Sex and Mental Health with Sex Therapist Emily Morse + Tips to Help Spice Up Your Sex Life, How to Talk to Children About Sex, and How to Recover from Sexual Trauma

Sex is a major part of life, whether we want to talk about it or not. It is also an important part of our mental health—good thinking means good sex, and vice versa. In fact, great sex is great for our brain health; it boosts our longevity, happiness, intelligence, the ability to form deep and meaningful connections and mental resilience, while orgasms, whether they occur in a relationship or not, have many health benefits, include stress relief and better skin!

In this week’s podcast and blog, I discuss why sex is such an important part of our mental and physical health, how to spice up your sex life and improve your relationship, how to recover from sexual trauma and how to become comfortable with your own sexuality with sex therapist Emily Morse, author, Doctor of Human Sexuality and host of the SiriusXM Radio show and podcast of the same name, Sex With Emily.

Emily has made it her life’s work to help people have great sex. As she says, life is too short for bad sex, as it is such an important part of our daily life and our overall mental and physical wellbeing. Indeed, many people spend a large part of their day thinking about sex! This is why it is so important that people of all ages learn how to love themselves and get comfortable with their own sexual needs and desires, which will not only improve their own sexual wellbeing but also their relationships. 

Yet many people do not know or do not want to know how to talk about sex. It has become a taboo subject, which has only served to perpetuate myths about human sexuality and desire, and leave many people, especially women, ashamed, dissatisfied and unhappy. As a result, many of us do not know how our sex life and pleasure can be affected by:

1. Medications. Some medications can dramatically affect desire and sex drive, such as certain types of birth control pills and anti-depressants. If you feel like medications you are taking have affected your sexual life, see your doctor, discuss how you are feeling and talk about possible alternatives.

2. Diet, exercise and body image. If we are not feeling great about how we feel or what we look like, we will find it hard to turn it on in the bedroom or even want to have sex. This is why it is so important that we take a whole-body approach to good sex, focusing not just on how we feel but also what we are eating and how much exercise we do. For more food and exercise see my book and online program, Think and Eat Yourself Smart.

3. Chaotic thinking. If our minds are a mess, then our sex lives will be a mess. As Emily notes, the brain is our biggest sex organ. When it is hijacked but negative thoughts, stress, anxiety, depression and so on, it is going to be very hard to want to have sex or enjoy sex. This is especially the case with trauma, sexual or otherwise, which can take over our minds and life if not dealt with, because the brain and body are in a constant state of distress and don’t respond as they should.

Unfortunately, many of us are taught to suppress and ignore our negative emotions instead of facing them and dealing with them, which can impact every area of life, mentally and physically. We are told by the happiness industry that we should just be happy and satisfied all the time-if we are not then something is wrong with is. We have medicalized normal emotions like sadness, guilt and grief, making us feel ashamed for just being human. This, in turn, can wreak havoc in our life, including our sex life, as we are constantly in a flight or fight state, which suppresses our desire and sex drive.

If we want to have good sex, we need to focus on managing our minds, practicing mindfulness and dealing with the hard stuff in life, so that we can get to the root of our mental distress and work through the issues that are holding us back. My new app SWITCH is a great tool for helping people deal with the root of their issues and overcome stressful thought patterns and behaviors through the mental process of reconceptualization, that is facing and dealing with what is causing them pain and unease, before it takes over their sex lives.

It may also be helpful, in the moment, to focus on your senses: how you partner smells, for instance, how a touch makes you feel, or how your lip gloss tastes. This can calm your raging thoughts and help you be present and enjoy the moment of sexual intimacy without the daily trauma of life interfering.

4. Putting pressure on yourself. Many of us put way too much pressure on ourselves when it comes to enjoying sex or making sure sex fits in with what we think is “normal”, that is an act between a man and woman that involves penetration. In many cases, we are made to feel guilt and shame for our desires, or lack thereof, as if there is something wrong with us or our relationship, and this guilt can severely impact the quality of our sexual intimacy. You may have been told that a certain act or desire is “sinful” or “dirty”, and, rather than working through this emotion, you suppress it, which can dramatically affect the way you feel about sex and sexual intimacy with a partner. 

However, the truth is that real sex is so different to what we see on the movies or in porn, which is often made for men, can be very exploitative and is not an accurate portrayal of sexual intimacy in the real world. In fact, while porn often involves scenes of penetration, only around 20% of women get sexual pleasure from penetration alone!

One way to overcome these dominant sexual narratives is to get to know yourself and what you like. Indeed, masturbation is a great way to overcome shame and get comfortable with your own pleasure and desires. The view that masturbation is bad is a myth, because once we get comfortable with our bodies and learn what pleases us we can have better sex and intimacy with our partner, and we can learn to love ourselves more, just the way we are, which will improve our mental and physical wellbeing! 

5. We are more disconnected. Many of us are more connected to our smart phones, iPads or computers than each other, which may be contributing to the current sex recession. Either we are constantly busy at work, bringing that work home with us through our emails and smartphone, or we spend more time on social media than connecting with the people in our lives or meeting new people. Of course, some technologies bring us together, but it is important that we do not allow technology to overtake intimacy. We should all limit our use of social media, learn how turn the TV off and just be present with our partner.

In fact, in any relationship, great sex starts by communicating your needs with your partner. As Emily says, communication is a lubricant: being open and honest about your sexual challenges and desires, and being willing to explore these with your partner, is so important. It lays the foundation for a great sex life and great intimacy, while bad sex can severely impact the health and longevity of any relationship.  

Although this may be awkward at first, keep talking about sex with your partner and exploring new ways to improve your sex life and make it exciting, such as listening to a podcast on sex or going to a sex toy store together. It is so important to recognize that you are different people with different needs. If you are in a heterosexual relationship, for example, you should know that women are like slow-cookers and men are like frying pans. Women require a lot more time than men to warm up and get turned on, and every woman warms up in different ways!

Talking about sex as a couple in a way that does not shame or blame the other person can really help you get comfortable with your partner and enjoy sex more, as opposed to it being a one-sided act that leaves a woman feeling dissatisfied, or like her pleasure doesn’t matter as much. Women need to recognize that pleasure is their birthright. It is a myth that men want sex more than women; in fact, women want sex just as much or more than men in some cases. We, as women, have immense capacity for pleasure, and when we enjoy sex, sex becomes more enjoyable for our partner too. Pleasure is a big turn on, while the intimacy that comes from sex can connect you with your partner in deep and meaningful ways.

So why do people think men want it more? Often, we think women have less of a sex drive than men because of messages we see on the media, or because some couples have mismatched libido—where one person wants more sex than the other. This is a normal part of any relationship, and discussing it with your partner can really help resolve the issue.

Communication is especially necessary if someone finds sex painful or uncomfortable, which can dramatically affect intimacy in a relationship. For women in particular, painful sex can be something that feels very shameful. They don’t want to talk about it because they fear the worst: that something is wrong with them, that they are not lovable, that there is something wrong with their relationship and so on. However, talking about it is the first step to dealing with it, and doing so often creates more intimacy and connection in a relationship. If we sweep the issue “under the rug”, on the other hand, it will only get bigger and bigger.

The same can be said for a partner that has been unfaithful. Never turn a blind eye to infidelity—suppressing your feelings will only make the issue worse. If you decide to stay together, you have to talk about what happened and get to the root of the issue. This can be incredibly hard, and it does take time to earn back trust, which is why seeing a therapist or counselor can really help begin the healing process. Emily has seen many couples who, after deciding to stay together and work on their issues, come back stronger than ever!

Therapy can also help a couple deal with porn “addiction”. If porn takes over a relationship, inhibiting your ability to perform with your partner, taking away shared sexual enjoyment or determining how one partner treats the other, then it is very toxic, and needs to worked through with a therapist or counselor over time. As with many sexual issues, this is a process, but it is well worth the effort!

Of course, this is all fine and dandy when two adults are talking about it in the privacy of their bedroom, but how do you speak to your children about sex? One of the biggest mistakes adults make is to not speak to their children about sex, or to think it is a one-off conversation. As parents and guardians, we need to be open and honest about sex from when our children are young, teaching them about the proper names for the body parts, telling them about the importance of consent, discussing masturbation and laying the foundation for a relationship where they feel that they can turn to you, as the parent or guardian, and ask you questions about sex. We need to be okay with things being awkward—we shouldn’t pass this responsibility to our schools, which often do a very poor job teaching our children about sex, or someone else. The more real we are with our kids, the less we make talking about sex something that is shameful or uncomfortable.

One way you can start talking to your children about sex right now is to use references from pop culture. Say, for instance, you are watching a movie and there is a sex scene or sexual reference. Pause the film and ask your children if they have any questions, or discuss your feelings about it. Use everyday things and events as examples, and call things what they are—using euphemisms and beating around the bush can be confusing and make the use of certain words feel shameful or wrong. Emily has other great tips on talking to children about sex on her podcast and radio show, so check them out!

Remember, the more you talk about sex with your children, the more you give your children permission to talk about sex with you. You normalize the conversation. In fact, everyone needs a safe space to ask and answer questions about sex, not just children! 

For more information on sex and mental health, healing from trauma, porn and masturbation, listen to my podcast with Emily (episode #134), check out her website, podcast and radio show, and her FacebookInstagram, Twitter,  and YouTube. Her social media handles are @sexwithemily on all platforms, and her SiriusXM show is on Channel Stars 109 @siriusxmstars.

Podcast Time Highlights:

5:12 Why Emily loves talking about great sex

7:00 What makes sex bad?

8:00 How to enjoy sex after trauma 

15:20 The penetration myth

16:30 Why women are like slow-cookers, and men are like frying pans

17:18 Good communication is a lubricant 

22:28 How to talk to your children about sex

26:54 Why our society is dominated by male sexual pleasure, and what you can do about it

28:02 Why great sex is great for the brain

28:30 Are we in a sex recession?

37:42 Why many women find sex painful

43:00 Dangerous sex myths

46:50 What to do when your partner cheats on you

50:00 Is porn good for us?

53:40 How sex connects us

If you would like to learn more about how to improve your sexual intimacy, relationships and mental health, join me at my Mental Health Solutions Summit in Dallas, TX December 3-5, 2020! This conference is for everyone: teachers, CEOs, students, parents, doctors, life coaches...everyone! For more information and to register clickEarly bird special pricing end 3/31!

*In this podcast, we discuss the topic of pornography. Any sex act that supports human trafficking or the exploitation of men or women is wrong, and no one should seek to gain pleasure from watching those acts, even if they are doing so as a couple. Men and woman who want to use erotic, fictional sex scenes to arouse their desire for each other should use resources that do not exploit humans, such as reading an erotic romance novel aloud together or watching a TV show with romantic sex scenes like Outlander. As we mentioned in the podcast, watching sex acts can be harmful to any relationship when it becomes become addictive.

**Switch On Your Brain is providing this podcast as a public service. Reference to any specific viewpoint or entity does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation by our organization. The views expressed by guests are their own and their appearance on the program does not imply an endorsement of them or any entity they represent. If you have any questions about this disclaimer, please contact mailto:info@drleaf.com

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