Let’s Talk About Sex!

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I’ll go ahead and start this post with a disclaimer that I will be frank about this subject. If you’re squeamish about sex in general this might be outside your comfort zone, and you can click away now. (On the other hand, it might be just what the doctor ordered!)

I’ve made it a bit of a life mission to understand relationships in general and intimate relationships specifically. I study people, and it’s not at all uncommon to make a comment in passing about an observation and to later find out that I was actually picking up on something correctly. People fascinate me. How people relate intrigues me. While this has served me well as a tool to nurture a strong and successful marriage, it wasn’t always that way.

The first eight years of my marriage weren’t always amazing, and it was mostly my fault. I was raised in a super conservative community that really didn’t provide much in the way of guidance on what constituted a healthy marriage. Because of my background, I don’t trust men easily, so I went into my marriage with the attitude that men were pretty much pigs but mine was mostly okay. (This legitimately embarrasses me now.) This caused a ton of conflict for me. My husband and I have always had a very strong intimate connection (ahem, we like sex), but I constantly felt a push and pull emotionally about it. I will never, ever forget when that shifted for me. We were arguing one day, and I yelled right in his face, “YOU ONLY WANT ME FOR MY BODY!” My memory of this unfolds in slow motion as I see the face of the most amazing man in my life crumple. I could see in his eyes that I had hit my mark in the most heartbreaking way. I immediately and profusely apologized, but it took many days for things to feel normal again. Some time after that fact, I found (just kidding – he brought it home to me, and I swallowed my pride and actually read it.) The Proper Care and Feeding of Husband’s  and had the most important paradigm shift of my life. Realizing that my husband’s need to connect with me was not only sweet but incredibly flattering was eye-opening, freeing and changed our marriage practically overnight.

My interest in relationships coupled with my abuse background means that I talk to a lot of women about these things and how they relate. (I’m not sure how it comes up, but it does.) What I’ve come to understand is that a LOT of women struggle with sex. A lot of women are conflicted about it. A lot of women aren’t well educated. A lot of women, especially religious women, can’t reconcile the messages they receive, and their relationships suffer. A lot of women eventually give up on it altogether. This makes me so, so sad because it doesn’t have to be this way.

I’ve had a few conversations over the last few weeks that have really made me think about how important this subject has been to my marriage and how I wish more women had a healthier relationship with sex. I guess you can think of this as my list of things I would try to communicate to, say, my daughters (who happen to read this blog – you’re welcome, girls!) about what I hope they won’t have to learn the hard way.

Sex is good for you. As in, active couples experience less stress, less pain, greater immunity, stronger self-esteem and consider themselves happier than couples who aren’t as connected.

When you look behind the curtain around social issues surrounding sex like pornography addiction, there is pretty strong evidence that shame plays a huge part. Unhealthy attitudes about sex can actually contribute to the perpetuation of what psych professionals classify as “intimacy disorders.” Regular sex in healthy contexts reduces  the shame, guilt and disconnection that are the root of these problems.

While there are many things that contribute to divorce and tons of complexity surrounding why marriages fail, having regular sex reduces your overall risk of divorce. Sex is not a band-aid that can fix or save otherwise crumbling marriages, but it does facilitate strong relationships. I have a hard time understanding how people not having regular sex overcome arguments, misunderstandings and the general stress of life. We would have sunk a long time ago.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying your partner. Nothing. If you have issues believing this, see point 2 – guilt and shame weaken families; do it for your kids. (So much innuendo! I couldn’t help myself.) My seemingly pretty conservative father-in-law pulled my husband aside after we said “I do,” patted him on the back and pretty much said, “Go enjoy each other.” I continue to be grateful for that gem of advice.

Regardless of what your personal religious beliefs are, there are very few things between husband and wife that are actually doctrinally prohibited in the bedroom. 95 percent of the things people get up in arms about are pure dogma. If you and your partner are comfortable, safe and connected, everyone else can shut up and get out of your bedroom. The quality of your relationship is the key here. It’s all about respect.

You’re biologically built to connect with your partner. Sex releases prolactin and oxytocin that are known as bonding hormones and literally makes you closer to your spouse. If you’ve noticed that it’s easier to have hard discussions after sex or to overlook things that might bother you when you’re stressed, this is what is at play.

If you genuinely don’t see what all the fuss with sex is about, read a blog, find a counselor or pick up one of the many books that are amazing resources.  It can be better than just something that you get through to have kids. These are a few of my favorites that I recommend regularly.

And They Were Not Ashamed by Laura Brotherson – This is written from an LDS perspective and is particularly suited for those who are either still LDS or those that aren’t but still find it hard to get past cultural messages that can interfere with intimacy.

The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex by Sheila Wray Gregoire – I love everything that this blogger does. She’s Christian but very open and frank.

Intimacy Ignited by Dillow and Pintus – This is an excellent study of the Song of Solomon that can really help people to unlock religious shame around sex.

P.S. I also wanted to link up to my guest feature on http://www.inspireyourmarriage.com. I’m honored to be able to share with a wider audience how I make my marriage a priority. Check it out along with all the other marriage-strengthening stories! (And, welcome to any readers who found me through this blog!

 

 

 

 

 

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What’s Wrong With the Modesty Message?

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When you’re raised in Mormon culture, you hear a lot of messages about modesty. Modest is hottest!! Just say no to porn shoulders!! This subject has been ruminating on my mind quite a bit and more especially lately because it was brought up in the marriage group I participate in. There are some issues that break on faith lines, but I don’t think this is one of them. I think women tend to be more bothered by this regardless of their level of orthodoxy, but that is most likely merely because they are more aware of it. My own opinions about how modesty is promoted in religious contexts have evolved a lot since I was a teen myself and as my own daughters have grown toward the autonomy of adulthood. So, what IS wrong with the modesty message?

  1. Shouldn’t it be their body, their choice? Although this hasn’t been something that’s been a part of my parenting for the duration, it has evolved over time to become a message that even my youngest children are very familiar with now. Simply put, I don’t own my children. I teach them my values and dialogue with them about pros and cons of potential choices. But, at the end of the day, it IS their body, and it IS their choice. (Seriously, if people ask their name and they don’t want to share it, I don’t. If you try to coerce them to hug you, Mama Bear comes right out.) The modesty message reinforces the idea that body choices don’t belong to the individual, and that’s a problem for me. My kids don’t need to think about who might be looking at and assessing them whether it be me, my husband or their church leaders, friends or neighbors. You can’t be comfortable in your own skin if you’re not sure who’s in charge of it.
  2. It puts all the pressure on girls. I have sat through countless young women’s lessons about dress, decorum and standards. (And, based on what I’ve observed, the boys don’t focus on this. Statistics show that teen girls receive six times as many modesty messages as teen boys.) I’ve seen people sit in front of a classroom and hold up specific people as examples of either what to wear or what not to wear. (Seriously, ewwww.) Modesty is promoted as the idea that we are worth more than an objectified standard (which we are.) However, objectification cuts both ways. When girls hear over and over that they are better without their shoulders showing, that is pretty objectifying. I know girls that have stopped participating in church activity because they’re so tired/bored/annoyed by the one-dimensional nature of this message. In addition, the modesty message suggests that girls need to worry about what boys think, and that if they aren’t careful, they could be responsible for someone else’s poor decision. This is pretty gross to both men and women, frankly. Men are better than that and, if they’re not, the absence of a tank top is certainly not going to inspire them to be decent because it’s a much bigger problem than anyone’s clothing choices.
  3. There is no cultural context. Simply put, modesty means different things to different people in different environments. It is the cultural norm in some countries, for example, for women to be topless to promote bonding and easier access to breastfeeding for their babies. In sharp contrast, Victorian cultures found ankles to be titillating which seems downright ridiculous in our modern era. The only difference is context. I think it is pretty shortsighted to preach modesty as if this context isn’t fluid. It is. (Did you know that the 1964 BYU Homecoming queen wore a sleeveless dress? Yep. It was pretty common in that cultural context and not considered taboo at all.) Our children, both boys and girls, would be much better served to learn self-respect, responsibility and accountability than to focus on a checklist of dress standards.
  4. It interferes with the development of healthy sexuality. This is an issue that I don’t think most young women really understand because, sadly, it only begins to rear its ugly head when they are adults. The standard modesty message does not promote healthy sexuality. It promotes the idea that “good girls” stick to a narrative that is prescribed, and they are broken and used if they don’t. Except, once a girl is married, then the narrative changes. The problem is that girls can’t flip that switch overnight, and many, many religious women find themselves mired in shame, heartache and misunderstanding with their partner because they literally do not know how to be comfortable as sexual beings. This is so, so sad to me. (How I escaped this attitude myself with my background is a miracle to me.) And, again, young men don’t get this same message. The modesty message gives a wink and a nod to the idea that boys will be boys, leaving the majority of the long-term burden of this consequence to women.

I need to make it perfectly clear that this is not a treatise on what anyone should or shouldn’t wear. In fact, it is just the opposite. I have a great deal of respect for anyone who follows a strong internal compass. I just happen to think that every person should feel free to choose these priorities themselves. I don’t always approve of everything that my kids wear out my door. I hope that my children will choose to invest intimacy in a long-term, committed partnership that includes marriage because I think there’s pretty practical benefits to doing so. We talk about these things, and I give my kids my opinion. But, I am pretty dang defensive about anyone who tries to leverage cultural messages in a way that is unhealthy to them. I haven’t always recognized the modesty message as harmful, and I internalized an awful lot of it myself as a teen and young adult woman.  But, when you know better, you do better, and I hope to give my kids better than what I got in this department. For the rest of my readers, maybe it will, at the very least, provide a different perspective that will give you something to think about. Could we do better? Is there a healthier way? I think so.