by Paula-Jo Husack
It’s a complicated, messy problem — but there is a solution.
Famous women in history have set nations on fire with their passion and body-positivity. When we watch the cinematic recreations, we’re allured at how easy and simple this one-plus-one of sexual desire and body image seems to be.
Note a few of our historical sensual, sexual sisters:
Marie Antoinette started at age 14 and never stopped. She enjoyed both men and women, married or single. Her body was slightly full-figured at the time. She loved her deep blue eyes and pale blonde hair, as the French did. Her comfort and ease with her body attracted many lovers.
Cleopatra had many orgasms and children with the most powerful men of the Roman Empire. Her body was roundly curvaceous. Her nose was acceptably prominent. She was powerful, politically and sensually.
Soong Ching Ling, known as China’s mother, was known for her beauty, fashion, and intelligence. She loved her body, minus obsession. She went to college in the US and developed an uncommon perspective and sensual style for a Chinese woman in the early 20th Century.
It’s true that when we have more sex, we want more sex. Testosterone is the magical hormone that increases with our positive sexual experiences. We’re in the lush sex driver’s seat, with all engines on.
Low sexual desire can mean low testosterone. What governs our low sexual desire then? Most likely it’s one or some of these:
1) Self-esteem/body esteem
2) Personal, familial, and cultural attitudes
3) Hormonal imbalances
4) Sleep problems
5) Life stress
6) Mood disorders, such as anxiety or depression
7) Social and sexual functioning
8) History of physical or sexual abuse
9) Previous negative sexual or body-related experiences
Here’s the lowdown: Singularly or in concert, these factors can keep sexual desire way low for way long. The first, self-esteem/body esteem, is the most pervasive with the potential for the longest “shelf life”, unless, of course, you proactive reach out for help with an experienced therapist to change course.
With so much to trip up our sexual desire, will we ever jump naked on our new sheets again?
Here are some women’s stories from today’s world, which have not yet made history. Yet, we are learning from them. Unlike our historical sisters’ lives, these are memorable for their struggles.
It’s through them that we clearly see the connection between body image and low sexual desire. Our hearts go out to these sisters and the millions they represent:
1. The New Mom
It’s after midnight. There’s the sound of the mommy rocker; the streak of hall light coming through the master bedroom doorway. It’s just enough to see a bit. Back and forth, back and forth it creaks in the stillness. This is her new role: mommy. No sleep, no balanced meals, no body she’ll ever feel sexy in, or so it seems. Yet, her partner, who is feeling disconnected as a couple, is craving a sexual experience together.”
The American Academy of Family Physicians’ Annals of Family Medicine researched the postpartum health of 817 employed mothers, who returned to work 5 weeks after childbirth.
Their common postpartum symptoms: fatigue, breast discomfort, decreased sexual desire, worsening of their daily physical function. These women need more rest; not more guilt about abstaining from sex.
2. The Gym Goer & Dieter
It’s noon in the Financial District. There’s the strong scent of sweat and the clank of heavyweights hitting the floor of the gym. Walk past this and you’ll get to the row of elliptical machines, where kinky and straight ponytails swing-and-sway in unison.
One woman is devouring a protein-bar simultaneously. She’s down 8 pounds of a 30-pound goal in order to be back into the clothes that made her feel sexy. There was a waist then. There were orgasms then.
Another woman, there since nine this morning, won’t eat a bite all day until she finishes her workout. That’s 3pm. The menu? Lettuce and water. At size 2, she sees a fat slob in the mirror and avoids sex and intimacy. She craves the perfect body. When that happens, perfect sex, perfect intimacy, and perfect orgasms will come naturally.
3. The Post-Menopausal
It’s the last office visit at the gynecologist’s office. This post-menopausal empty-nester patient should be freely enjoying sexual intercourse. Instead, sex is painful, due to vaginal atrophy. She fears her life partner will give up and go elsewhere for sex. Here’s the final card. There’s a laser treatment, which thickens the thinning vaginal tissues. Will this “magic laser wand” do the trick?
Other menopausal changes are alarming. She can’t keep her hands moist enough; her shedding hair fills the hair-catcher in her shower and her lined face is a discouraging life roadmap. Her body esteem — no, her whole aging being — has no place in a world that devalues her value.
According to original research by The Journal of Sexual Medicine, vulvar and vaginal atrophy (VVA) is a medical condition warranting treatment; and affects up to two-thirds of post-menopausal sisterhood. Yet, 81 percent of the 1000+ studied were not aware.
All these women are maneuvering through their life chapters, with low body esteem. They all share low sexual desire and a negative, distorted, or detached body image. It’s motherhood. It’s perfectionism. It’s endless workouts. It’s menopausal madness.
No one begins with these life transitions or situations. Instead, go back. We can go back to our young girl experiences growing up. Go forward to the young girls’ today. We can positively influence their experiences. What messages are instilled from family, school, and the surrounding cultural influences about our gender and our bodies? These mold our self-worth and body esteem early on; then ultimately, our sexual expression as adult women.
Add sexual encounters, ranging from unfulfilling to empty to traumatizing. Watch the effects on our daily moods. Are we depressed, anxious, tense, negative, lethargic? If so, our sexual desire will self-cancel.
Note the endless ping-ponging glances in the mirror or our hideouts from the mirror. These are triggered by low body esteem or distorted body image, followed by the matrix of moods, thoughts, and actions that multiply. They dominate over the desire-kindling qualities of inner contentment, playfulness, kindness, tranquility, trust, and relaxation.
The power of body concept — whether positive or negative — is stronger than biology alone.
The University of Texas, Austin health researchers declares that 40 percent of women across all ages will have low body-image esteem. Along with low body-image esteem comes low sexual desire.
Want some ways to improve body image and increase self/body esteem? Check these:
1) Gain awareness that many of the media images are unrealistic.
2) Be affirming to yourself (even if not at first) and others, who are motivated to accept realistic body types, instead of the media types.
3) Value people with strong character, integrity, and compassion, rather than body shape and size.
4) If food, body, and/or exercise is a struggle, check out mindful eating programs through universities, hospitals, and eating disorder resource centers and non-profits.
5) Take slow and warm baths, listen to relaxing music, and enjoy sensual fragrances.
6) Work with us therapists and other health professionals, who have additional training in women’s’ issues, especially body image issues, and life leadership.
7) Reach out to even one friend, whom you can trust.
Remember, you are not alone. Healing is possible! With motivation, collaborative effort, and time, you can change your own history by building body esteem and its fraternal twin, self-esteem. You’ll learn about your sexual desire in ways you can relax and feel esteemed by. All will equate to added empowerment in your life leadership.
Paula-Jo Husack LMFT, CGP is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, Life & Performance Enhancement Coach, EMDR-certified Trauma Therapist and Founder of LeadLifeNow workshops. For 20+ years, she’s guided diverse individuals, couples, and families in healing and empowerment in the San Francisco Bay Area and virtually all over the world. Contact her at Lead Life Now or e-mail her at email@example.com.
Let’s talk. Meanwhile, I’m here to help you restart with these:
Happy New Year!
Or is it?
You or someone you know is in a Marriage, Life Partnership, or Couplehood.
Want to “Stay” and renew your relationship with a promising, positive plan? Or, prefer to “Go” into 2017 without the relationship?
For the family’s sake, you and your Partner did your due diligence to make it a nice holiday season. The Life Coach you saw once recommended, “Don’t announce your breakup to the kids on holidays or birthdays.” Your unhappiness inventory has gained bigger momentum over the last year two years; though there were repetitive dysfunctional patterns early on in the Couplehood.
January is the highest traffic month of the year to file for divorce. For years, you wondered if your marriage would make it back to bliss. The road there became more and more cumbersome. There were isolated moments of loving anniversaries. This year, there’s no more wondering. It’s over. Finito. Date nights are in the distant past. Sex is more obligatory, dreaded, unfulfilling, and-happily-quick. Children, money, health, career, extended family, and even physical living space are just a few Life Elements in your out-of-control stress pile. Endless tasks and responsibilities divert you from looking at yourself. If you’ve taken inventory of the marriage, take inventory of yourself, as the Life Partner you’ve reactively become. Know yourself.
First truth: If you “Stay,” you won’t get “back” to bliss. Without healthy communication methods, you didn’t really have bliss back then anyway. If you “Stay,” engage a Life Leadership Coach, whom you can train with. Treat it with the importance of getting to the gym regularly or excelling in a graduate class. A proactive, working presence to gain communication proficiency, combined with understanding yourself from the inside out, will bring depth and esteem to your ultimate decision-making processes. Develop your conscious attention to whole relationship leadership. If you do “Go,” you’ll have communications skills to use, as both of you sign on for healthy, whole co-parenting going forward.
First false: When only half a statement is true, the whole statement is true. Not true. Here’s one of those half-true-equals-false statements: The holidays are over. January means it’s time to make a big decision. It’s true January is here. It’s false that a “Go or Stay” checklist can effectively determine your big decision. That checklist of reasons to either involve or dissolve most often focuses on your Partner and what didn’t work together. When Couples come in to get help with making this ending transition, at least one brings that checklist. Missing again is the deeper personal inventory of the self from the inside out: Who was I really as a Life Partner? What unmet developmental needs did I bring to the relationship, for better or worse, based on my role in my family of origin? What did I bring, based on the role models I had in how to be a “Couple”?
You must do this deeper discovery of the whole self. When you show only with your Stay of Go checklist, it allows you to justify your decision and maintain the conflict. If your focus is on how your Partner cares or doesn’t care for the couple hood; and is void of a lengthy path of personal introspection, you are now ready to make a well-viewed “Stay of Go” decision.
On your wedding day, both of you say “I do” to the marriage and your commitment to each other. Chances are you would have probably answered “I don’t” to having proficiency in couples communication tools to proactively take co-leadership of your union. If you’re looking at fleeing the altar without acquiring these tools over the years, be prepared to repeat some of your patterns with your next Life Love.
Step back a sec: Is Life Partnership worth training for retroactively with this current life partner? Is it worth trying to save the family formation for those kids you both love so much? Then ultimately, if your Couplehood dissolves, you’ll both have important skills to bring to your next relationship, and to your ongoing Co-Parenting relationship.
To be clear, here are your two deeper choices beyond the simple “Stay or Go”, once you both work like hell six-to-nine-months minimum in Couples Communication mastery: 1) Your Couplehood moves forward, stronger and more loving than ever; or 2) your Couplehood dissolves, and you feel esteemed to know you both tried everything. You can stand before the kids with this truth.
Remember, over 70% of second marriages end in divorce….because people just change partners on the same dance floor. They don’t change their own moves. If you mark January as “Stay” for couples communication training for the next six-to-nine months minimum and “Go” to an experienced Couples Coach, your eyes will open to your future potential as a whole Partner. You’ll learn how to have a whole relationship and understand why you didn’t. You’ll experience an important process of personal growth from the inside out.
Six to nine months is brief. After all, how long did it take you to develop your current patterns in relationship? How long have you been much stuck in this relationship rabbit hole, repeating error patterns? Was a Couples Operating Manual, with updated chapters, downloaded to your Kindle on your wedding day?”
Parenting is one of LeadLifeNow’s Life Elements, which is never off the table. It just changes shape as the years roll by. We parent in waking and sleeping hours; the dreams and positive schemes of countless parents have filled my ears. Just as parenting changes shape throughout the years, so do the perfectionistic characteristics of our Kids.
Perfection or Perfectionism pairs well with high-achievement expectations of the Bay Area and of busy families. It characterizes innovative personalities. In its adaptive form, the daily quest to accomplish a task or project “perfectly” shows consistent positivity, adaptability, and motivation. There’s a buzz to get answers, recognition, and reward. Perfection can come out of maladaptive difficulties in childhood to become adaptive in adulthood Notice the “wow” contributions in science, technologies, mathematics, and creative/music arts?
Studies this decade show girls score higher in perfectionism than boys. It appears in girls as body obsession long before adolescence. Whereas, perfectionism shows in boys’ as an emphasis on their abilities. This includes making a simple drawing, playing team soccer, putting a project together in the classroom, providing detailed information in a simple conversation. Young adolescents score much higher for perfectionist characteristics than older adolescents, with the exception of girls and LGBTQ boys, whose perfectionism can lead to Anorexia and Bulimia (These conditions remain separately and extensively studied) All maladaptive conditions of Perfection have depression, anxiety, or both at the core or subsequently activated because low self-esteem grows along with Kids sense of failure.
Positive parenting, schooling, socializing, community supporting, medical assessing/monitoring, and training (interactive therapies) can reframe that sense of failure to one of success.
For years, I’ve seen Perfection’s challenges. It’s entered my practice a lot, through clients of all ages. I’ve also watched in store lines, as baggers struggle to reposition the items too many times; or the sales associate, who just had to pick the tiny spot of dog hair off my jacket. Perfection can follow Kids without that “reward” for them and us. It’s a blow when that positive transition into adulthood doesn’t come. This is called maladaptive Perfection: “A personal standard, attitude, or belief that rejects anything less and at all costs.” Kids often inherit this maladaptive form through genomes; or acquire it by regular modeling from parents, primary caretakers or even teachers they’re with for hours daily. When we watch our Kids with maladaptive Perfection, we all hurt! Their emotional baggage is too heavy for them to carry. Baggage contents: Inflated desire to please, guilt and shame for failure, worry for others’ happiness, responsibility to make things okay for others, fear of rejection if they don’t “say or do it right”.
Observe your Kid-in-Perfection: Colored pencils lined up? Play kitchen pans and plates perfectly placed? No mismatched socks worn? An easy walkway through your Teens room, no scattered piles to trip over? An organized closet? These Kids feel comfortable, safe, relaxed when there is order in their lives. Give ‘em rules, an action plan, a departure time. They feel especially secure that a departure time exists, even if they’re late. They may feel responsible to get the family moving. What looks like being a nurturing, helpful Kid is actually a Kid with high anxiety and stress about being late. Hence comes their huge upset on late arrival at school. They may even refuse to leave the car.
Is this your Kid?
Here are more characteristics, to help you lock together more pieces of understanding. Pair them with your observations of mood highs (anxiety), lows (depression), and/or agitation:
- Physically/mentally active
- Highly observant of others/self; can add high body focus
- All senses turned on, enabling them to take in details and facts
- Outstanding memory for details and facts.
- Accurate drawing values accuracy realism
- Overacting & irritability about physical/emotional disorder in living spaces
- Collects, sorts, and make order of things.
Do you have a straight-line, finite view of flat-out ending your Kid’s Perfection? That all-or- nothing mindset will trip you. It’ll activate and reactivate frustration, anger, and helplessness as you parent your Kid-in-Perfection. Consider redefining to a circular model of whole parenting, which is what the LeadLifeNow circular model supports. The flexibility of its circular model makes room for revising plans and strategies, as needed, without the stress of a finish line in view. LeadLifeNow circular model leaves room for change, which is what individualized parenting requires; and what real life with real Kids require. After all, no two Kids are exactly alike.
So, no two Kids-In-Perfection are alike. With this circularity in mind, let’s look at some parenting tools for our Kids-In-Perfection. Called Pairfection, it’s both an analogy and strategy for “pairing” tools with perfection’s challenges and strengths. “Pair” connotes togetherness— Kids-In-Perfection often feel alone. Pairfection tools are “paired” with the individual components that make up the whole of the perfection situation. Parents of Kids-In-Perfection learn that by putting the goals of straight-line accomplishment on a circular model, their own fix- it-right-now desperation and related guilt diminishes. They reward the smaller pieces of the process, which lowers their overall stress: “We finally see we’re getting somewhere!” Yes, success is in the process; as the destination keeps changing.
So, get ready for more new learning, as you parent your Kid-in-Perfection. Prepare to meet their repetitive perfection situations with repetitive responses, not reactions. “Pair” the tools with big or small traumas. Remind yourself that perfection often changes shape with positive parenting, training (interactive therapies), and supportive schools and health providers. These Pairfection tools have been helpful for many Parents so far. Maybe some of these pairings will help you, too.
Everyday life tips for our lovable Kids In Perfection:
- Give step-by-step directions. They prefer to listen and observe. They’ll only perform the task when they feel they can do it well; so they may delay the start. They prefer privacy to learn, so others can’t see their mistakes. Rushing causes anxiety.
- Praise them for what they value, not for what you value. Notice the details of their work. Speak in specifics rather than generalities. Include where they have put extra effort.
- Use age-appropriate markers of accomplishment; star charts, job lists.
- Emphasize boundary-setting and family rules consistently. It reinforces their sense of security. Misbehavior is a way to test if these boundaries and rules exist.
Pairfection Parenting is handy for the range of perfection situations. Your parenting proficiency builds the more you use it, like an athlete in training. There’s a daily learning proficiency that builds over time. Note the parallels to general Whole Parenting. The more you use it, the more you’ll remember how to use it in the more emotionally- and energy-challenged times. Again, like the athlete-in-training. Think “circular”; keep the process moving.
Check out these steps of Pairfection Parenting, for a challenging situation. Numbers 2) through 4) can be in any order:
- Calm and comfort your Kid’s emotional/physical perfection reactions. Use a soothing tone, a comforting touch. Silence is also golden; use it. When Kids brains are stimulated, they often can’t process conversation until calm; kinda like us. In time, add “How are you feeling” “What’s in your heart right now?” You’ll have information on what’s going on inside.
- Pursue the outside (date) ; pair with the inside (feelings). Ask what happened. This is called the Doing Story. Reflect back parts of the story, so your Kid knows you got it. Pair the Doing Story with the identified emotions. This means a lot to Kids. You got the story and you got them.
- Pair these emotions with their thoughts; “What’s the talk inside your head?” “What are you saying to yourself that I can’t hear?” “Whose voice is it?” Kids with perfection have a hard time moving on from one event to another. Some of this is due to the buzz of these thoughts or conversations.
- Pair their perfectionism as a coping mechanism for underlying causes mentioned earlier: depression, anxiety, stress, low self-esteem. They more initial discomfortable in a new environment or with transitions. Ease them slowly, so their discomfort can reach manageability, and onto some comfort. If there’s high anxiety, tears and panic that can’t be soothed right then, change environment. Find a nearby quiet corner or seat. Use tactile and verbal soothing, even silence, to stop the emotional (physiological) flooding. It’ll take several minutes for the fire to subside.
Right now, do you hear my applause? This is a lot of information to absorb, I know. You’ve hung in. Now, take a deep breath just because. Remind yourselves of adaptive Perfection’s benefits. We’re all cheering for the day of maladaptive-to-adaptive Perfection realized. It’s when you see those juicy lemons of childhood Perfection pairing with positive experiences. Kids-In-Perfection:
- keep a special notebook in class for things they don’t understand, rather than getting more and more behind by worrying.
- get into college and onto a nice GPA.
- memorize every syllable of their theater role script.
- project-manage a job to success.
- recall a past family time with such detail to re-enliven the happiness.
Through it all, you love, cared and paired.
by Paula-Jo Husack MA LMFT CGP
The College Planning Process Demystified
Saturday March 19, 11am-1pm
Join Paula-Jo and other panelists as they discuss the college planning process, timelines, tools to cope with stress & tests, the importance of extracurricular activities, leadership involvement, signature projects, community service, the right classes for certain majors and more! The panel discussion will be followed by a tour of the Fusion San Mateo campus and a mini exhibition featuring the speakers and other educational guests. Space is limited, RSVP highly recommended!
or call 650-312-8305
Fusion is much more than an accredited private middle and high school for grades 6-12 – it’s a revolutionary community of learning where positive relationships and one-to-one classrooms unlock the academic potential in every student and create opportunities for emotional and social growth.
In a Fusion one-to-one classroom, the educational experience is completely customized to ignite a student’s passion for learning. Classes are self-paced, and course material is presented in ways that suit students’ individual interests, strengths and challenges.
It’s our mission to prepare students to meet the world head on and flourish on their own terms – which is why accreditation is so important. We support our students in their pursuit of any post-graduation goal.
Accreditation allows students to earn transferable class credits and opens doors to scholarships, loans and military opportunities – while ensuring that every student receives the highest quality education.