Our “DoSayIDo” marriage series continues this week with an insightful conversation with a sex therapist. Yes, you read that right! It’s a topic we’ve not covered a lot on DoSayGive but one that we cannot leave out. Physical intimacy is such as sacred and important part of marriage but one that is not talked about often. Our Q&A with Dr. Katherine Blackney will encourage and perhaps even answer some questions you were too embarrassed to ask.
Based in Memphis, Katherine Blackney is a clinical sex therapist with over 20 years of experience. Thank you so much, Katherine, for joining us!
Q: You talk about marriage as a three legged stool made up of emotional, physical and sexual intimacy. Can you elaborate a bit?
A: Spanning two decades in private practice, I have been engaged professionally with my share of partnerships and marriages. Through this experience, extensive learning, and other resources, I have adapted a model for how I view partnerships and marriages. Like you said, I use the “three-legged stool model”. Marriages and partnerships are like a three- legged stool with the legs representing emotional intimacy, physical intimacy, and spiritual intimacy. When we have mastered each leg of the stool and are standing on this model evenly, we have arrived at the place of health and healing in our relationship.
Q: What does emotional intimacy look like?
Emotional intimacy is connecting on an in-depth emotional and feeling level. Do we, as partners and spouses, dream about the future together? Do we ask each other, “Where do we want to be as a couple in 3 yrs., 5 yrs., 10yrs.? What vacations do we want to take in the future?” Dreaming together extends the life of our relationship in creating fantasies for our future.
Emotional intimacy is also engaging in dynamic interactions with communication and active listening. Women talk for connection and men talk for answers. We might want to read that sentence again. When women are communicating with men, they are attempting to successfully connect, to feel seen and heard. By being an active listener, we are listening to what our partner or spouse is saying without reflecting on what we want to say next. Reactive listening is when we hear something our partner or spouse says, and possibly disagree with, and begin formulating what we want to say whenever he or she is done talking (or not waiting and just interrupting). We have actually missed the entire message our partner or spouse was expressing. We should strive to become mature communicators who express thoughts and feelings and who engage in active listening. Ultimately we want to grow and become more connected as friends and lovers. The Penners (relational authorities in my world) share a formula for intimacy that involves connecting on an emotional level as husbands and wives and partners:
- 15 minutes a day
- 1 night a week
- 1 weekend a quarter
- 1 week a year
Q: How do weekly dates help emotional intimacy?
Another aspect of emotional intimacy is in having weekly dates, during the day, afternoon, or evening, whatever fits your schedule. Do you remember what dating was like in the early stages of the relationship? Were you more playful, spending time goofing off? Did you enjoy traveling to new places, experiencing new cultures or new activities? Were there more surprises and spontaneity in making plans?
Reflect back on some of the high moments in your dating life and see if you can bring those feelings and experiences back and reenact them on your dates presently. Have fun together! During the dates or weekly time spent together, have a performance review on the marriage. You have performance reviews at work so why neglect the marriage? During those times, ask each other:
- How have you felt loved by me this week?
- How can I love you differently or more?
This allows us to praise one another while also expressing our desires and being vulnerable.
Another helpful tip, if you are a couple whose jobs are demanding or if you have multiple children in the home and have limited time, then communicate daily by using “What was your high of today?; What was your low of today?” This does not take much time to express and it can lead to feeling more connected. Collectively these are all great tools for building emotional intimacy and ultimately feeling seen, heard, known, and loved by each other.
Q: So helpful! Let’s talk about spiritual intimacy. And how can connecting with our spouse on a spiritual level bring us closer?
Spiritual intimacy is connecting on an in-depth spiritual level through whatever method fits your lifestyle, personality, and expression of faith. You may not be a religious person or couple, but we all have something existentially that we believe keeps us intimately connected to our partners, spouses and even the Universe.
Do we encourage our spouses or partners with inspirational quotes, scripture, or holy messages? Do we think or pray often for our partner or spouse? Beginning to develop a strong spiritual intimacy in your partnerships and marriages will help to cultivate one with your children. I encourage couples to read something religious or spiritual once a week together and meditate on what the message is saying.
Q: Any great books you recommend on this topic?
A great Christian resource is Devotions for a Sacred Marriage: A Year of Weekly Devotions for Couples by Gary Thomas. Try to challenge your marriage and partnership to become enhanced and enriched by what you are reading and meditating on. Ultimately, build your spiritual intimacy together and become changed by thinking outside of yourselves.
Q: Sexual intimacy can be awkward for us to discuss but it’s important. What tips can you give us here?
Physical intimacy is as important as any other leg of the stool model. But somehow it can be overwhelming with how to even start the dialogue. Let’s explore more! Physical intimacy is connecting on the most intimate vulnerable level through physical touch. Physical intimacy is a continuum of behaviors ranging anywhere from holding hands, kissing, sitting together on the couch, showering together, to being sexually intimate through affection, arousal, and erotic orgasmic lovemaking. Some character traits of being great lovers are:
- Playfulness: being curious, childlike, lighthearted, uninhibited, being flirtatious
- Loving: being vulnerable, being generous and kind
- Knowledge: educate yourself on various techniques, learn what you like and do not like, learn how to communicate sexual preferences to ultimately become better lovers
- Honesty: being transparent and open to new ideas and trying new things
- Creative Romance: being imaginative and creating a sexual feast with many options, be unpredictable with surprises
- Gracious: extend grace often and freely, grace both for yourself and your partner or spouse
It is healthy and connecting to have weekly intimate times together all along the continuum, both scheduled and spontaneous. So often we schedule times to go to the gym, schedule when we go to work, when we attend parent-teacher conferences, or when we go to church or synagogue, so why do we not schedule times to be intimate? In being disciplined and purposeful with physical intimacy, it shows a desire, a commitment, a loyalty, and an honoring of the marriage and partnership.
Q: But what if someone doesn’t feel “in the mood” when that scheduled time arrives?
When we are physically intimate our bodies produce bonding hormones called oxytocin and vasopressin that aid in the connecting process. One way to organically enhance this process is to 1) passionate kiss for thirty seconds and 2) hug for one minute. This can be done anytime of the day. I encourage that if it does not lead to further physical intimacy to truly give freedom to embrace the exercise and have fun without a felt sense of demand or anxiety. Now, pause in your reading and go find your partner or spouse and surprise them with this exercise. I can guarantee it will be a success! Always continue learning how to become great lovers.
Q: I get a lot of questions from moms of young children who are exhausted and feel like they have nothing left to give to their spouse, especially sexually. And advice here?
With young children in the home, it can be challenging to add yet another thing to your plate. Intimacy can end up being just one more thing that someone else needs when you feel that you are give, give, giving all day long. For women to be fully present, we have to declutter our minds and spend some introverted time to reset, become grounded, and switch gears.
I encourage taking one evening a week to connect with who you are, apart from the various roles you play, that of being a mother, partner, wife, employee, etc. and just connect with being yourself. Embrace your authentic self and regain the energy needed to suit-up for the rest of the week. Taking the time to recharge with self care strategies, alone time, friend time, massage time, pedicure time, bath time, etc. will be beneficial to the whole family. Your partner/spouse and children will thank you for that time spent on yourself (even if the littles protest).
And an added bonus: When we are focused and disciplined in these three areas of intimacy (i.e., emotional, spiritual, and physical intimacy), we are enhancing and enriching our partnerships and marriages to be well positioned to model healthy sexuality to our children.
Q: How do you know when to see a Clinical Sex Therapist?
A sex therapist is trained to work with sexual trauma, sexual abuse, sexual dysfunction, out of control sexual behaviors, sexual orientation, intimacy disorders, unconsummated partnerships and marriages, arousal and orgasmic challenges, erectile difficulties, etc. These are specific topics that are best embraced and treated by a trained clinician. If one was experiencing any of these symptoms, he or she could benefit from contacting a sex therapist who is equipped to tackle any one of them.
Q:How is it different than a marriage therapist?
What is great about this modality of therapy (i.e.,sex therapy) is that it can be combined with other therapies as a boost to compliment the other. I can treat genito-pelvic pain while the couple is seeing a marriage and family therapist, licensed professional counselor, or psychologist. I can walk alongside a grieving spouse after infidelity has occurred while the couple is seeing another therapist.
How do you know when you need to see a clinical sex therapist while you are currently in therapy? My hope is that when a clinician has reached their ethical and professional limit as it relates to sexual topics, he or she will make the appropriate referral that is right for their patients to get the best care possible.
Q: Can you talk about some of the other ways you can help people?
What I have the honor of addressing that might not be as known to others is the psycho-somatic effects of sexual difficulties (i.e., how our brains and body react when things go awry physically), working closely with pelvic floor physical therapists to help alleviate pelvic pain for women during intercourse, working with urologists and gynecologists to explore hormonal imbalances that create desire discrepancies within relationships, exploring, processing, and healing from the effects of infertility on the couple, and ultimately creating space to grieve with my patients over the difficulty of something that was “supposed to be easy.” It can be a difficult, lonely, and desperate place.
I hope to give an experience of feeling seen, known, and loved. Of being empathic, genuine, authentic, and respectful of the sacred ground I am allowed to tread with my patients. It truly is a gift.
Q: For sex therapy do you go alone or with your spouse?
The process can look a variety of different ways. One spouse can contact the therapist on behalf of both of them to schedule sessions. One spouse can contact the therapist for individual therapy to focus on their specific needs and either continue with individual therapy or merge into couples counseling down the road.
Generally, the clinician could see the couple at the initial session and then follow up with individual sessions to gather pertinent information and then resume seeing the couple together. I like to establish rapport within the first session by seeing both parties, listening to their story, hearing “why now?” and what has brought them into therapy, and exploring what they hope to gather from our time together, essentially asking them what will it look like when therapy is no longer needed? I then schedule individual sessions to go through an extensive intake to make sure I have a holistic picture of each individual before resuming with joint couple’s counseling.
Q: How do you find a reputable sex therapist?
What my patients have indicated is most successful is googling, reading reviews and credentials, and gathering referrals from trusted referral sources, etc. During the initial call to the clinician, ask him or her questions to make sure he or she is equipped to walk alongside you on this journey.
Knowing that the majority of therapeutic change and success happens within the therapeutic relationship (the relationship established between client and therapist), it is worth investigating the right fit for you. To find a place where you are respected, trusted, comfortable, and received just the way you are.
This site helps you search for sex therapists by state.
Click here to watch a recording of the live Q&A interview Katherine and I did together on Instagram!
Thank you so much, Katherine! This was incredibly enlightening and I know encouraging to so many.
Stay tuned because Katherine will be releasing her book, “What Goes Where: How to Talk to Your Kids about Sex and Other Unmentionable Topics.” It is a practical guide for this audience to give you the information, education, and confidence to have these conversations with your children and ultimately raise sexually whole beings.
More information about Katherine Blackney Professional Counseling, PLLC.