Posted on Saturday, March 28th, 2015 at 5:04 am.
In my counseling practice, I find that this is a fairly common experience for men and women who have held off from acting on their sexual desires until marriage. It seems to be especially true for individuals raised in very conservative religious cultures.
For many young people, it takes a lot of psychological energy to repress the sexual impulse, which is very strong at this age. Marrying without having had prior sexual experience can add to the awkwardness of shifting gears and moving into this new state of social permission and religious support for having sex.
The beliefs about premarital sexuality perpetuated in conservative social and religious cultures are often applied unequally to men and to women. Men are seen as innately sexual and their strong impulses toward sexual thought and activity are considered normal. Women have historically been seen as relatively uninterested in sex and been told that it is up to the woman to keep the man’s sexual urges in check by maintaining her purity and abstaining from sex.
If men deviate from the ideal of virginity before marriage, they are usually forgiven; after all “boys will be boys.” However, women are generally characterized based on their sexual behavior as either “good girls” or “bad girls” and it is pretty much an all or nothing proposition. Good girls maintain their sexual purity and if they deviate from this expectation they are often seen as “bad” and frequently labeled as sluts or whores. These harsh judgments are changing in large segments of American culture and even in many religious denominations.
However, those religions that put sexual purity as the highest sexual standard a girl or woman can aspire to also tend to believe that when marriage occurs, women will naturally be able to shift gears and open up to their sexual desire for their husband. Sex is seen as so natural that sex education is not needed.
In this context, women and their mates are ill-prepared to move into the reality of marital sexual relations. It is hard to immediately turn the switch from “off” to “on” when it comes to sex. You may continue to feel uncomfortable with sex and experience feelings of guilt and shame when starting to have sexual desires or responses. Fortunately there are several tools available to assist you and your husband in making this transition. Here are a few ideas:
1) You will want to seek out some education about sex and sexuality. It is important to know what sex is . . . . . and what it isn’t. Media portrayals of sex are simplistic and unrepresentative. You don’t have to be gorgeous and have a perfect body to feel desirable and enjoy sex.
2) Sex is both natural and unnatural. Eros, the erotic instinct, is our urge toward life, both the perpetuation of the human species and our urge towards pleasure. But learning how to make love with your partner in a mutually satisfying way is not a blueprint we are born having. It is valuable to learn everything you can about sex, ranging from male and female anatomy to specific sexual techniques.
3) It will take some experimentation to find out what you personally enjoy and don’t enjoy within the realm of sexual expression. Be patient with yourself and each other. This is a learning process.
4) It is really important to review, question and update your beliefs about sex. Sex is neither sinful nor shameful and especially given that you are developing a sexual relationship that is sanctioned by your religious beliefs. It takes time and conscious effort to replace old beliefs and attitudes with new, healthier ones, but changing your concepts and attitudes about sex are key to a lifetime of sexual happiness.
Sex is a complicated subject for anyone. These ideas may help. However, if you find that your lack of desire persists even after working with these suggestions, I would suggest that you find a qualified counselor who understands and deals with human sexuality and work with her/him individually or together as a couple to achieve the intimate satisfaction that I’m sure both of you desire.
Posted on Thursday, March 26th, 2015 at 1:44 am.
Dr. Beth, I was raised Catholic and I was told all my life that sex was sinful, bad and dirty. Unlike a lot of girls in my generation, I actually did decide not to have sex until I was married. I was fortunate that I found a great guy who shares my social and religious values and we waited to have sex until we got married last year. I was 21 and he was 23. The problem is that now that it is OK to have sex (I’m married and with someone I love), I can’t seem to get over the feeling that sex is wrong and bad. I can’t enjoy sex and seldom want to have it. My husband is getting very frustrated and so am I. Any suggestions?
Posted on Sunday, March 22nd, 2015 at 10:51 pm.
This is a great question. I, too, remember well the days before cell phones were an everyday part of our lives. Dating seemed simpler then, although it has never really been simple. Dating 30 years ago in your teens is quite different from trying to form romantic relationships today, especially following a long marriage and divorce or widowhood.
Clearly, one of the many things that has changed in the past 30 years is technology and its role in our lives. Cell phones, portable computers and their newer version, tablets, are very much a part of our lives. Cell phones in particular are both a convenience and a potentially intrusive force in our lives. Sometimes it seems like they use us more than we use them. A clear etiquette for their use in various public and social circumstances has not yet been well-developed so people handle their connectivity in many different ways.
I think the role of technology in our social and personal lives is becoming one of the aspects of potential compatibility and incompatibility within relationships. It is obviously not the fact of having a cell phone, but how we use it that determines a portion of our compatibility. It is a legitimate topic of conversation with a dating partner you are interested in.
The modest consensus on cell phone etiquette that has emerged so far suggests that it is discourteous to answer non-urgent calls during a meal, conversation or activity with another person. A clear exception is when both people are equally comfortable with a norm of answering calls and texts regardless of the activity they are engaged in.
Most of this is contingent upon your personal preferences. If someone you are dating uses their cell in ways that really bug you, you need to bring the subject up in a straightforward but tactful way. Express your opinions about the subject and see if your date is open to modifying her habits when you are spending time together. If she isn’t interested in changing her habits, you may be better off finding a partner whose relationship with modern technology more closely matches yours.
Posted on Sunday, March 22nd, 2015 at 1:31 am.
Dr. Beth, I am in my late 40s and just old enough to remember life before cell phones were our everyday companions. I married at 19 and my wife passed away a couple of years ago from a serious unexpected illness. Now I am starting to date again. My problem may seem trivial, but several of the women I have dated have annoyed me a lot due to how they use their cell phones on our dates. I really don’t know what the etiquette is for cell phone use especially in dating situations. Am I right to be annoyed or is this just something I need to accept?
Economic Differences between friends – How to maintain the friendships and open and honest conversations_Answer
Posted on Friday, March 20th, 2015 at 5:44 am.
Socioeconomic disparities are a reality of our society and a major source of passionate emotion and political disagreement. Economic disparities are a major source of tension in society and this tension can also affect our personal relationships. You are right to be sensitive to these issues and how they play out over the lifespan with friends whose lives have taken different directions.
Some people in positions of socioeconomic privilege find it much easier to socialize and develop friendships with individuals and families similar to themselves. However, many people have long-term friends and make new friends who are in circumstances different from your own. All of these friendships are important and may remain very important to you throughout your life.
There are no clear guidelines or book of etiquette I am aware of that deals with these issues so the best approach combines common sense, awareness and communication. Since people are often reluctant to talk about money issues, even with close friends, it is also important to pick up on verbal and non-verbal clues about your friends’ comfort levels talking about retirement, investments and other money-related subjects.
Depending on the individual, his or her circumstances and personality, discussing these kinds of topics may be just fine or may be very uncomfortable. Such discussions can inadvertently stir up feelings of anger, hurt and resentment that could mar your friendship. Here are a couple of things to be aware of as you choose to approach or avoid these topics.
If you have had an open, disclosing type of relationship with your friend that has always included discussion of your respective financial situations, plans for work, retirement and so forth, there is probably no reason to discontinue discussing those subjects. If you do have that level of open communication, it may also be fine and appropriate to talk about your own comfort level and your concerns about your friend’s potential discomfort. This conversation will provide you with information valuable to you in making future decisions.
Second, be conscious of maintaining a balance in the give and take of the discussion of these and other topics. Whatever your friend’s interests and issues may be, their needs, feelings and struggles are just as important as yours and your conversation should not primarily revolve around you and your hopes, dreams and plans.
Third, if there is an especially large economic disparity between you, it is not uncommon to feel an internal emotional tug to take care of your friend, to help them out financially and try to shoulder some of the responsibility for their life situations. This is tricky territory. Your assistance may be appropriate and welcome at times, but it can also foster an unequal power relationship between you.
As most people have discovered at some point in their lives, issues of money often contaminate the dynamics of friendships and family relationships. Resist the urge to step in unasked and take responsibility for your friend’s circumstances and situations. If you wish to help, do so out of a sense of choice rather than obligation and be clear as to whether the money is a loan or a gift. If it is a loan, it is important to have a clear, preferably written agreement about terms of repayment.
The topic of money, like the topics of sex, religion and politics are delicate conversations to navigate. With good will and some sensitivity and regard for the differences in your financial situations, this need not become a barrier to a lifetime of wonderful sharing with your new and long-term friends.
Economic Differences between friends – How to maintain friendships and open and honest conversations_Question
Posted on Thursday, March 19th, 2015 at 4:33 am.
Dr. Beth, I have friends from all walks of life. Rather than surrounding myself with people who are just like me educationally and financially, I have a great variety of friends. Some are professionals like myself, some are in construction or other blue collar occupations and others are “starving artists” and musicians. I don’t see myself as better than my starving artist friends or blue collar friends just because I make more money than they do. However, as we have gotten older it seems like the difference in our financial circumstances has grown larger and larger. I have always had open and honest conversations with my friends in the past, but now I don’t know whether it’s OK to talk about future retirement plans, travel and similar issues or if this is rude and may offend my friends who have less than I do. Your thoughts?
Posted on Sunday, March 15th, 2015 at 10:17 pm.
This is a great question. Fortunately, it is not difficult to find qualified and skilled therapists these days in Northern Colorado. There are a number of ways that people go about it. In my practice I have noticed that people find me in three major ways: referral by a friend or family member who is familiar with me or my work, referral from a health care practitioner who thinks I can be helpful to their patient, and the internet.
Another useful way to locate potential therapists is using the community listings in publications such as the MD Directory of Northern Colorado (published annually) and on the web, such as www.healthinfosource.com. This website allows you to search a county wide database and specify qualifications, specialties, location and insurance acceptance information. There are also health and mental health organizations, such as the Larimer Center for Mental Health, college counseling centers and outpatient mental health services connected to hospitals. Programs such as Mental Health Connections, affiliated with the community health clinic, assist lower income individuals who meet particular criteria. Fortunately, our area is rich in resources and offers a wide variety of services, including individual, group, couple and family therapy.
Most therapists (not including community agencies) will speak with you on the phone briefly to help you determine whether they have the qualifications and skills you are needing to address your specific concerns. You would provide the therapist with a brief description of your concern and she or he can answer any questions you may have about their skills, experience and style of therapy. While there are very few therapists who will offer a free face-to-face consultation, several do offer 10 or 15 minute phone consultations to potential clients. The first face-to-face session with the counselor will be most useful in determining whether a therapist is a good fit for you.
I feel optimistic that you will be able to locate a really capable therapist who can meet your needs. Ask a trusted friend, read some therapist websites and pick one or two counselors to call and screen. You can also ask your insurance company for a list of in-network providers if this is relevant to your situation. With a little footwork, I am sure you will be able to get the help you are seeking.
(Submitted on 2/14/2015 for the January issue of Healthline magazine)
Beth Firestein, Ph.D.
phone: (970) 635-9116
Posted on Saturday, March 14th, 2015 at 10:12 pm.
Dr. Beth, I am the having some problems in my life and they have been going on for a couple of years. Recently they seem to be getting worse. I’m not against getting help but how do I go about finding a therapist?
Posted on Saturday, March 14th, 2015 at 4:13 am.
Partying and going out to bars to socialize and hear some good music are fun and common ways for college students to enjoy themselves and their friends. Relaxation and going out are the counterpart to studying hard and striving for good grades. However, for some students partying and friendships become the focus of their college experience at the expense of what they are really paying the school to do for them. Entertainment and spending time with friends getting blasted become the main focus of their college lives.
It is also not uncommon for addictions to begin to surface during this time. While there is a significant difference between experimentation, social use, occasional heavy use and abuse of alcohol and drugs, this difference may not be obvious when we are younger because almost everybody is engaging in some of these behaviors.
The bottom line is that you have to figure out how to deal with situations with your friends that are highly embarrassing and uncomfortable for you. One thing is for sure—it almost never works to confront someone when they are drunk or high or to get someone in that state to stop doing whatever they are doing once their mental state and behavior are already out of control. In truth, your only real option is to decide how you are going to maintain enough practical independence to disengage when you find yourself in these situations.
If you are out with friends and they have driven, your options are pretty limited. You can disengage and walk home (if it’s not too far), you can ask another friend who isn’t drunk or high to drive you home or you can call a cab. Drive in a separate car, take the new light rail in town or take the downtown area bus if you can. Regardless, the point I am making is that you have a right to remove yourself from this type of situation and doing so is the best option in most such situations.
Of course, a lot of times sober friends feel a strong obligation to provide care for their really drunk friends. You may worry about their welfare or that their out of control behavior is going to get them into trouble. You can make the effort to get your friend to go home with you, but you should absolutely NOT allow them to drive. You can drive them in your car or theirs or call a sober friend or a cab. However, if your friend refuses to leave with you, you can ask them one more time but then you have to face the facts and do what you need to do to take care of yourself.
At another time when all of you are sober, you really need to talk about your concerns. If he or she minimizes and denies the awkwardness of the situation and isn’t willing or able to change their behavior, you have the option of socializing with them in non-alcohol, non-drug social environments. If this turns out to be impossible, that is, if they insist on drinking and drugging pretty much anywhere you go and even when you are hanging out with them in their dorm room or apartment, you will have to decide whether the friendship(s) are worth maintaining and perhaps let them go.
It is a sad and unfortunate situation when friends become out of control with drugs and alcohol, but it’s more important to maintain your personal independence and healthy behavior than to cling to particular friendships with people who are on a path of self-destruction. It is all too easy to end up in the wrong place at the wrong time and get caught in the fallout of a bad situation.
Posted on Thursday, March 12th, 2015 at 5:47 am.
Dr. Beth, I am 22 and I attend a university here in the area. My question is about how to handle social situations when I’m out with my friends. I have had some good friends for the last year or two and we all like going out to hear music and socialize at the bars. However over time, several of my friends have gotten more and more into alcohol and some of them have started using pot and occasionally other drugs. Sometimes they act in ways that embarrass me and I really don’t enjoy being around them when they get really drunk or high. I still want to socialize with them, but I’m not sure how to handle the situation.