Episode 58: Sexuality as a Force for Good with Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife

Uncategorized Feb 21, 2022

My guest on the show this week is one of my greatest teachers in this realm of sexuality. I honestly wouldn’t be doing the work I do today if I hadn’t had the opportunity to work with her, so I’m honored to have her here and excited for you to hear everything she has to share with us. 

Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife is a psychologist and teacher who helps people specifically in the LDS space who are working through their sexuality. She is the expert on coaching people in ways that allow them to be capable of both emotionally and physically intimate relationships, and this week, we’re diving into all the ways our sexuality can be a force for good. 

If you currently believe your sexuality is morally wrong, or have bought into all the ways sexuality gets a bad rap, join us on this episode. Jennifer is dropping some serious gems around how we frame our human sexuality in unhelpful ways, the keys to creating an intimate partnership that feels amazing, and what drives our compulsions for things that don’t serve us.

If you’ve been thinking about joining Overcome Pornography for Good, this is your chance to sign up! We’ve got an amazing marriage and pornography call with our trauma expert, Lindsay Poehlman, a new workshop called How to Have Difficult Conversations with our relationship expert, and so much more in February, so you don’t want to miss out! 

I’ve got a brand new free masterclass called How to Overcome Pornography for Good Without Willpower! If this class sounds like something you need, and you have questions you’d like me to address on the call, make sure to click here to join us! 

I have amazing news. If you want to take the work I’m sharing on the podcast deeper, I’m running a masterclass called How to Quit Viewing Pornography Even if You’ve Tried in the Past, and it is 100% free! All you have to do is sign up here and I will see you there. 

What You'll Learn from this Episode: 

  • Jennifer’s thoughts on how our sexuality can be a force for good. 
  • Why sexuality isn’t a moral issue.
  • How sexuality can be used to create strength and peace within our relationships, division, and friction. 
  • The unhelpful framing of sexuality that makes it feel like an unmanageable beast.
  • What obscures people from being at peace with their sexual nature. 
  • The detriments of the “need gratification” model that often exists in marriages.
  • What can drive the compulsivity around porn use. 
  • The key to creating an intimate partnership you feel good about.

Listen to the Full Episode:

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Full Episode Transcript:

 You are listening to the Overcome Pornography for Good podcast episode 58, Sexuality as a Force for Good with Jennifer Finlayson-Fife

Welcome to the Overcome Pornography for Good podcast, the show that will teach you how to stop viewing pornography and never go back to it. If you want to learn how to train your brain out of a pornography habit, completely shame-free, then this is the show for you. I’m your host Sara Brewer, a certified life and faith-based coach.

Hey, you guys, welcome to the podcast this week. I'm so excited to share this interview with Jennifer Finlayson-Fife. She has been a big source of inspiration to me and one of my greatest teachers in this realm of sexuality over the past six years.

In fact, I was telling her before our interview started, I said, I don't think I would be doing the work that I'm doing today if it weren't for you, if it weren't for me being introduced to you and your work. And so, if you like what I do, if it's helping you, a lot of the credit here goes to all the things I’ve learned from her throughout the years. And I'm so excited for you to hear what she has to say.

Before we dive into it, I want to make sure that you're aware of another free class that I am doing this week, How to Overcome Pornography for Good Without Willpower. We are going to talk about how to stop giving into urges without willpower and really dive into the nitty gritty there. How to stop giving up after a few months. And how to make a life without pornography easily sustainable and permanent.

And at the end, we're going to have a bonus live Q&A. I get a lot of questions in my Instagram and my email that I can't get to. And so if you have something that you are hoping to get some answers about, if you want a little bit of coaching and a little bit of help from me for free, this class is a great opportunity for you to come and do that.

I don't do these very often, just a couple times a year. So don't miss it. It's going to be really awesome. You can go to sarabrewer.com/freeclass to sign up. You'll get all the details there, the time. Then in your inbox you'll get emails with the link to come. And yes, it's totally free. Sometimes people ask me that, they're like, “Wait, is this really free?” I’m like, “Yes, this is free.”

And just like you guys know, I put so much value into my free stuff. I mean, this podcast, I put so much value into this. All my free classes I put so much value into. My purpose is to really help you make steps forward into quitting your pornography habit. So we'll see you in that class, and enjoy this interview with Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife.

Sara: All right, you guys, welcome to the podcast episode this week. This week we get to have an interview with Jennifer Finlayson-Fife and I'm so excited and so grateful that she is here. If you follow me on Instagram, you see that I re-share her stuff all the time. And I always say, “Yes, Jennifer. Yes.” Anyways, just a big fan over here.

Well, I'll let you introduce yourself in a second too. But she is a teacher, a psychologist, she helps people specifically in the LDS faith to work through their sexuality. So is there anything that you would like to say to introduce yourself?

Jennifer: Well let’s see, I'm married and have three kids who are all kind of teenagers and young adults. So they're a good part of my life. And let's see, I mostly do a lot of teaching and coaching people on how to develop in ways that allow them to be capable of intimate relationships, so both emotionally intimate and physically intimate. And what are the keys to really creating solid, happy, intimate relationships? So yeah.

Sara: Awesome. And you sell a number of courses.

Jennifer: Yes.

Sara: You have a podcast membership.

Jennifer: Mm-hmm, that's right. So I have the podcast archive, which this will be on in addition to yours, so that's just the interviews that I've done with lots of different people.

But then I have something called Room For Two, which is a subscription podcast where I'm doing coaching and working with couples on issues in their relationship that are interfering with their happiness. And so I'm helping people to deal with what's going on in their sexual relationship or what's going on in their relationship with their in-laws and how that's interfering with their happiness, that kind of thing.

And then I have online courses that are there for people for their self-development, their sexual development. And then couples courses that help people to figure out together what's interfering with their marriage being happier or their sexual relationship being more mutual and desirable.

Sara: Yeah, nice. And we'll link a lot of that in the show notes too. So if you're interested and want to go check out more of her work, I would highly, highly recommend it.

We're going to talk today specifically about using our sexuality for good. My listeners know that we talk a lot about decreasing sexual shame and I want to take it even a step further. So not just sexuality isn't not bad, but how can it also be good? And then at the end, we'll answer some juicier questions that come up around masturbation and making sexual choices. So that’s what we'll talk about today.

So first question, first thing I'd like to discuss is just sexuality, it tends to get a bad rap, especially among men. And so taking it a step further, how can sexuality be good? How would you answer that?

Jennifer: Well, I guess the kind of quick way to say it is that sexuality is just a part of being a human being. We just are sexual from birth, it's just inherent to being human. And so if you are relating to your sexuality and your embodiment, and your partner, your spouse, in loving ways through your sexuality, that will create good.

If you're in contradiction, if you're indulgent, if you're exploitative, if you're abusive to yourself or another person, if you're letting yourself be taken advantage of through sexuality, those will all accrue to weakness and pain.

So we can't really get out of the moral conversation around sexuality because we just are sexual. It's not really an option. The question is whether or not our choices are creating strength and peace within us and in our relationships, or are they creating division and friction and fear? Then it's working against us.

So it's one of those things you can't just escape it because even saying I'm not going to deal with my sexuality can accrue to your weakness and unhappiness in a relationship.

Sara: Yeah, and a lot of my listeners know that too. Even when they try to push it away and make it go away, typically porn use will increase down the road too.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sara: And what a different perspective that is too, that other than any sexual experiences we do have with our spouse or our person, it's not just to tame something that's there, but it really can create goodness.

Jennifer: That’s right. So exactly, a lot of people are operating from the model that sex is this necessary evil. And I think as you're alluding to, a necessary evil in men in particular. Like women are better because we're less sexual, that kind of idea. And so men are these hedonistic, self-serving sexual beings. And so we maybe create good by helping them manage this negative part of it.

And I do work with a lot of people who kind of do see it that way, like I'm putting out so that you won't look at porn. And therefore I'm doing something good. But it's just a very, very limited idea. And also the idea that sex is inherently indulgent and bad and that sex in a way is stronger than the man himself. Therefore he needs a woman there helping him manage this beast. It's a framing that actually keeps sexuality as an untamed beast.

Sara: Yeah, or the message that sometimes my clients or listeners hear from church leaders, which is just when you get married this will go away. When you get married you won't have to deal with it.

Jennifer: You don't hear about it so much, right?

Sara: Yeah, you'll have someone to help you so that you aren’t wanting pornography, right?

Jennifer: I see what you're saying, they're saying they hear this idea that when they get married, that their wife will then kind of be the antidote, or their husband if it's a woman struggling.

Sara: Yeah.

Jennifer: It will be the antidote to the struggle.

Sara: Yes.

Jennifer: Right, and that's just not necessarily true at all, because it's not really a need gratification issue. It's more about how one's in relationship to oneself and one’s sexual nature that's really the issue.

Sara: Yeah. Yeah, thank you. So I mean, obviously, like in your marriage and creating a better relationship in your marriage is a way that we can use our sexuality for good. But does anything else come to mind when we say that? How do we use our sexual nature for good?

Jennifer: Yeah, and it's interesting, it's a way that I've said it, the very way you're saying it. But I think I might say it slightly differently, which is how can I be in relationship to my embodied nature in a way that creates peace and capacity in my life?

So if I'm rejecting of my body, I'm critical of my body, if I'm terrified of my capacity for pleasure, if I feel like just being an attractive sexual being makes me a little suspect or a little too something, that's not going to create good because it's already relating to one's inherent nature as if it's a problem.

Now, a lot of people come by this honestly, of course. They learned in their own families to be afraid of their bodies, to be afraid of their capacity for pleasure. Perhaps they have suffered some sexual abuse and therefore are afraid of their sexual nature because maybe they think they brought that abuse upon themselves.

So I'm not saying that people are being dumb, they come by those meanings, honestly. But that's often a meaning they've inherited without even realizing that it's creating a division within themselves and a kind of anxiety within themselves that obscures their ability to be at peace or obscures their spiritual clarity.

Sara: Yeah. So if I'm to re-frame?

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sara: It's not just using sexuality for good for something that's out of us, but even more so it’s for ourselves, for something that's in us to feel like the true nature of ourselves, and acceptance, and love, and at peace with this part of us that can't go away that's supposed to be there.

Jennifer: Right, it is a kind of self-development, and even a spiritual developmental reality to say I like my body. I'm grateful for my genitals. I mean, I know that sounds weird to people, probably. But to truly feel that way. I'm grateful for the sensual part of me. I'm grateful for my ability to feel, and to dance, and to feel attraction, and to feel attractive.

And I think so many of us are so afraid of pleasure and so afraid of making the wrong choice that we just don't feel grateful. I've had clients say to me, I wish I could just suffocate this desire entirely within me because then I would be happier. And so, again, we come by this honestly. But God gave us our bodies, God gave us sexuality, not to torture us. But because it's good. Because it's good. And so can we be grateful for this capacity within us? Grateful for our imperfect and lovely, amazing bodies.

Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci and many of the Renaissance artists were doing something rather radical for the time, which was a kind of open celebration of the physicality of human beings. And the thinking of the Renaissance, and this was one expression of it, was that we come to know God through celebrating what God created, which is the human form.

And so there's much more kind of open embracing of the sensuality and the physicality of human beings in a lot of Renaissance art and sculpture. And so I think that that's something in our more puritanical interpretations we’re more afraid of. I think we kind of give the Puritans a little bit of a bad rap because I think there was also room for sexuality. In a way it was more Victorian, where there was more anxiety about sexuality.

But there is a kind of fear of it, that it will bring us down, that it will make us irrational, that it will be destructive. And that fear actually interferes with us making solid, wise decisions. If we think, “Oh, it's bad if I like sweets. It's bad that I even want them. That's a horrible, shameful thing.” That actually makes you less able to make solid decisions around your relationship to pleasure with food because you're so busy shaming and hating yourself.

Rather than no, my ability to have pleasure through food is a great thing. But I don't want to be decadent and so pleasure focused that I undermine my happiness. Nor do I want to be so repressive and afraid of pleasure that I undermine my happiness. So how can I be in relationship to a pleasure that accrues to good things in my life? I think that's the framing ideal.

Sara: Yeah. And so I can hear people think thinking, I can hear my listeners thoughts.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sara: Where they're like, okay, but what if I'm single? Am I not just supposed to–  What do I do with this if I'm single and I’ve been taught all these things?

Jennifer: Yeah. Well, I don't think those are necessarily easy questions. But I think it's also true– I'll say one thing and then I may back it up a little bit.

Sara: Sure.

Jennifer: But you also have to deal with your sexuality and make wise choices with it, even when you're married. Okay, so I'm not denying that there's a different context if you're in an active, meaningful sexual relationship, because there is a different context. And so I'm not denying the biological pressures of sex that do exist.

But one of the things that I see go terribly wrong in marriage is that people think, well now I'm married and you're now my legitimate outlet, wife, for example. Now, I have needs now and I can't manage myself. And so you should be managing it for me.

The point I'm trying to make is that we are always, always moral actors and responsible for what our choices mean for us. And that's true in marriage also. And somebody single might be like, “Well, duh, of course it is.”

Sara: No, but I do get messages of people saying, well, my spouse won't do X, Y, or Z. So what am I supposed to do?

Jennifer: Exactly. So this is where I see a lot of people coming to me because they're trying to get their spouse to be the right spouse. Rather than kind of tolerate the moral decision making that's inherently theirs if they're in a marriage with somebody who doesn't like sex, or doesn't want to have sex, or whatever it is. So we are kind of always up against–

Or you can be attracted to somebody else while you're married. Or you can even be in a good sexual relationship and still want to look at porn or still want to have an affair. Meaning people have lots of moral decisions that they're up against and this need gratification model is not very helpful.

Sara: Yeah.

Jennifer: That's this idea like once I get married I'll have my needs gratified, therefore porn won't be an issue anymore. And the spouse is supposed to be the need gratifier and she's doing a terrible job. If you make it about need gratification, your spouse doesn't feel desired because they're just there to manage a need.

Sara: Yeah.

Jennifer: Where the marriages that thrive are when people can really make deliberate and thoughtful choices about loving through their sexuality, about who they're going to be that creates something strong within them and in their partnership. And so that's an active process of making decisions.

And I think a lot of times people ask me this question because they're saying well tell me what's the right thing to do. And I think the only thing I can say, as you are up against moral decisions around how you're going to be in relationship to your sexuality as a single person. But shaming it, I don't think would be a good idea. Being deliberate and thoughtful about your choices and what they accrue to would be a good idea. And the more that it's your decision, the less it creates limitation within you.

So when I was doing my dissertation research I was interviewing LDS women who had grown up in the church and talking to them about their premarital experiences. And then what their transition into marriage was like. A big finding, or variable, was how women thought about their choices premaritally had a lot to do with what sex meant to them in marriage.

So there were some women who had a lot of shame around sexuality, shouldn't do this, sex is a bad thing. They were actually the least able to manage the pressures around sexuality premaritally because they felt so much shame and anxiety about who they were.

And then they were kind of being sexual, maybe when they didn't even want to, to try and earn a guy's approval and that kind of thing. And then they felt like this terrible thing, I don't want to bring this scary bad thing into marriage. I want to keep it outside of marriage because it's a bad thing in my life.

There were women who were conservative in their choices out of kind of rejection of sexuality, they also didn't transition well. Then there were women who were rather conservative in their choices premaritally, like they made a decision like I don't want to do A, B, and C. I want to preserve it for a commitment. But that was out of a place of self-definition, not out of shame and fear.

And so they moved very comfortably into marriage because it was like okay, this is what I want. I never I had an issue with being sexual, I just was being deliberate in how I made choices, and this fits what I desire. And so it was all there for them, right? Because it wasn't put under ground, under heaps of shame, and rejection, and fear. And so that deliberateness and that kind of conscience–

If you think of yourself as the driver and the architect of your life, it has a much different impact, even when you're making sacrifices or you're making inconvenient choices. Knowing that you're the one defining your life is the biggest and most important variable.

Sara: Yeah, so something I say is instead of, I can't, I can't, I can't, I can't. How about I’m choosing not to. Are you choosing not to, what are you choosing?

Jennifer: Absolutely, exactly.

Sara: And that will give you the energy that you actually need to make those decisions. You can't change out of the I can't long term.

Jennifer: That's right.

Sara: And I think what keeps people from that is what you were talking about a minute ago. Like the need-based ideas and conditioning we have around sex, like I need it. And so can you talk about that for a minute and expand on that? Like is that true? What can we switch that to?

Jennifer: Well, I would say you don't need it in the true biological drive sense that is anything that's actually a drive, you need to live. So food is a drive, it's also a part of thriving. Sex isn't a drive in the technical sense, you don't need sex to survive. And as I've sometimes said, if you did, you'd see a lot of dead people at church. A lot of people are not having sex.

Now, I think you do need sexuality to thrive. And I don't mean to say that you can't thrive and not be in an intimate relationship. There are many ways to thrive. I think that the happiest people are in an intimate relationship emotionally and sexually.

Sara: And probably the embracing of yourself, like you were talking about.

Jennifer: Yeah, like you can bring your full self to a relationship. So it's definitely a part of thriving, and I don't dismiss the desire for it on any level. And I also don't dismiss the biological pressure that's there. And I'm not here saying good people would never touch themselves, I'm not taking that position. But always thinking about what will create the most peace in my life and how do I handle my embodied sexual, sensual nature in ways that I feel good about in the relational context I exist within?

So yes, it is a part of thriving and I can certainly understand why somebody would want to be in a meaningful, intimate relationship. Because it's really a part of happiness and joy to create it if you can.

Sara: Yeah, thank you. Which kind of moves us to making these decisions. And how can we make decisions that are based on our integrity, especially when we're not taught? I'm thinking from the LDS church point of view. I have listeners from all different types of religions, mostly conservative religions. But I mean, people aren't telling you exactly what to do with your sexuality. And they shouldn't be.

Jennifer: They shouldn't be.

Sara: Right?

Jennifer: Right.

Sara: But we want someone to tell us exactly what to do. So maybe we’ll hop into these questions that I have from a few listeners and discuss these.

Jennifer: Sure.

Sara: So this first one says, “I want to quit viewing porn, but I don't know if I should also cut out masturbation. I keep going back to For the Strength of Youth pamphlet that says not to do anything to arouse these feelings.” For those of you who aren’t members of the church, it's just a pamphlet for youth to help them have good values and stay clean morally. Morally clean. I don’t know if I like that word.

Jennifer: Yeah, help them to make sexually conservative choices.

Sara: That's a much better way of saying it. I could feel myself go blah. Anyway, so the question continues, “But over the years I've heard differing opinions about masturbation. I don't want my sexual decisions to be based off of fear and shame. I'm not sure what's wrong with masturbation, I'm just not really sure what the right thing to do is.”

Jennifer: Mm-hmm. Okay, so do you know if it's a man or woman asking the question?

Sara: It’s a man.

Jennifer: A man, yeah.

Sara: But I do have women listeners too.

Jennifer: Sure, of course. Yeah, I mean, I guess what I would say is– Well, let me give a couple thoughts about it. I'm just trying to remember the name of this author, it's somebody Manson. He's written several books around two young adult men about how to live good lives. And I'm sorry, I can't think of his name right now.

Sara: Did you mention it in your sexuality and singledom article?

Jennifer: I don't think I did talk about him actually in the article. But I do talk about him in the men's course I teach, The Art of Loving.

Sara: Okay.

Jennifer: So one of the things that he just talks about, and he's not a religious person, is that a lot of men get caught in a kind of trap of masturbating and or looking at porn. And in his view it depletes them of a kind of energy that they need to–

I don't think he's saying never, ever touch yourself, it’s terrible. He's not saying that. But more that this can be kind of a way to release energy that you sort of need to move forward into the world. The kind of erotic energy or the eros energy that's within you, if you're channeling it into doing difficult, challenging things it can be helpful.

And if you are always sort of in this kind of coddling place around your sensuality and your pleasure, you can actually deplete yourself of some of the psychological energy you need to go do challenging things. Because kind of one of the theses of his book is that moving into challenging behavior, and going towards things that scare you, developing yourself outside of your comfort zone is what's going to develop psychological capacity within you.

So he's not taking in any way a shaming position, but much more pragmatic in saying in a world in which porn is highly available to all of us, just like I would say Instagram and all these kinds of instant pleasures are available to us. A lot of us are throwing away our capacity at the kind of more immediate gratification that we can get.

So I think that a lot of people use porn and masturbation, and a lot of things, food, Instagram, social media, shopping. All kinds of behaviors, that we use them to kind of get a sense of an antidote to the anxiety of living. And a little bit of pleasure is good. A little bit of comfort as we're doing hard things is a good thing.

But when we are kind of using it as a fast way to kind of just get a sense of ease, it actually infects our ability to go forward and create capacity in our lives and in ourselves that helps us live meaningful lives, be capable of an intimate relationship. You can't be capable of an intimate relationship if you haven't developed a self to share.

And so if you're too busy kind of keeping yourself out of the struggles of life, then that's a problem. On the other hand, I'm not taking a simple-minded, if you ever touch yourself that's inherently bad and wrong, I just don't take that simple-minded of a view.

Sara: Yeah, one of those things, again, where you have to look at yourself and–

Jennifer: Right, what does it mean for you? What are you doing? What are you creating? 

Sara: Right, if you're using it to consume versus creating. Like spending most of our lives consuming in this sexual way instead of creating what we really want.

Jennifer: Creating the good life.

Sara: Yeah, that might be something to look at.

Jennifer: Right, because there’s another extreme version of it too. Because I've worked with plants that were so terrified of arousing any sexual feelings that they wouldn't go on a date, they wouldn't touch themselves to clean themselves in the shower, you know, that that kind of thing. Because they were so afraid that any sexual feeling would make them sinful.

Now, of course, that's kind of OCD, that's a high level of anxiety. But there's a spectrum between those two realities and so finding this balance of how do I–

I'm less concerned about do you ever touch yourself or do you ever masturbate and are you living a meaningful good life in which you're moving forward, doing challenging things, have self-respect, feel good about the life you're living, feel capable of being known by others. Any extreme of this works against our ability to integrate our sexuality and our spirituality.

Sara: Yeah, beautiful. That's a great way of saying what I really try to embody here in the podcast, is less this is bad, and more are we creating the life that we really want to?

Jennifer: That's right.

Sara: And learning the skills to stop feeling like we need to indulge or consume more than what is actually good for us. 

Jennifer: Exactly. I think a more positive message for adolescents or young adults than never touch yourself, it's terrible is instead the idea of what is it that I desire? Now most of us desire the ability to be in a loving, sexually intimate relationship down the road, to be in a meaningful, committed partnership.

So then the question is, is what I'm doing leading me closer or farther from that? Because that's very different than, oh, that makes me so terrible. Instead, like, I don't want to do this because I think this is interfering with me living the way that I would want to live, to be able to choose somebody who's well developed and be choosable by somebody who's well developed.

Sara: Yeah.

Jennifer: So it's, it's re-framing it in terms of desire, not shame and prohibition.

Sara: Yeah. And a great way too, to bring it back to this idea of using our sexual energy to go out and create this life that we want that builds us as a person. Like you had said before, correct me if I'm saying this wrong, where you go out and create and develop to become someone that you would like to be in a long term committed relationship.

Jennifer: That's right, exactly. Because we tend to choose at the level that we have developed ourselves. And so you want to be attractive to other people that are also developed themselves. Because otherwise, you'll create a kind of needy relationship. One where you're either looking to somebody to give you a sense of self or looking to provide it for somebody because you need to feel stronger than they are.

But those need-based dynamics that are very common undermine desire and intimacy in marriage. And so that self-developmental phase that single people are in is a very precious and important time for preparing oneself to be capable of intimacy in marriage.

You continue to grow when you're in marriage, so that's okay that we all are in development even when we get married. But the more that you've developed a self you respect and feel good about, the more capable you are of creating an intimate partnership that you respect and feel good about.

Sara: Yeah, I love that. Thank you. Now, I want to re-frame this question a little bit too, because this is also something that I hear often from people is, “Woke up in the middle of the night and I feel horrible because I had a moment and I masturbated. And I do this about two times a month, and what's wrong with me?” What would you say to someone who is maybe–

Jennifer: It just sounds like you’re a human being. So there is a biological basis for sexuality. And especially in young adulthood those desires, that biological reality is pressing itself upon you, right? So to be looking for some release is normal.

Sara: And this feels different than what we just talked about too. This might not be something that's keeping you from creating great results in your life.

Jennifer: Yeah, 100%. This is more like your body is looking for some release and when you're half asleep it's, you know, this is similar to a wet dream, it's some physiological release. And it sounds normal and healthy, and certainly okay.

Sara: Yeah.

Jennifer: Right, that's part of accepting your sexual nature. If that makes us feel somehow shameful or bad, that, in my view, is more problematic. Rather than, yeah, I'm a sexual being who's in a period of celibacy, this is not shocking. I've chosen celibacy, so this isn't weird. This doesn't make me bad. And I can be okay with that as I'm making these deliberate choices.

Sara: Yeah, and I love that re-frame there too. Like I've chosen to be celibate, and this is a–

Jennifer: A natural reality that's going to come out of that chosen celibacy.

Sara: Yeah, and some of us just need a little bit better sex education.

Jennifer: Yes, that’s right.

Sara: Because I want to make sure to differentiate between those two because I have listeners who are on both sides.

Jennifer: Yes.

Sara: Is there anything you would say, because you asked, well, is this a male or a woman who has this question? Is there anything you'd say to a woman?

Jennifer: Well, I was just in particular thinking of the author who was speaking to men. So he was just talking about that in his view, like refraining from masturbation actually helps you have more of the drive and the courage that you may need. So he was actually putting it as more of a strategy.

I think, with women, interestingly– Now, my dissertation was a qualitative study, so I don't have huge numbers that then can say this applies to the population of religious clients as a whole. But interestingly, women who transitioned most comfortably into marriage all had masturbated as adolescents.

Now, many of them had decided– And the other thing that’s very important is they saw it as a positive thing. So that is to say they maybe didn't think hey, I should masturbate, no problem. But they saw their capacity for pleasure as a positive thing. They were excited about it. They thought I look forward to being able to be sexual someday.

And many of them made a decision to not touch themselves as a kind of deliberate waiting, but out of a place of conscious choosing, not shame.

Sara: Yeah.

Jennifer: Nonetheless, because they already knew their sexuality on some level, because they already integrated it in the sense that they felt good about its existence, that really set them up to say, “Okay, now I really want to explore and develop this part of myself and figure out how to have this pleasure when I'm with you, because I already kind of know what I'm looking for.”

So they were actually much more capable of creating a marriage, a sexually intimate marriage, than people who knew nothing about their pleasure, than women who knew nothing about their pleasure. Knew nothing about their ability to experience arousal. And sometimes didn't know anything because they were pushing it away.

Sara: Yeah.

Jennifer: For example, I have a client who had sexual feelings and felt so afraid of them, pushed them down, pushed them down, felt like this made her bad. And then once she got married it was under like layers and layers and layers of anxiety and shame.

And so to somehow be able to uncover it and have it be integrated into her sense of self, she only knew a servicing model. It was also a way of not having to make the sexuality hers because she's like, on what basis would I make it mine? This is not a good part of being a woman.

Sara: Right, this exists for me to help you.

Jennifer: Exactly, this is to service a husband.

Sara: Yeah.

Jennifer: And so even if she could allow him to be sexual with her, on her, she wasn't ever showing up and being sexual with him.

Sara: Yeah. Back to this idea that I love, using our sexuality for good is also just using it for good to embrace us.

Jennifer: Yes.

Sara: Embrace ourselves, love all of this part of us. It's not a bad thing, it’s a good thing.

Jennifer: Yeah, that God created us, gave us the bodies, and declared it good. And a lot of us really struggle with that. We're like, good, maybe everything good except for the bad parts. A lot of us, out of our parent’s fear, we inherited their anxiety. A lot of us feel like it would be bad to think of my vulva as good. And that's just actually not to accept the gift of our embodied sensual and sexual natures. They’re a gift to us. So I think we need to take that theology seriously.

Sara: Yeah, and for my listeners, just encourage you to maybe start to open your mind and be willing to see things a little bit differently around your sexuality. And what if it was true that my sexuality was from God? What if it wasn't a bad thing? Could it be true?

Jennifer: Well I think a way I would say it is our bodies are from God. So kind of no matter your faith, if you believe that you're here and God is overseeing this project, that your embodiment is meant to be. It would be a pretty cruel God to give you a body that you should then reject. Does that make sense?

So I mean, I understand that maybe in LDS theology it's more explicit, but I do think one has to think about do I believe in a God that would kind of torture me with sexuality? Because that's not a very kind God, as opposed to a God that wants us to thrive, that wants us to have joy through the way we relate to ourselves and others.

Christ was very clear about that love leads the way, that love is the highest commandment, right? So what is a loving way to be in relationship to my body, in relationship to a partner, in relationship to others that is loving and creates strength for all of us? So I think that's a deep theology that most faiths have and can lead the way in thinking about how to relate to your embodied and sexual nature.

Sara: Yeah, thank you. Thank you, perfect. Okay, I think that is all. We covered everything, we're about out of time. So is there anything else that you want to say to my audience of people who are trying to quit porn?

Jennifer: Well, I think one thing I would say is that sometimes, and I've said more about this on other podcasts, so if people want to hear more of my thoughts about this, on my website you can put in pornography, and you'll get all the podcasts where I talk about this topic.

But I do think that part of what can drive the compulsivity around porn, or video games, or anything like that where you feel sort of compulsively drawn to it is that sense of shame, of course. But also the feeling like I am out of control, or it controls me.

And I think the more that you own that you do choose it and that you are choosing it for a reason, the more it facilitates you getting into the driver's seat. I am going to it on purpose. And what am I hoping it's solving for me? And is it solving that? And what is it creating?

So rather than I shouldn’t, and everybody knows I shouldn’t, and this makes me bad. More like, no, I really do have choices. And how do I feel about what my choosing, even if it doesn't feel like a choice, I'm still ultimately behaviorally choosing it. And what is it creating in me? What's it creating in my life? Am I okay with that? Do I want that in my life? Why or why not? And who do I want to be for myself around this?

So my point is that when we kind of make it external, and we shouldn't, and it's sort of outside of us, as opposed to I don't have to be celibate. I'm choosing celibacy. Maybe other people think that's a good idea. Maybe I've learned that in my religious upbringing. But I am the architect of my life. I'm the chooser and I live within the consequences of my choices.

I'm choosing how I'm in relationship to porn and it's accruing to something. And what do I feel about what it's accruing to? Because the more that you are seeing yourself as the actor and the one living in the consequences, the easier it is to make different choices. Because you see yourself as the architect, not someone being acted upon and in this kind of external locus of control, because that drives a lot of self-hatred and compulsivity.

Sara: Yeah, so maybe if I had to re-say it is neutralizing it a little. And so it's not so shameful or so good, but it's just a choice. This is what it accomplishes for me. Maybe I escape this pain for a minute.

Jennifer: Yeah, here's the upside, here are the downsides, yes.

Sara: Now which one do I really want to choose?

Jennifer: And can I live with the upside and the downside? And if not, why not? It's a very kind thing to do for oneself actually, to really be more thoughtful about do I like what this is, you know, I try to never say to myself I can't have a piece of chocolate cake because then I'll eat it. I'm much more likely–

Sara: Or then I eat the whole cake later.

Jennifer: Yeah, exactly. Or like I'm a terrible person because I ate a piece of cake. Well, that's more likely to get a second piece. Then just like no, who am I and how do I want to be in relationship to these pleasures and what will allow me to be the person I want to be?

So the more it's in this I'm the decider, I'm the chooser and I live in the consequences, I alone do. That makes it easier. Now, there's a lot more to say on this topic, but at least just shifting it from the external to the internal is a very important first step.

Sara: Yeah, thank you. That's super helpful. Thank you for everything that you've shared today and for coming on the podcast. Just awesome.

Jennifer: My pleasure, thanks for having me.

I want to invite you to come and listen to my free training called How to Quit Viewing Pornography Even if You've Tried in the Past. If you like the podcast, you will love this free training. We talk about, number one, how to not rely on willpower or phone filters so that you can actually stop wanting pornography.

Number two, how to guarantee that you won't fail no matter how many times you've tried in the past. And number three, how to feel good about yourself while becoming someone who doesn't struggle with pornography. You can access this training at sarabrewer.com/masterclass.

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