cluff Counseling: “Reclaiming the Bedroom, Part 1: Benefits of Sex”
Focus on the Family: “Emotional and Relational Barriers to Sex”
Huffington Post: “Erectile Dysfunction May Affect 1 In 4 Men Under 40 Seeking Treatment, Study Suggests”
Live Science: “Why Do Guys Get Sleepy After Sex?”
Marriage Today: “Physical Barriers to Healthy Sex”
USA Today: “How often should you have sex with your partner?”

People image created by Nensuria – Freepik.com

Reclaiming the Bedroom, Part I: Benefits of Sex

Benefits of Sex - Cluff Counseling, Marriage & Family Therapy

Benefits of Sex - Cluff Counseling, Marriage & Family Therapy**This will be the first post in a blog series on sex; this particular segment will focus on the benefits of sex. Stay tuned for my future posts on the common excuses/hindrances to sex, as well as how to communicate to overcome those barriers.

Life can and will get in the way of your sex life. Although some view sex mostly as a pleasure-inducing activity, physical intimacy can be an incredibly powerful force for good in your relationship. Read on to see what I have coined as the top nine emotional, physical, mental, and relational benefits to sex.

When you and your spouse or partner first started seeing each other, the sparks flew and the attraction was strong. Chances are that your sex drive was extremely heightened. Then slowly things started slowing down… intervals between sexy encounters grew longer and longer, until you could not even remember when you were last intimate. What happened? Work, bills, kids, arguments…reality happened, and your euphoria dissipated. First and foremost, I want you to know that this is okay and completely normal. At the start of most relationships, attraction and physical intimacy seem to come easily.  Just because it is harder after 3, 7, 10 years of union/marriage, does not mean that it always has to stay that way!

Sex has many benefits, both to your physical, emotional, and relational health. Here are a few:

  1. Sex improves immunity. People who have sex 1-2 times a week have significantly higher levels of immunoglobulin A–which is the first line of defense in our bodies. Some studies are finding that sexually active men and women are actually taking less sick days!
  2. Sex improves heart health. Studies have found that men who engaged in sexual activity twice a week were 45 percent less likely to develop heart disease than those who did so once a month or less.
  3. Sex reduces stress and lowers blood pressure. There is a direct correlation between sex and improved stress response.
  4. Sex helps women with bladder control and helps lower the risk of prostate cancer for men. For women, intercourse strengthens pelvic floor muscles, which contract during orgasm, which improves bladder control and helps avoid incontinence! For men, research is finding that men who ejaculate at least 21 times a month have a lower risk of prostate cancer!
  5. Sex is great exercise. Did you know that sex literally burns calories? Men burn around 100, and women expend 69. This statistic varies depending on the length of your session (these numbers were gathered based on an average of 25 minutes from start of foreplay to finish). If you are interested in calculating how many calories you burn the next time you have sex, multiply the time in minutes by 4.2 for men or 3.1 for women. Sex also helps maintain flexibility and balance!
  6. Sex can clear the mind. If you have a “noisy brain,” sex reallocates your blood flow to your genitals and can help clear your thoughts.
  7. Sex releases endorphins that make you feel good. These “feel-good chemicals” ease stress, increase pleasure, invite calm, and boost self-esteem.
  8. Sex improves sleep. During orgasm, oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone”, is released, which promotes sleep.

The greatest benefit of all is 9. Sex increases intimacy and improves relationships. Of course, this is only accomplished when your love making is done with mutual interest and respect. Sex and orgasms result in increased levels of the hormone oxytocin (that “love hormone” I mentioned earlier), which helps you feel bonded to your partner. A study was published in 2015 that surveyed 30,000 Americans over 40 years; the results were that couples who have sex at least once a week are happiest. Intercourse is the highest expression of love, and it does wonders for a marriage. Plus, the more often you have sex, the more probable it is that you will want to keep doing it (yet another benefit of sex–increased libido)!

Although sex has many benefits, most of us seem to engage in intimacy less than we should or would like to. My upcoming posts will address the barriers to a healthy sex life, as well as how to overcome them. Communication with your spouse is key. If your relationship with your spouse is strained, or you need help communicating about this sensitive subject, please come talk to me. It is often difficult for many people to talk to their spouse, if they feel their sex life needs improvement, let alone a therapist. Please remember that therapists are trained, licensed individuals who have heard it all before; I know how to help.  Set up your first session with me today and together we can help you reclaim the bedroom.

**Tune in next month for the upcoming installments in this series on reclaiming the bedroom. I will be talking about some of the most common sex-stoppers I hear from clients, as well as my advice for how to overcome these obstacles.

Resources:
American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists
The American Journal of Cardiology: “Sexual Activity, Erectile Dysfunction, and Incident Cardiovascular Events”
Cluff Counseling: “Choosing the Right Therapist for You”
EurekAlert: “Couples who have sex weekly are happiest”
Men’s Health: “How Many Calories Do You Burn During Sex?”
Mercola: “The Top 11 Benefits of Sex”
PubMed: “Blood pressure reactivity to stress is better for people who recently had penile-vaginal intercourse than for people who had other or no sexual activity.”
USA Today: “How often should you have sex with your partner?”

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