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Barbara Gold

LCSW, LMFT, CST 

Compassion, Empathy and Emotional Healing 

Barbara's Blog:

Libido (Sexual Desire)

Both sexual desire and frequency of desire differ among individuals. This may ebb and flow within a person during the course of their lifetime, but there is no ‘normal’ (something I refer to as a setting on a washing machine). When a couple is out of sync in this area, it often creates problems and disharmony. It’s rare that a couple is matched in this regard, and as stated, this match may change over time. At the beginning of a sexual relationship, the desire and frequency of desire is likely to be strong and often. This usually subsides to some extent over time as the relationship continues. Ideally, the excitement of the newness becomes replaced by the deepening of the intimacy shared by the couple. Over time, they have shared experiences, history, family ties, etc., all of which potentially lead to not only a greater sense of knowing each other, but to a heightened state of excitement and fulfillment, i.e. a much more evolved sense of physical and emotional intimacy. I am often met with skepticism when I make that statement, but there are people who not only will have that experience, but will confirm that this is so. What happens when a couple is significantly out of sync with each other in this regard? Very often guilt, blame, rejection, and resentment occur. I view this as taking a fundamental individual function personally. The quest for whose frequency of sexual desire is ‘normal’ is something I often see with couples. The need to see themselves as okay will cause them to label their partner in some negative way. “She is a nymphomaniac. There’s something wrong with him! She’s frigid. All he cares about is sex,” are just a few of the many accusations I’ve heard leveled against people’s partners in the name of truth and in the pursuit of being the ‘right’ one. This is not only competitive; it is destructive to the relationship. Sadly, we aren’t taught any of this. So our expectation that we will both want the same thing at the same time is unmet. Because this is so often the case in the beginning stages of relationships, that expectation is reinforced. When this ebbs over time, we seek to find an explanation as to why. Simply put, the explanation is that we are all different. Different does not mean right or wrong. That doesn’t mean that either partner can’t choose to give their partner pleasure, even if they themselves are not desirous of being sexual--there are many different ways to give and receive sexual pleasure, and not all roads lead to intercourse. It’s important that the giver be on board with the idea of giving their partner pleasure-consent. This sometimes becomes arousing for the giver, however, this doesn’t always happen. Women don’t have a corner on the market of low or no sexual desire, which is much less often talked about, especially between men. Women, on the other hand, often talk to each other about having less frequent desire than their husbands. So when a man has less interest than his female partner, he tends to think he’s the only one (not true) and that perhaps there is something wrong with him. His female partner often feels the same way about herself. The most common reason people give for coming to see me Is “mismatched libidos”. Truth to tell, it would be extremely rare, if not impossible, to find two people with perfectly matched libidos. It seems that way for most couples at the beginning of their relationship when they don’t live together, have spans of time between ‘dates,’ and both are generally mutually interested in being sexual most of the times they’re able to be together. And thus our expectations are set for the future. Since that early passion will usually change in most relationships over time, it’s vitally important to understand what that’s about—and what it’s not. Disproving of gender mythology, same gender couples don’t identically match either! Recognizing that your partner is simply taking care of themselves by having a choice about being sexual, can eliminate feelings of rejection. It’s important to engage in open and clear dialogue to find resolution, or the pattern of rejection, guilt, anger and resentment continues indefinitely. The science of sexuality is continually evolving. I highly recommend Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are, which is the best book I’ve ever read on women’s sexuality. I see it as a must-read for women, but also as very relevant for men, as it provides invaluable information on human sexuality. She also gives men an ”inside look” at women and their sexuality! Nagoski gives much attention to the concept of spontaneous versus responsive desire. She states that, in general, women are more likely to more frequently have responsive desire. This concept is so important for creating understanding, as opposed to labeling or blaming. It is a different and better way of approaching sexual desire, especially since we tend to define something as a problem when it doesn’t match our expectations. She also speaks of an important backdrop for desire which is context. In other words, what factors are at play: the emotional state the person is in, their mental state, the physical environment, body image issues, the state of the relationship, feeling desired versus feeling used by their partner, feeling accepted by their partner, the style of approach, negative mood, and so on. She also utilizes a perfect metaphor–brakes and accelerators–what stops desire and what drives desire. Imagine how differently things might evolve with the above perspective and understanding in place. Many a “No” might well turn into “Let’s cuddle and see what happens–without any expectations or promises!” This evolution brings with it a richer perspective on collaboration in the bedroom.

One last metaphor is Nagoski’s ‘garden.’ We are born with one which is planted by family and culture, until we can care for it ourselves. There we find already planted ideas and beliefs about love, self-image, boundaries and sex. It may be filled with healthy plants you want to keep, or there may be some plants and even weeds which don’t work well for you. You’re now in charge and get to decide what stays, what goes, and what new plants are important in order to make your garden thrive.​

All Play and No Work?

Yes, I know I’ve got it backwards! I do, however, believe the balance is essential, and I thought it might be interesting to contemplate what the balance would look like if play came before work. Most of us have no difficulty with the work part-it comes with the territory. The play is another matter, however. I definitely have nothing against work-not only is it necessary for creating an income which most of us require, and if it’s something we enjoy and take pride in, it also provides a purpose upon which to focus and a source of potential gratification emotionally, as well as financially. So unless unemployment strikes, we have work. Most of us have work beyond work in that we have children to raise, bills to pay, errands to run, homes and cars to maintain, etc. If you consider all the “side jobs”, it becomes easier to see why play is so often neglected. When I see young people raising families today, I marvel at how they do it. The world is a much busier place than years ago when my kids were growing up. I’m so impressed by how today’s parents juggle it all. For many, however, the difficulty appears to be in making time for “play”. Whether it’s a couple’s “us” time or an individual’s “me” time, there often isn’t time scheduled for play and for relaxation. And for many, it must be scheduled if it’s going to happen. I’m beginning to think relaxation is becoming a lost art-one that I often hear described as being “lazy”. Now lazy is a word I don’t believe in, so I always wonder what’s behind “the cover story”. I often hear people describe themselves as lazy because relaxation and yes, play, have gotten a bad name. So, whatever happened to “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy?” Maybe some of you never even heard that expression. It doesn’t get used much any more. So I say, let’s bring it back! We all need “play” time, and whatever that looks like for each of us, it’s invaluable. It’s really not about being “dull” either. It’s about taking care of yourself and giving to yourself in a way which brings you enjoyment, pleasure and relaxation. Not only do we need that, we deserve it. So if you take a long, hard look at how your life is unfolding, please take note if there’s not enough time for you and time for play and find a way to alter your schedule in order to build it in. In other words, HAVE FUN!!   

Let's Talk About S-E-X

That sounds like an easy enough proposal, right? Not so much. I consistently see couples and individuals who have a great deal of difficulty discussing sex-whether with a partner or just with me. Since I’m a sex therapist, it’s a topic I’m very comfortable with, however, I generally have to make it comfortable for my clients before they can begin to open up in a way which feels safe for them. I often joke with couples who are sexually involved: “You can do it; you just can’t talk about it!” For those who aren’t being sexual with each other, it is at least as difficult a topic to broach. Talking about sex often constitutes a level of risk. Will the listener be accepting or judging? Will the person speaking feel a sense of shame just by talking about sex? If they judge themselves, it is all the more likely that they will fear judgment from others. Since our culture doesn’t teach us how to talk about sex, or even how to think about it in a healthy, constructive manner, it’s no small surprise that so many struggle with it, not only verbally, but in all matters sexual. This includes things such as body image, sexual preferences, libido and the most often asked or unasked question: “Am I normal.” To that question my reply is that “normal” is a setting on a washing machine. We are all different, and we are all free from judgment unless we make it so for ourselves. I would be intereabout talking absted in hearing any input people might like to share on this topic. This is why my book has a section with the same title as this post. To learn more out sex, I encourage you to read the section! 

Why I’m Still a Therapist after All These Years!

It occurred to me that it might be interesting to talk about why I’m still passionate about the work I do after so many decades of doing it. So here goes. Oftentimes, I’ve been asked how I can work with people who have problems and not find it depressing and/or disheartening. I always say, on the contrary, I find it almost inspirational, since my goal is to help people reach their own goals to feel better, live happier and more fulfilling lives and learn to manage the ups and downs life hands us on their own. I liken it to raising kids. Our job is to nurture and help them grow into well-adjusted, functional adults who are independent and live their own lives. If our children are not hampered or handicapped in some significant way, one important measure of success for parents is the ability of adult children to leave home and create their own lives for themselves. It’s pretty much the same with therapy. Although we all hit points in our life’s journey when help is needed, for the most part, I want my clients to leave with having achieved what they sought, with their growth and achievements now being a part of them, along with the ability to manage on their own. That may seem strange, but the best end to therapy is for the therapy to end! Of course, just like we see our physicians for check-ups, often people may need to come back if they hit a bump in the road or some new situation prompts them to seek help. That doesn’t constitute failure, any more than when our adult children turn to us for guidance or a soft place to land or when we need a friend. It’s just “life happening”.

In short, for me, therapy is as much about receiving than it is about giving. For any of you who have seen me for therapy, I owe you my thanks and gratitude for allowing me the privilege of being trusted to be your partner in growth.

What's All This Fuss about Communication?

The "fuss" is that it's so difficult and challenging to communicate effectively. We think it should be easy, but the fact is it’s far from that. Remember the game you played as a kid where everyone sat it a big circle and the first person whispered in the ear of the one sitting next to them and so on until the last person would repeat what they heard? It was never the same, and usually not even close to what the first person said. What we say is not always what someone hears. What we hear is not always what someone meant us to hear. There are so many possible misinterpretations in what appears to be a simple dialogue. So just take that as a given, and you’ll be on the right track. What you can do to help facilitate good communication includes things such as using “I” messages-talking about yourself instead of the other person, so they are less likely to feel criticized and become defensive and more likely to really hear you; take responsibility for your own thoughts and feelings instead of saying “You (or that) made me feel…”, "I only did that because you..."; don't negatively characterize or call names; and use reflective listening when necessary, “What did you hear me say?” or “I heard you say…”. And I don’t care how well you know the other person, you cannot read their mind, nor they yours!

Other tips include asking for permission before offering input or an opinion (I call this “knocking before entering”) and accepting “no” if that’s the answer you get. Perhaps most crucial of all, speak to the other person with respect and truly listen, which also indicates respect. It’s also important to consider boundaries-yours and those of the person you are speaking with, and to make sure those are respected as well, be they verbal, emotional or physical. Good communication requires work and commitment, but the results are so much better when those efforts are made. It also gets easier as we develop the habits of good communication in place of whatever didn’t work so well in the past. Good communication requires a collaborative not a combative exchange!

Good Man Project

Mismatched Libidos

Kicking The Tires

She's A Tease