Hello, friends! In this episode, I answer three awesome listener questions about some very interesting topics. For those of you that are super sensitive about the topic, the first couple questions involve sex and sexuality, so be aware!
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Also, before I get into the questions I just wanted to give a special shoutout to Victoria! Victoria is an active member of the Hardcore Self Help Facebook Community and has been a fan and supporter of my work for a long time. She’s had some real struggles through her life but has been killing it lately and has just graduated! I’m super proud of you Victoria and thank you for all your help and support!
I got divorced a few years ago and I have twin five year old boys. I fought for us to stay together but ultimately she wanted her independence back and so I had to give up control and let her go. I have tried dating a few people but ultimately end everything before giving them a chance. I know a lot of it has to do with my fear of getting hurt again and as a result, I have found that every sexual experience I have had post divorce, I am unable to get an erection when the relationship gets to that point. I have been to a doctor and have determined that it is not erectile dysfunction so I am fairly confident it is psychological. I don’t know what to do and I feel like I avoid relationships now because I know ultimately that thing is going to happen again.
What can I do to get over this?
First off, great job that you were able to go talk to your doctor about this. It can be hard for a lot of people with penises to talk to their doctor and that just leads to uncertainty and assumptions about what is going on. When you talk about erectile dysfunction, generally you are referring to a medical inability to get an erection. This is different than the inability to get an erection for psychological reasons. Often there is an element of both, especially when it is physical. But there are things such as blood pressure and hormones that could contribute to physiological ED. But when it comes to psychological sexual dysfunction, usually this comes down to stress and pressure to perform.
Given the fact that you are having trouble seeing relationships through, even outside of the sexual issue, that suggests that there is definitely part of you that is still recovering and that likely you have some anxiety related to relationships in general. I get the feeling that your tendency is to avoid rather than pushing through. This is probably driven by some assumptions that you have about the situation. For instance, rather than diving in and having discussions to understand why a partner is behaving the way that they do, you might be simply assuming you know the reason, and often that reason probably makes you feel bad. So, on the relationship side, getting used to communicating and challenging your assumptions about the relationship and about the other person will be necessary for sure. Cognitive behavioral work, either through therapy or through self-help resources, will be helpful here.
Treat it like a phobia
One way to think of this situation is as almost a phobia of sex due to the negative emotional experience of your previous marriage. You aren’t literally having an uncontrollable anxiety reaction like a phobia, but there is a specific trigger and that anxiety that is generated is expressing itself through your body. Just like treating a phobia, gradually exposing yourself and working your way up to sex may be called for. I will preface all of this by saying that sex and sexuality are so close and personal that it will always be best to work with a licensed sex therapist if possible. But there are a few tips and tricks that come from the field of sex therapy that you might find helpful.
First is called sensate focus. This is a technique that’s been around forever. Generally, it works really well for people in an established relationship, but it can be integrated into newer relationships as well as long as you establish good communication and both parties understand what is going on from the start.
Basically, with sensate focus, you start from a lower level of stimulus than full out penetrative sex and then gradually work your way up. There are modifications for people in same-sex relationships, polyamorous relationships etc. For example, you might start with the rule that for the first intimate session, you are allowed to kiss, talk, hug, be close, and touch one another, but you are not allowed to touch genitals or breasts (you would both be naked for this). The goal is to focus on the sensations and learn what it’s like to be fully immersed in one another’s presence. Then you move up to touching more heavily including breasts, but no genitals still. It can really suck to be so restrictive when you’re getting into it, but you want to play by the rules. That’s part of it.
From there, you can involve touching genitals, but no oral sex. Then integrating oral sex. And then, of course, removing all of the barriers, but trying to keep the focus on the sensory experience and taking things slow. This build up often helps tremendously with both the familiarity with what one another likes and issues such as erectile dysfunction or vaginismus (painful sex due to muscle tension in the vagina).
As I said, this is often better in more established relationships so you don’t have to be as worried about bringing up the topic. But then again, for you it sounds like you may need to be upfront with people and help them understand where you are coming from earlier on in your relationships so that you can have a good platform for communication and understanding before you encounter many roadblocks.
The other thing that you can do is look at how you are masturbating (if you are at all). Often sex therapists will suggest that people with penises masturbate about every other day on average and use a start-stop technique. Basically, you start touching yourself and masturbating until you get a full blown erection and then you stop. You let the erection come all the way back down and then you start again. You do this process about three times and then go ahead and do what you want and finish if you feel like it. The point for this is that it gets you used to the idea that you can lose an erection and get it back. You get a little more used to the idea that these things are fluid.
Sex doesn’t have to be linear
I’m not sure where you live, but particularly in the US, we tend to have a very straightforward linear perspective on sex. You start kissing, you have a little bit of foreplay, you penetrate, you build up speed gradually until you orgasm. Combine that with the fairy tale notion that you are always both going to orgasm and both at the same time through straight forward penetrative sex and you can get sometimes have a recipe for disaster. Instead, it can be helpful and healthy to allow your framework to be a bit more flexible when it comes to sex. You can start and you can stop. You can speed up and slow down. You can have sex without penetrating. Sex still counts if someone doesn’t orgasm. There are tons of great sex podcasts out there like Sex with Emily, Sex Nerd Sandra, and Shameless Sex that might help you expand your ideas about sex and normalize some of these things.
So those are the main tips that I have for you. I’m sorry that you are going through this. Sex is one of the most fundamental needs that we have and it can really mess with your head when things don’t go the way you expect. It sounds like you have a good understanding of why this is going on, so it just comes down to doing something about it.
Approach it from both sides. Work on the mental side of the stress or anxiety that you have going on by engaging in therapy or self-help and work on the physical side through sensate focus and/or start-stop and you will be in good shape.
Okay so my question is this.. would having father issues have any correlation to inappropriate sexual habits?
Around grade 5 I stared online gaming and I would have guys message me a lot. I liked the attention and would talk to everyone, but they we would have video chats and they would ask me to show them my boobs or things like that and at first I didn’t but as time when on I started trying it out. Over time I would show more and more… Now its like something I almost crave I will literally get fully naked in rooms where theres up to like 30 people watching at once. I also have always been on the bigger side so I think part of me just likes that people want to see my body in that way.
Have you ever talked to someone about something like this?
I always make sure I don’t show my face anymore (and haven’t in years) so im not worried about people finding it or anything but I just feel very ashamed that I do this. Also I feel like it interferes with how I feel sexually when im actually with a real person. I’ve had some pretty bad sexual experiences but those happened after I started this. Do you think they could be connected at all? Do I let people take advantage of me because I do it on the internet and do I do this kind of stuff because I never had a proper male role model or because of my body image issues?
There are some theories that having an absent father or a problematic relationship with your father can lead to risky sexual behaviors. I will say that the research on this does not always do a good job of establishing causality vs correlation. Meaning people who are likely to have absent fathers may have characteristics or other environmental factors that could be related to risky sexual behaviors. There are some experts and researchers that describe father hunger or parent hunger to refer to behaviors that come from having an absent father, which typically related to achieving some sense of what they didn’t have as a child. Often this is attention, closeness, etc. So it seems to be a thing, but the line of causality isn’t completely clear.
As to your questions – I think it’s always important to ask yourself if the situation at hand is actually a problem or not. I’m not approaching this question with any sort of moral assumption about what is right and wrong. In the absence of external judgments, how do you feel about these behaviors that you are talking about?
Obviously encountering the internet and how inappropriate, uninhibited, and harmful people can be at a young age is not acceptable. It’s never okay to be asked for those things when you are young. But now you are an adult and it sounds like you have a bit of an exhibitionist streak. It sounds like you enjoy the attention and the feeling of being wanted when at other times in your life, you haven’t always been able to feel that way. The only time I would characterize that as a problem is when you feel extreme shame or discomfort from it, when you are being exploited into it, or when it is leading you to do things that are harmful to you.
It’s the 2010s. We have had billboard charting songs about eating ass, sexting, and group sex. These things are not as taboo as they once were. So hopefully that establishes that this type of behavior is not necessarily a problem in isolation. If you feel like you have to behave this way to be worthy or something like that, it’s a different story. But if you enjoy it and it’s not a problem, then it’s not a problem.
Explore your feelings
Now in your question, you did indicate that there is some shame attached to this type of behavior. I would encourage you to explore that a bit. I really want to avoid telling you how to feel. Why do you feel shame though? What is the source of the judgment you are passing on yourself? If it’s because there’s a part of you that knows that you are doing something that is harmful, investigate that further. If you feel that it’s just judgment from what other people might think about this behavior then dive into that further too.
As always, this is fertile ground to work through with a therapist, but in this case, it would probably have to be a younger one and/or someone that focuses on working with sexual issues. This is the process of discovering whether this is a kink or just an expression of trauma that you wish was not there. Either answer is okay and there may be some overlap between the two. Either way, I want to gently encourage you to not be so black and white about things and to not be so judgmental of yourself.
You also mentioned that it interferes with your in-person sexual experiences. This is so difficult to comment on without being super familiar with your situation, so I would again give you a nudge toward finding a therapist that you could work through some of this stuff with. Again, the arrow of causality isn’t always so clear. You mentioned being taken advantage of and bad sexual experiences in person. I wouldn’t necessarily say that this is something that is caused by your online behaviors, but they might draw from the same source. By that, I mean that whatever factor that causes you to enjoy the sexual outlet of showing off your body online might also lend itself toward problematic sexual situations in person.
I really can’t give you a proper answer to this one and I’m sorry about that. But I will say that regardless of the situation, you are not stuck. You probably do need to do some soul searching, journaling, learning, and possibly therapy. It would also help to have some people that you can speak to openly and plainly about this without judgment. If you find that there are some good reasons to stop doing what you are doing due to personal safety, exploitation, or you feel like it is affecting you negatively, then you will work toward stopping and addressing the issues. If not, then enjoy yourself, take control of your own body and sexuality, and craft a life that works for you regardless of what is supposed to be “right”.
I’ve always been envious of people’ abilities to “let things go,” specifically emotions. I experience emotions in a very turbulent, colorful way, and they often dictate my thought processes, leading to impulsive behaviors. For example, there’s a few personalities in the performance friend circle I’m in that have a history of rubbing people the wrong way, and especially for me, trigger my anger when they are acting in ways I find passive aggressive or irritating. My natural instinct is to tell someone when they’ve made me upset, as I don’t like feeling like I have a secret to hide with someone I spend a lot of time with them, but this habit of mine rarely works in my favor.
I see my friends having to interact with their same bullshit, however what triggers emotions in me is like water off a duck’s back for them — I never see them react emotionally and instead just “let it go” and “move on” because, as they say, “it’s not worth it.” This is a practice and a mindset that I’ve been trying to master for years, but always makes me feel like I’m sweeping my emotions under the rug, and usually find that those thoughts and feelings I’ve repressed later come out in a more catastrophic, unconstructive way at said triggering person.
Is there such thing as “too much communication” when it comes to sharing your emotions? And how can I get better at letting go of anger and irritation in a mindful “I acknowledge you, but am not effected by you” way that doesn’t make me feel like I’m burying my feelings and building up resentment?
When you say that you experience emotions in a very turbulent, colorful way, I think a lot of people listening will relate to you. It can be a blessing and a curse. This doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s “something wrong with you”. It just depends on what you do with the emotional input that you get. You may have a great capacity for empathy which is a strength, but you might also become overwhelmed or not know what to do with all of those emotions at times, which can suck for you.
Dialectical behavior therapy
Since you talked about the fact that these emotions dictate your thoughts and behaviors, I think that you would be a prime candidate for dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). DBT is a type of therapy that was originally designed for people with borderline personality disorder but is used to help you get on terms with your thoughts and feelings and learning how to manage them. One thing that you pointed out in your question is that repressing feelings usually comes out in more explosive or problematic ways later on. That is super common. Just like I’ve talked about how anxiety isn’t the problem, your reaction to it is – the same goes for any strong feeling.
You can privately have the private feeling that someone is so inconsiderate and they deserve to get their teeth knocked out. That only becomes a problem when it affects your behavior, when you treat them poorly or violently because of it. This is a concept called fusion – it’s very common. Fusion is when you smoosh together your thoughts and behaviors as if they are one and the same. The reality is that you can think or feel a certain way and that may or may not dictate what you do. For instance, when I was bartending, there were some days where I just hated people and I was not in the mood to be doing much of anything. I didn’t let that feeling dictate the way I acted though. If I had a wedding to bartend that day, I would smile and be genuinely helpful while not feeling happy at the same time.
Remember, thoughts are just thoughts
You are allowed to defuse your thoughts and feelings. Thoughts are just thoughts. I don’t need to harp on mindfulness again, but this is an essential skill for working toward defusion. It can also be helpful to get practice at labeling your emotions. Literally just practicing it. The emotion wheel can be helpful for this. You want to work on separating out your primary emotion – what the initial feeling was, and your secondary emotion – the emotional reaction to the way you felt. For example, if you felt betrayed by somebody…feeling betrayed is the initial reaction and primary emotion. The secondary emotions are feelings such as being annoyed or angry, because of the betrayal. Separating them can be really helpful to understand how you actually feel and why.
Rather than avoiding the feelings that we don’t want to have, the best course is to approach and embrace them. With the knowledge that feelings and thoughts are nothing more. They are important to pay attention to, but they don’t need to run the show. Process the feelings in any way that you can. Whether that is out loud to yourself, mentally, or on paper. Rather than ruminating on the feeling and how frustrated you are at having it. Just label it and try to look into what in particular made you feel that way.
Things like an ABC thought log can definitely come in handy here. So the A (activating event – what happened), Consequences (the emotional consequences – how you feel) and B (belief – your thoughts on why it happened). Using this method can be really helpful to understand and work through your thoughts and feelings.
You might also look into some of the strategies that they use in DBT. I don’t specialize in DBT particular, so I don’t know all of the techniques that they use, but it tends to involve a lot of different exercises and acronyms.
A simple and effective one is STOPP
- Pause for a second.
- Take a breath
- Slow your breathing and notice it go in and out for a moment.
- What are your thoughts and feelings?
- Where are you focusing your attention?
- What prompted your reaction?
- How are you feeling physically?
- What are you doing?
- Pull Back
- Challenge yourself to adopt more of a 3rd person perspective.
- Be factual – what’s the bigger picture here?
- Is there another way of looking at the situation?
- Is your assumption a fact or just an opinion/guess?
- Practice What Works
- What can you do about the situation that works best for yourself and for others?
- What has helped a situation like this in the past?
Exercises like this give you a chance to catch yourself in the moment. Rather than reacting strongly, even if you feel strong emotions, you can take an approach that future you would be happy about. If something is really important to address, it will be just as important another time. If giving yourself a little time dulls the intense feeling and you don’t feel the same need to respond, good. And if not? Then at least you have given yourself some time to approach it in a constructive way rather than just purely being reactive.
Practice sitting with your feelings
You don’t need to, and may never become, someone that just lets things roll off their back. But giving yourself the chance to approach the situation in a more productive way can be helpful. You need to get practice at approaching and sitting with your feelings and then acting in the way that you’d like to act. Sometimes these will be totally consistent, sometimes they will not.
You are allowed to have values and if it would be violating those values to act in a certain way, then don’t. You just want to defuse the emotion and behavior…they don’t have to be totally consistent. We are just trying to help you get on better terms with your internal experience and realize that it doesn’t have to govern your every move.
There is also the null hypothesis to consider that you are just hanging out with shitty people that have personalities that are incompatible with yours. If it’s not everyone in the world that gives you these emotional flare-ups, but just the types of people that you currently tend to hang out with, that could be something to potentially change as well. If you have some external sources of feedback like friends or family that can give you some perspective that would be helpful in determining how much of this might simply be due to the people and circumstances.
So overall, I don’t want you to change who you are. Just get better at being that way and living successfully. DBT is going to be your friend here. If you get a few back pocket exercises, expand your vocabulary and emotional awareness and give yourself that chance to pause and pull back, I think that’s going to help out quite a bit.
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