Episode 25 –
The 5 pitfalls keeping you from better sex
with Jessa Zimmerman
“And if it’s worry that’s consuming you, it helps to talk about it. So instead of going around and around in a circle about is my partner happy or something, ask them. Have a conversation and start to actually address any of the things that are wrong and then you don’t have to worry so much about them.”
It’s something we think about but don’t talk about — Sex!
In this episode, Sharon interviews sex therapist, Jessa Zimmerman, on the five pitfalls keeping you from better sex. Those pitfalls are:
1. Desire issues
4. Distraction, and
Tune in to hear Jessa break each one down! Listen below or anywhere you listen to podcasts!
And thank you for listening! If you’re enjoying the show, consider writing a review here!
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Click Here to Ready the Full Transcript
Welcome to the Raiseology podcast with your host, pediatrician and parenting mentor, Sharon Somekh, here to empower parents to raise resilient and independent children. Grab your coffee or your Margarita and let’s get started. This podcast is for informational purposes only and should be used to supplement rather than substitute the care provided by your physician.
Sharon: I want to wish you all a happy new year and thank you all for being with me here on this journey. I hope you’re enjoying the podcast as much as I’m enjoying creating it for you guys. Don’t forget to leave a review in itunes and follow us on instagram @Raiseology. I wanted to just give you guys a fair warning that today’s episode of the podcast discusses intimate relationship between parents and therefore, if you normally listen to this podcast with your children, this may be an episode that you choose to listen to on your own or with your partner. I’m going to be interviewing Jessica Zimmerman and her new book is out and available on Amazon. I will link to it in the show notes.
Sharon: Welcome to the podcast today. I have with me Jessa Zimmerman. Jessa is a licensed sex therapist and a couples counselor. She specializes in helping couples who have a good relationship but who are avoiding sex because it’s become stressful, negative, disappointing, or pressured. She educates, coaches and supports people as they go through her nine phase experiential process that allows them real world practice and changing their relationship and their sex life. Jessa does this work through in-person therapy in her office in Seattle, online therapy for Washington residents, her Better Sex Podcast and her book, Sex Without Stress. Hi Jess, it’s so great to have you here today.
Jessa: Thanks for having me.
Sharon: So I guess today we’re going to be talking about a topic that I think is on a lot of people’s minds but not on a lot of people’s tongues.
Jessa: Yes, that’s a good way of putting it. Haha.
Sharon: I think that, you know, it’s interesting. I was thinking about this today and as a teenager I feel you talk about sex a lot with your friends and you, you’re very open about what’s going on in your relationships. At least I know that it was something that we talked about a lot when we were teenagers, but as adults I think a lot of that becomes private and more intimate between you and your partner and it’s something that really almost gets put on the back burner in terms of conversation and so, I’m glad to have you here because I think that it is something that we need to hear about because it is a cornerstone for a lot of relationships and I think a lot of relationship hiccups and problems. So.
Jessa: Yeah, I agree. I said a lot of people struggle with this, at least at some point in the relationship, so it’s an important conversation.
Sharon: What is it that you would say are the biggest challenges that are presented to you in your practice?
Jessa: Well, yeah, so my, my practice first of all is mostly working with couples, some sex therapists work with individuals and I don’t really do that. So over the years and hundreds of couples that I’ve helped, there are themes to what comes through the door. It’s incredibly diverse in some ways yet there are common problem areas that people have. Some of my ideas came together because I was putting together a little free online quiz and it’s called how healthy is your sex life? When I started asking all these questions, they sort of fell into these categories. So that’s what crystallized this for me. And I would say that all five of these are more challenging if you’re a parent, like they all get exacerbated when we had children and we’re busy and stressed and stretched thin. Right? So the, the five pitfalls are, um, desire issues, neglect, avoidance, distraction and negativity, like relationship problems. So I don’t know if you’re, if you notice, I’m not saying things like, oh, menopause or children or health issues or sexual dysfunction, like those are all things that happen, right? Lack of sleep. Those are realities that we’re all going to encounter at some point, but the pitfalls are more like our, I don’t know, our approaches to those things or a mindset, if that makes sense.
Sharon: No, it makes total sense. I mean, I think that what you’re saying, the physical symptoms that we’re all dealing with, his parents for sure are similar. We all have busy lives, whether you’re a working parent or a stay at home parent, you are busy all day long and then, you know, sometimes we have along with that, you know, lack of sleep or poor diet or all those other things and they can affect, I think every aspect of your life. And so your relationship certainly is not immune to that.
Jessa: Absolutely. And something like a sexual dysfunction or pain or something like that is an obstacle that you face in your sex life with a partner. But that doesn’t mean you have to avoid sex. Like avoidance is a pitfall because that’s a coping mechanism or a strategy that doesn’t really work, right? It doesn’t make things better. Um, so you can still, you can recover from a sexual dysfunction or adapt to one and still have a really healthy sex life. So the sexual dysfunction is not the problem. Right. But the avoidance is a problem. So yeah.
Sharon: So I guess I would be interested to hear how you would describe each of those in a little bit more detail and from the perspective of busy parents.
Jessa: Yeah. Yeah. Okay. So let, let me start with neglect, which is sort of by definition, it’s benign, right? We don’t neglect on purpose. We neglect because we’re not paying attention and this, this is something that can happen in any stage of our life or any stage of our relationship, but it’s especially difficult or, or, um, common I guess once we have kids. You know, because we’re busy, life is full. We have these little beings that need our care and attention and seem to be at the top of the pole, but it’s, it’s actually really important that we take care of our relationship and that we find a way to really prioritize it, you know? And that’s, that’s anything from finding. I mean, usually what I recommend to clients is find at least five minutes a day where you have a little bit of a ritual connection time, sit together over a cup of coffee or walk the dog together in the evening. Um, you know, some little thing where you’re not talking about carpooling and logistics, but where you can connect with each other, you know, and then prioritize, figure out some, some time you can be physically intimate together even if you’re just going to kiss her massage or you know, touch a little bit. It doesn’t always have to be sex, you know,
Sharon: I deal with this, a lot of parents actually they overestimate how much time it takes to do certain things and you know, the same way that I love this suggestion of taking five minutes a day with your partner because it really, it seems very manageable and it, it speaks to me because I give that advice to parents all the time about spending even 10 minutes a day with their children one on one and similar in terms of you know, the technique and why it’s effective.
Jessa: Yeah, absolutely. And it doesn’t take a ton of time and especially if you have young children, you know, life is really busy. So five minutes maybe is all you have. So you kind of have to wring every drop out of that, you know.
Sharon: Haha sad but true.
Jessa: And, and I guess I would also say scheduling is not a dirty word. I mean people in my practice will ask me, you know, is it okay to schedule sex? It seems, it seems so bad to do that. Like it’s not spontaneous, you know, if your parents spontaneity is probably out the window. I mean if you get spontaneous times, great, have those too, but schedule some time for the two of you to be alone together and have some sort of intimacy and, and I usually suggest scheduled the opportunity for sex. Don’t commit to having sex. That may not be what you want when you get there, but at least you can be somewhat physically intimate and see what happens.
Sharon: Right. Yeah. That’s interesting advice because I did actually recently read an article about this in, it was actually on a parenting website and it talked about that for parents and I, you know, to be honest, it was not something that would have ever occurred to me, but it does make a lot of sense.
Jessa: You mean to schedule physical time together?
Sharon: Yeah, yeah. We have a lot of date nights and you know, I think that for me, part of my self care is spending quality time with my husband. So, you know, we spend a lot of time together, but I think that for a lot of people, like you said, the idea of scheduling sex sounds a little bit forced. Right?
Jessa: And so that’s why you, I really want to stress, you scheduled the opportunity for sex. You schedule time to be physically intimate and alone together with privacy, but you don’t necessarily commit to what’s going to happen until you get there and you see how you each feel. So then the, then the pressure is off, you know.
Sharon: And do you feel that then will, is the pressure off then if one of the partners you know is ready to go and the other isn’t does that leads to sort of friction?
Jessa: Well this is leading into one of the other pitfalls which is desire issues. Um, so let me segue into that. Right? So first of all, in any relationship, there’s one person that wants more sex than the other person, at least over time. So that’s called desire discrepancy. And that’s not a problem by itself, but it often becomes one, right? The person that wants sex more, it feels rejected or takes it personally, you know, maybe they start to back off and withdraw. The person that wants sex less often feels broken. They certainly feel pressure, like you were talking about. It’s so they can really sort of get caught in the traps of that. It’s important to understand that any two people are going to want sex at different amount of time. So it’s how you handle that discrepancy that matters. So one of the, one of the concepts that I think really is helpful to people is to understand that there are two ways to have sexual desire. So one of them I call proactive, which means you get spontaneously interested in sex. You think about it, you might get Horny, you fantasize, right? You’d like to make it happen. Um, but the other way to experience desire is reactive, which means maybe you never get horny or you don’t think about sex, you know, it doesn’t cross your mind, you’re busy. It’s like the last thing you’d like to do.
But if you get going, if you start, you know, when you kiss and you touch a little bit and you take the time that you need and you start to respond and your body starts to get turned on and it’s like, oh now, I would like sex, you know, we’re 10, 15 minutes before. It’s like, no way. So that requires that opportunity, you know, it requires both people to understand that there’s nothing broken with this. This is a perfectly valid way of having desire. And then it requires a willingness to go into these encounters and start, right? And then it also requires an ability to handle it if the engine doesn’t turn over. So like I was saying before, if you create this opportunity and what you’re saying, what if one person gets all revved up and ready to go and the other one isn’t right? There have to be a variety of ways to handle that because it can’t just be. It can’t always be what we just stopped. We got to go take a cold shower, you know, certainly can’t always be, well I have sex, I don’t want to have just because you’re turned on, so there needs to be a variety of ways to solve it so that person could masturbate while their partners there, lying with them, like really present.
The partner that isn’t really aroused, could do something to bring the other one to an orgasm. They could do something together that’s more shared enjoyment like it, it doesn’t really matter as long as they have a range of that. This is sort of what I call other endings, you know, a way to, to handle it if one person’s turned on and one isn’t. Does that make sense? Because you know, I think a lot of people avoid that situation because they haven’t figured out how to gracefully, you know, comfortably do that. It’s like intercourse, you know, if we’re talking about a Hetero relationship, right? It’s either intercourse or nothing, and so a lot of people will will forgo those opportunities. They won’t take the space to see if they could get aroused because they feel like they’re committing, you know, like they gotta be all in.
Sharon: Yeah. I think that the truth is that it’s not easy for a lot of couples to have these conversations and I think that that is where many of these issues start.
Jessa: Yeah, it’s right. Unless you can talk about, well, let’s say, let’s say that the person who’s afraid they’re not going to get turned on, okay. If they can’t talk about the pressure they feel and how hesitant they are to even start to kiss because they’re afraid, that means they’re going to have to have sex and they may not want sex. Right? They need to be able to have that conversation and then the other person who’s more interested in sex has to be able to talk about, well, first of all, their disappointment that maybe it doesn’t turn into sex, but also what else might be satisfying or how else could they deal with, with that arousal and how can they still really connect with each other. You know, if all you do is end up making out for awhile, well isn’t that better than nothing, you know, like, and really enjoy each moment together. It’s not just about, you know, sex or intercourse, right? Like how do you treat the whole thing as this wonderful thing to share in any of it that you get to share is as a bonus, you know, a good thing.
Sharon: Yeah. And that’s a great way of looking at it actually.
Jessa: Yeah. And it’s hard if you know, if you get really turned on, it’s hard to think of all the rest of that is a good thing when you don’t get an orgasm, you know, if you get turned on enough, it’s natural to want to climax. But again, there’s lots of ways for that to happen. It’s not your partner’s job to make that happen for you.
Sharon: Right. What are some of the other pitfalls that you mentioned?
Jessa: Okay. So then, um, then there’s a pitfall of avoidance. So this, this one’s more on purpose, right? We, we avoid on purpose and, and most people fall into this because sex has become loaded or negative. Like this situation we’re talking about, you know, I can’t start even kissing you because I’m afraid that means we’re going to have to have sex. So now I don’t even do that. And so we’re avoiding this thing, you know, or avoiding having sex. We’re avoiding talking about it. It’s natural, you know, to start to avoid things that make us feel bad, of course, but it doesn’t make it go away, right? When, if we start to avoid something, you know, the anxiety about it actually gets worse and the pressure goes up.
So if you, you know, if any of the listeners are, you know what I’m talking about, if you’re avoiding sex with your partner, um, it’s like the elephant in the room at this point, right? You both know it, you both know you’re not having sex, you’re not talking about it. Like, oh wait, there’s this idea that we should be having sex and there’s pressure because you know, your partner wants to and you don’t. The pressure just gets worse.
And then if you do have sex, there’s like so much pressure on that one encounter, right? We don’t do this very often. So this one better go well, but with that much pressure, you know, it’s probably doesn’t go that well. So this is a sexual avoidance cycle that I wrote about my new book that’s coming out. It’s because that just makes it go worse, which makes you avoid more, which increases the pressure, right? You go round and round and round. I think avoidance, um, anybody can do this parent or not, but because I think parents may have more challenges in their sex life that are making sex difficult, they’re probably facing more avoidance than some other people, right? Like, it’s a pretty common phenomenon.
Sharon: And I can see how they have enough other things going on that it would be easy for them to make excuses.
Jessa: Oh yeah, yeah, that’s a good point because you can kind of hide behind your kids and the business, right? The kid’s needs, oh, I got to put them to bed or I, you know, um, I mean there’s just so many different ways that that comes out where you don’t really have to confront things because life can take over so easily with children. And so really you can look up, you know, in years can go by before you it really confronting this with a partner. And then that’s years of lost connection, right? And potentially years of damage in the relationship. You know, it’s not, I mean, I think everybody can recover, but boy, you can dig yourself a really deep hole if you let yourself get that disconnected from your partner over time.
Sharon: And then where does that leave your children in the end?
Jessa: Yeah. Right. And kids can, kids can map this, you know, they can, they can tell there’s no juju between their parents and um, they can certainly feel it if the room chills down and if there’s any negativity or hostility and they, they can tell, you know, if you’re just sort of like roommates or if there’s some, some warmth and than lovingness there. Right.
And I, I mean, I believe our children deserve a model of a, of a fabulous invested, committed, loving, passionate relationship. You know, as good as you can make your relationship is, is a great gift to your children.
Sharon: Yeah, I agree 100 percent.
Jessa: Yeah, I mean, I, yeah, in fact I know that’s why you invited me to be on the show. Right? What’s this have to do with parenting? Well, it has a ton to do with parenting.
Sharon: Um, I actually think it’s know not only is it great for them to see that for, for their happiness as children, but I think it really helps them to really be wanting to be a part of a relationship like that in their future.
Jessa: Well wanting to and equipped to, because we tend to repeat what’s modeled for us. Yes. So it gives them a, it basically is setting this expectation, what should they expect as an adult when they’re in a relationship and, and a lot of that information they’re getting is from what they’re seeing in the, with the parents.
Sharon: Yeah. And what will they allow to sort of happen that maybe they would prefer not to allow to happen if that’s what they witnessed in their home.
Jessa: Yeah. Yeah. It’s so easy to repeat this stuff and not really even understand why.
Sharon: Yeah. Yeah. Interesting. And I forgot how many pitfalls.
Jessa: I think we’ve got five. There’s two left, two left. So the next pitfall is what I call distraction, right? And inability to be present. And of course this is a way worse when you have kids, right? Because again, we’re busy. There’s so many obligations and so many moving parts. There’s a huge to do list. There’s never enough time, right? So it’s very difficult to slow down and settle down and really connect and be present with your partner. So some people are more prone to distraction anyway, you know, all up in their head and they have a hard time letting go of all the stuff they should be doing. Um, but it’s, it’s worse if you have kids just because life gets that much more crazy. Yeah. You know. And another, another aspect of distraction is, is sort of self consciousness and worry. Right?
So one, one side of it is I’m just really busy and I’ve got all this stuff to do so I can’t, I can’t switch gears, but another one as well, I feel bad about my body or worried about my relationship or I don’t know what I’m doing or I’m not sure my partners happy. All the kinds of thoughts that we could get caught up in that are negative, you know, either about sex or about our relationship and all of that stuff takes you out of the moment. You know, sort of away from the experience with your partner.
Sharon: So what would you say I guess are your best tips for really focusing in those moments?
Jessa: Well, it takes, it takes practice, you know, maybe a pro, you know, probably at this point your listeners have heard the word mindfulness because that’s so popular right now, but there’s truth to that. It takes practice to slow down and learn to let those thoughts go or to let them wait, right? Not attached to them. So whether you actually take up sort of a meditation practice or you just show up to your scheduled intimate time and gradually keep bringing yourself back to it. You get better at leaving stuff at the bedroom door and then picking it up again when you’re done and you know, if it’s worried that’s consuming you, it helps to talk about it. So instead of going around and around in circle about is my partner happy or something, you know, ask them, have a conversation and start to actually address any of the things that are wrong and then you don’t have to worry so much about them.
Sharon: Yeah, I mean would you find that this is one of the more common reasons that couples are not enjoying their intimate moments?
Jessa: I mean certainly it’s a common one because if you’re distracted and you’re not really present, you’re not getting the most out of the encounter with your partner or emotionally or physically. Right. So it’s hard to have a real payoff of that if you’re only half there. Yeah. Yeah. Are there other reasons you might not enjoy it because there could be things that are happening in the sex itself that you’re not liking, you haven’t spoken up about or you don’t know what you want. I mean, I think there’s a lot of reasons that could happen, but distraction is certainly one of them.
Sharon: Sure. And then the last pitfall?
Jessa: So last pitfall is negativity or even hostility and the, these are relationship issues. So this is when you know your relationship is bad enough that you are criticizing each other or shaming or blaming or withholding, you know, so this stuff tends to happen over time with, I guess I don’t, I don’t know, failure to address the things that are causing resentment and distance between you, you know, and hopefully not many of your listeners are suffering from this, you know, but some are so it’s, it’s difficult to be in relationship but if you can’t feel good about who you’re with, you know who you are. If you’re not treating each other well, it’s, you know, you’re not going to be having a good sex life. Right? This stuff’s going to come out in the bedroom.
So in this case, if anybody is suffering from this, you’ve got to at least try to talk about this with your partner and it may be a situation where finding a therapist or some sort of third party would be helpful. You know, so you can really clean this up and treat each other well so that then you can work on your sex life.
Sharon: Yeah, I can imagine that that probably happens after sort of a long period of ignoring that elephant in the room.
Jessa: Yeah, I mean certainly I can, if you ignore the elephant in the room a long time, there tend to be hard feelings, so certainly negativity can come from that. But you know, we’re talking about what are people’s family backgrounds, what are they bringing into a relationship with their, their coping mechanisms and their ability to communicate or handle differences. You know, how defensive do people get instead of willing to look at their stuff. I mean, there’s a lot of things that go into poor relationship dynamics and I think that’s why therapy can be helpful for some people because they haven’t, they haven’t learned these skills and they haven’t taken apart their own baggage, but it really has a lot to do with how we treat a partner, you know, how we show up in relationship.
And so until we’re doing that better, um, it’s pretty hard to have a satisfying sex life. And certainly on a parenting podcast, right? This is the kind of stuff that’s really damaging to children because they’re watching two people be hustled to each other and negative or defensive or cutting or blaming or criticism that stuff’s in the air, in the house and the kids are exposed to it all the time and so, you know, it’s hurtful to the children now and again, just like we were talking about with passion and interest, it sets them up for how they’re going to interact in relationship, too, you know that’s how the parents got there. That’s how the kids are going to get there a generation from now. Right.
Sharon: And so I guess, you know, how do you, how do you suggest that couples sort of prevent this from being something that one day they wake up to and realize it’s kind of gotten, it spiraled out of control.
Jessa: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think fundamentally you have to be willing to have difficult conversations and you have to get better at that because what if, if you can talk about what’s bothering you before it gets out of control before it escalates, before it gets too big. If you can be honest about what you need and how you feel, you know, and grounded and reasonable with your partner, then you really have a chance to fix some of these things. But if you can’t bring up the stuff that bothers you or if you can’t hear it from your partner, then it gets sort of sublimated, right?
It gets repressed or it gets avoided and that’s where it gets worse and worse and worse and tends to come out as real negativity years down the road. So it’s all about communication and the ability to have difficult conversations where somebody’s feelings can be hurt or, or somebody is afraid or somebody who’s anxious, you know, and still be able to have those conversations is crucial.
Sharon: Yeah, and the truth is that if you are a parent and you have children, even young children, you really need to get comfortable talking about sex because they are going to be asking you questions before you’re ready.
Jessa: Yeah, that’s true. That’s true.
Sharon: Um, and I, I can appreciate and understand that it’s harder to talk about it almost with your partner than it is with your children, which some people listening might agree or disagree, but um, but teaching yourself how to have those difficult conversations is really a great way to model that for your children too. Even though they’re not witnessing these conversations. My thought is that if you’re having difficult conversations with your, with your partner and you’re making that a priority in your life, then you’re also prepared to have difficult conversations with your children about other topics.
Jessa: Yeah. Yeah. And the difficult conversations are not just about sex right there about money and parenting and in-laws and you know, all the stuff that trip couples up. You have to be able to talk about what you really think and what you really want and what you really need and be able to hear from your partner and collaborate instead of fight and you know, your kids do see some of this. Even if you try to have it all behind closed doors, there are comments at the dinner table or in the car and you know, so we, as we get better at this kind of stuff, the kids are going to be exposed to that too. And that’s going to equip them to be able to have difficult conversations later.
Jessa: And you’re right, the, the parenting, the difficult conversations we might have. It might have to have his parents about sex, about drugs, about drinking, about responsibilities, about money, whatever it would be, you know, to model that with children too. To have them with that, it’s an important skillset. If not, most of us are not raised with that. That’s why so many of us struggle.
Sharon: Yeah, I know, uh, you know, the generation of, I guess our generation was parented a little bit differently and there weren’t open conversations for a lot of us about, you know, about any of this stuff.
Jessa: Right, right. So don’t, I do, certainly nobody should feel, you should feel ashamed if they struggle with this stuff. It’s very difficult. It’s human. Most people struggle. So what’s important is just to recognize the struggle and then get some help, you know, read some books, do some research, see a therapist, ask around, listen to podcasts, whatever it is, you know, seek out the resources you need to do better, you know, that’s, that’s the part that matters.
Sharon: Yeah, for sure. Well, I mean I think we talked about a lot of things that are helpful for people to hear because I think it’s, you know, to be honest, like I said, it’s, I think it’s something that a lot of people are thinking about but not a lot of people are talking about. And as we talked about, really throughout this whole episode, is that not talking about it seems to be the root of most of the problems. Yeah. So I am hopeful that, you know, listeners, if even if they don’t talk about it with other people that, that in, at least it gives them the motivation to speak to each other about what they’re feeling.
Jessa: Right. Right. And if I may just cite a couple of resources that I have for people. That’s, that’s okay.
Sharon: Yes, I would love that.
Jessa: Um, so like I mentioned the book that I’m writing and it’s called, Sex without Stress and that’s got really a whole process for having those conversations and then changing your mindset and then putting it into practice with an exercise to really transform some of this stuff so that can be useful and people may want to get on my mailing list on my website, JessaZimmerman.com because I send out, you know, a bunch of information, basically weekly resources and tips and ideas and support for improving your sex life. So, you know, hopefully they find that a worthwhile resource.
Sharon: Yeah. That’s great. Well, I, again, I’m so thankful to you for being here. I think that it was really great hearing all of this and um, and the goal is really to just make people think about it in a different way, so I’m hopeful that that’s what the, that’s what we’re going to leave people with. And um, and please reach out to Jessa if you want any more information.
Jessa: Great, thanks for having me.
Outro: Thanks for listening to the Raiseology podcast head over to www.Raiseology.com where you’ll find plenty of you’ve got this resources for parents and any links or tools mentioned it today. Show be sure to hit subscribe on your podcatcher so that you can listen to the next episode, the minute it’s out. Until next time, have an empowered week.
Meet Your Mentor
Sharon is a general pediatrician, loving wife and mother to 4 daughters.
After a decade of practicing general pediatrics and working with families, she realized there often wasn’t enough time while tending to children’s medical needs to help parents in the way that would be most helpful in shaping their children’s futures.
The Raiseology Program was developed to teach parents how to raise their children with the love and authority necessary to promote resilience and responsibility.
Sharon’s experience with hundreds of families as well as her own help her meet you where you are on your parenting journey to help you make it what you want it to be.
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