So how does one go about understanding the psychology of their sexuality? As a therapist, based on my education, training and experience I have typically looked to a client’s biological parents to inform me about their relational patterns. Like it or not, Moms and Dads have a tremendous and life-long influence and impact on how we relate to one another. So what and how have our parents contributed to our sexuality? Well for most and appropriately so, not many of us even suspected our parents of ever having sex. Our parents kept it private and secret, which is where many of us are with sex as well. If your parents were uncomfortable discussing sex, then maybe you are too When you think back to when you were an adolescent, what kind of sex messages do you remember receiving – were they positive, negative or neutral? Again this would reflect your parent’s attitude toward sex, which you now may have adopted. Again reflecting on your parent’s relationship, what do you remember about how affection was shown – comfortable (or not), forthcoming, withheld, unconditional, forced, absent, unwanted?
Another issue that would significantly impact our psychology would be how nudity and body issues were handled. In some homes nudity was encouraged and embraced in healthy appropriate ways where there were no restrictions placed on the child to ‘hide her/himself’ from others, while I think most were encouraged and in extreme cases forbidden to allow oneself to be exposed for the gaze of others. How do you remember your parents dealing with their own nudity and body issues? Did your parents keep behind closed doors while dressing? At what age were you no longer allowed to accompany them while s/he changed? When you think about that message alone, it can certainly help form our attitudes that eventually morph into beliefs that we hold onto and enforce into our current way of being with self and others. The BSPI© (http://bspitest.com) asked the question whether one preferred the lights on or off during sexual activity. The results were that 75% of all the men sampled and 37% of the women preferred the lights on. So if we look into the psychology of men along side women, the findings suggest reinforcement of a Western cultural norm that men prefer to be visual. How much of that is the way in which we condition boys/men to be? Does that mean we condition our daughters differently? It would certainly appear so, but there are other implications that surround this question and one such is around body image. Some people that I have discussed the results of their survey with have indicated that a strong reason for answering ‘lights off’ deals with body image issues and particularly when they involve another person and the fear of being judged. Again, I think culture plays a tremendous role in our reinforcing what the “acceptable body image” should be. If you look at the focal points of many advertisements, you will be hard pressed to find anything that is not young, fit, and thin as though they are the only people engaging in sexual activity. Even though one would think that body image is a visual thing, it really comes down to how one is conditioned cognitively to be able to accept or reject oneself.
This leads into gender issues, how we treat boys/girls and the expectations we have for them. As a sex therapist, I have yet to encounter a male who has not masturbated…while that appears to be the norm for boys, the same does not hold true for girls. The BSPI asked how one responds to their own sexual arousal through masturbation or through activity with a sexual partner, the results – 3 out of 5 men prefer to go it alone while the women were almost even choosing between the two options. I find this result particularly interesting given the nature of my work. I have seen many men “coerced” into therapy by their wives who “caught them” masturbating to pornographic images. In some relationships, it is expected that the partner will give up a life long pattern of masturbating and fantasizing to devote any and all sexual energy to the other. Personally, I have a huge problem with this, especially given the way in which sexuality has been discussed, promoted, and supported. There appears to be some serious mixed messaging going on in that we do not object to using sex to sell/promote just about everything until it crosses the thresholds of our relationships. It is totally unrealistic to think that someone who has self-pleasured a good portion of his/her life is going to stop once they are in a committed relationship, it is like expecting someone to never eat alone because they now have a partner to share meals with but yet these unrealistic demands persist. This is one reason why it is so important to have an open dialogue around our sexuality at the start of any new committed relationship and continue it throughout.