What is Rape? What is Sex?

What is rape? Well, what is sex? If rape is sex without consent, then we have to define sex before we can define rape. A legal case in Ohio is currently revealing confusion about what counts as rape. Many of us (especially those under 40!) believe sex is only about vaginal intercourse/sexual intercourse. Remember President Clinton’s insistence that he did not have sex in the oval office? Because it was only a blowjob? We have to define what sex is before we can answer what is rape. What is Sex? How we define sex is so important. As a therapist, I work with many married or committed couples who wonder about their sex life. Is it good enough? Should they be doing “it” more often? Well, what exactly is “it”? Measuring a healthy sex life by only counting how often a penis enters a vagina is a bit absurd and completely unhelpful. Why? Because human sexual pleasure comes from many other activities. Intimate, physical connection doesn’t require sexual intercourse. When a couple worries about the state of their sex life, I worry about how often they are intimately connecting in many ways. Whether the connection is there or not is the important thing. The connection shows whether a relationship is healthy or not. I think this habit of reducing sex to just vaginal intercourse comes from many things. Public policy debate and education in the last twenty years has focused heavily on unwanted pregnancy and abortion. Some people wish to deny non-hetero intercourse as not “sex” for their own moral reasons. Since the Puritan era, defining sex has mostly been about...

The Break Up: Comfort in Pop Music

A break up hurts. When we hurt, we want to feel better. Music helps many of us feel better. Whenever I hear a new song on the radio (yes, I still listen to my local radio stations in the car), I always wonder what any new song has to say about how to feel better. Co-written with Jorgen Elofsson, the upbeat track What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger) by Kelly Clarkson seems guaranteed to become a post break up anthem for anyone between the ages of 12 and 62. Clarkson’s lyrics have much to say about dealing with a break up and healing. And this is where I get interested. Break Up Wisdom We still live in a world where women and girls are told they only count when they are in a relationship with someone else, that we are less than whole on our own. Clarkson’s lyrics include a strong “I’m doing great on my own” message, which is wonderful to hear. I also love that the song doesn’t say the singer is already in a new relationship with someone else. The verses celebrate having a relationship with ourselves, feeling at peace with being alone and pursuing our dreams. Her sassy confidence isn’t based in belonging to a new guy; it’s about rediscovering herself. This sense of self-discovery is a key part of feeling better after a break up. Too often, we are encouraged to jump into a new relationship to feel better, as soon as possible after the break up. But rushing into a new relationship means we don’t reconnect with ourselves, learn from the relationship, and re-evaluate what we want in life and in...

Love’s Unexpected Upsides

I do love Frugal Dad’s blog, and I do love infographics. Both of these pale in comparison to how much I love my husband. According to the facts below, a strong marriage relationship boosts our mental and emotional well-being, as well as our financial well-being. I think the key here is “a strong marriage.” Many of us grow up with lousy examples of married life. Don’t be afraid to look for professional help to strengthen your marriage – before divorce or infidelity are in the picture. Enjoy! Infographic...

Shame & Guilt

Now some of my colleagues and long-term therapy clients are saying, wait a minute! Your description of feelings doesn’t include shame or guilt! Don’t alot of people seek professional help because of these two feelings? True, shame and guilt are important human experience that does often come up when people talk to a professional. I would argue that guilt is part of fear, and shame isn’t really a feeling, but a mindset. As always, these things are subjective, so feel free to comment if you disagree! I believe guilt is a specific type of fear because of the situations where it occurs. Often our guilt is based on our action or inaction in regard to another person. Guilt is the fear we have about how this will impact us, the other person and/or the relationship between us. Guilt is an indicator that we’ve done something wrong, something that may have or has had negative consequences. These consequences can sometimes be severe and hard to predict, which generates a fear response. So guilt is a kind of fear. Shame, on the other hand, is a mindset that triggers deep and painful feelings within us. Shame itself is not a feeling. Guilt is a temporary response to a wrong action/inaction. Shame is an enduring belief that I am wrong. Shame is also connected to fear in this way and constantly creates a low-level state of fear in someone who hold’s this mindset. It drives fears about being liked, being accepted, being worthy, being capable, being loved. So guilt and shame are both linked to our fear, anxiety and insecurities; however, only...

Fear

I promised fear was a post all by itself. In my professional experience, fear is typically the feeling people are most uncomfortable admitting to others. Admitting fear makes us vulnerable to those around us. Socially, fear makes others uncomfortable, which means we are often encouraged directly or indirectly to “be brave.” On an evolutionary level, fear existed to warn us of very real danger we needed to flee from, like a collapsing cliff wall or a jungle cat ready to pounce. Fear triggers adrenaline, a.k.a. fight or flight, and helps us cope. These days fear shows up in a couple of main areas: chronic stress/anxiety and trauma response. Chronic stress and anxiety are familiar curses to many of us. Financial anxiety plagues many homes in this recession. Performance anxiety keeps us from achieving on the job. Social anxiety can make it hard to meet friends and build a support network. On-going stress means our adrenaline stays active, keeping our minds and bodies on high alert and preventing our body from doing the regular maintenance that keeps us healthy. If you struggle with some kind of anxiety or stress, there are effective techniques that can help keep you calm and happy. Trauma-response is connected to more to that ancient reflex of fight and flight. Sometimes when something truly life-threatening or self-integrity threatening occurs, we get stuck in fight or flight mode, constantly on edge. The hormones that put us on high alert are very powerful and able to completely rewire our brain in a moment. Sometimes symptoms of hyper-vigilance, irritability, restlessness, numbness and holes in our memory persist for quite awhile,...

Feelings…

What a complicated and loaded word “feelings” or “emotions” can be! Our last post talked about how feelings increase the strength of memories and contain important information that goes beyond our cognitive ability. This time we’ll take a look at what feelings are and why sometimes we all need help getting in touch with them. First off, all human feelings can be sorted according to four main categories: sad, happy, anger, fear. Within each of these categories there is a broad range of feelings. For example, sad includes grief, tearful, wistful, lonely, depressed, disappointed, hurt, miserable, etc. Happy includes content, joyful, ecstatic, interested, glee, surprised, warm, laughing, joking, silly, etc. Anger includes miffed, frustrated, rage, irritated, aggressive, etc. Fear includes anxious, terrified, horrified, unsettled, jumpy, antsy, insecure, etc. Very rarely do we feel one pure emotion category at a time. For example, when we experience anger, sometimes there is also hurt or fear behind it. Sometimes happiness is tinged with grief that a loved one isn’t there to share it. Can you think of your own examples of times when you’ve felt “emotional” and it mostly just felt jumbled up inside? Sometimes we’ve learned feelings are bad things, so we’re 100% unaware of emotions happening inside us. Often young children are told big girls/boys don’t cry. So where does that leave us when we feel sad? If I’m an adult and big girls don’t cry, what happens when I feel sad? In this case, sadness can often be expressed as anger. Just the opposite is also true. Sometimes we learn anger isn’t ok, “nice girls” don’t get angry. So then...