Coral Springs

 

1725 N. University Drive

Suite 350

Coral Springs, FL 33071

Telephone: (954) 227-2700

Fax: (954) 227-2704

Linda Berlin, Psy.D.

&

Psychological Associates

Boca Raton

 

7000 W. Palmetto Park Road

Suite 407

Boca Raton, FL 33433

Telephone: (561) 347-0997

Fax: (561) 347-0996

 

Disclaimer 

Any medical, sexual and mental health information presented by Dr. John Adams or Dr. Constance Avery-Clark is meant for general educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for consultation with your physician or other healthcare professional.  The materials presented are not intended as medical, sexual, or psychological advice for individual problems.  If you have, or think you have, a medical, psychological, or sexual problem or symptoms, please consult a qualified physician or therapist.

 

It is the intention of Drs. Adams and Avery-Clark to publish material that addresses the subjects of sex, relationship, and other psychological issues in an informative and sometimes entertaining manner.  The opinions they express are their own based on their unique experiences and training.  Their opinions do not necessarily reflect any definitive opinions in the area of mental health, marriage and family, or sexology.  It should also be understood that there are other qualified professionals who may have different opinions about the same subject matter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wired For . . . and Mired In . . . Sex

By: John Adams, Ph.D. and Constance Avery-Clark, Ph.D.

Our sexual health and the development of sexual problems are influenced by a number of factors.  These are the biological psychological, and the socio-cultural.  These seemingly very different factors are, in fact, very interconnected, and they interact with one another in creating and maintaining sexual health and/or sexual problems.   

Biological Influences

         

William Masters, M.D., of Masters & Johnson Institute, one of the early pioneers in sex therapy, repeatedly referred to sex as being “a natural biological function”.  That is to say, our ability to respond sexually, as defined by certain physiological reactions, is part of our birthright. For example, women are wired from birth to vaginally lubricate and to experience clitoral engorgement; men are wired to have erections and to ejaculate.  While lubrication and penile engorgement are not the be-all and end-all of sexual responsiveness, they are the physiological underpinnings of sexual responsiveness, and we are wired for these responses just as we are wired from birth to experience a number of other natural functions.  We are usually born with the necessary vascular, endocrine and nervous systems in place to respond in a sexual manner.  Our brains and our bodies are typically ready to deal with and react to appropriate stimuli when the time is appropriate.  We don’t need to be taught how to respond sexually just as we don’t need to be taught how to breathe, to urinate, to become hungry; Mother Nature has taken care of  this already!

 

The fact that we do not need to be taught how to make our natural functions operate is clearly evident when we are asleep, when all conscious controls are off.  When we are asleep all our natural functions continue to operate on their own without our having to learn or consciously control them.  Our breathing continues at a natural rate and rhythm.  We continue to digest food at a natural rate and rhythm.  Our heart continues to pump blood.  And our sexual functioning also continues to operate without our conscience control.  For example, while we are asleep, approximately every 80 to 90 minutes, males will have some increased engorgement in their penises, regardless of their ages.  Females will produce some increase in the amount of lubrication now matter how young or old they are.  Such response patterns while we are sleeping suggest that, when free from conscious control, our sexual functioning, much like the other natural functions, continues to operate at its own natural pace. 

         

Biological interferences to our natural functions come in two forms.  The first category is genetic glitches that make the expression of our natural functions difficult or nearly impossible.  These genetic glitches can be observed either at birth or later in life.  However, even if our genetic make-up is conducive to healthy sexual functioning, injury, disease, and/or adverse environmental factors can also lead to marked changes in our endocrine, vascular, nervous, and functional systems; these can lead to difficulties of varying degrees in our sexual functioning.

 

Psychological Influences

 

While the first element of the definition of a natural function is that we do not have to be taught the function, the second element is that it is under some degree of voluntary, conscious control.  For example, we can hold our breath.  We can influence the ease with which we fall asleep.  The function that is under greatest voluntary control of expression is sexual functioning. In fact, although all of our natural biological functions can operate without our having to consciously control them, none of them, including sexual responsiveness, really function naturally when we are conscious.  In an awake state, our natural functions are continually influenced by psychological and socio-cultural factors of which we are aware or of which we can become aware.  These psychological and socio-cultural factors can impact our sexual functioning in a number of ways. 

 

One of the simplest ways that our sexual responsiveness is influenced psychological is by “conditioning”.  All natural functions can be conditioned.  One example of a type of conditioning that is familiar to most of us is the laboratory experiment of Pavlov’s dogs being conditioned to salivate to a bell anticipating meat powder.  Although there are not any pure laboratory examples of conditioning of our sexual functioning, the same principles that govern the conditioning of the natural response of salivation to the stimulus of food also shape the natural response of sexual arousal to other types of stimuli.  This means that conditioning plays a role not only in our development of sexual expression but also in our learning to modify our sexuality.

           

One form of conditioning that can have a rather marked negative effect on our natural expression of sexuality is aversive conditioning.  Sexual functioning can be very vulnerable to this type of conditioning particularly under conditions in which cultural supports for recovery from traumatic sexual experiences is not optimal.  For some people, it does not take more than one emotionally or physically traumatic experience associated with sexual feelings or functioning to have a rather dramatic psychological impact on his or her sexual functioning and attitude toward towards sexual functioning.   For others, repeated exposure to sexual trauma can have rather profound effects lasting a lifetime.   

         

Modeling is another way in which natural functions can be shaped.  Observing an action or simulated activity either directly or indirectly (i.e., readings, lectures, discussion, etc.) can clearly alter our expression of and beliefs about sexuality.  Conditioning, modeling, and principles of behavioral change have a significant impact on our sexual function and how it is expressed.  These factors are also very likely to be involved in the development of some sexual problems. 

         

In addition, psychological factors such as personality and emotional well-being (e.g. being happy, depressed, calm, anxious) are quite complex and are interwoven with biological and socio-cultural factors.  They can have a profound impact on our sexual functioning and how we express it. 

 

Socio-cultural Influences

 

Whether we view sex as a means to keep score, a duty, a mechanical act, part of romance, an integral part of one’s spirituality, or any of a multitude of other psychological constructs has a lot to do with socio-cultural factors.  Socio-cultural influences are usually reflected in terms of rules and beliefs about the ways in which sexual functioning can or should be expressed. 

 

Albert Ellis, Ph.D., in his book entitled, “Sex Without Guilt”, examines several of our long held cultural beliefs about sexuality and how these beliefs impact our sexual expression.  Dr. Ellis discusses how a particular sexual philosophy, law, or moral doctrine can have a more supportive or more adverse effect on the expression of sexuality depending on the extent to which it is realistic about the biological and human psychological factors involved in the expression of sexuality.  For example, it is easy to predict that sexual and emotional problems may develop if a socio-cultural group were to rigidly adhere to and enforce a doctrine or moral code of sexual expression that markedly limits and dramatically dictates its purpose without realistically taking into account biological and psychological influences on sexual functioning.  It is detrimental for a socio-cultural doctrine not to be open to the development of accurate information on human sexuality.  We need only think of the examples of homosexuality and masturbation, to cite but two, that demonstrate historically as well as currently how labeling a sexual pattern as problematic can be culturally induced and can have an adverse impact on sexual expression and functioning for a large number of people. 

 

Socio-cultural factors also interact in a complex fashion with psychological and biological factors.  Our cultural beliefs have dramatic impact on how we conduct ourselves, deal with stress, manage social problems, and affect our environment.  These in turn can have supportive and/or adverse impacts on our sexual functioning. 

 

Our understanding of human sexuality in terms of biology, psychology and culture is still far from complete.  We know more about human sexuality now than we have ever known, that it is a natural process.   But we still have a ways to go in order to effectively respond to issues of sexual health as individuals, couples and as a culture taking into account the fact of its being a natural process.  We have only recently begun the process of moving sexuality out of the area of superstition and mis-belief and into the realm of empirical inquiry and social debate.

 

Drs. Avery-Clark and Adams when assessing and treating a couple for a sexual functioning and/or intimacy issues pay particular attention to biological, psychological and socio-cultural factors that have led to the development of the particular sexual problem or intimacy issue a couple is experiencing and its implication in achieving the couples goals.  In some instances, when biological condition is viewed as the primary cause of a sexual problem a referral to a physician will be recommended before treatment can continue.    

Dr. Adams or Dr. Avery-Clark can be reached by phone at (954) 227-2700 or (561) 347-0997 or by email at drs4intimacy@msn.com.

Read Dr. Adams' biography here.

Read Dr. Avery-Clark's biography here.

You can read more about Drs. Adams and Avery-Clark's services in the Sex Therapy section of our website where you can also read articles written by them, including:

Finding a Sex Therapist

What You Can Expect From Couples Counseling With Drs. Avery-Clark and Dr. Adams.

What You Can Expect From Sex Therapy With Drs. Avery-Clark and Dr. Adams.

Different Desires, Different Interests.

What Makes Relationships Last?

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