In today’s digital culture, sex is easy to find. But most of our encounters with it are shallow and unrealistic. Sexual images and films easily capture the lust, or carnality, of sex, but there is very little conversation surrounding intimacy and how sex actually works in a real human relationship. In fact, many people believe there is something wrong with them because their sex life doesn’t look like it does in the media.
In this podcast, our guest Laurie Watson, sex therapist and licensed marriage and family counselor, discusses some of the most common sexual issues she encounters in her practice and shares how sex therapy can help people become more comfortable with their own sexuality.
Tune into today’s show to learn more about this very important but often misunderstood type of psychotherapy.
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Guest information for ‘Laurie Watson- Sex Therapy’ Podcast Episode
Laurie Watson is an AASECT certified sex therapist and licensed marriage and family counselor and is currently finishing her doctorate in sexology with research in helping couples recover sexually from breast cancer. She’s written a book titled Wanting Sex Again – How to Rediscover Your Desire and Heal a Sexless Marriage (published in 2012 by Berkley Imprints) and she’s a blogger for Psychology Today and WebMD with over 11 million reads. Laurie addresses physicians and psychological training programs around the state and is a frequent guest lecturer at the medical schools of Duke and UNC Chapel Hill.
She too is a podcaster and host of FOREPLAY – Radio Sex Therapy available with specific episodes dedicated to the many topics of specific sexual dysfunction and relational problems.
About The Psych Central Podcast Host
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author. To learn more about Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Computer Generated Transcript for ‘Laurie Watson- Sex Therapy’ Episode
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to the Psych Central Podcast, where guest experts in the field of psychology and mental health share thought-provoking information using plain, everyday language. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Hello, everyone, and welcome to this week’s episode of the Psych Central Podcast. Calling into the show today, we have sex therapist Laurie Watson, who is the host of the podcast Foreplay Radio – Couples and Sex Therapy. She is also the author of Awakenings Counselling for Couples and Sexuality and is a licensed marriage and family counselor. Laurie, welcome to the show.
Laurie Watson: Thank you for having me, Gabe. This is fun.
Gabe Howard: Well, I have been really looking forward to this for a while because while sex is everywhere in our culture, productive conversation surrounding sex isn’t everywhere in our culture. We. We have the salaciousness of sex, right? But the actual mechanical workings and understanding and, you know, dare I say, intimacy of sex is severely lacking in our culture conversationally.
Laurie Watson: That is so true. I mean, while we are kind of a porn saturated, sex saturated culture, you know, what is missing from that is the intimacy, the connection between two people that is not being talked about, let alone understanding the differences between people and their bodies. We don’t have very much information about that. And where do you go and get it?
Gabe Howard: Well, and you can go on the Internet and get it. And you run the risk, on one hand, you could run into an article written by you, which which has great information and will help you be more intimate with your partner and be a better lover and have better sex. You could also run into an article that shames you for wanting to have sex, or you could run into an article that just gives blatantly misinformation, which of course if you try it isn’t going to work and it’s going to make you feel bad. And then, of course, there’s everything else under the sun
Laurie Watson: Right.
Gabe Howard: As a sex therapist. How do you feel about all of that competing information? Because on one hand, like you said, we talk about sex constantly. But on the other hand, we don’t have productive conversations about sex and sexuality.
Laurie Watson: That’s right. I think that when I talk to people about sex and when I go and lecture, what I’m saying seems to be brand new information. And so that tells me that the competing information out there is not necessarily hitting people in a way that helps them improve their actual workings in the bedroom. And some of what I read is discouraging to me. There is so much misinformation, like things like put on the Internet to have a better orgasm, strengthen your kegel muscles. And that’s by and large, not true. So people are misdirected and there’s very little that talks about to have good sex, we need to feel that the sexual connection between us and our partner is secure.
Gabe Howard: And there’s all kinds of different types of sex, right? The type of sex that, for example, I might like could be different from the type of sex that my partner likes. And neither one of us are wrong. There’s not a correct way to have sex and an incorrect way to have sex. There’s a lot of preference. Correct?
Laurie Watson: That’s true. And many people, this is where they get hung up in their sex life. You know, one person wants sex more frequently than the other person or one person wants to do something, a sex act that the other person feels is wrong or immoral or icky. This preference issue is a big place that couples stumble in terms of getting on the same page with each other. And it can become part of a power struggle that really separates them from even hearing it. You know, we’re so threatened by hearing what our partner wants that might be different than what we want. We can feel like, oh, you know, my partner is going to think I’m frigid or I’m a bad lover or I’m not very inventive. And we really worry about that kind of stuff. And then it shuts down good conversations that could be productive.
Gabe Howard: I think one of the biggest, I’m going to say lies, that is out there is that couples should be orgasmic at the same time that having an orgasm together is the goal, because that’s how you see it in television and movies, etc.. And I learned in preparation for the show and because, you know, I’m over 40, that that is so incredibly uncommon. That likes to never happen. But most people feel that they must be doing it wrong if it doesn’t happen, even though that’s just biologically unsound or it’s atypical right.
Laurie Watson: That’s right. It is very atypical and couples come in, they want that as a goal and they feel like they’ve failed if they’re not having simultaneous orgasm. But it is a blue moon that that happens. I think the other big myth that is out there in heterosexual couples is that the movie clip looks like it’s a 90 second event. She has her back up against a rough tree. Nobody touches her clitoris. And somehow or another, she has a wild orgasm.
Gabe Howard: Right.
Laurie Watson: And that just is not true. Most women do not orgasm through sexual penetration. In fact, only, Gabe, 7 percent of women have orgasms through sexual intercourse. And a lot of women come in and say, you know, I’m broken. I’m not doing it the right way. I can’t do it the real way. And their partners feel so inadequate. I can’t get her there just through sexual intercourse. Can’t we make that a goal? And what’s wrong with me? Am I not big enough? What’s the problem? I mean, the movies and the media shows something that is utterly false.
Gabe Howard: So as a sex therapist, people are coming to you because they have a problem in the bedroom. But what you’re realizing is that they don’t actually have a problem in the bedroom. They don’t understand how sex works. Yet it’s risen to the level of seeking professional help to fix something that was never a problem anyway. As a sex therapist, how do you handle that? Because I imagine that just telling them, oh, no, you’re wrong, it doesn’t work that way, isn’t going to undo what is probably their entire life’s experience of how sex works?
Laurie Watson: You’re right. I mean, many times people enter a sexual relationship with a lack of information. They really don’t have the goods that tell them about their own body. What’s supposed to happen? What happens in their partner’s body if there’s a gender difference? It’s very hard to put ourselves in the other person’s place. And we don’t know what their body feels. And so we’re kind of working in a mystery. Last night, I sat with a group of women who are low libido and we’re running a group in our clinic for this. And one of the women took her about 45 minutes to reach orgasm. And she needed a lot of stimulation and she needed her mind to get engaged. And she wanted her husband to be seductive. I said, what you are experiencing now is really normal. I know you’re disappointed, but I got to tell you, you are dead center with what most women experience. So she didn’t know what other women were experiencing. Oftentimes, again, one more issue with heterosexual couples is we compare ourselves with another gender and we say, you know, what’s happening for you? Wow. You can get aroused so quickly. And it takes me so long. But it doesn’t take her long. It takes her not long compared to other women. It might take her long compared to her male partner. But what she’s experiencing is normal. So a lot of what we do is we do normalize. We do talk about it. And certainly, you know, there are fixes and things that they can do to help get more on the same page.
Gabe Howard: Speaking purely as a male, I understand how my body works. I’m not even going to say male sexuality. I understand how my body works. When I was younger, the women in my life, they were shy. They didn’t want to be labeled easy or slutty or anything, so they would not share what they liked. Now it’s possible that they didn’t know. It’s possible that they didn’t feel safe to communicate with me. There’s a lot going on here, but I noticed that as I got into more long term relationships, as we matured, as we learned more about sexuality, the women in my life would say, Hey, I want you to do X, Y, and Z and X, Y, and Z worked like gangbusters. And I realized that through that communication, the way that I could be a good lover was to follow instructions. I learned as I got even older and started talking about, you know, hypersexuality and living with bipolar disorder and really starting to have these discussions that many people aren’t willing to have, that many men were shocked by this. They were like, well, you did what? Now you asked her and she knew and they felt that this was odd. As a sex therapist, how would you handle all of that? Because for the average person, they’re sitting there looking at their partner and thinking, I don’t know how to help you climax. And it doesn’t occur to them that the solution is to say, how do I help you climax? How do you bridge those gaps?
Laurie Watson: You are hitting on something that is so important because you said I was willing to share my experience. And I think that that’s so brave and so courageous and something that both genders actually need work on in terms of sharing their own experience of their body. My experience is that it is still difficult to claim as a woman that, you know, your arousal template, that you know the pattern that gets you to orgasm. I recently recorded on Foreplay Radio an episode with young women in the hookup culture, and the statistics show only 10 percent of them in an encounter reach orgasm. And much of it is they’re not about to tell this person, who is brand new, what they need. And then, of course, if the hookup is over, there’s no experience to build on. I think there is still a cultural issue for women that says to own your body and know what you like is to be a slut, to really enjoy sex. I too stand on a platform, Gabe, and as a woman talk in a sex-positive way about my desire. I have one partner and I talk about my husband and how much I want him. And then I’m what I call a sexual pursuer. I think that our attachment styles inform how we feel about sex. But I think that our relationship security helps us get to the point where we can tell our partner what it is we like and own our needs, own our arousal, own what we want from our partner and learn to communicate that. And that is something that I would say 80 percent of couples don’t do. They don’t talk to each other in that sort of explicit way that really clues their partner into what they want. They’re not doing it.
Gabe Howard: When you said I am a sexual pursuer. I thought for just a nanosecond, oh, that’s embarrassing. That’s shameful. But I like to consider myself a feminist. I am surrounded by strong women. I’m proud of saying that my wife makes more money than I do and that doesn’t embarrass me at all. My sister is a military veteran. But I want to disclose that embarrassed me. And I’m trying to say, hey, I’m on your side. I’m comfortable with sex. So my question in that is, what would you say to a guy like me? Because I’m really genuinely trying. But something in my upbringing in society made me for a moment think, oh, that’s bad, she should stop talking and I’m trying.
Laurie Watson: Yeah, I think certainly there’s probably multiple feelings in that one. Many times we don’t hear women talk about their sense of internal subjective desire. We hear them talk about being turned on by being the desired object. But for a woman to have healthy eroticism that is internal, that comes from her heart and soul and body, takes some work, it takes countering the cultural expectation that she should be quiet, that she shouldn’t say this.
Gabe Howard: We’ll be right back after these messages.
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Gabe Howard: And we’re back discussing sex therapy with licensed counselor Laurie Watson.
Laurie Watson: I mean, I didn’t have some wild upbringing, and that’s why I went into this field. I actually grew up very inhibited in a very sort of rigid religious culture. And for me to win and own my own eroticism was a lot of self-growth. And that’s what I want to give people a way to talk about it. That’s natural, a way to own it. That feels confident and normal. This is not being said from kind of Aunt Bee next door, right? For most people, talking frankly about sex and their desire feels really weird. It might be said from the hot girl, the comedian at the mic, but it’s not being said by women who are just ordinary. And I feel like I’m an ordinary woman. I certainly have specialization in sex therapy. But as a person, I’m rather ordinary.
Gabe Howard: Laurie, in all of this, do you think that men or women have a more incorrect assumptions about sex and sexuality in our culture? Like who gets it more wrong?
Laurie Watson: I think that men get it more wrong and it’s not their fault. I think that men get predominantly their education from pornography and from experience. And so their experience tells them that sexual intercourse generally is the way to bring a woman pleasure. That’s what pornography shows. I don’t think that they really realize how much stimulation a woman needs clearly to reach orgasm. I have men come in and say, you know, I’ve been with 30 women and none of them needed this all this clitoral stimulation. And I’m here to tell them, unfortunately, 93% of those women were faking it because all women need this. This is how they reach climax. And men just can’t believe that. And I think that’s because that’s what they’ve seen their experiences. I had sex. She moaned a little. I think she had an orgasm. I didn’t ask her, so I assumed it was great for her. Like it was great for me. End of story. Whereas I think women, they know they didn’t climax. They know they didn’t potentially feel connected to their partner. And so they know that the experience isn’t so great, but they just don’t have language to talk about it.
Gabe Howard: There’s a lot to unpack there, right? Because one, let’s say that it’s true. Let’s say that this gentleman, he found his 30 in the 7 percent pool.
Laurie Watson: Right. Right.
Gabe Howard: So what? The partner that you’re with now doesn’t. That’s really like a hard stop right there. Again, speaking purely as a man, I want to walk around feeling like a big shot, like I’m king of the world and sitting in a room across from a person telling me that I did not help my partner achieve orgasm. I want to distance myself from that as far as possible. But this doesn’t resolve the problem, right? This shifts the blame from me to her. But this doesn’t actually get us to where we both should want to be. And that’s we want a satisfying and gratifying sex life with our partner. How do you turn the tables on that? I know that if I was sitting in a room with two women telling me that I was bad at sex, I don’t know that I would want to brainstorm solutions. I’m really trying to be open minded, but there’s just this reptilian brain in me that’s like, no, I’m good. I know that many men must be like this in their therapy sessions with you. How do you get them to turn the corner and see solutions over blame?
Laurie Watson: Well, I think you’ve nailed the reason that going to sex therapy is so scary for some men, the dread and the fear is that they’re going to learn they weren’t good lovers. And obviously, as a sex therapist and as a couples counselor, I’m very sensitive to this kind of fear and try to make it very safe for couples to talk about this in non blaming ways. So it’s not his fault. It’s not her fault for not speaking up. It’s not their fault. I try to help them see that many times we’re caught in a silent sort of world when it comes to talking about sex. And how could they have learned this if they haven’t really talked about it? So oftentimes I counsel the woman, you know, why didn’t she tell him this is a better way for me? I heard this podcast and this woman said that I would have a more powerful experience if you touched me longer and more directly on my clitoris. And that way, it’s not, you know, gosh, you haven’t been doing it right all these years. You’ve left me high and dry. You know, it’s a kind sort of shaping conversation that moves them on track. And I do find, Gabe, many men really want to know; they’re dying for their partner to tell them how to make it good for them. I don’t think men are selfish. I think they’re anxious. I think oftentimes men in my office will say, gosh, you know, it’s been fifteen years. Why hasn’t she told me? They feel heartsick that they haven’t known how to turn around and how to make it good for her. The crazy thing for women is having an orgasm doesn’t necessarily make a great experience. Having an orgasm and feeling emotionally connected and supported in intimacy for a woman often is the way that her bell gets rung.
Gabe Howard: So you’ve got a man and a woman sitting in your office and the man finds out that he has not been sexually pleasing his partner for a number of years. How does the man react to that?
Laurie Watson: I think it’s a variety of reactions. Sometimes there’s real relief like finally, finally, Laurie. You’ve got her to tell me and I can now fix this and I can find a pathway that works for her. You know, I think some of the difficulty is when women are not pleased sexually. So they tend to diminish libido. They turn their libido off. So we have two problems now. We have a woman who has not been aroused and we have a woman now who has low libido. So it’s complicated because we have to turn both areas back on in her. Whereas for men, when they are not getting the response from their female partner and they don’t get enthusiasm and excitement when they ask their partner for sex, and she kind of rolls her eyes and says, ugh, again, you know, that’s demoralizing. And so when he has had that experience over and over, oftentimes he’s not a good seducer anymore. He doesn’t bring the game. And so this becomes a cycle that’s a negative pattern between the two of them. It’s a negative cycle. One of them is usually sexually withdrawing. The other is sexually pursuing. And by the time they get to my office, the person who was sexually pursuing feels really discouraged. It’s like no matter what I do, Laurie, I can’t turn her on. There’s no way I can get her to want sex. And so when it comes down to the pattern itself has not been that good for her. That’s a lot of relief. It’s like, oh, well, let’s fix that. I can do that. They want to fix the problem. So when that’s all it is, oftentimes they can put aside their pride and say, well, gosh, you know, if you’d told me 15 years ago, we’d have been having a lot of fun.
Gabe Howard: I think there’s a stereotype in our society that people would expect the man to blame the woman, be angry. And what you’re describing is that the man is upset, the man is embarrassed or the man is relieved. And I think that goes against what we think is happening behind those closed doors. We expect there to be some aggressive, angry male blaming a poor woman who can’t speak for herself. And what you’re describing seems to be the complete opposite of that. You have two frustrated people for different reasons who are desperately trying to connect sexually in incompatible ways. And you help lead them to a compatible method where their sex life becomes better and they’re both participating in that process as equals. And I think that society in general doesn’t think that’s what’s happening in a sex therapist’s office.
Laurie Watson: That’s so true. I mean, I think sex therapy sounds really scary. It conjures up images of Barbara Streisand and Meet the Fockers. A kind of crazy, kooky woman. And I think sex therapy, I know people are anxious. You know, I live in the south. We’re really uptight about sex down here. And so I know that when people are coming in to see me, they have probably never talked to another soul about their sex life. So we spend a lot of time just getting comfortable. My room looks like a living room. People walk in oftentimes, Gabe, and they’re like, oh, I didn’t know what it would look like in here. They’re really afraid there’s going to be an exam table or there’s gonna be kinky toys out or something. And, you know, sex therapy is talk therapy. There’s no nudity. There’s no sexual touching between the therapist and the client. It’s all psychotherapy. We’re helping them find each other and find a path through to each other.
Gabe Howard: Laurie, this has been wonderful. I could talk for another hour about this because again, there’s just so much ground to cover. And for folks who want to hear more, they can listen to you on Foreplay Radio – Couples and Sex Therapy. I know you have a co-host over there. It really is a great show. And you’ve also written a number of great books from Wanting Sex Again: How to Rediscover Your Desire and Heal a Sexless Marriage. And you write all over the place. You can even check you out on Web M.D. Laurie, how can folks find you? And I’m going to assume that your books are on Amazon. But do you have your own Web presence?
Laurie Watson: Yes. Yes. So AwakenLoveandSex.com is the way to find me. That’s my Web site. Certainly the podcast has links to be able to contact me. So I’m a stone’s throw away. If you type in Laurie Watson sex therapy, I come up everywhere, so I’m easy to find.
Gabe Howard: Laurie, thank you so much for being on the show. I really appreciate you illuminating us on the realities of sex. The type of sex that isn’t salacious and gets, you know, billboards and pop culture and late night cable TV references, you know, the type of sex that all of us are actually having that we’re just not publicly discussing in a meaningful way.
Laurie Watson: Well, thank you. I appreciate getting the word out and you hosting me. I’m really honored that you invited me and I would be glad to be back sometime.
Gabe Howard: Laurie, thank you so much. This is definitely a discussion that needs to be had, and I suspect that you will absolutely be back in the future. And remember, listeners, you can get one week of free, convenient, affordable, private online counselling anytime, anywhere, simply by visiting BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral. We will see everybody next week.
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