Trina Dolenz

Trina Dolenz

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Masturbation, fetishes and internet porn: the sexual secrets we keep from our partners

Sexual secrets can be defined as anything sexually related which is kept hidden. These are not the kind of secrets which are shared between partners within a couple relationship, but secrets which may be kept from partners and the outside world.


Masturbation is a sexual secret which isn’t really a secret at all. Whether or not they acknowledge or talk about it, partners often assume the other sometimes masturbates. However, masturbation can be denied or compulsively hidden if one or both partners feel it is some sort of betrayal. Or they may worry that there is something wrong if their partner masturbates, believing that they should only be fulfilled by sex with each other.
The difference between masturbation and partner sex, however, is like the difference between a snack and a banquet. Masturbation may be comforting or help you to relax, or it may deal with intense moments of arousal; what it doesn’t usually do is provide the sense of occasion, connection or achievement which may be associated with lovemaking.
A negative attitude towards masturbation sometimes develops when someone has been in trouble for touching themselves as a child or actively told that it is wrong or damaging. However, even when they have no memories at all associated with masturbation or self-touch, many people still feel guilty about it.
Fortunately, improved sex education should convince future generations that masturbation is a natural way to experiment and learn about your body in ways that can also be very helpful to partners. As an occasional or daily practice, it can be relaxing and can cause no harm to yourself or anyone else. Some couples masturbate together; this can be both arousing and help you show each other how you enjoy being touched.


Generally speaking, a fetish can be considered anything – usually other than the human body – which, in itself, produces sexual arousal. Commonly, this can be rubber, especially rubber clothing, items of underwear, boots or high heels. However, fetishes can attach to anything with an erotic association.
Sometimes, the individual likes to wear the item themselves or encourages their partner to wear it, which may be considered as an occasional and completely acceptable variant to lovemaking. For instance, you may like to see your partner dressed in frilly underwear or only become properly aroused if you or your partner wears a particular scent.
Rarely do fetishes involve more than a strong desire to include some item or idea in fantasy, lovemaking or masturbation. On their own, individuals with a fetish may want to hold the object(s), rub themselves against it, kiss it, touch it, insert it, wear it, be near it. Problems usually arise when the amount of time spent focused on the object starts to interfere with everyday life or lovemaking.
In some couples, one partner is tolerant of, or turns a blind eye towards, the other’s fetish. Some partners feel able to participate and others can’t continue with the relationship unless the fetish stops. Initial responses on either side may not be your reaction given more time to think things over, and possibly more information. Some partners find confiding in friends is helpful. Even just searching the internet to learn more may be useful.

Internet porn

How prepared couples are to share their sexual interests varies a great deal. The use of erotica and pornography is an issue which provokes great controversy. Some people have ethical or moral objections to pornography, objections to some types of pornography or only find it acceptable when associated with couple arousal. Nevertheless, it is now so widespread and available that, for some individuals, its use has become as routine as a nightcap in providing a way to relax and unwind.
An orgasm stabilizes the body, returning it to a calm state. It is understandable, then, to use sex to relax at times when you are jangling with stress. Internet porn can provide a quick and easy way to help you achieve that. Unfortunately, however, it can become a problem if it starts to be the only way you can become aroused or deal with stress, or if you feel you will be stressed if you don’t use it.
Couple counselors are increasingly seeing problems with relationships and sexual functioning that are associated with the use of internet porn. This isn’t about having a healthy sexual appetite or multiple partners but about a compulsion to keep returning to the activity which is causing them problems. This can happen surprisingly quickly, because internet use can actually change the brain.
If you need to speak to a therapist call Couple Counseling DC 202 270 3937

Monday, July 17, 2017

I’m in a relationship but I have a crush on someone else, what should I do?

Developing a crush on someone when you’re already in a long-term, committed relationship can leave you feeling guilty and confused.
You may think it’s a betrayal of your partner but you might also be wondering whether your feelings are trying to tell you something.
If this is how you feel right now, try not to worry. This is far more common situation than most people realize. You might like to think of it as a warning sign that something needs addressing within your relationship or in your life: an opportunity to make things better.

Crushes vs finding someone attractive

It’s worth stating right away that it’s important to differentiate between developing a crush on someone and finding someone outside of your relationship attractive.
If we’re being realistic finding other people attractive is inevitable. Entering a relationship doesn’t mean we stop being human. It’s entirely natural for this to happen from time to time – just as it was before you became part of a couple. As long as you don’t act on it, there’s nothing wrong with it.
We tend to think of crushes as different because they usually involve  imagining what it would be like to be in a relationship with this person. They go a level deeper – from the physical to the emotional.

What is my crush telling me?

We often develop crushes on people because we feel they might fulfil a need that isn’t otherwise being fulfilled. This might be a need for love, attention, sex, friendship or any number of other things.
Because crushes can happen for so many different reasons, and often start without us realizing –which is why developing a crush on someone when you’re already in a relationship can often take you by surprise and leave you wondering whether something isn’t seriously wrong.
It might be something has changed in your relationship recently that means you feel less connected to your partner. This could be a new job meaning you can’t spend as much time together. Perhaps you have young children and don’t have the energy to prioritize each other as much. A breach of trust may have made you feel more distant: perhaps you’re worried about allowing yourself to become vulnerable again.
Or it may be that this is simply part of the ebb and flow of connection and disconnection that takes place naturally in long-term relationships: sometimes we feel closer to our partners, sometimes less so.
It’s a good idea to think about whether your crush does seem to represent something that’s gone missing from your relationship. This will help you understand what you’re feeling, and is the starting point for thinking about what to do next.

How can I work on my relationship?

If you’re serious about your existing relationship, it will then be a case of trying to address the issue. It can take courage to do this, especially if what’s missing has been missing for a long time.
One question people often ask is: should I tell my partner about the crush? There’s no easy answer to this. If you feel it would be necessary to help them understand how you’re feeling, then you may need to find a way to do this gently. But be aware there’s a high risk that their feelings will be badly hurt.
One way to address this is by talking about it with someone you trust and who will keep it to themselves. This could be a friend or family member. You may find that the act of telling someone how you’ve been feeling is enough to help you begin to understand what’s missing in your life or specifically in your relationship.
If you do think there are problems in your relationship that need to be addressed, you’ll need to find time to talk to your partner.
How, when and where you have this conversation is as important as what you say – you may find it very useful to read our article on communication tips to try with your partner. This will help you think about ways to broach difficult topics without things turning into a row and how you could communicate effectively and clearly.
What you need to talk about will depend on your situation, but you might like to think about the following:
  • Do we spend as much time together as we used to, and if not, why not?
  • Do we make time to have fun together or just relax together?
  • Are we listening to each other’s needs and communicating our own, or simply saying ‘I’m fine’?
  • Have we been taking each other for granted?

Moving on from the crush — practical steps


We develop crushes on all kinds of people. Sometimes it’s just someone we see momentarily in the street. Sometimes it’s someone closer to us: a colleague, an employer, or a friend.
As part of the above process, it’s generally a good idea to try to avoid regular contact with the person you’ve developed a crush on. Depending on who it is, this can be quite straightforward or it might require some bigger changes.
If it’s someone we don’t see all that often, we can simply avoid running into them when possible. But if it’s someone who is closely linked to our lives, it can be worth thinking about whether certain changes will need to be made – whether you’ll need to stop seeing a certain group of friends quite as regularly, for instance, or not putting yourself forward for certain projects at work.
However necessary this will be depends on your situation, but you may find it’s easier to focus on your relationship if you’re not still seeing your crush week in, week out.

How we can help

Making changes in your relationship is rarely a short process. It usually takes a willingness to keep working at things consistently over time.
Don’t be disheartened if you aren’t able to get to the root of things straight away – or if it doesn’t always feel like things are heading in the right direction. Progress is rarely a straight line.
If you think you might need help, counseling is a great way of keeping yourself on course – or just beginning the conversation in the first place. Contact Couple Counseling DC for a session with Trina Dolenz.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Affairs at work

It may be a cliché, but the workplace is one of the most common places for affairs to start.


How do work affairs start?

When people spend lots of time together, they have the chance to really get to know each other.
Work affairs often start off slowly. Working together in stressful situations can mean bonding over shared goals or through collaborating on projects. What can start off as a platonic friendship or normal working relationship can, if there’s a spark of attraction, slowly become more inappropriate over time. This might just be semi-harmless flirting at first, but before long it may become clear there’s something more serious behind it.

Affairs at work — the signs

It’s often hard to pinpoint the moment where things begin to head in this direction. You might prefer to avoid thinking about it, or to pretend it's not happening. Yet through this, some people can find themselves ‘sleepwalking’ towards an infidelity – by not accepting that it’s a possibility at all.
And then it’s often the case that events like after work drinks or the Christmas party can mean any underlying attractions are acted on in an impulsive moment.

Why do people have affairs?


An affair – or the prospect of an affair – often feels extremely exciting at the time. One of the most common things that people report is the feeling of being ‘alive’. If you’ve been feeling dissatisfied in your life for a while, an affair can feel like an opportunity to be excited about things and take control of your life again.
But affairs rarely fix the problem that they start in reaction to. People often pursue attractions with other people because they feel alone or disempowered in their own relationship. But any initial feelings of excitement usually subside into ones of guilt and unhappiness.
If you’re having an affair you may feel caught between two poles – wanting to hang onto this new sense of excitement, but feeling incredibly guilty about the betrayal of your partner, with whom you might have been for many years.
If you’re thinking about starting up an affair with someone you work with, it may be worth thinking about how you got here. Are there things going on in your relationship that have left you feeling unhappy or frustrated? Has something changed recently that’s caused a rift between you and your partner? Do you feel like you’ve lost something – either recently or over a long period of time? And then think it through: would having an affair solve any of this, or would it simply cause more pain and upset?
The best route to solving relationship issues is not by acting impulsively or simply doing whatever you want, but by acknowledging and talking about any issues as a couple. Of course, it can be really difficult to do this, especially if you haven’t been getting on for a while. But serious problems don’t tend to fix themselves, and often get worse if simply left to fester. It requires bravery and a willingness to take on board your partner’s view, but even the trickiest issues can be worked through if both you and your partner are willing to try.

How to avoid an affair

The best place to start is by having an honest conversation about what’s going on in your relationship. If you haven’t been talking in a while or find that, when you do, things spiral into argument quickly, it can be a good idea to go about this process carefully.
This isn’t the kind of thing that you’re going to want to bring up in the middle of an argument or when you’re just about to go to bed – it’s going to require time and space. It can be a good idea to plan this talk in advance. You might want to approach your partner and say you think you think you need to chat, and agree on a time and place when you can do this uninterrupted. It might be a good idea to go out somewhere public. Being somewhere different can help you think differently, and it can mean tempers are less likely to flare.
When it comes to talking about what’s wrong, there are a few ways of making a productive and positive conversation more likely. Firstly, it can be a good idea to take regular timeouts. It’s no use talking if it’s simply going to turn into a shouting match, so being ready to take a quick break if things do get heated can make a big difference.
Beyond this, it’s important to take responsibility for your own feelings. Don’t phrase comments as attacks: ‘you always’, ‘you never’ and so on. It’s much better to use ‘I’ phrases: ‘When you do […], I feel as if…’. That way, your partner is less likely to feel defensive – and you’ll both have a chance to explain your own perspective on things. It’s also important to listen to what each other has to say, and not just focus on getting your own point across. Read our 3 communication tips to try with your partner for more on this.
It’s also important to distance yourself from any developing situations at work if you feel like something could happen with one of your colleagues. If it’s possible, you may want to spend less time with this person – or it may even be appropriate to acknowledge the atmosphere and be direct about the fact that you don’t want anything to happen.

How we can help

If you and your partner feel like you’re going to need help dealing with any relationship issues, then get in touch with Couple Counseling DC. We’re here to help you have discussions that you may otherwise find too painful, or likely to cause conflict.
Your relationship counselor won’t take sides, and they won’t tell you what to do. They’ll simply help you to express yourselves and think about a way of moving forward together.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Love in the time of Tinder

Love in the time of Tinder: why you can't blame technology for a rise in affairs.

CEO of Relate, Chris Sherwood, discusses on 'Wired' why our dependency on technology is blurring the boundaries between digital and non-digital relationships:-

"Technology has revolutionized our relationships, changing how we find, organize and even finish them. As a 36-year-old gay man living in London, I’ve had a front row seat in this revolution. I started my dating life in the 1990s, responding to personal ads in my local newspaper. In the 2000s I started exploring internet dating. More recently apps like Grindr and Scruff have become a dater’s best friend.

My day job is CEO of Relate, the UK’s largest provider of information and support around relationships, so you may think I have all the answers. In fact, Relate is encountering new and different ways that technology impacts out relationships every day, so we, too, are learning how to navigate this new digital world. Technology is one of the top reasons people come to us for counseling, whether it’s the couple where one partner’s had an affair via Facebook or the individual who’s struggling with an addiction to online porn.

It’s interesting that 62 per cent of our counselors say technology has had a negative impact on relationships, compared to just 13 per cent of the public. However, we also see that technology has brought huge benefits to relationships, from the serving members of our armed forces who can now rely on video calling and email to stay connected with home, to young gay people who can much more easily connect with one another in less liberal parts of the world – something I discovered myself recently whilst traveling through Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

""One of the challenges we see in this 'swipe generation' is the commodification of people""
Chris Sherwood, CEO of Relate

There’s no denying, though, that technology is disrupting our relationships in ways that previous generations could never have imagined. There are more than 1,400 dating sites in the UK alone and finding a partner online is the fourth most common way to start a new relationship. Could this be changing how much value we place on our fellow daters? One of the challenges we see in this "swipe generation" is the commodification of people. Research tells us that the key ingredients to a successful, long-term relationship (something that the majority of us continue to aspire to) are honesty, commitment and communication – characteristics that are hard to deduce from a Tinder profile picture. Quite simply, if we don’t like what we see in the first few seconds, we swipe left and it’s gone. It’s easy to forget we’re talking about real people with real feelings.

We’re also navigating this new digital world without a roadmap. People used to date, become girlfriend and boyfriend and get married. Today, announcing your relationship on Facebook or agreeing to take down your dating profile are new staging posts on this more complex relationship journey. We know from the counseling room that many of these staging posts only become clear when an unspoken rule has been broken.

Couples tell us that they like being able to send romantic and flirty messages to one another. But are we becoming too dependent on technology? Can we turn it off? According to a survey by the Science Museum in 2012, four out of five under 25-year-olds report feeling lost without the internet and the vast majority of smartphone owners reach for them within 15 minutes of waking up. The 2013 Mobile Consumers Habit survey in the US found that nine per cent even admitted to checking their phone during sex.

This “dependency” could also be affecting how we form intimate relationships in the real world as the boundaries between digital and non-digital become increasingly blurred. A study by Essex University in 2012 found that: “Merely having a phone visible in the room — even if no-one checked it — made people less likely to develop a sense of intimacy and empathetic understanding during meaningful conversations.”

Technology is additionally changing the nature of affairs and blurring the boundaries. We used to think of an affair as an intimate or sexual encounter between two people. Does sending sexualized and flirty images to another person count as an affair even if the people don’t meet? What about watching livecam porn, using remote-controlled sex toys with another person, or, in the future, sleeping with a sex robot?
""Does sending sexualized and flirty images to another person count as an affair even if the people don’t meet?""
Chris Sherwood, CEO of Relate

There’s a danger in this debate that we end up blaming the technology but that isn’t necessarily the problem: it’s how we use it.

We can’t stop the digital revolution but we can learn to better integrate technology into our lives, in ways that enable us to form and sustain loving and supportive relationships as well as to better navigate the dangers out there. For example, we’d encourage people to talk to their partners and family about how to handle the technology in their lives. Work out whether you need regular tech time out, like no phones in the bedroom or turning all screens off an hour before bed. There aren’t any hard and fast rules but communicating what works for your circumstances will make it easier for you to stay in control of technology and not the other way around.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Only one in three adults are satisfied with their sex life

Our survey of 5,000 people across the UK has revealed that only 34% of people are satisfied with their sex lives. Men are more likely to be dissatisfied with their sex lives than women, with one in four men saying they were dissatisfied compared to one in five women.


Why do people feel dissatisfied with their sex life?

One in five people felt that low libido or differing sex drives were putting a strain on their relationships. Our survey of counselors also showed a similar pattern, with almost half reporting that low libido or differing sex drives are one of the top eight relationship strains they see in the counseling room. However, counselors felt that by far the most common causes of sexual dissatisfaction were a lack of emotional intimacy (84%) and lack of communication (75%). As Relate Counselor Barbara Honey explains, there is often a lack of understanding about how each partner feels about sex:
There can sometimes be a ‘lightbulb’ moment in counseling when partners realise that the meaning of sex is different for each of them – this can become a turning point in becoming able to better meet each other’s needs.
Barbara Honey, Relate Counselor
People’s life stage and health also influenced sexual dissatisfaction — parents with young children were more likely to report dissatisfaction, as were those who had a disability or were living with a long-term health condition.
As well as a loss of desire, sexual problems were causing many couples to feel their relationship was under pressure. A third of people in our study said they had experienced a sexual problem, with one in four counselors reporting an increase in number of clients that had experienced sex-related problems affecting their relationship. One issue can lead to the start of a cycle of problems for a couple, which goes on to undermine their relationship:

 “Couples talk in therapy of getting into a cycle of problems – sex can become rushed or routine which can lead to a cycle of avoidance. Without the experience of pleasure and enjoyment, it becomes something that can create tension and anxiety. Sex itself can be painful and both pain and anxiety are going to create difficulties. Therapists are increasingly noticing the loss of libido or desire in both men and women that is leading to relationship tensions”                                                                                    

How important is sex in relationships?

We found that only 13% of people said sex was one of the most important things in a relationship. But there is a clear gender divide, with one in five men putting sex in their top three compared to one in ten women. Despite not all couples rating sexual satisfaction as an important part of their relationship there is clear research evidence that sexual satisfaction improves relationships, which in turn improves wellbeing.


Getting help with sexual problems

We know that people are often prevented from seeking help with relationship problems because of a perceived stigma. 60% of people in our survey who had experienced a sexual problem said that they would not want anyone to know they had accessed professional relationship support. Indeed counselors often see couples that are so worried about the stigma they repeatedly avoiding coming to Sex Therapy:

“Sex therapists see many couples for whom the desire to conceive is what brings them to therapy: sexual problems can and do cause distress in the couple relationship but it often isn’t until the couple are seeking to get pregnant that they seek support to resolve these problems”                                                                          

Relate Sex Therapists see thousands of couples, often it's people who don’t have the time or energy for sex who find this eventually starts to become a pattern. If you feel you could benefit from getting help, a Relate Sex Therapist can work with you on how to handle any problems you might be having so you can rediscover a satisfying sex life. Contact Trina Dolenz, Relate Therapist at CoupleCounselingDC for a session.

At Relate we feel it’s important that people have access to information and support when they experience a problem with their sex life. So we’re calling on commissioners of health services to improve access to sex therapy and relationship counseling to provide support for people experiencing sexual problems.