The Women’s March vs. Pro-Life

Gender design
This Saturday, I participated in the Women’s March in Philadelphia. Since the march, I’ve seen a lot of backlash for its exclusion of anyone supporting the pro-life agenda. As far as I could tell, there was no one policing who could and could not attend the march. Anyone that wanted to could simply walk up and join the crowd. However, the platform of the march was explicitly “pro-choice” and therefore intended for those that share this perspective. I also believe that a pro-life organization was declined partnership with the march. This makes sense to me, as the pro-life message is in direct contrast with a primary principle of the march: women’s reproductive rights, and the right to make our own choice about our bodies.

For many of us, reproductive rights are inalienable from women’s rights – and one intention of the march was to demonstrate how many people share this specific perspective. The backlash has inspired me to share a little bit about why I see reproductive rights as a fundamental aspect of women’s rights, and why I think organizations like Planned Parenthood are crucial for women, and for our country in general.

Pro-choice Planned Parenthood demonstration holding two signs

No one wants to be in a position to get an abortion, but it’s an important option to have. I’m comfortable sharing that I’ve depended on planned parenthood for next day contraception because my primary birth control method failed. This was despite my loving/involved family, my private school education, my involvement with the church throughout my adolescence, and my decision to wait until I was 20 years old and had been in a committed relationship for a year before I had sex.

It was a difficult moment, that I’m neither proud nor ashamed of, but I am extremely grateful I had this option. I’ve been granted the ability to postpone motherhood until a time when I feel I can be the best mother possible, and offer the best life for my children. I’ve been able to continue pursuing my education, and will be receiving my doctoral degree this spring. I’m no longer with the man I was with at that time, who ended up cheating on me several times. Instead I was able to date, discover who I am, discover what was important to me in a partner, and am now engaged to a better partner than I could have imagined.

Without this contraception, it would have taken much longer to pursue my education  (if possible at all), as raising my child would have become my primary responsibility. Without a degree, I’d be unlikely to find as well paying of a job. Without a well paying job, I most likely wouldn’t be able to afford living in the neighborhoods with better school districts, meaning my child might not have access to a quality education. Due to earning less money, I might have to work more hours to make ends meet. Longer hours at work would mean less quality time with my child, especially if I continued trying to pursue my education on my off-hours. Less time with my child means I’d have less opportunity to talk with them about values, decision making, and healthy sexuality.

Studies have shown that children from lower income households are exposed to about 250,000 words in the span of one year, compared to about 4 million words that children from higher income families are exposed to – putting them at an average 2-year disadvantage in language skills when entering school. This is partially due to their parents’ additional stresses and limited time.

Maybe I would have tried to make things work with the father, and stayed in an unhealthy relationship. Maybe we would have broken up anyway, leaving me to raise my child as a single mother. The child (at best) might have seen their father occasionally, as we never lived in the same state and wouldn’t have had the means to move and live independently. It’d be more difficult finding time to date, or finding another man my age interested in a woman with a child, meaning I’d likely be living in a single income household for longer; another barrier in my ability for economic mobility.

Sad woman sitting in the corner of a room, head on the knees, face is hidden, black and white

This is how my life could have been very different without reproductive rights. This is even with all my privilege of growing up in a middle class white neighborhood, private school education, and religious involvement. Unfortunately, many young women haven’t had the same privileges. Their mother’s are working several jobs to make ends meet, and aren’t home to have conversations about healthy sexuality, or protect them from risky situations. They might not have fathers around to model respectful behavior towards women, and help foster their self-esteem. They’re less protected from increasing cultural messages (including those from our president) that their sexuality is the most valuable thing they have to offer others.

When they fall for a boy (similarly deprived of positive role models) who makes spontaneous and irresponsible decisions… the boy can walk away. However, without reproductive rights, the girl is left to bare the responsibility for the rest of her life. She’s left to try to do better than her own mother, until she realizes that her own mother was doing the best she could, and the cards are stacked against the girl to do any better. She might begin to notice how many other girls in her neighborhood are in the same situation, and that their daughters eventually find themselves in the same situation, and it might begin to dawn on her why it’s so difficult for anyone in the neighborhood to get out. Then it might dawn on her how women’s rights are so inextricably connected to human rights, social justice, improving poverty, decreasing crime, public health, and accessible quality education.

Don’t get me wrong, I know some mothers are able to overcome all these barriers, make the best of a difficult situation, and do a wonderful job raising their children. They are absolute heroes – but because of how difficult and important this task is, I don’t think any woman should be forced to take it on without deciding it’s what SHE WANTS. I also understand that a woman can choose to follow through with her pregnancy, and then decide to give her child up for adoption. Expecting a woman to carry a child in her womb for 9 months, give birth, and then give that child away also seems like an extremely unfair physical, practical, and emotional toll to force upon a woman, without her ability to choose. I am very much pro-life, in that I think if a woman wants to follow through with a pregnancy, she should have as much support available as possible. I simply don’t think she needs the government to make that decision for her. To me, a fundamental element of female empowerment is acknowledging that NO ONE is better able to make a life changing decision for a woman than the woman HERSELF.

This is why, for many of us, reproductive rights are inseparable from women’s rights.

* I understand the argument that an unborn child is a human too, and also has rights…. I really do… but there simply isn’t a clear agreed upon point at which an embryo is a person. Hopefully, however, there’s no debate that every already born woman is definitely a human, so it seems reasonable that our human rights should take precedence.

** Let it be known that I have no official affiliation with the Women’s March and cannot speak on behalf of any of the organizers or protesters. This post is intended to simply share my take on the issue.
Advertisements

Why It’s Ok For Cops To Admit They’re Racist

Let me state from the get-go that this article is not intended to be anti-police in any way, nor is it meant to excuse prejudice police behavior. My intention is to call some attention to facts (i.e. police have biases), encourage acknowledgment of these facts, so ultimately we can address them.

1. BECAUSE WE PRETTY MUCH ALL ARE.

Yup. It’s super sad, and super awful, but it’s true, and ignoring it isn’t going help anything or anyone. Now, I’m not talking about overt racism i.e. someone that just sits around thinking about how much they hate black people all the time. I’m talking about implicit bias against black people that is so ingrained in our culture and society that it can still sneak into our brain despite our best efforts to be decent humans. Implicit biases are outside of our conscious awareness. You might have an explicit bias against Pepsi, such that when you ask for Coke and your server asks “is Pepsi ok?” you say “sure” but in your head you’re saying “OF COURSE IT’S NOT OK YOU IDIOT!” An implicit bias, on the other hand, might cause you take the seat next to the white guy on the subway instead of the black man, without even giving it a thought.

One way we know about implicit bias is through the research of Greenwald, McGhee, & Shwartz (1998), and their Implicit Association Test, which essentially measures how we automatically associated things. The idea being that we’re not always aware of the associations our brain makes, but they can nevertheless influence our behavior. How it works is a person sits at a computer and on the screen there’s a word (e.g. “good”) in the top-left corner, and the top right corner (e.g. “bad”). Another word appears in the middle (e.g. “puppies”), and you quickly press one button to pair it with the top-left word, or another button if it goes with the top-right word. So it starts off easy enough: “puppies – good – left! Done.”

Then the test gets tricky – it starts to put two words in the left corner and two words in the right corner. It might start by putting the words African American/Good in one corner, and European American/bad in the other, and then eventually it switches them; African American/Bad and European American/Good. The target item that appears in the middle might be a common African American or white name, or even a picture of a face. The test measures the time it takes you to respond. The idea is if you implicitly find the two words compatible, it’s much easier to associate another word with them and you’ll answer faster: “Black and bad, yup, left button/White and good, yup, right button. Done.” vs. “well they’re black but not bad, that doesn’t make sense… what do I pick? Umm I dunno, ok left button?” The results aren’t so much about the actual pairings you make, but how much time it takes you to respond given different pairings. Confused? Go ahead and take the test for free here.

I’m sure you’ll be shocked to find that among test takers of all races, about 70% show an automatic preference for whites. Eighty eight percent of white people show a bias towards white people, and even 50% of Black Americans show an automatic white preference. That means that the results aren’t just due to an automatic bias towards faces similar to ours (though that’s probably part of it), but also due to what our culture has overtly or subliminally taught us.

But wait, it gets scarier. Another similar test flashes pictures of objects in front of you for split second, and you have half a second to push a button categorizing it as a “tool” or a “weapon” : picture of a screw driver – tool, picture of a gun – weapon. The tricky part is that before the picture of the object is flashed, a picture of a white or black person’s face is flashed. The idea being that if you categorize a gun as a weapon more quickly when its preceded by a black face than a white face, your mind has an implicit association between black people and guns or threat. In addition, researchers found that when an image of a black person was flashed first, participants were more likely to mistake a tool as a weapon. These were just split second images of faces. – no threatening behavior, no criminal history… just seeing a black person made people assume objects were weapons. Now think how this applies to police officers when they see someone reach for their wallet, or holding a cell phone, etc.

But Police are highly trained professionals that wouldn’t make these mistakes, right?

Another test had police officers look at various images of men (some black, some white) holding object in their hand (some weapons, some harmless) and hit a button to “shoot” or “not shoot”. Results showed that police officers were quicker to shoot if the armed person was black, slower to not shoot if the unarmed person was black, and more likely mistakenly shoot if the unarmed person was black. The cops were more accurate in their decisions compared to participants from the general public, but were still influenced by racial bias. Even with all their training, assuming police are immune to bias might be too high a standard to hold them to. So let’s just acknowledge that police have biases like most other people.

2. Cops Have To Make Super Important Decisions Super Fast.

All the tests described above involve participants making split second decisions, based off of information presented for a split second. The reason being that when we have time we can apply logic are hopefully less affected by automatic biases, but when we don’t have time, we can’t help but be influenced preferences and assumptions that we don’t even realize are lurking in our brain.  Most of us aren’t in these high pressure situations often, but ya know who are? Cops. Like all the time. Not only do they have to make split second decision, but the consequences of those decisions can mean either saving a life or ending a life. So because they’re going to be in these situations the most often, with the biggest consequences, all the more reason to simply acknowledge that cops have racial biases – and it doesn’t make them evil – but (more than in possibly any other profession) it does need to be addressed.

3. Uniforms Can Make Us Primed For Aggression

Spec ops police officersSWAT

Research suggests that simply being in a uniform can increase aggression by the process of deindividuation. Deindividuation means to lose a sense of individual identity. Things like being part of a crowd, identifying with a certain role, wearing a uniform, wearing a mask (or anything that covers your face) all lead to deindividuation by decreased emphasis on your unique identity. When we feel less of a sense of identity, we feel more anonymous and less personal responsibility for our actions. Research has found that athletes act more aggressively when in uniform than in their own clothes (Rehm et al., 1987), participants were more likely administer shocks to another person if they were wearing a lab coat and hood (Zimbardo, 1969). Deindividuation is also more likely to occur in times of increased arousal. Now, police uniforms serve important purposes; they help us identify a police officer when we need them, they make us feel safer when they’re around (well, if you’re white anyway), and they make people less likely to act criminally when they’re present. They’re also sexy. However, it’s still important to acknowledge that officers’ uniforms are another thing stacked against them when taken into consideration with any implicit biases they might have, and the high pressure situations they’re involved in.

4. Mere Presence of Weapons Increases Aggression

Police Officer grabbing his gun

In addition to their uniforms priming them for aggression, police officers’ guns are doing the same. A wealth of research has demonstrated that just knowing a gun is near increases aggressive behavior. An early study found that participants issued higher levels of shock to another person after seeing a gun on a table nearby (Berkowitz & Lepage, 1967). Since then 56 published studies replicated the findings that the mere sight of weapons increases aggression in both angry and non angry individuals (Carlson, Marcus-Newhall, & Miller, 1990).

In Summary

Police officers (like anyone else) have implicit racial biases that can make them more likely to assume black Americans are dangerous, and even armed. The high pressure, quick decisions that police officers need to make, leaves them particularly likely to be influenced by implicit biases. Situations of high arousal, their uniforms, and the presence of guns all make it more likely that when they act quickly – and with racial bias – they’ll act aggressively.

I think it’s really important for me to clarify again that this post is not intended to be anti-police AT ALL. Nor am I claiming that no police are explicitly racist – Sadly, I’m sure there are racists in every profession, but I hope they’re the exception. The point I’m trying to make is that all of us have unconscious biases, even the most well meaning of us. Most of us we can get through life without our implicit biases being noticed very much or resulting in immediate dramatic consequences. Police officers on the other hand, because they are brave enough to enter a profession of such high risk and responsibility, are particularly vulnerable to acting on their implicit biases due to the split second decisions they have frequently have to make. Unlike most of us, police officers’ split second decisions can result in life or death consequences – a burden I would never want to carry.

Most people really don’t want to identify as racist – which is a good thing, except when that strong desire stops us from being aware of our automatic biases. The taboo of racism makes it very controversial to accuse a police officer of being racist, or for a police officer to admit having bias – but ignoring the facts won’t save anyone’s life. It’s totally acceptable to have a deep respect and appreciation for police officers in general, while acknowledging that they have the same biases as anyone else. In fact, I think it’s only fair to officers, to acknowledge this, and make sure they are provided with whatever preventative/protective training possible so that they are less likely to make a life threatening or ending mistake due to their automatic biases.

So what could we do about it?

Most research suggests that the first and biggest step to reducing implicit bias is to become aware of it. It wouldn’t be difficult to have police officers take the IAT and get an idea of their own level of bias. Once that’s known, interventions appropriate to the level of bias of the officer could be offered. Research has actually determined a number of strategies to reduce implicit bias such as Stereotype Replacement, Counter-stereotypic Imaging, Individuation, Perspective Taking, and increasing opportunities for contact. I won’t get into the details of each of these, you can read about them here, but the point is – they exist – and we should use them.

Interested in learning more? Here’s some people smarter than me covering the issue:

Blind Spot: Hidden Bias of Good People
The Science of Why Cops Shoot Young Black Men
The Neuroscience Behind Why White Cops Kill Black Men
Black-on-black Racism: The Hazards of Implicit Bias

Debate Isn’t a Dirty Word

Business challenge

When a tragedy such as the Orlando mass shooting occurs, an inevitable rise in debate follows. The debating can get nasty, and just add to the negativity of an already overwhelmingly awful event. I wish this wasn’t so.

I love a friendly debate. Probably to a fault, I’ll carry on a debate long past the time when most people become uncomfortable. Recently I’ve found myself in some lengthy facebook-commenting debates, and while I definitely don’t think Facebook is the ideal forum for such discussions, I’ve appreciated the exchanges. What I’ve noticed however, is that it makes other people uncomfortable. In these situations and many others throughout my life, I’ve been encouraged by friends and loved ones to “just let it go”, or “just drop it”. I’ve even carried on debates to the point that the other person involved gets upset, leaving me feeling confused and ashamed because I never intended to offend anyone.

baby-gifconfused-gifidkgood-luck-charlie

The truth is, I have a really hard time walking away from a debate, and I admit it probably has something to do with ego, but there’s definitely more to it than that for me. I find it interesting how uncomfortable debate makes people, and I think it’s a shame. I think it contributes to lack of progress on a lot of issues.

We feel uncomfortable when our thoughts and beliefs are challenged. It feels threatening, as if people are insulting who we are as a person. It’s natural, but it shouldn’t be this way. We are not defined by our ideas so long as we’re willing to be flexible in them. Therefore, a challenge to your beliefs shouldn’t be felt as a personal attack, and yet we get so defensive. When we get defensive, we get emotional, and we stop using reason to uphold our beliefs and start using more drastic measures like abusive language or even behavior to tear down the other person.

Another possibility is that we “just drop it”. We “just drop it” because we want to avoid the discomfort of disagreeing, or being challenged, or maybe because we’re accepting/assuming that the other person will never change their mind. But maybe you’ll change your mind. Would that be so terrible? If we “just drop it” then we lose the opportunity of following any conflict through to a resolution.

The reason why I seldom “drop” a debate is because I embrace the discomfort of having my beliefs challenged. If there’s a valid reason why I should think differently, I want to hear it! If I “just drop it” I might never get to hear that reason, and then how can I be confident in my beliefs? Discomfort is a signal to me that I’m emotionally tied to my beliefs, and I should look carefully to see if my emotions are clouding my judgement. Few of us are experts on all of the relevant issues that come up for debate. I’ll be the first to admit I have opinions about issues that I haven’t researched exhaustively . So I try to be open to influence.

I never want to make someone that I’m disagreeing with feel offended, and I never mean to attack you as a person. If I’m critiquing your ideas, it’s not to make you look bad, it’s only because I’m trying your ideas on for size and seeing how they fit within my reason. I’m challenging your opinions, because I’m curious. I don’t understand or agree with your perspective, but if it stands up to challenge, maybe I will. If we want to find our common ground, we might need to explore an issue completely.

So that’s my little explanation/disclaimer to why I rarely back down from a debate, even though it probably makes me look like an a-hole. I think a debate ideally ends when one person is convinced, or both sides have exhausted their arguments and agree to disagree (or when the food is delivered to the table, cause ya know, priorities). I think it would do a world of good if we all learned to tolerate our discomfort with conflict, detach our identities from our beliefs and our emotions from our reasoning.

As I discuss in other posts about healthy communication being key to a healthy romantic relationship, so too is healthy communication key to a healthy nation. As I encourage couples;

  • Let’s address issues, while avoiding blame and criticism.
  • Let’s share about our differences and try to understand each other without vilifying the opposition.
  • If the emotional intensity of a debate gets too high, let’s take a break until cooler minds can prevail and we can get back to the issue at hand. L
  • et’s entertain the possibility that we could be wrong and be open to influence.
  • Most importantly, let’s remember to focus on where we can find common ground and work from there.

If we can shift our perspective about differences of opinions to opportunities instead of attacks, then I think we might actually get somewhere.

4 Steps for Dealing with Insecurities in Relationships

In my article Insecurities In Relationships: It’s Not Them, It’s You., I discuss how looking to external sources (i.e. another person, money, food, etc.) for a sense of security can create a feedback loop causing you to feel more and more insecure in the long run. I end the article by suggesting that you must look within yourself for a sustainable sense of security, which in turn allows you to have much more satisfying relationships. Of course, this is easier said than done, and so the purpose of this article is to offer some tips on how to begin building security from with-in.

This article is not for those who feel insecure in their relationship due to valid breaches of trust or respect. This article is for those who feel insecure even when their partner gives them no reason to. Or maybe your partner does small things that could be concerning, but you find yourself overreacting and unable to discuss the issue calmly. This article is for those that feel like they need more and more from their partner to feel secure, and who’s partners are beginning to feel nothing they do will ever be enough.

When we look to external sources for a sense of security, it’s due to a subconscious belief that the feeling of insecurity is intolerable. When we think a feeling is intolerable, we feel we must DO something about it. We feel a compulsion to take action in response to our feeling. In relationships, we might try to get our partner to do something to relieve our insecurity; “If only he called more often” “If only she didn’t talk to that one guy” “If only he showed more affection”. If/when our partner follows through with our request, our brains get a shot of dopamine (the hormone that gives us the emotional high of being rewarded). We feel better, but only temporarily. Pretty soon we start to feel insecure again, and we think we need even more from our partner. The more our partner responds to our insecurity, the more we believe we need their action to feel better.

Step 1. is learning to tolerate the uncomfortable feeling of insecurity.

Painful emotions cause our mind to play a tricks on us;
  1. That this feeling will last for ever
  2. That this feeling is intolerable, and something must be done about it.

When you notice yourselves operating this way you must pause and recognize your mind is playing you for a fool. Your feelings won’t kill you; you don’t have to run from them, hide from them, or fight them. This feeling won’t last. Every feeling has a beginning, middle, and an end. Especially intense emotions, by definition, cannot remain so heightened indefinitely. Part of your task is learning how to tolerate feeling pain/discomfort and riding the feeling out, without feeling like you must do something to make it go away. Learning/practicing mindfulness meditation is a great way to learn how to observe your thoughts and feelings without reaction to them.

Step 2. is removing your partner or your relationship as the cause of your feelings. Yes, sometimes events in our relationship make us feel insecure, but it’s also important to remember that our mood naturally fluctuates from high to low. When we’re feeling down, our mind begins to scan the environment for reasons to explain why we’re feeling the way we are. We start to notice every little thing our partner does wrong, we start to feel tormented by negative thoughts about ourselves and our relationship, we start to think if they did something differently we would feel better. But we are not meant to feel perfectly happy all the time. Sometimes we just feel down, and insecure, for no reason, and that’s ok, and there’s no need to do anything about it.

tumblr_n71klanaX41rczngbo1_500.jpg

Step 3. is for when you really feel you must take some action to relieve yourself of a painful feeling. Tolerating uncomfortable emotions is important, but you wont learn to do it over night. Balance challenging yourself to sit with an uncomfortable emotion, and using self-care to relieve yourself. The important part is to do something for yourself rather than hope/expect/demand someone else do something to make you feel better. If you’re truly having difficulty tolerating your insecure feeling, try distracting yourself for a period of time until the feeling has lost some power. You should have at least 3 activities in your back pocket that occupy your mind and make you feel good. Try listening to music, exercising, watching a feel good movie, coloring in some adult coloring books; anything that will help you ride the feeling out. Check out my post 30 Things to Remember When You’re Feeling Down.

Step 4. is share with your partner. The idea is not to hide your emotions from your partner, but to not make them responsible for them. Once you’ve used some self-care to lower the intensity of your insecurity, go ahead and share your experience with your partner, but without blaming them. This might sound like “I’m feeling a little down and it’s just got me feeling insecure. Right now I keep thinking that I wish we spent more time together, but it might just be my mood. Maybe we can talk about when I’m feeling better, but in the meantime if you could be a little patient with me I’d really appreciate it.”

Each of these steps will still be easier said than done, but use this as a launching point towards building your own internal sense of security. For further reading, I highly suggest this book.

Response to “My Former Friend’s Death Was a Blessing”

Fotolia_72885459_Subscription_Monthly_M.jpg

Ok so I’m on a roll with the “response” posts, but one particular blogger had me fired up late last week. Last Thursday xoJane.com published the article “My Former Friend’s Death Was a Blessing”. When I first saw the article I was intrigued. While I thought the title was exploitive click bait, I thought maybe what followed would offer a provocative personal perspective about mental illness. Or I thought maybe it would be a reflection on how relief can sometimes be a complicated and even more painful aspect of grief.

But I was wrong. The article that followed was a string of shallow and callous judgements that begged the question of how it made it past an editors desk. XoJane later removed that article and apologized, though the author has not apologized. You can still see the original post here.

As someone who works with the mentally ill and has loved ones with mental illness, I was not only angered and offended, but also disappointed by the lost opportunity a explore a challenging but worthy issue. Let me try to explain what I hoped the article might be, and point an angry finger at what it actually was.

As a sibling of someone with severe and chronic mental illness, I’ve watched first hand the pain caused by mental illness to the individual and everyone that cares for them. The value of living such a painful life is a worthy conversation, not because anyone with mental illness is better off dead, but because the conversation brings light to the suffering that goes ignored or stigmatized. I’ve watched my brother go through hell. I’ve watched my parents’ lives turn upside down in their exhausting efforts to help him. I would be lying if I said there weren’t moments, when things were really bad, when somewhere deep in the darkest corner of my mind would it be better if he wasn’t here? became a thought. The times this has happened, shame and pain immediately follow. Shame for my own weakness and difficulty merely observing the pain that my brother somehow finds the strength to endure every day. Shame for my narrow sightedness that my parents’ unconditional love is a burden and not a triumph. After the shame, comes immediate gratitude for my brother, everything he teaches me with his experience, and everything his presence on this earth offers us. Our society has become so motivated by pain and discomfort avoidance, that we often forget pain precedes growth; pain precedes strength – and that must make my brother and others with mental illness some of the strongest people in the world.

As much shame as I have associated with that thought, I think that maybe it’s worth sharing. Sometimes our mind goes to a terrible place without asking our permission first. It’s human. It’s a product of the pain caused by mental illness, and the helplessness felt by anyone who cares, which is a result of such insufficient treatment and support. So maybe others have had similar experiences/thoughts, and similarly judge themselves. Maybe instead of judging ourselves we could share our experiences, lean on each other for strength, and try to make some change.

5ways_CMM (1)

This is the complicated emotional experience of someone whose life is touched by mental illness. You, Amanda Lauren, are not one of these people.

Your article didn’t mention any pain you experienced at a result of this person’s struggle. At most you described inconvenience and annoyance in response to what sounded like mere personality differences, not pathological symptoms. If you’re going to make the dubious argument that life with mental illness isn’t worth living, talk about homelessness, talk about insufficient treatment, talk about stigma, talk about being the victim of violence… Don’t talk about having a messy room and lack of a boyfriend.

You admitted to not even giving this girl a thought for years before you decided to add her to your Facebook feed solely for your entertainment. Based on some concerning behavior and posts about her diagnosis, you draw assumptions that she died lonely, unhappy, and a burden to her family, while simultaneously judging her family for allowing this to occur (as if it were something they had control over). You wrote an article assigning value (or lack thereof) to a person’s life that you weren’t even involved in.

If your point is that your former friend’s life was a tragedy best ended, you need to take responsibility for that tragedy. You watched and judged someone who needed help, and did nothing. Now she is dead. You can try to justify your behavior by backwards reasoning that she’s better off dead – But no, she’s not.

Now you not only need to take responsibility for how you treated your former friend, but the message you sent to everyone suffering with mental illness by publishing that article. The first step is taking responsibility for whatever mindset is at the root of such callousness. Seek some help Amanda Lauren. Don’t worry, you’ve cause some people some pain, but you’re not a lost cause.

Response to “Staying Hot for My Husband”

In a recent article , Blogger and newlywed Amanda Lauren posited that “staying hot for my husband is ESSENTIAL to a successful marriage”. Not sure what data Amanda is basing this advice off of, but as a relationship researcher, and woman with a brain, I feel obliged to respond.

Makeup routine of beautiful young woman.

Some points that I think you’re trying to make are valid:

  1. Sex is an important part of a relationship and is related (correlationally) to happiness. (See research here)

“While sex can’t make a marriage, it can break it. Having that physical, intimate connection is very important… And if my husband wasn’t turned on by me, we couldn’t have that essential intimacy.” – Amanda Lauren

BUT you don’t need to be a super model to have great sex, and relatedly, being attractive does not mean you’re great at sex. Furthermore, intimacy is a lot more than sex.

  1. How we feel about our own looks is important for our self esteem, and self-esteem is important for our happiness. And YES it’s helpful for a relationship when the people involved are happy people.

“Feeling good ultimately allows me to be a better, happier and more considerate partner. I see the look on my husband’s face when I come out of the bathroom, ready for a night out, or the way he checks out my butt on the way to Pilates class. Having an attractive wife makes him happy. They say “Happy wife, happy life,” but I’m happiest when my husband is happy.” – Amanda Lauren

The important distinction here is that how we feel about ourselves matters for our self-esteem. The more our self image is dependent on the feedback we receive from others, the more insecure we’re going to be no matter HOW objectively hot people might think we are. For instance, when I’m 70 years old I hope to look into the mirror and feel great about myself. Not because I look “hot” for a 70 year old, but because I see the reflection of a wise accomplished woman who makes shit happen and gives no fucks.

  1. Attractiveness is one way to offer value to a mate.

“All relationships require work, and working on myself is doing the work I need to do for the sake of my relationship. Even if I’m running 15 minutes behind on date night because my hair isn’t straightening, my husband can’t complain if he’s swooning over me.” – Amanda Lauren

Attractiveness is… well, attractive. Therefore you can leverage it to a certain point in your search to secure a mate. However, your looks are one small aspect of the self, and therefore one small way to offer value to another person. Other people might offer value with their financial stability, or their social resources. At a deeper level the value you offer to your mate could be your humor, your insight, your kindness, or intellect.

beauty-heart

Sure, I hope that my partner finds me attractive, but I also believe my looks are the LEAST valuable asset I offer to others. Therefore in the list of qualities that I devote my energy towards, keeping up my looks is not at the top. If you’re prioritizing “staying hot” for your husband, your implying that this is the most value you offer him. If this is the case, hate to break it to you, but your most valuable asset is a depreciating one.

In conclusion:

Physically attractive women are a dime a dozen. Beauty is no accomplishment and certainly doesn’t secure you a high quality relationship (just ask the many supermodels and actresses that have been cheated on and/or gotten divorced). Set a higher standard for yourself. Don’t focus on “staying hot for your hubby”. A woman with compassion, patience, humor,  insight, and intelligence is a true treasure to hold on to. Real men know that.

“If men can’t help but be visual creatures, I need to oblige.” – Amanda Lauren

Men should be offended by the statement “men are visual creatures” degrading them to less evolved creatures as if their ability to see somehow overrides their human capacity to think, feel, and discern. Guess what, we’re all visual creatures, in that we all have eyes, and behind our eyes are brains capable of complex reasoning and deep emotional experiences.

My partner lets me know when I look nice, but it’s obvious what really turns him on. He’s ready to pounce on me when I’m speaking about something I’m passionate about, or when I’m making him laugh, when I’m more focused on the status of the world than the status of my eyeliner, when I’m rushing out the door for our next adventure rather then waiting back to finish straightening my hair.

I felt strongly about writing a response to this article, because Amanda Lauren isn’t the only one spreading the idea that if woman wants an enduring happy relationship, she better stay “hot”. This message is scary for women who are already under pressure of unrealistic societal expectations, but furthermore this message is degrading. Women of the world, there are so many other reasons you’ll be loved than how “hot” you are.

Everybody likes to look nice, but the woman I’m trying to be usually has much bigger things on her mind, and has a man that does too.

How to Build Trust in a Relationship

Building or rebuilding trust in a relationship can seem like such a difficult task, especially when one or both people in the relationship have been hurt, by each other, or by others in the past. Part of why building trust seems so hard is because it’s a somewhat abstract term. What is trust? What does it mean to trust someone? Does it mean I believe you no matter what? Does it mean I’m confident you’ll never hurt me? Do you build trust by being completely transparent with your partner? Or does trusting your partner mean giving them the benefit of the doubt?
Rear view young couple walking between pillars in Rome; Italy
While it seems abstract, research has been able to clarify how trust is built, and offers us a clear path to a stronger relationship. Dr. John Gottman and his team have spent decades studying couples, and tracking their relationships over many years. By comparing the relationships that have lasted to those that haven’t, he’s discovered valuable insights into many important aspects of relationships – including trust. The truth is that trust is not built or earned by grand gestures, but little by little over a span of time. Trust is built by the way that you respond to your partner in small every day moments.

Bids for Emotional Connection

According to Gottman, relationships are comprised of hundreds of daily bids for emotional connection between partners. A bid for emotional connection is anything we do to seek acknowledgement from our partner. Sometimes it might be conscious, like when you reach to hold your partner’s hand. Other times we might not even realizing we’re signaling for our partner’s attention, like when we let out an exasperated breath for them to hear. Every time we smile at our partner. Every time we respond to them with a sadness in our voice. Every text message. Every invitation to a work function. Every game of footsy under the covers. Every thing we do that our partner could respond to is a bid for connection. In each of these micro moments, the questions are asked “will you respond to me?”, “are you there for me?”, “do you care?”. For each bid, the partner on the receiving end has a chance to respond in a positive or negative way. It’s these seemingly insignificant moments, that across time build trust in a relationship. Each response to a bid representing but a small drop in the pot of trust or mistrust, that over the years determine the balance of the relationship.
097750b3030ee8cb1cd61c353e42c26d
Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Janince Driver have identified nine different types of bids
● Bids for emotional support (“I feel so upset about my mother…”)
● Bids for interest (“I read this interesting article today…”)
● Bids for enthusiastic engagement (“What do you think about trying that new restaurant?”)
● Bids for extended conversation (“Did I tell you about that conversation I had with Mary?”)
● Bids for attention (“Look what I found at the store!”)
● Bids for play (tickling, teasing, a game of backgammon)
● Bids for humor (“How funny is this video?”)
● Bids for affection (hugging, cuddling)
● Bids for self-disclosure (“How was work today?”)

Turning Towards vs. Turning Away

Every time an emotional bid is offered, the partner on the receiving end has a choice to make “do I turn towards my partner, and respond in a loving affectionate way?”,”do I turn away, and ignore my partner’s bid?” or even”do I turn against them and respond negatively?” Of course we all know we should be there for our partner, and it’s common sense that a successful relationship involves responding to your partner in a positive, loving way. However, small and subtle bids for affection can be easy to miss or ignore, especially when we ourselves are feeling in need, and even more so when our needs are in conflict with our partners. On a dramatic scale this could look like your partner asking you to spend the weekend with them, when you’re really feeling the need for some alone time with friends. On a more subtle scale this could be recognizing that your partner is tired, and offering to cook dinner even though you’ve had a long day yourself.

None of us will respond perfectly to 100% of our partner’s needs, and letting a bid for connection slip through the cracks here or there is not going to make or break a relationship. However according to Gottman’s research, the frequency with which partners respond to a bid for connection by turning towards each other is significantly related to whether the relationship will last or not. He found that 6 years after marriage, couples who were still together turned towards each other 86% of the time, while couples that divorced turned towards each other about 33% of the time.

So How Do I Build Trust?

  • Be on the look out for bids for connection, and as much as possible turn towards your partner
  • If you’re not sure what your partner is looking for – ask them! (“What can I do for you sweetie? Do you want to talk? Or would you just like a hug?”)
  • Help your partner meet your needs, by being direct with your bids (instead of an aggravated roll of the eyes, say “honey I’m so stressed, I’d love if you could just listen while I vent”)
  • When your partner seems to be on the offensive or defensive, rather than responding to the content of what they’re saying, ask your self what their deeper need might be. (Her words might say “I’m fine”, but her tone might say “I need to know you really care right now”)
  • Be patient. As mentioned, each bid for connection gives you the opportunity to add a drop to your relationship’s trust. The more you respond positively to your partner’s bids, the more you’ve invested in your relationship’s trust, and the more reserves you have. It takes time to build up strong reserves. When trust and mistrust are equal, or there’s more mistrust than trust – every transgression feels intolerable. When your relationship is heavily weighted towards trust, mistakes are more easily forgiven.

    Learn More!

  • Gottman.com: Turn Towards Instead of Away
  • Thefishybowl: The best Offense is No Defense

Stop Categorizing Other People… and Yourself!

We live in a world that loves to categorize things. It’s the human brain’s little trick for sorting through a lot of information efficiently; “It’s either this, or it’s that”. While categorization can be helpful, there are some negative consequences, especially when applied to human experience. For example, we tend to sort other people into various categories, i.e. male/female, gay/straight, nerd/jock, etc.. This type of black and white thinking not only limits our ability to understand another person’s experience, but often times it can make it difficult to understand our own experience as well. We feel pressure to fit into rigidly defined categories that society has laid out for us, and as a result we might mitigate unique parts of ourself and our experience that don’t fit so neatly into these social boxes. People might hide or play down the parts of themselves that blur the lines so they can fit in and identify more closely with a certain group, all the while feeling fundamentally different. The point of this post is to highlight some examples of areas that we need to challenge our categorical perspective, so that we can all relate better to each other as unique and diverse individuals, rather then members of separate homogenous groups.

Sexual Orientation

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 10.20.08 PMWe generally think of sexual orientation as identification with a certain category (gay, straight, bi), but this can cause a lot of people confusion when trying to understand their own sexual feelings and experience. A healthier way to consider sexual orientation would be to think of it as a point on spectrum with strict heterosexuality and homosexuality representing the extreme end points of the scale. It’s actually rare that someone would fall on an extreme end of this spectrum. Maybe you’re mostly attracted to the opposite sex, but you can recognize when someone of the same sex is attractive. Maybe members of the same sex even show up in your fantasies from time to time, but you don’t necessarily ever feel inclined to act on those fantasies. The point is, whatever your experience may be, it has a place somewhere along this scale.

images

Sexual Fluidity

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 10.25.26 PMTo add to the dynamics of sexual experience is the fact that sexual orientation isn’t necessarily a fixed trait. For many people, who they are attracted to evolves throughout their life. This concept can also be represented on a spectrum with complete sexual fixedness on one end and complete sexual fluidity on the other. Someone who has always been attracted to one sex (be it same or opposite sex) for as long as they can remember and never experienced periods or moments of attraction to the other sex, would be a very sexually fixed person. A more sexually fluid person might have periods of being exclusively attracted to one sex, but has also had periods of being exclusively attracted to another sex, and maybe also periods where they felt attracted to both sexes. In other words, wherever you fall on the sexual orientation spectrum discussed above, you don’t necessarily remain on that one point of the spectrum, but might move around a bit over time.

Research shows that women tend to be higher in sexual fluidity, and therefore are more likely to change sexual orientation throughout life. However, it’s unclear how much this is affected by different societal gender norms. For example, it’s generally considered more acceptable in our society for a straight women to experiment with other woman (e.g. making out with another girl at a party), than it is for a straight man to experiment with another man. The take home point is that there is a lot of gray area when it comes to our sexual preferences, and it’s totally normal to not fit into our society’s rigid categories.

Gender

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 10.22.03 PMA related area where society attempts to squeeze us into dichotomous categories is gender. Our society has established ideas of what it means to be a man and we call it masculine. We have established ideas of what it means to be a woman, and we call it feminine. However no man is strictly masculine and no woman is strictly feminine. The reality is that a woman can identify with any masculine trait(s) and it does not make her less of a woman, and the same it true for men. Therefore we can again consider these traits on a spectrum where regardless of your biological sex you may lean towards masculinity or femininity but still identify with traits of either gender. Right in the middle of this scale would be androgyny, which research has actually shown to be connected to many positive traits. In other words, it’s actually best to embrace positive characteristics associated with both genders. If we embrace this spectrum perspective of gender as a society perhaps we will be able to show more compassion and understanding for those who feel they identify more with the gender opposite of their biological sex. Perhaps individuals would not feel so conflicted and confused when their experience doesn’t seem to match what society prescribes for their sex. Perhaps we would all feel more able to explore and embrace our most genuine selves without pressure to conform ourselves to gender norms.

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 10.35.45 PM

Relationships

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 10.33.28 PMSexologist Jessica O’Reilly applies the spectrum perspective to relationships in this TED Talk, where she explains Dan Savage’s concept of “monogamish relationships”. She suggests that strict monogamy doesn’t seem to work for many people (as evidence by high divorce rates), however she states that the opposite (strict polygamy) doesn’t work for many people either. She encourages us to open our mind to the many possibilities in between monogamy and polygamy, and define fidelity in our relationships on our own terms. For example, maybe you and your partner do not have sex with others, but flirting is ok, or bringing a guest player into your fantasies/dirty talk is enough to keep things exciting. Whatever it may be, the spectrum perspective opens up the opportunity to have an honest conversation with your partner about wants and desires that might lay outside of society’s standard definitions of relationships.

Mental Health

Once you understand that most traits exist on a spectrum rather than in categories, you can begin to apply it to many areas of life. Even our typical understanding of mental illness has been defined by categorical diagnoses, and as a clinical psychologist in training I’m all too familiar with the problems inherent in trying to fit a unique person with complicated psycho-social issues into a strictly defined diagnosis. There is actually a current a push in the field of psychology to describe mental health conditions on spectrums rather than categories. An example is the transition from separate diagnoses for Aspergers Syndrome and Autism, to Autism Spectrum Disorder, which recognizes that individuals may experience symptoms of Autism to various extents and thus present in very different ways. In terms of other disorders, the presence or absence of one symptom can currently make the difference between whether someone qualifies for a diagnosis or not. Would it not make more sense to describe a person as “having the following depressive traits” or “falling above average on the depression scale”, rather than depressed or not depressed?

Take Home Point

The underlying point here is that few things in life are black and white, and it does us a world of good to look for the gray areas. It’s particularly dangerous to apply black and white thinking to other people, because we rob ourselves of what we can learn from the idiosyncrasies of others. Furthermore, let’s think about what we lose when we subconsciously apply black and white thinking to our own identity. What parts of life, what parts of our self, have we not explored because they seem to conflict with the labels we’ve applied to ourself? How can we meet our full potential, if we hold ourself to the confines of categories? So periodically check in with yourself… are there any areas where you’re not allowing yourself to explore the full spectrum of life?

images

8 Things You Should Be Doing In Your Relationship: Because Science Says So!

Most people don’t realize how much research exists about what you can do to improve your relationship. So often couples feel so imbedded in the routine of their relationship, they assume that any noticeable difference in the quality of their relationship would require hard complicated work. In reality, science tells us that there are some simple things that are likely to give your relationship quite a boost. Most are easy and fun to do, so why not give them a try?!

1. Self Expanding Activities

Fotolia_92993325_Subscription_Monthly_M.jpg
Self-expanda-whataties? According to the theory of self-expansion, we all have an innate drive to grow as individuals. Relationships are one of our primary methods of expanding our own sense of self, as we learn from another person and they expose us to new and different experiences. Studies show that we’re more satisfied with relationships that contribute to our growth, but as time goes on self-expansion in your relationship can dwindle. If you and your partner get stuck in rut of mundane routine, you may no longer feel like your partner is helping you grow. In fact, you might even feel like they are holding you back, which can lead you to look for sources of expansion outside the relationship (like maybe even a new relationship – read more about the influence of self expansion on infidelity here). How do you stop this from happening? Make participating in self-expanding activities a priority in your relationship. What are self-expanding activities? Anything that’s new and exciting. The idea is that you’re engaging in things together that make you both grow as individuals, and thus grow closer together.

Here are some ideas:

  • Travel some place new
  • Take a class together
  • Try a new restaurant
  • Go on a hike
  • Try to learn a new hobby together
  • Go sky diving
  • Run an obstacle course together
  • Literally ANYTHING new and exciting!

2. Building your Love Maps

Relationship researcher and author John Gottman suggests couples build up their “Love Maps”. What does that mean? Your Love Map is your guide to your partners internal world. Your knowledge about the ins and outs of who your partner is as a person provides the soil for friendship and intimacy to grow. It’s little things (what’s their favorite ice cream flavor?), and everyday things (who’s giving them a hard time at work?), and big things (what are their fears?). Gottman has found that couples in successful relationships have well developed Love Maps; they have a rich and deep understanding of their partner’s world. This understanding also helps them handle stressful situations better. So get to know your partner! Again, and again, and again!

Click here for some questions shown by research to build intimacy between two people.

3. Watching Movies Together

No really. Recent research suggests that watching movies together might be as beneficial as participating in couple’s therapy (which hopefully doesn’t catch on or I’ll be out of a job!). Researchers provided couples with a list of 47 movies featuring long-term romantic relationships, and were told to watch one per week for a month and then discuss it together using questions provided. Researchers were surprised to find that after three years this turned out to be just as effective as established therapeutic methods at reducing divorce; cutting the divorce/separation rate in half, from 24%-11%. Pretty big pay off for a few movie nights! Give it a try with your partner – click here for the list of movies and questions used.

4. Having More Sex

National surveys have shown correlations between the amount of sex a couple is having, and their satisfaction in the relationship, and risk of separation. Now this research is correlational, so it’s possible that having less sex makes you unhappy in your relationship, while it’s also possible that being unhappy in your relationship makes you want to have sex less, as it’s also possible that confounding factors (i.e. financial stress, health issues, etc.) might be causing a negative impact on happiness in your relationship and sexual frequency. Regardless, it seems happy couples are having more sex. One reason may be that the open communication required for a satisfying sex life also spills over into healthy communication in other parts of the relationship. Sex is also an exciting physical activity that can contribute to a couple’s sense of expansion as discussed above, and produces all sorts of hormones that makes us feel great and close to our partner (testosterone, dopamine, oxytocin). Sex is also a great stress reducer, and stress is related to decreased relationship satisfaction. So how much sex should you be having? Research shows it’s really a matter of you and partner’s preferences. In other words, how the amount of sex you’re having compares to the amount you or your partner would like to be having is what really makes the difference in relationship satisfaction. And it’s important to know that it only takes one of you being dissatisfied with sexual frequency to decrease both of your satisfaction in the relationship. What we do before and after sex is important too. Showing more affection after sex (i.e. spooning, pillow talk, etc.) relates to increased sexual satisfaction, and increased relationship satisfaction (Muise, Giang, & Impett, 2014). Couples instructed to kiss more frequently for 6 weeks also reported more relationship satisfaction compared to a control group (Floyd, Boren, Hannawa, Hesse, McEwan, & Veksler, 2009).

So here’s some tips:

  • Don’t wait until you’re “in the mood”. Often times even if you don’t feel in the mood to start, you get there. Lean into it (metaphorically… and, well… yeah).
  • Having more sex makes you want more sex. Try increasing the frequency incrementally.
  • Talk about it! Couples who communicate openly about likes and dislikes in the bedroom have increased sexual satisfaction.
  • Check this out for some sexual intimacy exercises.

5. Spending an Extra 6 Hours a Week Together

Analysis of interviews with couples found that those with successful marriages spent about an extra 6 hours a week together. Sound like a lot of time to set aside? Well actually, the 6 hours is an accumulation of a some quicker easier habits. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Take an extra 2 minutes every day before work to say goodbye and ask something about your partner’s coming day (10 minutes per week).
  • Take an extra 6 seconds to hug and kiss your partner when you reunite at the end of a day, and then chat with your partner for about 20 minutes. (1 hour, 40 minutes)
  • Take 5 minutes everyday to express gratitude to your partner (35 minutes per week)
  • Take 5 minutes everyday to give your partner physical affection, especially before falling asleep (35 minutes per week)
  • Set aside 2 hours for a weekly date night (2 hours per week)
  • Set aside 1 hour at the end of the week to discuss what went well that week, and what didn’t, as well as plan for the week ahead. Ask your partner how you can show them love and support over the coming week (1 hour per week)

6. Meditating

Meditating has many beneficial effects for relationships. Research has shown that meditation is related to improved stress management, and stress is known to negatively effect relationships. In addition, meditation has been associated with increased empathy and understanding others, which can positively effect healthy communication within a relationship. Meditating helps a person acknowledge and observe their thoughts and emotions, before reacting to them, therefore enabling them to make more conscious decisions about how they want to react. This is particularly beneficial when discussing topics of conflict within a relationship, because it can help couples avoid negative communication patterns such as defensiveness and criticism, and opt for healthier more supportive communication styles such as active listening and responsiveness. Going back to our self-expansion theory – meditating together can provide quality time and widen your sense of self as individuals and as a couple. In fact, couples that have participated in mindfulness meditation training programs have reported feeling increased closeness and intimacy with their partner. Read this to find out more mindfulness meditation!

7. Writing about Your Conflicts

Eli Finkle and colleagues conducted a study where they had couples write about a conflict they experienced within their relationship from an objective stand-point, for about 7 minutes. Couples did this once every 4 months for about a year, and reported about the quality of their relationship. Those that participated in the writing exercise were able to avoid the decrease in marital satisfaction, passion, and sexual desire that was reported by the control group, and that research has shown relationships in general suffer. In other words, stats show that relationship satisfaction peaks early on and slowly declines over the course of the relationship, but this simple writing task enabled participants to maintain their current level of satisfaction long-term. So exactly was the writing task?

  1. “Think about the facts and behaviors of a specific disagreement that you have had with your partner over the past 4 months. Think about this disagreement with your partner from the perspective of a neutral third party who wants the best for all involved; a person who sees things from a neutral point of view. How might this person think about the disagreement? How might he or she find the good that could come from it.”
  2. “Some people find it helpful to take this third party perspective during their interactions with their romantic partner. However, almost everybody finds it challenging to take this third party perspective at all times. In your relationship with your partner, what obstacles do you face in trying to take this third partner perspective, especially when you’re having a disagreement with your partner?”
  3. “Despite the obstacles to taking a third party perspective, people can be successful in doing. Over the next four months, please try your best to take this third party perspective during interactions with your partner, especially during disagreements. How might you be most successful in taking this perspective in your interactions with your partner over the next four months? How might taking this perspective help you make the best of disagreements in your relationship?”
    (A Brief Intervention to Promote Conflict Reappraisal)

8. Creating Shared Meaning

John Gottman’s 40+ years of researching relationships has lead him to find that the couples who are really masters at their relationship have found a “shared meaning” for their relationship and their life together. You and your partner may have different thoughts about life and the future, you may have fundamental differences of personality that can cause conflict, and you may have different ways of handling various situations, but having a shared meaning keeps you connected, in-tune with one another, and gives you common ground to build on. You create your shared meaning through rituals, roles, goals, and symbols. You can proactively explore and develop the rituals, roles, goals, and symbols in your relationship, and begin building the meaning of the relationship early on.

Here’s some things to explore with your partner:

  • What daily, weekly, annual rituals are important to you? Sharing a morning coffee? Weekly date night? Yearly vacation?
  • What holidays are important, and what do they mean to you?
  • Do we share dinnertime together, and what’s the meaning of dinner time?
  • How do you see the role of husband, wife, partner, parent?
  • What goals do you have for yourself and your partner?
  • What’s a life dream of yours?
  • What symbols represent your relationship?
  • What does “home” and “family” symbolize for you?

    aedacdebd259eee057408c4f8fc97528


I’ll stop here for brevity’s sake, but research has a lot more to tell us about how we can improve our relationships. If you’re wondering whether there’s research regarding any more specific issues, there probably is! Let me know what you’re curious about, and I’ll try my best to share some information!

Female Orgasm 101:

what every guy should know, but so few do

UnknownMany women require a perfect storm to enjoy a full orgasm with their partner; the right mood, the right maneuvers, the right man (or woman). When these elements aren’t matching up it can create frustration, and shame. Sensual moments that should be opportunities to increase intimacy can become stress provoking and create further distance. Articles upon articles from Cosmo to Mens Health boast of secrets to life altering orgasms, and yet many women continue to have difficulty climaxing with their partner. In fact statistics suggest that about 75% of women usually don’t experience orgasm during sex (compared to 10% of men) (Sex in American Survey, 1994), and about 10-15% of women have never experienced orgasm. Part of the problem is that female orgasm gets plenty of press and publicity, but it’s often misinformation that’s being dispersed, while some simple basics get skipped over. With that in mind, I thought I would cover some of the fundamentals that every guy should know, but few seem to practice.

Clitoral Stimulation

 I know what you’re probably thinking – “Duh!” But as much as it would seem that the importance of clitoral stimulation for female orgasm is common knowledge, the little love button still gets neglected. This might partly be due to men assuming that the clitoris is being sufficiently rubbed during intercourse, however this is rarely the case. In fact, it’s very unlikely that any intercourse position will provide enough clitoral stimulation for a woman to climax, explaining why the majority of women do not experience orgasm during intercourse. Even when there is clitoral stimulation during intercourse, it’s often not for long enough or not consistent enough for orgasm.
cartoon_2005_03_30
Adding to the neglect of the poor little clitoris, is all this hype about the “G-spot”. The G-spot is understood to consists of an extension of interior clitoral tissue that can be stimulated through the vaginal wall in SOME women. So – not all woman appear to have a “G-spot”, and for those that do, it’s still essentially stimulating the clitoris and requires the same finesse. However, we know that all women DO have a clitoris, so rather than focusing your efforts inside her vagina hoping she’s one of the lucky G-spottees, wouldn’t it make more sense to stick with what we know works?

A public service announcement:
I know that porn is super awesome, but please don’t be fooled by the women who are paid to act like having a penis drilled in and out of them is the greatest ecstasy they’ve ever experienced. Realize this: intercourse in and of itself does feel pleasurable for most women, and your woman may vocalize her enjoyment, and sometimes that’s plenty satisfying enough for both parties without necessarily feeling like everyone has to orgasm. But also know: orgasms are like, the best – and your lady deserves one as much as you do. So just because she seemed to enjoy herself, doesn’t mean she came… and unfortunately, just because she said she came, doesn’t mean she came.
someecard_fake_orgasm
Despite what porn would have us believe with it’s variety of acrobatic positions, the intercourse position that’s most likely to bring a woman to orgasm is actually a modified version of ol’ faithful Missionary referred to as the Coital Alignment Technique. If a man is on top and leaning more forward (than typical missionary) such that the base of his penis/pubic bone is angled against the clitoris, and he rocks up and down (rather than thrusting in and out), it’s possible for both partners to be stimulated and reach simultaneous orgasm via intercourse. Read more about CAT here.
Coital-Alignment-Technique-Pictures

Good Things Come For Those Who Wait

At the root of many frustrated men’s damaged egos, and orgasm-deprived women’s shame is a simple biological truth – women’s bodies take a longer amount of time to progress through the arousal cycle and reach orgasm. Men typically can reach orgasm within a few minutes, women generally need at least 15 minutes. This is true regardless of a man’s sexual prowess, and a woman’s libido. Therefore if a man is only stimulating a woman for the same amount of time it takes him to get off, it’s not enough. Not nearly. Expecting your woman to get off in the same amount of time it takes you is unrealistic and will likely cause frustration. In addition, if she has the feeling that you want her to reach orgasm faster than she can, it will only cause anxiety and distractions; further inhibiting her ability to reach orgasm.
57865d702d7a290b2fc100b6d40afd48
You want to create an environment where she feels like she has all the time in the world, because you truly enjoy pleasuring her. This means that you should begin stimulating your female partner long before you are stimulated, or continue afterwards (or both! After-all, women can have multiple orgasms!). The average woman requires at least 15 minutes of stimulation to climax, and will become sore after about 45 minutes, so use that as a guideline for the amount of time to spend pleasing your woman. While only 30% of average women report reliably reaching orgasm with their partner, research shows that 93% of women who’s partners spend 20 minutes or more on foreplay, reliably experience orgasm.

Steady Rhythmic Movement

Imagine your penis is being stroked at a nice steady rhythm, when all of a sudden your partner starts doing something completely different. It might feel good, and exciting, but the change of pace might also have slightly interrupted your progress towards climax. Well the same is true for women except much more dramatically so. There’s nothing wrong with trying some different things when you’re playing downtown, in fact that’s part of what makes things fun and exciting. But know that when you want to bring your woman to climax, it usually requires a steady rhythm of stimulation, possibly with gradually increasing speed and pressure.
 space
This is another reason why intercourse often doesn’t lead to orgasm. Some men might stimulate the clitoris for a bit during foreplay, then again during intercourse, and maybe even again after a change in position – Well intentioned, but the stopping and starting, and different rhythms are going to interrupt that 15 minutes of clitoral stimulation.
 space
Sometimes men may think that doing the same thing for too long might get boring for the woman, or perhaps they become concerned that what they’re doing isn’t working. But generally, if a woman is close to climaxing and then her partner aburptly switches up the rhythm, she’ll lose her momentum and have to start building towards climax again. Often times the next technique her partner tries is just as pleasurable, but the change of pace just sets her back in the progression towards climax. These concerns can be addressed with some healthy sexual communication (discussed farther below), i.e.: ask your girl to signal you if she likes what you’re doing and doesn’t want you to stop.

Avoid Direct Clitoral Stimulation

I know, I know… seems like I’m contradicting myself here. Hear me out.
While the clitoris is key for female orgasm, it is an extremely sensitive area with 8 thousand nerve endings. Some well-meaning, eager to please men will go right for the clitoris and apply intense, direct pressure, even pushing back the skin on the mons pubis to better expose the clitoris. Love the enthusiasm boys, but for many women this much direct stimulation is too intense.
f09
It might be helpful to think about the clitoris as analogous to the penis – after all they’re made from the same embryonic tissue. The visible part of the clitoris is comparable to the head (or glans) of the penis. For many men, direct stimulation concentrated on the head of the penis can also become too intense. Now consider that the penis has half as many nerve endings as the clitoris. What you might not have known is that the clitoris also has a shaft, similar to the penis, that runs about an inch from the glans towards the belly button under the skin. Consider involving this in your stimulation as much as one might involve the shaft of the penis in stimulating a man. Other ways to avoid over-stimulating the clitoris is to limit your use of a pointed tongue or the tips of your fingers. Instead opt for a flat tongue or several fingers together in order to disperse the pressure throughout a wider area. A great way to learn what works for her is to just provide a surface (your tongue, your gums, your fingers, etc.) and let her guide the pressure and rhythm by rubbing against you.

No Need for Spread Eagle

You know that sexy move you do that spreads her legs wide? Yeah, don’t do that. At least not if you want her to be able to orgasm. A lot of positions that seem really sexy (and can certainly feel good and provide novelty excitement) actually restrict blood flow to a woman’s pelvic muscles, inhibiting her ability to enter into the automatic muscle spasms that come with orgasm and can thereby delay or prevent her from reaching orgasm. This is another reason why many positions for intercourse are not ideal for female orgasm. As a rule of thumb, her legs should be about 6-9 inches apart when you’re trying to bring her to climax. Having her lie flat on her back with a pillow under her lower back is really ideal for the relaxation and blood flow needed for orgasm. Other exciting positions including 69ing, kneeling, standing, etc. (while fun) usually create too much muscle tension and constriction for orgasm. This doesn’t mean you have to resign to vanilla sex. Women don’t experience a refractory period after orgasm like men do, so I suggest setting your lady up for success, bringing her to climax, and then explore whatever wild positions and techniques you (consensually) choose for your own pleasure.

Comfort and Confidence

For many women, sex is as psychological as it is physical, and so preparing your woman’s state of mind is as important as any of the above advice. Sometimes a woman’s biggest obstacle to achieving orgasm is getting out of her own head, so the more you can do to help her be present and tuned into her physical sensations over the static in her head, the better. Particularly loud static often consists of stress, and insecurities. Do what you can to help her unwind and let go of any stress whether its via a relaxing back rub, bubble bath, relaxing music, or even just diverting her attention to something enjoyable like a movie before you become physical, or even just giving her some time to unwind.
957db02a29d1d5587f530709b90bbabf
Realize that sex can make many women feel extremely vulnerable and exposed. Any insecurity that a woman has about herself physically or sexually is going to be at the forefront of her mind, making it very hard to focus on the physical sensations in her body. Help your woman by doing what you can to make her feel she has nothing to be insecure about. There’s no such thing as over the top here fellas – make her feel like a goddess. Tell her how beautiful she is, how much she turns you on, how much you love her body. Feeling pressure to orgasm can get in the way of orgasm, so again, let her know how much you enjoy every aspect of pleasuring her, and that she has all the time in the world. The more confident and sexy she feels with you, the better the sex is going to be – guaranteed.
Remember, this chick's got nothing on your girl!

This chick’s got nothing on your girl!

Part of making her feel comfortable is also being mindful of the environment. If she’s too cold or too distracted by harsh lighting or an uncomfortable position it can be harder to relax and be present. If she feels self-conscious with the lights on, turn them off. If she’s more comfortable under the covers, cover her up. This is her time – you can discuss compromises for when it’s your time.

Communication

While I hope this provided some helpful basics, remember that every woman is different, and every woman’s orgasm is unique. The advice above can serve as a guideline, but it won’t all be true for every girl. The number one best thing you can do for your sex life is communicate. Talking about sex can be sensitive, as the topic tends to make us all feel very vulnerable. We wonder if what we do is normal, and if what we like is acceptable. We wonder how we compare to others, and we wonder what our partner is thinking. We avoid the topic for fear of rejection, but in exchange we sacrifice amazing fulfilling sexual connection with our partners.
 space
So ask what turns them on, ask what feels good and what doesn’t, ask what they’ve been curious about but never tried, ask how they masturbate, ask what they fantasy about. Consider yourself a student, going for your Ph.D in pleasing your partner. The rule for healthy sexual communication is: no judgement, and no defensiveness. If your partner shares that something you’re doing isn’t working, rather than taking it as an insult, take it as an opportunity to learn to better please your partner. If your partner shares something you’re not comfortable with, remember you don’t necessarily have to act on the things you communicate about, but your relationship and sex life will benefit just due to your ability to openly and non-judementally communicate about your wants and desires.

~

Now maybe it seems like I just threw a lot of information at you, but remember practice makes perfect! Hopefully, once you start implementing some of these basics and begin a dialogue with your partner about your sexual preferences, you’ll find that bringing your woman to climax is a relatively simple process. To be fair, a woman shares responsibility for her orgasm, whether it’s managing her own stress or honestly communicating her needs – amazing sex is a team effort. If you and your partner continue to experience frustration and difficulty regarding orgasm, you might consider consulting with a doctor, as many medical issues and medications can influence one’s ability to climax.
 space
I want to conclude with a reminder that orgasm is only one part of sexual experience and expression. In my opinion, when we have sex with the sole purpose of getting off, we’re limiting ourselves sexually. I’d encourage everyone to explore, enjoy, and indulge in all aspects arousal without considering each act as a step towards orgasm. That being said, it’s nice to be able to give and receive the gift of an orgasm with your partner, and I hope some of the tips above might help with sharing that gift.