Our sex lives are too easy to leave behind. It’s so easy to make excuses & dismiss opportunity with “I’m too tired.” Going without sex for long periods of time creates feelings of hurt & rejection that pile up to destroy connectedness. If a couple is unable to talk about sex then negative assumptions are silently stashed.

sex, sex education, couple, sexuality, intimacy, relationships, marriage, love

Breaking Down Barriers: Overcoming Challenges in Sexual Intimacy

Our sex lives are too easy to leave behind. It’s so easy to make excuses & dismiss opportunity with “I’m too tired.” Going without sex for long periods of time creates feelings of hurt & rejection that pile up to destroy connectedness. If a couple is unable to talk about sex then negative assumptions are silently stashed.

It is having sexual pleasure with each other that separates a couple from their children. It’s an important part of being a couple unless there has been verbal agreement between both partners to put sex on the back burner.

Too often families have fun & pleasure together only as a family. Every couple needs to find pleasure together as just the two of you. Being a couple matters separate from being a family. Apparently many Boomers did not figure that out which may be why they are the generation with the highest divorce rate.

Research was reported in March 2019 that ‘Sexual Activity is Associated with Greater Enjoyment of Life in Older Adults’ in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. In the 2020 Volume 49 of the Archives of Sexual Behavior a 2019 study of people over 50 that a lack of sexual activity and function among older adults is linked to poorer health outcomes, including cancer & coronary heart disease.

In 2015 there was a study out of Indiana University at their Center for Sexual Health Promotion: Results revealed that intercourse alone was not enough for women to reach an orgasm.

Their research revealed that around 18 percent of can reach their orgasm during vaginal intercourse alone. Over one third of women – 36 percent – reported that they preferred clitoral stimulation to reach their peak. Another 36 percent women said the clitoral stimulation served to enhance their experience of vaginal intercourse. Despite this many women fake an orgasm during penetrative intercourse.

The Center also reported that better orgasms are reported in cases when more time is spent on foreplay or arousal. “Emotional intimacy” and “clitoral stimulation” seem to be the key words she said. Orgasm is clearly dependent on how stressed women are….and 41 percent of the surveyed women preferred one type of touch to reach their orgasms. Clearly this shows how important it is for partners to know what their women want and to communicate.

Since 1980 when I was hired as Director of Incest Services for Pittsburgh Action Against Rape I’ve been talking to people of all ages about sex. While watching the 3 episodes of the Netflix series Principles of Pleasure I was delighted to lear even more! Certainly sex can be a very complicated business to understand & improve. So I’ve asked Katie Wiskind LMFT will join us today to help us improve our sexual intimacy. She is the owner of Wisdom Within Counseling and Coaching in Connecticut. She is a Level 2 Gottman Marriage Therapist (You’ve heard me mention John Gottman’s research many times on this podcast) She is a Certified Sex Therapy Informed Professional (CSTIP)
& a fellow podcaster on All Things Love & Intimacy.

Katie Ziskind (05:25.555)
Rhoda, thank you so much for the wonderful introduction. I loved all of those pieces that you shared because you’re right, you know, many women need both emotional intimacy and clitoral stimulation for play to really feel safe opening up and that those things when they’re not there do contribute to a cycle of sexual avoidance and rejection. You know, I think it’s really important to understand why someone, why especially a female,

may be avoiding sex. It’s often because our society, this may not be true for everyone, but our society does put a lot of pressure on women in particular and vulva owners to give, give, give. So there are cultural and societal stereotypes for women to be a mom, to have a good job, to have it all together, to be a caretaker from a young age and give to her partner. And

a lot of times that comes at the challenge of forfeiting her own pleasure. So she may give, but sex might be painful. And because it’s painful, now she avoids it. Or because sex feels like a to -do list item. It’s dull and boring. And it’s not really about anything she enjoys. And also times, you know, women may have a lot on their minds. You know, there are all these hats that we wear. There’s being a parent, being a caregiver,

caring for in -laws, paying a mortgage, figuring out what to pack for lunch, when to do the grocery shopping and the laundry, and shifting out of that caregiving mode and parent mode into a sexual, erotic, and pleasure -oriented mindset can actually be kind of challenging sometimes. As well, when it comes to sexual avoidance and sexual rejection, we may have even past experiences that…

made sex be not pleasurable and not something we want to have again. So whether it was with a past partner that was really critical, a female may have been criticized for her body image, may have been told she’s too big, too small, that her vulva smelled bad, that the look of her breast were not right, that her breath smelled bad, that something about her physical smell or appearance or how she was, the sounds she makes when she orgasms,
that was criticized and so as a result she now has a self -consciousness and sexual insecurity that is playing a role even with a new safe partner. And so understanding how that criticism from like a really cruel partner, you know, who’s almost insecure in themselves, that’s why people do that, can now develop a sense of inner criticism and self -consciousness. Sometimes too we avoid sex.

generally because it’s loaded with anxiety. We may not know what to do. For penis owners or males, there may be this sexual performance anxiety cycle around erectile dysfunction where an erection has been lost and a partner criticized them and now they’re afraid to lose the erection again. So now it’s just a cycle of avoidance and wanting to connect in other ways, which is still wonderful and beautiful. But…

You know, sometimes we have such an emotionally charged experience around sex that we avoid it because it’s so anxiety provoking. And so couples get in the cycle of sexual avoidance and sexual rejection for many reasons. And it can lead to loneliness. It can make someone feel unwanted. Can wonder if their partner’s cheating or, you know.

Also, sometimes too, in some cases we have pornography addiction issues that lead to a cycle of sexual avoidance. Self -isolation, withdraw, if someone’s watching pornography, which is, you know, it’s not educational, it is an erotic stimulus, but it can lead to self -isolating behaviors around sexual expression because you don’t have to communicate with another person when you’re watching porn.

It’s just you don’t have to read their eye language. You don’t have to read their body language. You don’t have to give to anyone but yourself. And so it’s a quick dopamine hit for a lot of people. And so that pornography addiction can lead to erectile dysfunction and orgasming challenges because that becomes like a condition stimulus for arousal. Even things like religious trauma being raised in a strict conservative religious upbringing can play a role in like shame and guilt.

Katie Ziskind (10:05.046)
that can be emotions underneath sexual avoidance. So, you know, let’s say someone grows up being told not to have premarital sex or not to even, you know, enjoy sex. It’s really just for procreation or having children. There may be shame and guilt that come up as like blockages, even with a safe, amazing partner that can really inhibit desire and inhibit…

being open to pleasure giving and receiving. So there are a lot of components and pieces to this pie. We even have things like another piece related to sexual avoidance and rejection that I see is unhealed trauma within the relationship. So a lot of times, you know, there’s a wound, a relational injury.

Um, you know, whether it was a large betrayal. So sometimes infidelity can be a betrayal, emotional or physical cheating. Um, but yes, yes, yes. Miscarriages and fertility struggles, um, a diagnosis of cancer and new diagnosis. Um, yes. When a part, yes, the list is long for sure, but yes, when there’s a, you know, you wanted your partner to be there and they weren’t.

Rhoda Sommer (11:03.476)
You weren’t there for me during my miscarriage.
The list is long.

Katie Ziskind (11:24.406)
and you felt ignored, it doesn’t make you wanna be physically vulnerable with them in a sexual way. Yeah.

Rhoda Sommer (11:31.605)
That’s right. That’s right. Yeah, I really think that there’s a million reasons and it’s just so easy. And the thing about porn, it’s so much less messy than dealing with another human being. You know? Yeah.

Katie Ziskind (11:45.207)
It’s true! Yeah, and it’s I think a thing too about porn is that it’s you know a lot of times when people don’t have a lot of sex positive education growing up they turn to porn to learn about sex because it’s like taboo or dirty we can’t ask our parents because they might punish us for wanting to know about it so then then people learn and get education which is really misinformation from porn.

and develop unrealistic expectations for their own bodies or unrealistic expectations for their partner. Like, vulva owners or females do need biologically 45 to 90 minutes of foreplay to reach peak sexual arousal or be ready for an orgasm. You know, the clitoral area engorges with blood, that takes about 45 to 90 minutes. A penis owner or a male only needs four to eight minutes on average.

to reach that same level of peak sexual arousal or be ready for an orgasm. So a penis increases in circulation, an erection occurs. And so, you know, a big piece, you don’t see 45 to 90 minutes of foreplay, emotional foreplay or sexual foreplay for females and porn. So, you know, yeah, yeah, exactly. I know, right? So, you know, we can’t apply what we see in porn to real life sex.

Rhoda Sommer (12:59.479)
television in general.
That’s right. And when I think about addiction in general, one of the things I say to my folks in recovery, to me part of the core of it is taking the easy way out. And if you think about porn, there’s a way that it’s taking the easy way out. It’s not dealing with another human being and the mystery of another human being and all that awkwardness. And if you haven’t had sex for a while that returning to it, how do we go about doing that? And so to me, there’s just so many things that can get in the way and taking the easy way out with porn. Oh, what the hell, let’s do that, you know?

Katie Ziskind (13:53.432)
Yeah, I love what you’re saying. It is the easy way out. It’s, you know, and it’s also a turning away. Like, I love the concept of turning towards turning away, but I do think porn, unless you’re consensually watching it together and it is more female pleasure oriented, then, you know, it is a turning away. The porn is an isolation method and, you know, it can be a betrayal. You know, if you’re keeping that a secret, secrets can be dysfunctional.

Rhoda Sommer (14:00.15)

Katie Ziskind (14:22.872)
and lead to a sense of dishonesty in the relationship.

Rhoda Sommer (14:28.888)
And just for the audience, some of you have heard me talk about the John Gottman principle that the way you predict divorce is the more people turn away from each other. And that’s what Katie’s referring to as a terrific certified Gottman therapist. I love reminding people about that because it’s just so important. It really is. I love how you just said that and that’s great.

Rhoda Sommer (14:55.864)
How might my audience go about addressing and breaking this cycle?

Katie Ziskind (15:02.425)
So I think the first step, and this is, you know, for most, most couples, we do need to address the emotional side first. So we need to start having a developing an understanding for what emotional security means for each people. And so we all need reassurance. We all need to feel like we matter to our partners, like what’s important, our feelings, our emotions, our needs matter. And so starting to have these really vulnerable conversations,

is really essential. We often don’t learn how to do this from, you know, our parents. Sometimes parents and caregivers belittle us or criticize us or tell us it’s not okay to be vulnerable. So, you know, this might be the first time in your life that you and your partner share emotions and express emotions in a deep way or you let yourself cry to your partner or you and your partner cry together. There is a vulnerability that supports intimacy and intimacy

It’s a fun little saying it’s into me you see, into me you see. It’s like you’re letting your partner in, you’re taking those walls down. You’re saying, Hey, I’m going to share one of my deepest fears with you and I’m going to share one of my biggest worries and I’m going to be vulnerable. And that allows your partner to have an opportunity to love you better, to care about you, to comfort you. Could be as simple as saying, you know, sometimes,

I feel so alone and so I pull away, but in those moments, I deeply want to come to you for a hug. Would it be okay if I came to you for a hug? And sometimes I just need a hug and that comforts me, a nice long hug. And saying that might be news to your partner. They might not know you need that. Sometimes too, under a cycle of withdrawal and avoidance, one partner pulls away. Sometimes we see it as stonewalling or…

one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, but the silent treatment is a trauma response. So that fight flight free system kicks in. You start to go into self protective mode. So sharing with your partner at a time when you’re calm, like what you’ve gained in terms of insight about yourself, like, you know, sometimes I withdraw and I don’t talk because I’m actually so afraid that I’m going to say the wrong thing. And I’m afraid to disappoint you more because I,

the best moments of my life are when I look at you and I was the one to put that smile on your face. And so I want to share that I feel really insecure and that’s why I freeze up and don’t talk. It’s not because what you’re saying is unimportant to me. So that is being vulnerable versus just walking out of the room or shutting down emotions entirely.

Rhoda Sommer (17:43.128)
Yes, and being a little more specific, not just I’m scared, but the way you described it, saying something important about what you want and letting the other person really see who you are. That’s really great.

Katie Ziskind (17:56.378)
Yeah, and it’s sharing too, even, you know, sometimes it’s sharing like, I know this hurts you so much, I’m truly working on it, and this is a mechanism I’ve had to do since growing up with an alcoholic parent, or sharing a bit of what you went through in your life prior to the marriage can be helpful too. Not as an excuse, but just as like insight. Yeah!

Rhoda Sommer (18:19.576)
Context I call it context. There’s a there’s a bigger picture here and let me just let give you a little window But it isn’t an excuse. It’s part of that complicated picture that we’re trying to describe and let somebody know who we really are. Yeah

Katie Ziskind (18:35.419)
It is, yeah. And it’s a beautiful thing because a lot of times too, like we may also grow up with parents that never showed affection in front of us. So showing affection and like forms of non -sexual touch, you know, hugging, holding hands, gentle grazing of, you know, fingertips on a hand or hugging your partner behind the back while they’re washing dishes. Like we often don’t see those things growing up. We see parents maybe who are really stoic and

non -emotional and so this might be the first time you get to diversify and a little broaden the affection in your marriage so it’s okay to just go for it.

Rhoda Sommer (19:14.651)
Absolutely. And also, a lot of times women complain, it’s more a female complaint to my mind, that men go so quickly from physical affection to I want to have sex. And they get grumpy about that because they want, as you were talking about earlier, they want that little more connected foreplay.

whether it’s sharing an intimacy or it’s physical affection, but it can’t always lead to sex. There’s gotta be a little bit of a detour.

Katie Ziskind (19:49.754)
Yes. Yes, I love that you’re saying that. It’s so true. Like, you know, a part of sexual avoidance is needing to gently and slowly understand the female arousal system and the female orgasmic system. So, you know, instead of just going for a butt slap, right, there might need to be a, um, like a really long hug, kind of swaying together.

and then maybe even just cuddling and then caressing, finding out the hot spots on the person’s body, you know, their hands or inner wrists, like going through the erogenous zones, like using the full landscape of their skin, not just going straight for their genitals or their clitoral area. You know, maybe it’s caressing their feet and giving them a foot massage or a back massage, you know, for a good 30, 40 minutes.

You know, maybe they’re elements of if they, if you take a shower together, you’re washing their hair, you’re giving their scalp a massage. You know, they might like their belly rubbed and long gentle strokes on the sides of their body, you know, up their shoulders, down their hips to their knees and back. And, you know, um, a lot of women enjoy their breasts and nipples gently touched and played with or the inner thighs touched. And so really you’re using, taking full advantage of slowing the process down.

building excitement and building anticipation is what helps a female partner feel desired and feel wanted. And that is what is arousing, is to feel wanted and to have that sense of excitement slowly build over time. Like, you know, there’s this positive feedback loop that develops and it’s essential, I think relaxation is the precursor to sexual desire.

So being able to be relaxed together in that process allows the mind and body to kind of become aligned in that relaxation process.

sex, sex education, couple, sexuality, intimacy, relationships, marriage, love

Rhoda Sommer (21:47.676)
So how can we all improve our communication in the bedroom? So many couples avoid talking about sex or get into trouble when they do try to talk about it.

Katie Ziskind (21:58.749)
Yeah, I mean, I think this is a very normal thing that sex becomes emotionally charged. It is an anxious subject. You know, their needs are excuse me, not being communicated or when they are communicated, it feels like a criticism and one partner feels inadequate or less than and insecure. So I think making sexual conversations normalized. So this can come down to when we were growing up sex is like a taboo thing or, you know, we were

told that masturbation would, you know, lead to blindness or like these really big fear based things. And so we have this taboo sense also and feel like it’s dirty. And so now, you know, we’re really good at talking about what daycare the kids are going to or who’s picking up who from soccer practice or, you know, what we want to get for dinner on Thursday night is a taco night or, you know, whatever. So we’re very good at talking about those things or finances. And so making sex a kitchen table conversation just like that.

you know, talking about it can actually be a form of foreplay. You know, ask your partner intricate details about what they like. You know, what would make, when I say sex, it’s not just penis and vagina sex, it’s everything from making out to the entire experience. What would make it better for you? You know, would your partner like more oral sex or less oral sex? You know, would, what turns your partner on most in foreplay? What turns you most on in foreplay?

We want to think of foreplay as the core of the experience where the most time is spent. A lot of times, especially from pornography, we see penetrative sex really being hyper -focused on. And, you know, especially for a male or a penis owner, they don’t need to have a hard penis to be able to give pleasure or to satisfy their partner. So taking pressure off that, but…

What does it look like for you to give? What does it look like for you to receive? You know, have you ever felt like you had to hold back? You know, is there something where you’d like to, you know, be more of yourself and be more authentic? You know, am there something that you love that I do that you want me to do for longer or more of? And is there a sex toy that you want to bring into the bedroom that we haven’t used yet? You know, or even.

You know, what’s a fantasy on your bucket list? Would it be texting? Would it be, you know, going to a new environment, going from the bedroom to the backyard? Like what would suspense or mystery or novelty look like for you in our sex life? So, you know, there are a lot of beautiful conversations that we can start to talk about. We can even talk about like, was there ever a time in your life where you received unwanted touch and how does that still affect you? Is there anything I can do to help you have a more safe,

and respected sexual experience. Even if that person’s not the person who have hurt them, what would building more reassurance and comfort and safety into our sex life look like? Just being a trauma -informed partner can be really helpful. You need a safe word. What helps you in that moment? So there’s so many things.

Rhoda Sommer (25:12.606)
And that and being more authentic is about letting someone know the specifics that work or don’t work or that you’re less excited by and really trying to keep, let it be ordinary. When you said kitchen table, it wasn’t literally with the kids, but.

I love this sense of ordinariness. You want it to be ordinary. And I think that that is something we don’t do, like death. I have, this is funny, I have people picking out things they want when I’m dead. And it all started because my grandson said, oh, I really like that vase. He was feeling it and it’s bumpy. And I said, good, you can have it. He goes, oh, when? And I said, when I’m dead. And.

I said it because I think there’s something about death being ordinary. There’s something about sex being ordinary. And I don’t want it to be this big trauma. It’s gonna happen. I’m 71. I’m not 31. And I really, and not that it couldn’t happen sooner, obviously, but there’s something about the ordinariness.

that I think really could help all families. When my grandfather died, nobody talked about, I didn’t know until my grandmother came for a visit. And then it was an announcement, not a discussion. So I think there’s so many things that we need to talk about, particularly with sex and death. I think they’re both important.

Katie Ziskind (26:46.08)
Yes, I agree. I love that. You know, it is so hard to to process death when we don’t get to talk about it. And, you know, even on the anniversary of someone’s passing or a pet, a pet can be a huge loss for children and adults. And yeah, yeah. So it’s like sometimes, you know, like you said before, a miscarriage or, you know, going through IVF and not having it work out. So there can be a lot of elements of, you know, death, you know, even family estrangements where like someone cuts you off.

Rhoda Sommer (26:58.015)
Yes, huge, absolutely. Yup.

Katie Ziskind (27:15.647)
without really talking about what’s going on. That can feel like a death. But yes, loss is something we need to talk more about as a culture.

Rhoda Sommer (27:22.944)
I agree, absolutely. What are ways we can restore our sensuality that may have gotten lost in the hectic life of parenting or a long -term relationship that has gotten stale?

Katie Ziskind (27:38.432)
Yeah, yeah. So these are really beautiful questions. So sometimes I like to think of it as hats that we’re wearing. So we might be wearing like a parenting hat or we might be wearing like a business hat. You know, so I work a lot with couples that feel very strong in certain areas of intimacy. So we have different areas of intimacy in our life. We have cognitive intimacy or intellectual intimacy where you and your partner might like listening to a podcast and discussing it or reading a book and discussing it or running a business together. And.

feel very strong in that way, or being parents together. You know, that can be something where you’re really successful and you have this great team energy and great unity. But then when it comes to the physical and sexual intimacy realm of your marriage, you feel insecure, you just avoid it, it’s not as strong as you’d like it to be. And all of these forms of intimacy are methods for bonding and closeness. So you can,

read a book together and feel close, or you can engage in pleasurable physical touch and feel close and bonded. And so we want to be able to move between seamlessly between each realm of intimacy so that they’re all accessible. They’re all doors that you can open in your house and go in. And so when you are struggling in the intimacy area and the physical area, that sexual piece, you know, it can, it can bring up a lot. So,

Sometimes I work with couples that haven’t had sex for 10, 20 years, but are really great in other areas. And so we start to bring in this emotional conversation. So step one is building emotional intimacy and emotional security. I mean, it’s talking about feelings. You had a great podcast on identifying emotions, starting to become more attuned and in sync on that emotional level, because that is a playground for vulnerability as well as for confidence.

that then creates a foundation or a garden for sexual intimacy. So if you think about emotional intimacy as being the soil and creating the sunlight and the water for your garden, then when you plant the seed of sharing a feeling, that can grow and that supports bonding. And then you plant the seeds of sexual touch and those can grow and eroticism can grow. So in a healthy marriage, we have elements of companionship,

Katie Ziskind (30:01.986)
And we also have other elements of eroticism. So that’s that sexual self. And sometimes it’s really hard to shift into that sexual self because, you know, people may spend eight plus hours a day parenting in that mode or also building a career or working on a big project. And so that’s a different version of yourself, a different form of your identity that you’ve been working on all day and letting out. And so you’re really good at,

being successful in making income or you’re really good at being a mom or dad or you’re very awesome in certain areas. But then there are certain areas like sexuality and sexual expression where there is so many challenges, especially around initiating. And when life is hectic, you might be dealing with a lot mentally on your mind. Like you might be, you know, worried about that to do list. And so sometimes,

building that emotional side is essential first, but then when we can connect with our own sensuality and our own erotic side, that’s step one. So self -pleasure, masturbation can be one way in moderation to start to better understand what your own body likes. So when I say self -pleasure, it could be applying lotion or oil to your skin very gently and sensitively after a shower.

massaging your hands. And instead of roughly just putting the lotion on quickly in haste, you’re feeling the webbing of your fingers. You’re feeling your palm. You’re like, oh, wow, I actually really like the back of my hand touch, or I really like my palm touch. You’re noticing what areas of your body touch feels relaxing and soothing. And that can be then communicated to your partner to say, hey, it feels so good when you gently scratch between my shoulder blades.

or I really love my low back touch, or you can learn and gain information about yourself. And so getting connected to your own skin, and this is where we sometimes have blockages, like body image issues come up where I don’t like how I look, and so we work through that because that’s a big piece to becoming a sexually embodied being, being authentic in your own sexuality, knowing like, hey, I deserve pleasure. Pleasure is an inherent right.

Katie Ziskind (32:28.451)
When we grow up sometimes with trauma, maybe it’s from a strict conservative upbringing, we are given fear. We’re afraid of our own inherent sexual urges. And so we end up really disconnected from our sexual side. We kind of push away those organic sexual desires. And so we’re starting to reconnect with that. Women especially too are given a lot of blame, like if they’re wearing a short skirt and then it’s, oh, well, you asked for it.

And so there’s so much blame in our culture around women. And so being able to embody pleasure means starting with yourself and then being able to communicate what you like to your partner. And sometimes we’ve been in such a caregiving role for so long that we’re thinking about everyone else’s needs before ourselves. And so we’ve been taught to put ourselves on the back burner, you know? And so when we think about even just doing a self massage after the shower, that…

that those thoughts come up. Oh, I should be caring for so -and -so. I should be doing something else for someone, you know, but put me last. There’s this sense of, you know, being a martyr or, you know, feeling like it’s our job or our role to give to others. And so that can come up. So knowing that it’s okay to be like a little bit selfish in this process of, you know, rekindling connection and, you know, so then the next step would be increasing cuddling, increasing.

cuddling that doesn’t necessarily have to lead to sex. There is no requirement for it to lead there. If it does, okay. But we’re not having touch that has to be something in the outcome because sometimes we get started kissing or cuddling and the mind is already on, oh, well, I’m gonna have to perform, I’m gonna have to give. So we wanna kind of take that future thinking piece out of it. To really be…

relaxed and then to foster a sexual desire means being in the present moment mentally. So practicing those mindfulness skills, breathing deeply into the touch, but cuddling more regularly, having more, you know, if two people are sitting on separate chairs watching TV, maybe that’s the status quo right now. That’s pretty normal. But then, you know, I might recommend that they cuddle on one couch together and have a form of touch while watching a movie.

Katie Ziskind (34:49.38)
as a new kind of thing. And then, you know, having rituals around non -negotiable touch. So maybe it’s every Saturday morning for an hour, we’re doing back massages for each other. Because we have to start to reprioritize touch as a form of intimacy into the calendar. And sometimes it does help to schedule sexual experiences together or start to work through like a yes, no, maybe list or talk about.

you know, how do we fit this in? You know, how, where do we make time for this in our busy, chaotic, hectic lives? How do we make this an important part of bonding? And you know, it could, yeah. Yeah, definitely is. Yeah. And it, what that does is it creates, cause a lot of people will say, Oh no, it feels so artificial, but it creates attention, right? When you are, when you think about first dating,

Rhoda Sommer (35:31.204)
scheduling is absolutely okay.

Katie Ziskind (35:47.941)
and someone says, hey, do you want to go on a date Friday night and it’s Monday? You’re thinking about that Friday night date for the week. You might shave your legs, you might shower before the date, you might make sure that you’re looking presentable, you might be mentally excited. You’re going to prepare your mind, your body, and your whole self to really enjoy that date for yourself. And so you’re going to be in the moment.

You know, there’s no worries of the past, of the future, you’re just in the moment. And so that same mental preparation is necessary. And that’s what we do where we schedule it in. And it doesn’t have to have a certain outcome. It doesn’t have to go a certain way. But what it does is it becomes a launching pad because when we start to build an association of pleasure around touch, even if it’s a back rub, pleasure around touch, then that becomes like,

more fuel for like, okay, well, our schedule cuddle day is Saturday morning, but then Sunday morning we had a little extra time. So we cuddled for 10 minutes just because we wanted to. It becomes spontaneous because it’s now a fun, enjoyable, playful association. So that’s just, I think a reason why we should schedule it. Yeah.

Rhoda Sommer (37:01.604)
Yeah, I really like that. So the partner who turns down sex more often could offer to initiate, but they often don’t. And as I was just listening to you talk, I was thinking, I think if you’re more willing to initiate, you have to take ownership of wanting pleasure.

And so there’s almost like, well, I’m a good girl or I’m a better person because I’m not wasting my time on sex. I’m going to fold the laundry. I mean, whatever little twists we got cooking. But the partner, that partner might be shy. They might be reluctant or uncomfortable because they’re not owning pleasure. So they’re not initiating. What tips do you have to offer those who find it hard to initiate?

Katie Ziskind (37:58.981)
That is a wonderful question because it does take confidence and courage and bravery and a little risk to initiate because we could be rejected. And so initiating is something we want to bring balance to as well. Sometimes there’s one person that always initiates and then is always rejected. And so they’ll stop initiating and that kind of perpetuates the sexless marriage. But.

I just want to talk for one moment, make like a little asterisk disclaimer that sometimes going back to the pornography addiction piece, if there is a pornography addiction, we want to kind of understand that because that is often a large contributor sometimes when a person is not initiating, um, because they’re withdrawing and they’re like, I have my fix over here. I don’t need it from you. So, um, and they kind of condition themselves to only become aroused from porn.

which causes them to withdraw more. So someone with a pornography addiction may not be initiating or they may be blocking like their partner’s attempts at initiation just because it can actually create anxiety, so much anxiety when you have a real life partner that then you have to interact with. And so when it comes to people that may not have a porn addiction and one partner is initiating more and

the other partner is turning down sex. If you’re the partner that’s kind of turning down sex, the first step is to lower anxiety. So talk with your partner about touch that feels manageable. So if you’re always thinking that all touch is going to lead to penetrative sex, or there’s this ticking clock the moment touch starts for you to have to be ready or have to perform,

that’s gonna take you out of that relaxation mode. And we need to be in that parasympathetic nervous system to feel sexual. And so if someone feels a little shy or uncomfortable about initiating, you know, maybe it’s just holding hands, starting by, you know, we’re walking to the car, I’m gonna reach for your hand. And also talking about how you wanna be received. Excuse me, sometimes people won’t initiate because they’ve been rejected.

Katie Ziskind (40:23.429)
And so that rejection almost creates kind of a rigid thinking pattern where why initiate? I’m always going to be rejected. So talk with your partner. I want to be able to hold your hand. That really matters to me. I want to be able to know that you’re going to wrap your fingers around mine and want to hold my hand too. Another thing too is mindset. So if someone’s feeling a little bit shy or uncomfortable initiating like you talked about being, I could rather, I could fold laundry. I could.

food prep, I could call my parents, I could call my brother, right? Being able to go into a mindset of saying, it’s really important for my marriage for me to initiate. My partner feels so loved and they matter when I initiate. I’m actually helping improve the strength and the security in my couple bubble when I’m initiating. So doing some positive self -talk of like,

I’m going to, I’m, my partner’s going to be really excited when I initiate, um, knowing that this is like kind of, if you’re shy or a little insecure, like that your partner is going to be just, their eyes will light up, that they’re going to be there to embrace you in a warm way. And they feel really cared for when you initiate. Cause what it does is it helps your partner feel wanted and helps your partner feel desired. We all want to be seen as attractive. We all want to be seen as like,

Sexy as wow, like someone’s really into me. They think I’m hot You know, whatever word you use handsome beautiful, you know, you we all want that We all want to be given that attention and that can feel so good when you give that to your partner They might be like wow, like I feel awesome about myself. It boosts our self -esteem and it also helps to boost the strength and security of your bond because

you know, oftentimes, you know, in a monogamous connection, this is the only person, you two are the only people exchanging this form of energy with each other. Like, yeah.

Rhoda Sommer (42:29.705)
And there’s something about maybe owning, I’ve been a little bit stingy and I want to be more generous. I don’t want to hide. I want to be more fair and I want to think more about being generous and generous to myself with pleasure and generous to my partner. So I’m thinking, because I always think about values that are underneath doing things and I think that can also be a part of it.
Really, you’re saying some really great stuff. So how is emotional intimacy a foundational building block for sexual desire?

Katie Ziskind (43:09.8)
Yes, that’s a wonderful question. So a lot of times we don’t get taught even what emotional intimacy is. We’re just taught, especially in gender roles, we’re taught to have a good income. That will make my partner happy. If I keep my job, it’ll make my partner happy. If we get a house, it’ll make my partner happy. And so we’re not really taught, like, we need to actually talk about our emotions and we need to understand what a bid for connection is or, you know.

Like if my partner wants to talk about something, that’s them wanting to improve the relationship. And sometimes too, we grow up with parents that show explosive anger or parents that are emotionally chaotic. And never necessarily do we learn from our caregivers how to sit down and talk about uncomfortable things and how that builds a relationship. And so, yeah, it might be a new thing. And so being able to look at your

upbringing and say, wow, I had a parent who taught me that the only thing I could express was happiness and I had to put on a happy mask. And so this might be the first time where you start to develop that emotional expression and depth. And emotional intimacy allows you and your partner to relax together. And we know on a physical level, relaxation signals safety in the brain. It’s the opposite of the fight flight freeze response. And so.

You know, there is this parasympathetic part of your nervous system. It’s the rest and digest. It’s you and your partner actually co -regulating or co -creating a calm, loving environment through talking about emotions. And it’s normal that if your partner comes to you with anxiety, you know, normally our brain and our mirror neurons would get anxious too, right? It’s a survival mechanism. We want to fix it right away.

But a part of emotional intimacy is actually holding space and validating your partner. So being able to allow your partner to be seen and valued for their emotions, all the emotions that they may have, whether it’s feeling scared or anxious, and they come to you saying that they don’t need you to fix that anxiety they’re having so that they can then be happy. That will happen as a byproduct of validation. And validation is saying,

Katie Ziskind (45:26.728)
You know, I want to understand your emotional world. I want you to feel safe enough to share your inner emotions and your inner world with me. You know, and I know maybe growing up, you had to stuff that away. And so I want us to have a safe environment where we can really explore our feelings together without taking it personally or one person getting angry, sometimes two growing up if a person, you know,

shared a feeling and their parent got mad at them, you know, or told them to stop crying, that belief of I have to stay silent is still there and I have to keep the peace and that actually breaks intimacy. It becomes a blockage to emotional intimacy. So being able to start to really say how do we process these emotions? How can I come to you without fearing your reaction? How can we know we’re going to just accept each other? And a lot of times too it’s

Being able to, when your partner does come to you and say, hey, this thing kind of, I felt this way about this thing. Maybe they’re talking about the relationship. Because sometimes it’s easier to help Vality about a work issue or something external. And then when they come to you about the relationship, now it takes a higher level of emotional intelligence. And so you can say, thank you for coming to me. Thank you for telling me. I’m so glad that you felt safe enough to tell me how you felt.

I’m really, really glad that you vocalized this to me. I’m glad you used your voice. This matters to me. I’m glad that you shared these feelings with me and I want to grow with you. I want to work on our partnership. I want you to feel reassured in that way that our marriage is important to me. And, you know, cause a lot of us have fears of abandonment or fears of rejection. You know, if we’re not perfect or we feel like we’re a burden.

or we have these deep, deep core beliefs. And so being able to truly reassure your partner and offer them comfort and emotional bonding is how you build emotional intimacy.

Rhoda Sommer (47:28.81)
And being able to be willing and articulating that you’re willing to work on the relationship, that you wanted to be better. I’m always saying that love really means that you’re willing to work at being a better person for your partner or your children, whatever the relationship is. And so I think there’s something about that work and recognizing, because you’re describing a lot of effort.

Katie Ziskind (47:44.875)

Rhoda Sommer (47:56.65)
And I think that that’s what it requires. And you have to have a willingness to do some of that. So I wanna mention shame that can be a real obstacle to sex. In my previous episode, 120 is excellent interview on the topic of shame. Could you talk about trauma, whether it’s religious or sexual abuse and its role in avoidance and shame?

Katie Ziskind (48:23.979)
Yeah, so oftentimes we many of us grew up in a conservative strict religious upbringing. So from a very young age, you know women in particular young girls are taught to be modest. There is this theme of don’t attract too much attention to yourself. Don’t wear the flashy earrings. Don’t wear the deep V cut shirt. Don’t don’t draw too much attention to yourself.

Don’t be too opinionated. Don’t be too sensitive. Don’t burden anyone with your thoughts or your feelings. It’s both sexual and emotional. Women are often taught that if sexual trauma does occur to them or they’re sexually assaulted or hurt or in some way sexually that it’s their fault. That because they were wearing the short skirt, because they were wearing the flashy earrings or because they were talking to that person, it was their fault. And so there is this lack of

consent, there is, we’re not taught about STI testing, we’re not taught about condoms, we’re not taught about any of the consensual boundaries or what no means no. A lot of times we’re just taught in a strict conservative religious upbringing that sex is only to happen once you’re married and it’s for your often male partner’s pleasure and don’t speak up if it’s painful and…

don’t have it before marriage, and if you do, that you’re a disgrace to the family, and you’re gonna be disowned, and there’s this fear of ostracization, and a lot of prejudice, and being exiled from this religious community. There’s oftentimes shame, guilt, and fear about anything being different. So if someone’s bisexual, pansexual, likes cross dressing, is transgender, is gender fluid, or gender nonconforming, or…

Expressive in their sexual orientation in some way that that is all evil and we see these, you know conversion camps and we see normalized trauma where Like in these communities, you know, there’s blame on women there is Fear around being different, you know fam parents are encouraged to cut their gay children off because you know, their child’s gay and you know, if their child won’t change then

Katie Ziskind (50:37.515)
You know, the head of the church is saying, well, don’t have a relationship with them or shun them or it’s horrible. It’s very traumatic. And so we do as a culture need to bring awareness to religious trauma. And, you know, a lot of times too, it can be a very intense thing to talk about. So be gentle and compassionate with yourself as you’re learning about this and exploring this for yourself, because when we do go into trauma, sometimes it can bring up all of those fear responses and.

and can bring up anger or can bring up that hurt and pain. So, you know, always make sure to do grounding techniques and go for a walk or take a yoga class or do something that really helps you get back in the present moment as you’re doing these self -reflection activities because you don’t want to get that anger all brought up again. And so when you’re with it, yeah.

Rhoda Sommer (51:26.57)
unless you want to go to therapy and do some individual work on your anchor and write some letters and you know, because that anchor is really important to understand and own and move on from. Any final thoughts that you want to share that we haven’t covered?

Katie Ziskind (51:35.371)
It is. Yes, it is. Yes.

Katie Ziskind (51:43.151)
So I think a couple things just, you know, know that emotional intimacy is that basis for sexual intimacy, that it’s okay to speak up and say, I would really like this area of my body touched, that pretty much everyone that I work with that is struggling with a cycle of sexual rejection, avoidance, and low libido does need to…

who has a female in the relationship does need to lengthen foreplay and really start to elongate to that 45 to 90 minute mark and really understand how that natural biological response does take time, that anticipation and excitement, that pleasure is the key of these experiences. So it’s not about getting to sex. It’s not about getting to an orgasm. It’s not about having a hard penis. It’s about bonding. It’s about

exchanging an experience of erotic pleasure, of being able to be a different person than you have to be at work. And you get to be with your kids, you get to be a whole different side of yourself that is freeing, it’s expressive, and you and your partner get to unlock that synergetic feedback loop together through touch. So focus on pleasure, focus on what’s enjoyable, focus on, you know, having fun of

What’s playful allow, you know, yourself to be curious about how your touch could, um, give your partner pleasure and communicate what feels pleasurable to you. And if something feels uncomfortable, painful, or starts burning, like tell your partner, I need to stop. That’s okay. You never have to grin and bear it or bite your tongue or feel like you’re not able to speak up. I think so often.

we need encouragement to have that authentic voice. And that actually allows your partner to be a better lover to you and understand your both emotional and sexual needs more. So, um, so just know that it’s okay to take the focus off of penetrative sex and explore touch as this means for diversifying your marriage bond and incorporating more pleasure. There is no,

Katie Ziskind (54:05.807)
um, need to have it be the same way every time or have it end in a certain way. So we just get present, get in the here and the now, um, and start to think, talk about what sexual pleasure looks like to you both.

Rhoda Sommer (54:20.49)
And maybe think a little bit about how you do have pleasure in your life and are you a little bit stingy with yourself? That might be food for thought. So thanks Katie for joining and giving so much wonderful information. Could you share your website and podcast with my audience?

Katie Ziskind (54:40.817)
Yeah, absolutely. So I am the host of the All Things Love and Intimacy podcast. It is available on Spotify and on Apple podcasts. And I release an episode each week. And you can just search in the title area for all things love and intimacy. I’m a relationship coach, certified sex therapy informed professional.

Gottman level two marriage therapist, and I specialize with couples who are stuck in a cycle of sexual disconnection and sexual withdrawal. So oftentimes there are strengths in terms of parenting or strengths in other areas of your marriage, but you really need help bringing attention to the rekindling sexual desire, understanding foreplay, talking about sexual intimacy, gaining sex positive education, and supporting both of you and.

you know, this beautiful experience of togetherness. So I do specialize with couples in that way and you can work with me and learn more about working with me at my website, which is wisdomwithinct .com. That’s wisdomwithinct .com.

Rhoda Sommer (55:54.449)
Okay, I don’t make a dime doing this podcast because I believe in contributing to make the world a better place I invite you to think of leaving reviews and spreading the word as the way I get encouraged to continue my volunteer effort I appreciate all of you for keeping me in the top 1 % globally

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