Love, Sex, and The Teenage Brain

Posted on September 16, 2017 in Uncategorized

Teen romance and the possibility of sex…It is one of the trickiest and difficult topics that we, as parents, talk to our kids about. Making sure your teenager has good information and a healthy attitude about opposite sex relationships is a challenging parental responsibility. We know that our teenagers are going to parties, hanging out together, sometimes drinking and some are having sex.

According to a 2005 Statistics Canada report:

o About 12% of teens have had sexual intercourse by age 15 and by the time they reach the age of 17, 28% teens have. By age 24, 80% of young adults have had sexual intercourse.
o Of the sexually active youth between age 15 and 24, over one third of them had more than one partner in a year and 30% did not use a condom the last time they had intercourse.
o Teen pregnancy has been steadily decreasing over the past 25 years. However the number of teens who have contracted sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as Chlamydia remains on the rise. This points to reduced use of condoms or the prevalence of oral sex which many teens mistakenly believe eliminates the transmission of STDs.

So, as parents, what sort of influence do we have? According to a 2005 University of Regina in Saskatchewan study, teachers emerged as the most important source for information about pregnancy and STD prevention. The study also found that peer influence was more important than parental disapproval in predicting whether a student would have intercourse. The findings suggest that, teachers and peers are more important in providing good information and instilling attitudes to our teenagers than parents. Parental disapproval has little impact. In fact parental disapproval often has the opposite effect one is trying to accomplish.

Romance and the Teenage Brain

The conflict between young love and parental disapproval is not a new one. In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette, his “star crossed lovers” showed what havoc teen romance can have on families. Today, perhaps it is understandable and acceptable for school to be a more important source of information than parents on certain information about sex. However, most of us hope our values are important to our children and help guide their sexual behaviour choices.

When your son or daughter has fallen in love the personality change may seem extreme. It like they have been invaded by an alien body snatcher. The power of teen love and sex is very strong. Many parents feel responsible for their teenager’s risky behavior and become overwhelmed with feelings of guilt. Parents and especially mothers often feel the judgment of other parents whose teen’s behaviour is less extreme This can lead to additional feelings of isolation and ineffectiveness. Some parents and especially fathers may get authoritative out of frustration and eventually give up or “wash their hands” of the problem out of feelings of ineptitude.

To be more influential it helps to equipped with the knowledge of what forces are at work when a teenager falls in love. It is important to understand how the teen brain works. Recent brain scientific research sheds much more light on how much hormonal activity is influencing our teenager’s thoughts and actions.

Brain structures and brain chemicals both affect the way an adolescent first dives into romance. In his book Why Do They Act That Way?: A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen, David Walsh describes it this way. At around age ten, the body produces androgen hormones. This is when the first crush can occur. It is at puberty when the real awakening of sexual interest and sex drive occurs. This is when “falling in love” can happen. The hypothalamus drives surges of testosterone in both boys and girls and raises the levels of dopamine – the hormone that is responsible for feelings of pleasure. Because of developmental differences, boys and girls have different attitudes toward sex and romance. The testosterone surges in boys lead them to see girls as sexual objects. Adolescent girls tend to be more drawn to boys for the relational aspects of spending time together and talking.

Although sexual interest is always part of falling in love, falling in love is not always part of sex drive. The prefrontal cortex (the place of reason and judgment in the brain) is inactive and in teenagers not yet fully developed. When falling in love, we aren’t using our rational brain and impulse control. A “pleasure” high comes from the hormonal interplay of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. It is a powerful mix of natural neurological “chemistry”. All this high level of hormonal fireworks cannot be sustained for a long time by the brain. The intense feelings of “falling in love” are even shorter for teenagers than adults. Infatuation lasts only about three months on average. Following this they will move on to another relationship for the intoxication and excitement or will stay as the relationship transitions into a calmer more comfortable stable state, which has been called “standing in love”.

During the “standing in love” phase cooling down occurs and the prefrontal cortex engages. The teen is in a better position to assess the suitability of the relationship. The adolescent may wonder, “Why am I in this relationship?” A different set of hormones are released now. For girls it is oxytocin sometimes referred to as the “cuddling” hormone, also involved at childbirth, which promotes attachment. In boys, the hormone vasopressin makes them more protective, faithful and attentive to their partner’s needs.

Romantic Pitfalls

Often parents worry about their child falling in love with a “bad apple”. Concern about a teenager’s judgment is warranted. The prefrontal cortex is not completing formed in the brain until age 21. In this stupor of love, the bad influence of the boyfriend or girlfriend leads the “good” child to do things quite out of character. For example they may engage in some risky behavior out of loyalty and love such as destroy property for the “rush” of it.

Sometimes the darker side of love of jealousy and possessiveness takes hold. It is confusing for many teenagers. After the glorious “falling in love” feelings and then attachment hormones can cloud the judgement. He can become controlling, or physically or sexually abusive. When the “why am I in this relationship? question comes to mind, her memories of the “falling in love” times and the current cuddling hormone and lack of experience make it more difficult to see the wisdom of getting out.

Tips for Talking to Teens about Sex

Countries with low rates of teen pregnancy and STDs deal with sex more openly. If trusted adults, teachers and parents don’t talk openly, the adolescents will get their information from peers or the media. It is important to distinguish sex from sexuality. Sex is about biology whereas sexuality is about biology, psychology, values and spirituality. It is important for you to see your role as supplementing the logic, wisdom and judgement that the teen’s under developed prefrontal cortex requires. Actively listening, validating feelings and show respect will help open up discussions and reduce power struggles.

David Walsh in his book Why Do They Act That Way?, suggests the following tips and do’s and don’ts.
1. Get motivated. If you do not talk to them someone else will.
2. Get educated. Being informed overcomes nervousness and builds confidence
3. Get comfortable. It is OK to admit some discomfort. It will help everyone relax.
4. Make it an ongoing conversation.
5. Don’t try to cover too much in one discussion.
6. Choose appropriate times when there is an opportunity for calm, private uninterrupted conversation
7. Discuss sexuality, not just sex. They need to know about the place of sex in a healthy relationship.
8. Discuss dating as a time to have fun and get to know each other.
9. Don’t preach or lecture.
10. Make it a dialogue
11. Share your values

Do

o Emphasize the importance of respect and honesty in all relationships
o Have regular conversations with your sons and daughters about sex and sexuality
o Communicate the values you consider important in romantic relationships
o Provide accurate information about birth control and STDs
o Get to know your adolescent’s friends so you know who they are influenced by
o Really listen to your teen: their fears, and worries and validate their feelings showing acceptance and love
o Talk to other parents, join a parents group, see a counselor for ideas and support

Don’t

o Don’t get angry or use put-downs about a boyfriend or girlfriend you have concerns about
o Don’t ridicule or make fun of crushes or romantic attachments
o Don’t assume that your son or daughter won’t engage in sexual behavior
o Don’t keep quiet and let the “instant sex” that happens on TV and in movies become the only examples your kids

have about sex and sexuality

When a Plane Ride is Necessary to See Your Honey – Long-Distance Relationships

Posted on September 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

Long distance relationships (LDR) are not for the weak at heart, not only that, they can also be expensive.  Even if two people only live 4 hours a part, it gets expensive running back and forth, even if you take turns.  Long distance relationships have a whole new dimension to them then a traditional relationship and one thing they can not survive with out is trust and communication, if either is lacking the relationship will never make it. 

There are a couple reasons people can find themselves in a long distance relationship:

  • Work takes on of the partners away.  With the war, many couples have been separated for long periods of time to where they have had to rely on their foundation they have built in their relationship to pull them through their absence.  If the foundation is shaky, the relationship can be at risk.  That is why it is so important to have a strong level of trust in your partner and excellent communication skills.  You never know what may separate you.
  • Online dating sites have created many long distance relationships.

Pre-established relationships that are disconnected through work or other reasons that finds them in a long distance relationship may be able to benefit from some of these tips.  However, this article is more directed towards the population that are in new relationships that are long distance out of choice by either chance encounters or meeting on an online dating site.  

Long distance relationships by choice are becoming a common relationship.  It is estimated that 4.4 million college age people and 3.5 million dating couples are in long distant relationships.  That is not counting married couples that are separated do to work or war.  The online dating sites continue to add to these numbers daily as people are easily connected to people who live cities, to states, to countries apart from one another.  Break up rates in long distant couples is not that much greater then amongst couples that live in close proximity with one another or even together.  Although LDRs have to work at their relationship in a different manner then traditional relationships, over all they are no less satisfied with the relationship other then the distance. 

Something you need to consider if you are thinking about entering a long distance relationship is if you are capable of handling the extra commitment and work it requires.  If you are recently in a LDR and have already have had thoughts of straying or obsessive thoughts that your partner is cheating you are not cut out for the long distance lifestyle.  Here are some tips that will help in your dating ventures as well as maintenance of a long distance relationship.

Have an end in sight. 

When people are separated by work or war, they have the advantage of knowing approximately how long the separation will be.  This gives them something tangible to look forward to and calms fears of never being together.  Therefore, give yourself the same advantage.  Before getting to deep into the relationship, make a time line of how the relationship would ideally work out.  Is the other person finishing their degree and does not choose to leave their current university?  Take into accounts what things are happening in each other’s lives and make a reasonable time line of when the separation is going to end and you will be united. 

Think about your willingness to relocate.  If you have no intentions on relocating, make sure to make that clear early on in the relationship.  You partner may feel the same way and you are then at a stalemate and need to make a decision to continue or call it quits. 

Make time to communicate

In long distance relationship, communication levels need to be increased drastically compared to traditional relationships.  You are wise to make sure you have the same cell phone carriers or a really good long distance phone plan.  Schedule your communication so each partner knows when the next time will be when he or she will hear from you.  This takes some of the worry out of the equation.  The more you talk the less the distance will appear.  Mark dates and times a month in advance with each other.  It gives you both parties a tangible thing to look forward to.  If for some reason you are not going to be able to call on a scheduled time, let the partner know in advance.  Do not just blow it off as if it does not matter.  Always think, would you want the same done to you?

Physical visits

Just like the phone communication, schedule physical visits in advance, the more the better, but no less then once every six months.  Depending on the amount of distance between the couple will play a factor in the frequency of visits.  It can get very expensive traveling all the time.  However, in addition to scheduling physical visits, schedule mini vacations like a traditional relationship would have.  This continues to help the relationship grow and stay fresh. 

Trust

Trust can be an issue in any relationship, however if you already have trust issues, long distance is not for you.  It takes a blind trust in a sense to be able to handle LDRs.  You do not have the luxury of seeing this person daily nor can you talk to them every night the entire night through.  You have to be willing to give a level of trust that is even deeper then that in a traditional relationship.  Statistics show that people e who are in LDR do not cheat any more then a traditional relationship, however, they do have a tendency to worry about it more which can bring problems of their own in the relationship.  A person can actually begin to believe their partner is cheating purely from worry alone and by no indication from the other partner that there is anything wrong. 

Intimacy

In a long distance relationship, intimacy takes on a completely new meaning.  You have to learn to focus on what you have at your disposal rather then what you don’t have.  LDRs need to communicate more and in a variety of ways to stimulate as many senses as possible.  Hand written letters, emails, phone call, video chats, tape-recorded messages, pictures, and tokens of love are all great ways to improve a distant intimacy.  People in LDR need to communicate more there day to day activities, plans, how their day went, the small details of their life as well as the bigger ones to help the couples feel a part of their everyday living and an important part of each other’s life. 

Isolation

It is easy for people in LDR to begin to isolate themselves from others and only focus strictly on work to avoid uncomfortable situations while out in public.  They appear to be physically single; however, they are not single emotionally.  Although LDR are becoming more acceptable as a alternative dating arrangement, it is not yet seen by all as a real relationship which leads the person in a LDR having to re-explain their position repeatedly.  Rather then always having to feel the need to defend their LDR and the reality of their love they simply avoid any situations that may bring up question.  However, this is very unhealthy.  People in long distance relationships still need to have a support circle with whom they can feel safe to discuss their relationship with as well as socialize with other people. 

Quality of Relationship

Most people in LDR measure the success of their relationship based off their last physical encounter rather then the relationship as a whole.  If the last visit went poorly, they may sit back with worries until the next visit.  Phone conversations in the mid term avoid discussing how or why the last visit did not go well as others so the moment is not ruined.  This is another aspect where long distance relationships can fail.  Although they may have increase communication, they need to discuss the good and the bad and work through them regardless if they are sitting next to each other.  They cannot allow things to fester up until the next visit and expect it to go well, or try to hide the negative feelings they have been dealing with since the last visit.  Although the communication needs to be at an increased level in LDR, it needs to be of increased quality as well.  

Sex

Over all, couples with mutual commitment to a LDR report having a satisfying sex relationship.  When they do get to see each other physically, the sex is always fresh, new and exciting, much like honeymooning.  The downside of this can be that the expectation level of their sex life remaining at status quo after uniting is unrealistic and seldom happens which can lead to problems and eventual break in the relationship.  Couples substitute the physical connection part of sex while away through phone sex, erotic emails, and pictures.  If you are not comfortable with “phone sex” and/or self-pleasure, you may want to reconsider a long distance relationship

Long distance relationship can work, they just take a different level of commitment, trust, and the couple must have excellent communication skills to make one work. 

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Why Many Women Don’t Think About Sex

Posted on September 13, 2017 in Uncategorized

Laverne wrote the following to me:

“I have never had thoughts that picture me making love with my husband – or anyone else for that matter. I imagine connection, fun and feelings of love but never making love. If it was left up to me sex would never be on the agenda, just because it would never occur to me to make love. I know when my husband would like to make love, and I enjoy it when I do make love, but it would never cross my mind if he didn’t initiate. I feel I am missing being aware and connected to a part of me. Surely a reasonably balanced and mostly connected human being should have some sort of sex drive. Your thoughts and insights would be really appreciated. Thank you.”

Laverne is not alone in her experience. I hear this same thing from many of my women clients.

However, many women do think about romance, which can lead to sex. Women tend to think more about the process of intimacy – of fun, connection, and sharing feelings of love – rather than about the result. In fact, for many women focusing on the result is a turnoff.

The fact that Laverne can enjoy sex when her husband initiates it indicates that there is nothing wrong with her sexuality. It’s just that it’s not separate from her feelings of love and connection. It doesn’t occur to her to make love because her sexuality mostly emerges from her emotional connection with her husband. Some women, but not all, do experience a biological push toward sex during their ovulation. But even then, for most women, it needs to be in the context of emotional intimacy.

And herein lies the major difference between men and women – testosterone. While some women have higher than normal testosterone levels, most don’t, which means that most women are not biologically driven regarding having sex. Not so for most men. Testosterone creates the biological sex drive in men, while love, intimacy and romance often lead to women feeling sexual.

It would be helpful for our relationships if we all could accept that women who don’t think about having sex are generally not imbalanced or disconnected from their bodies.

What would happen in relationships if both men and women accepted that men are often more biologically driven and women are often more emotionally driven? Perhaps this could lead to deep appreciation for each other. There is truly nothing wrong with men for generally being more biologically driven than women, and there is nothing wrong with women for generally being more emotionally driven then many men. (Of course, none of this is always true, as some women are more biologically driven than their man, and some men are more emotionally driven then their woman. And these differences can just as easily show up in same-sex relationships).

If Laverne stops judging herself for not thinking about sex, and values what she contributes to their relationship, then perhaps she can also value her husband for his biology and for being the one to initiate sex. If her husband completely embraces his biology, perhaps he can fully appreciate what Laverne brings to the relationship regarding fun, love and connection. And he might be more wiling to tap into his ability to be romantic once he accepts this as a vital part of their relationship. By valuing themselves and each other for what they each bring to their sexual relationship, their differences can be a blessing for them rather than creating conflict.

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