Can you be Too Privileged to be distressed?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the construct of privilege and how it impacts sense of self, sex & relationships. As a first generation Filipino American, I felt incredibly fortunate to be raised in an upper-middle class environment, have education paid for, been able to travel the world. My parents came from nothing in the Philippines and worked their asses off to in one generation give me what they never had. While I would be reminded of how much they worked to provide for me, I honestly never felt pressure from them to succeed. They raised me to believe that I could do/have whatever I want with my life, so long as I worked hard. I truly felt privileged. During my grad training I would say, I don’t want to work with clients “like me- sure they may be distressed, but privileged enough to just get over it.” (I know, go ahead and judge – but that mentality is what led me to work with individuals impacted by cancer.) This same mentality also led me to minimize my depression, anxiety and complex trauma. (I know, again, feel free to judge- how can I as a PhD psychologist minimize my own mental health – well I’m not the only shrink to do it, sadly.) No matter what our background, distress and trauma are real – noone is impervious. The COVID crisis is reminding us that no race, no gender, no socio-economic background is impervious to this threat, nor the emotional overwhelm it fosters. While it’s important to feel grateful, it’s also important to acknowledge your distress. No matter what your background, your feelings are real – your distress is real. We all need support and connection to heal.

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Episode Transcript

I’m Dr. Catalina Lawsin, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, and I love talking about sex. Sex Marks the Spot is a podcast that bridges the gap between what we know and what we actually do when it comes to sex, relationships and health. Whether it be pure, raw, sweaty sex or warm, intimate cuddles you’re craving and not getting, despite how much you’re trying, you are not alone. Unfortunately, recent studies are showing that despite the sex positivity out there and how much more we actually are talking about sex, people are actually having less sex than they used to.

On top of that, women now are able to actually voice that they’re not as sexually satisfied as maybe men or other women were thinking that they were. A common myth is that oftentimes in sex that just purely by having it, you’re going to be satisfied and that’s certainly not the case. But one of the most common reasons for divorce is still sexual dissatisfaction, and inherent that is people wanting to have more frequent sex.

Generally, men are shown to be wanting a bit more focus on the frequency, whereas women tend to be more focused on the quality, but both are wanting more of it. This is one of the common things that can actually become a massive tension, an elephant in the room and generally one of the most common reactions to this is avoidance of sex. And so the irony of this is that even though people are wanting more and more sex, they actually become more and more avoidant of actually broaching anything that would actually get them more sex.

One of the things that often happens when, or one of the terms that often describes when one partner is wanting more sex than the other is this term called mismatched libidos. This idea of mismatched libido really needs to be taken into a context of it’s all relative. It’s relative to the partner you’re currently with. So, one of the things to keep in mind is that at some point or another, there’s going to be a mismatch in how often you actually are wanting to have sex or how sexy you feel.

Because again, our sexuality changes. As life happens, whether it be because of our health, our work stressors, or these milestones such as having a child or menopause, whatever it is, our sexuality evolves and how much we desire sex, how sexually connected we feel. All of those things are going to evolve. So, when you’re actually wanting more sex or less sex than your partner, one of the things you got to keep in mind is that this actually may just be a phase and that it’s actually really common.

At some point or another in a long-term relationship, there’s going to be this mismatch. It’s just really hard. It’s hard enough to find that partner, but whether it be about your sexuality or whether you’re wanting to do the same activities, there’s generally going to be a mismatch. You’re not always going to be on the same page. Sex unfortunately tends to trigger lots of other things in the relationship, or be triggered by lots of other things in the relationship, and generally is something that not only breeds frustration but also resentment.

So, let’s talk about what can someone do if they want to have more sex than their partner? So, let’s break these down to what are some things that you can do on your own, and then what are some things that you can do with your partner? One of the first things is to stop blaming your partner. If you are choosing to stay in this relationship, you need to take ownership of that choice and support yourself and your partner in that choice and do whatever you can on your side, because that’s all you have control over, to then work towards strengthening the relationship.

Be mindful that absolutely it is common and understandable for you to feel frustrated, resentful, rejected, and ultimately angry at your partner for not wanting to have sex as much as you. But be mindful of a lot of the assumptions that are pretty natural to make. Like, “Oh, they’re not attracted to me. Oh, maybe they’re having an affair.” Or, “Oh, they don’t prioritize me.” Those are all very common assumptions that you’ve probably built up and they really, those seeds that once they get planted, they’re pretty fixed and they just hop to your head really, really quickly.

So, one of the things you want to try and do is actually calm those down. If you want to move forward in your relationship, you’ve got to figure out how to control these assumptions so that if you actually want to make things better and ultimately have more sex, these assumptions are getting in your way. So, keep in mind, instead of when you have these assumptions and are blaming your partner, check in with yourself and figure out what actually different ways that instead of reacting and either getting upset or aggressive or cold and distant, what are some other ways that you can choose to respond that will actually bring you more connection rather than most often distance.

It is natural if you’ve heard, “No, I’m not in the mood,” or, “No, just no, no, no,” and that’s just pretty much the auto record that’s going on every time you propose sex or make strides towards intimacy, it makes sense that you feel rejected and it makes sense that that may hurt, but try not to take it personally. Okay? It is natural, but when you feel rejected, it’s pretty common to then get on the defense because you’re experiencing some dissonance there. Disconnect of, “Wait a second, I’m awesome and we have amazing sex. Why is this not working? What is it about me?”

This can come out as being aggressive, passive-aggressive, distance or cold. And again, none of those reactions are actually going to get you closer to having sex. So check yourself. Look at what thoughts are coming up for you and when you’re feeling rejected, how you can control those thoughts about yourself. Okay? And then again, just like when you’re making assumptions about your partner, what are some other ways you can respond when those thoughts come up?

So overall, the next thing is really actually when you’re feeling sexually dissatisfied and not getting enough sex, one of the biggest things I also encourage is to look inward rather than outward. Be mindful of what you’re wanting and take a look at what are the choices you’re making that are actually keeping or maintaining this dynamic in your relationship? Maybe what have you been hiding about what your needs, your desires or your fears are from your partner, and hot sex or an intimacy really includes trust, and you actually need to lean into this trust and into your relationship rather than actually back away and create distance.

That’s actually one of the hardest things when you’re feeling sexually frustrated or feeling unwanted or sexually in your relationships, keeping in mind healthy, trusting relationships support you and your partner. Lots of studies have shown that couples who are in healthy trusting relationships have lower cortisol levels, which cortisol is a stress hormone that actually once that increases, it causes a whole cascade of negative health reactions.

So, the more you’re able to lean on and trust your relationship is again, the better overall health you’ll feel. So, fourth, when thinking about things that you can do, I say take care of yourself. Yes, this includes self-pleasure or masturbation. Focus on self-pleasure to ignite your own spark. And along the way, maybe you’ll actually find new things that when you and your partner are ready to reconnect sexually, you can show your partner. But too often what individuals who are wanting more sex than their partner, they keep on wanting that external stimulation. When keep in mind, when you’re having those orgasms, yes, you may get the stimulation initially to build up that fire that promotes a powerful orgasm, but it is you who actually has control over your orgasm.

Again, it is you who can control your orgasm, control that release, control that sexual energy. So, if you’re wanting more sex, start with yourself. Start having sex with yourself. And again, experiment, explore. Unfortunately, well, there’s been a lot of taboo around this, but now with all of the things out there and all the different sex toys and all the information out there of how to increase and explore your own sexuality with yourself, that actually is a very, very efficient way to self-soothe and quell some of that frustration to open yourself up to actually then work on things with your partner.

Let’s actually focus on what are some things that you can do with your partner to have more sex? First and foremost, I always recommend to actually talk with your partner. Whatever you think may happen, the reality is that you’re probably not the only one noticing this. If you’re the one who’s wanting more sex, you’ve probably either spoken up earlier or passive-aggressively or aggressively showed your dissatisfaction and you’ve chosen a partner who actually knows you pretty well and so that message and that way of communicating, it’s already happening.

So actually by having a conversation and opening it up, not in an accusatory way, but owning where you’re at. Using I statements of saying, “I’m feeling frustrated and maybe scared and sometimes alone because I miss having sex with you. I miss how fun it used to be and how we used to connect.” Start having that conversation because by you actually having that conversation, what you’ve done is actually said, “Hey, this is a problem for me, but it’s a problem for our relationship and it’s actually worth us talking about it and working through. That’s how important it is to me.” When you’re thinking about having this conversation though, get yourself ready for it, and don’t have it at 2:00 AM or when you guys are exhausted from a long day at work or when already you’re fighting. Actually create a healthy space for it and where you’re both open and relaxed to actually have a real conversation about your sexual connection with your partner.

So, another thing to try to have more sex in your relationship, and as counterintuitive as this may sound, take the focus off intercourse. That doesn’t always have to be the goal. The journey can be just as much fun. So realistically, even though this seems like completely opposite and away from where you’re wanting to be, realistically, you’re not having as much sex as you would like. So stop hitting yourself against the wall or hitting your head on the wall, wanting it and forcing the issue because every time you do that, now those little movements or those gestures that you’re making in your relationship are now triggers.

Unfortunately, what tends to happen is that those triggers or those movements are now aversive, and they’ve now set onto that dynamic or that process where generally again, you’re going to have some distance. So, take the pressure off intercourse and stop making that the goal. Start focusing on other aspects and other ways of connecting in your relationship. Remind yourself of what are the qualities that actually made you fall in love with your partner in the first place? And what were the reasons and what were their traits and qualities that you actually found attractive? And compliment your partner. Remind yourself of what you’re grateful for in your partner, and all of those things are actually going to bring you closer. Do little things that show you care. Grab a coffee for them, help them pack for a trip, give them a hand massage or a foot massage or a neck massage.

Little things like that. Or cook dinner. Sexual frequency goes down during times of stress and let’s think about one common one where we’re thinking about work burnout. When someone is overwhelmed with work or something about work. One of the things that you can do is try to figure out how can you actually concretely support your partner? So, that may mean, say they have a big presentation at work. Ask them if they want you to review things for them or do research or Google searches to get them some information, connect them with people. Try to actually concretely support them to show that you care.

Again, because those are ways to actually foster intimacy and build back that trust to open up the space in your relationship for that sexual connection. Another thing that you can try, and this may feel awkward, is actually schedule time and space to connect. Make sure it’s a time that’s realistic, stress-free and relaxing for both of you. So for instance, if Wednesday is just a long day at work, don’t plan for that to try to connect. Actually make sure it’s a time when you both are ready and open to actually connect. Try something fun and new. This will also break down some of that routine, the mundane that often happens in long-term relationships and that may be contributing to that disconnect.

Another side effect is that in trying new activities, particularly if they’re physical activities, your endorphins will start revving up and those juices will actually open yourself up to more of that sexual energy and sexual connection in your relationship. Another thing that you can try in this space and time to connect is explore erotica together. That doesn’t just mean watching porn and it doesn’t have to be to the extreme of 50 Shades or BDSM, but go to a special art exhibit on erotica, read an erotic novel together. Do something that, engage in an activity that actually is sexual in nature, to one, get new ideas, but also have that sexual energy present in your conversations and in your interactions to just reignite that. Again, our sexuality is a muscle as well and it actually needs to be ignited, activated to actually become fluid and to actually move through it and connect.

And then, as you have created this space and starting to feel more connected to your partner, then when you actually are trying to engage in more sexual activity, really focus on touch and sensation. Sensate focus is a technique in sex therapy that’s been proven, it’s a behavioral technique that has been proven to actually be one of the most effective strategies of getting couples to feel more intimate and sexually connected, and it’s a three-step process that really focuses on spectatoring and watching, getting cues from your partners, but really focusing on that sensation and what touch and identifying how your partner wants to be touched and connecting with that touch and that sensation.

Again, taking the pressure off of intercourse and off of your genitalia, but really focusing on that sensation. Our body has more sexual parts outside of our genitalia. And so, in focusing on just the sensations and touch, what you’re doing is using your whole body and your expressions, your voice, your breath to actually cultivate some of that sexual energy and connection in your relationship. When thinking about that touch and sensation, this again can happen outside of the bedroom.

When you’re walking, hold your partner’s hand a different way. So, if you guys were like this, try intertwining your hands when you hold each other’s hands, rather than cupping each other’s hands. Making little subtle shifts of how you physically and energetically connect really, again, will give alternative stimuli for your sensations and expand you guys’ repertoire of connecting sexually. These little subtle shifts can bring new sparks to your relationship and you can keep building on those.

So, as a whole, if you’re wanting more sex in your relationship, remember, there are things that you can do on your own and there are things that you can do with your partner. Be realistic. If you’re at the point where you’re looking for advice and you’re feeling super frustrated in your relationship, one, again remind yourself that you are not alone. These are common in all long-term relationships. And manage your expectations. These things did not happen, this dynamic that you have with your partner of the sexless relationship did not happen overnight and so it’s not going to change quickly. So, bit by bit work on yourself, connect with your partner, and really build the trust in yourself and in your partner to actually cultivate that sexual connection again.

Stay tuned for next week episode where we’ll be exploring our sexuality and how it relates to our health. Every Wednesday, follow me on YouTube and subscribe to my channel and check out my podcast. And feel free to send me any questions or comments or topics that you’d like us to talk about. Always bridging our sexuality with our science, what we know, our psychology and actually living our lives and fulfilling our sexual lives as much as possible.

So, make sex your medicine guys and have a great day. Cheers.

The content on this show is meant to be relatable, educational, empowering, and hopefully a little funny. It’s not meant to be treatment, and some of the things we talk about may seem more easier said than done. So, if you’re feeling stuck or alone or distressed, reach out for support from therapist, physicians, or other licensed healthcare providers. Thanks for listening and tune in each hump day for some juice to fuel your sexy day. Cheers.


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