Episode 38. Dating, Sex and Relationships in Young Adults (Human Sexuality Part 1)

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Episode Summary:

The need for sex education is significant, as indicated by a popular college course on human sexuality. Dr. McNichols explains that students want to learn how to have successful sexual and intimate relationships, and her course is one of the few places where they can. Hear what young adults’ concerns and needs are, from how to meet potential partners to the role porn plays in (mis)informing about sex.

Episode Guest: 

Nicole McNichols, Ph.D. Associate Teaching Professor, Depart of Psychology, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington.

During This Episode We Discuss:

  • Sexual Education: Sex and Relationships
  • How to connect with somebody, how to negotiate the interaction that typically comes with the beginning of any sexual interaction.
  • How to begin and enter into dating and relationships
  • Keys to a good relationship
  • Transgender Youth and support
  • Messaging for parents
  • Porn and its role in sex
  • Technology and relationships

Quotes (Tweetables):

“We tend to become so self-conscious in these interactions, we tend to think that in order to flirt with somebody or get them to be interested in us, or to get them to go out with us, that there has to be some kind of song and dance that’s put on where we are super charming where we just wow them with all of our abilities and amazing traits… What we want are people who are genuine”

“The average age that kids start watching online porn now is 11, which is astonishing, and how easy it is to access, the problem coupled with that, is, lacking high-quality sex education, you have kids who are now learning about sex from online porn”

“Sexual recession… It could be technology, it could be, we are so used to communicating with people now via phone, via text, via a message that young people have almost lost their ability to connect with somebody in a real face to face interaction, that we are so not used to putting ourselves out there and making ourselves vulnerable because of technology, that we’ve lost that ability”

Nicole McNichols, Ph.D.

Recommended Resources:

  • A Critical Introduction to Human Sexuality: Nicole McNichols, Matthew Numer; Top Hat Textbooks

Episode Transcript: 

Dr Richard Pelman (00:00):

The Original Guide to Men’s Health is moving to a monthly release schedule. We will be releasing new episodes the first Wednesday of each month. We really appreciate you listening, and we hope you enjoy this episode.

Dr. Richard Pelman (00:18):

Whatever you do, whatever you enjoy, you need your health. Welcome to The Original Guide to Men’s Health, a podcast designed for men of all ages to learn about and access good health. This guide shares knowledge on how to be and stay healthy,  maintenance and prevention strategies, along with reviews of conditions and issues affecting wellness are explored. Please join me, your host, Dr. Richard Pelman, as I interview renowned experts who will provide you with timely, relevant, and vital information so that you can embark on a journey towards better health.

Dr Richard Pelman (01:07):

Nicole K McNichols is an associate teaching professor in the department of psychology at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle, where she also received her PhD in social psychology. Over the past six years, Nicole has built her class, the Diversity of Human Sexuality, into the University of Washington’s largest, most popular undergraduate course in its history with over 3000 enrolled students each year. Her current research focuses on teaching methods designed for human sexuality. And in 2019, she delivered a TED talk entitled Students On Top, a guide to 21st century sex education. Nicole is an active member of a variety of societies for teaching human sexuality and as a three-time distinguished teaching award nominee. Nicole received her BA from Cornell university in 1997, and her PhD in social psychology from the University of Washington in 2009. Welcome, Dr. Nicole McNichols.

Dr. Nicole McNichols (02:08):

I’m really honored that you invited me on, thank you.

Dr. Richard Pelman (02:11):

Let’s start with relationships and the idea of establishing and understanding good pillars of relationship, whether it’s the casual or somebody deciding to be committed. I mean, how do you advise this group who come to you with this open area that they’re just exploring?

Dr. Nicole McNichols (02:30):

What we have are some students who are coming in from parts of Washington state who have never had really any kind of sex education and have come from these very erotiphobic communities where sex and relationships were not discussed, and where, you know, sex before marriage was something that was actually, still is, frowned upon. And also from other areas of the world, we have a large population of international students who come, who really had very little experience with sex and relationships. And as you point out, I constantly get this question asked of, you know, “How do I flirt? How do I meet someone? How do I connect with somebody?” How do you kind of negotiate the interaction that typically comes at the beginning of any type of sexual interaction? And the idea that I always continuously come back to when asked that question really kind of rests on this idea of authenticity because we tend to become so self-conscious in these interactions.

Dr. Nicole McNichols (03:37):

We tend to think that in order to flirt with somebody or to get them to be interested in us, or to, you know, get them to go out with us, that there has to be some kind of song and dance that’s put on where we are super charming and where we just wow them with all of our abilities and amazing traits. And this is where my, you know, social psychological training, my PhD is actually in social psychology, that’s where I can kind of really, you know, dig down in the research there and explain to people what we want are people who are genuine, right? We connect with people where we feel like they’re showing really who they are, but almost more importantly where they’re interested in who we are, right? We want people who honestly are asking questions that they truly want to know the answer to and where they’re responding to things that we’re saying in a way that shows that they’re listening and where they ask follow-up questions.

Dr. Nicole McNichols (04:42):

Not because it seems like they’re supposed to, but because they’re genuinely interested in us as a person. And you know, it’s interesting, this also ties into to this idea of, you know, you get into a completely different topic and we talk about pornography. It’s almost sexually objectifying a person. If you go into an interaction thinking, “Okay, they’re this kind of, you know, one dimensional object that I need to just, you know, dance around for,” really you want to engage with that person and really understand what they’re about. So that’s where I always start with students. And you know, it’s really sweet. I form, even though my class is extremely large, I have 1200 students in my class that I teach three times a year. And then over the summer, I’m still able to form relationships sometimes with individual students who seek it out. And it’s sweet.

Dr. Nicole McNichols (05:35):

They’ll tell me about, oh well, I went and I asked her for. You know, I started talking to her and we had this conversation. And then, you know, I asked her out and it’s sweet. They’ll kind of start to slowly realize that if you can open yourself up and also make yourself vulnerable, and combine that with just being honest and authentic, that you’ll probably be a lot more successful in navigating these types of relationships than you may previously think. So I think it’s about really putting yourself out there and being honest and not being afraid to kind of really share who you are, and also making sure that you’re genuinely interested in the person you’re connecting with.

Dr. Richard Pelman (06:14):

So when someone comes, how do you advise them about helping them define for themselves what they’re looking for?

Dr. Nicole McNichols (06:21):

First of all, we are living luckily at the tail end, but still very much in a pandemic. And people are home, and people are not out mixing with each other socially face-to-face. So my sense, when I’ve pulled people in my class, I have technology that allows me to pull people, and even just talking to people who are more my age who might still be dating is that a lot of this is happening online. And you know, I think people have had success through these dating apps and dating websites. I think for people my age, there might be this kind of, you know, stigma around that thinking, “Oh, well that’s not an authentic way to meet somebody. And how do I even know about this person before I break through?” But I would say to someone who’s dating and looking to meet people that they should absolutely try those websites and those dating apps because I know people who have met their spouse on there, and who are very happily married.

Dr. Nicole McNichols (07:25):

And I know lots of relationships that have come out of there. I think online is a great option. Now, however, hopefully as people come out of this pandemic and we are fortunate to be more in situations where it’s face to face, I think that that is a superior way to get to know somebody. And I still think dating apps and online connections will happen and that’s great, but to really get to know somebody, it has to be face-to-face. There’s this idea in social psychology that almost goes back to Freud, who has largely been dismissed, but it turns out he had some pellets of ideas that research has supported. And one of those is this idea of projection, right? So when you meet somebody online for the first time, or for the first couple of times, what happens is we tend to project onto them sort of this idealized image of who we think they are and who we want them to be.

Dr. Nicole McNichols (08:18):

And that tends to happen in the beginning of any relationship. And it’s a completely normal phenomenon. I do think that for relationships that are continuing online, where there’s not a face to face interaction that can be maybe perpetuated beyond the stage where it’s kind of naturally starting to decline, and where you’re actually achieving a real connection and real intimacy with a person where you get to know them and start to understand that they are their own person with wonderful things about them, as well as things about them that maybe aren’t what you imagined or expected. But that’s the beauty of relationships. And that’s often when real intimacy starts to form. So I would say that now, especially when we’re all home during COVID, that if you meet somebody online I would say go to that Zoom date as fast as you can. I mean, really get to a place where you, even if it’s virtual and through a screen, can connect and interact with them in as close to a real life setting as possible  because otherwise you just kind of don’t know really what you’re dealing with. Or you do, and you have to kind of understand that what you’re interacting with is more your fantasy of whoever that person is more than who they actually are. So yes, I would definitely advise online dating, but I would just keep in mind that it has its pros and benefits and just kind of understanding how it works, I think is helpful

Dr. Richard Pelman (09:47):

That probably moves to a more intimate type of setting than online where you’re actually interacting and exploring the world together. So that moves from, you know, the initial dating experience to moving more into a more defined relationship. What happens in that? I mean, there are some people who get very nervous about that.

Dr. Nicole McNichols (10:09):

It’s interesting. There’s this trend that we pretty much consistently see across all relationships. Where for the first, you know, it can be anywhere from a couple months to even all the way through up to maybe one or two years, passion in a relationship can be extremely high where there’s sort of this, you know, continued projection of this idolized person or kind of idea that is happening. And so passion will be very high. You know, the excitement of the relationship will still be there, but you won’t really know the person. There won’t be true intimacy, which really only comes as you just said perfectly when you peel that onion. And then we tend to see this inflection point for both of those things. And so around, you know, again, anywhere from a couple months to two years, we see that suddenly that passion might start to decline a little bit, which can start to feel a little bit frightening, right?

Dr. Nicole McNichols (11:09):

It’s no longer that you’re always thinking about each other and always wanting to rip each other’s clothes off as soon as you see each other. But as you said, the intimacy, which is really getting to know the person, starts to increase and that can be deeply satisfying. At that inflection point one of two things happens, either the couple breaks up binds that they’re not compatible beyond that initial phase of romance and excitement, or they stay together and kind of develop something deeper now how to keep the passion alive in a long-term relationship, which is absolutely possible, is a whole other conversation. Just because you’re in a long-term relationship doesn’t mean that you’re doomed to this life of little to no sex, and little to no passion there. You know, it’s absolutely possible to still maintain that, but it does take a little bit more intention and thought than it does originally in the beginning of the relationship.

Dr. Nicole McNichols (12:00):

And one thing I just want to kind of add on to that is there are interesting sort of evolutionary anthropological explanations for why this occurs, which has been really this idea put forth primarily by Helen Fisher and others that, you know, if you think about how we evolved. If you have a person who is a mate who you have this passion with, you have sex, you get pregnant, you have a child, the idea is that it kind of made sense from an evolutionary standpoint to want that partner to kind of stick around for a little bit, just to help provide resources and help provide protection. But at about that two year mark, what starts to happen? Well at about that two year mark, the offspring starts to be able to walk, right? And as soon as they’re not in a position where they really need to be attached to the mother, right, as soon as there starts to be that independence, what makes sense for the survival of the species is to then start to look around for other mates. What does that mean? It means that you shouldn’t panic if at around that end of that initial strong, romantic, passionate phase you start to see that wane a little bit because that’s just how we’re built genetically. But again, it doesn’t mean that with thought and insight and intention, you can’t reclaim that.

Dr. Richard Pelman (13:23):

Let’s take an individual who just knows they don’t want to become committed. They like dating, but they’re not interested in any long-term commitment, or maybe they are but they don’t want to be tied down. How do you advise both sides? The person who had somebody learn that that’s kind of where they are and how do they express that to somebody they meet so they don’t hurt them, or vice versa the person who’s on the receiving end? How do they find out if they have different ideas about that?

Dr. Nicole McNichols (13:50):

Well, wanting that can be a wonderful thing. I would say the vast majority, if not a good part of my students, are really just looking for that, right? And what we call that is hooking up or friends with benefits, right? And we used to kind of frown upon that. There’s been a lot in the media about hookup culture, and this idea that young people are going out and having sexual interactions without any intention of forming intimate bonds afterwards. And there really is nothing wrong with that. I mean that can be a fun, adventurous, wonderful experience to have. It can teach you about what you enjoy sexually. It can teach you about what types of people you’re attracted to, what you’re not attracted to. And I talk in my class about this idea of the autonomous hookup, right? And so what that means is so long as you are entering into sexual interactions, whether it’s for one night or this idea that maybe it’s going to be this sort of this fling, long as you’re entering into that because that’s really what you consciously or even sort of subconsciously want.

Dr. Nicole McNichols (14:57):

That’s a wonderful thing, right? You can enjoy that if you’re doing this because you think that by hooking up with the person, you’re going to kind of slowly lure them and convince them to have a relationship with you, that’s where problems are going to arise. If you’re doing it to make some other partner jealous, that’s going to be what causes problems. If you’re doing it because all your friends are hooking up and you think that’s what you’re supposed to do but you’re not really sure it’s what you want, that’s going to lead to problems. What I advise students and other people is really quite simple, which is just to be kind right? Just to be compassionate and to not take this narcissistic perspective, which is only looking at your own needs. But being, going into these situations really thinking about, “Okay, is the other person also looking for what I’m looking for in terms of a short term non-committal type of interaction?” You can pick up on cues from another person. But what we find, and this actually has substantial data behind it, is that if two people are looking for the same thing, that can be fun and amazing.

Dr. Nicole McNichols (16:05):

And there’s no problem with that. But if people are in a situation where they kind of know the other person’s looking for more of a relationship and you’re not, and you’re figuring, “Oh, well it’s their fault. They should just know, this is just a hookup.” That’s not a kind thing. And you really owe it to that person to have a conversation about the fact that you’re not looking for something long-term. What about people who sort of chronically, aren’t looking for that long-term reaction, right? Which starts to get into this question of, you know, avoidant attachment styles. And is there a problem with that? And my whole class and philosophy is about not stigmatizing and not having, you know, bias against any type of one relationship style. And so I don’t, right? And I don’t think people should, but there is this idea that comes from childhood research, actually looking at childhood psychology, which is this notion of attachment style where when you look at relationships that children have with their caregivers at a young age, that, you know, you kind of see people fall into one of three categories.

Dr. Nicole McNichols (17:09):

The first is this notion of the person who’s securely attached, right? And so this is the person who feels safe with mom and dad or whoever their caregiver is. Is fine, you know, or gets upset initially, but calms down quickly when they leave. But when they come back, they’re happy to see the parent or caregiver. And they’re able to play with the toys that are around them. They’re able to engage with other kids. They don’t totally panic. So that’s the securely attached child. Then you see the insecurely attached child. Who’s the kid that just cries the entire time the parent is gone; feels unsafe when the parent leaves; won’t engage with the world around them or the toys around them. And you see the avoidant attachment style, right? And so these are the children who don’t really care when mom and dad leaves and they might actually play with all those toys. But they’re not going to really have any reaction when the parent returns because they’re avoidantly attached.

Dr. Nicole McNichols (18:07):

Having said that what we’ve seen is in longitudinal studies, we see a consistent pattern where those styles show up in adulthood. So yes, there are definitely adults who don’t like that feeling of intimacy who start to freak out when they feel like a relationship is getting too serious or too close, and really may want to examine where those feelings come from because it could be something that’s preventing them from getting into a relationship that they want to be involved in, that is keeping them from being happy. But it’s not to say that being single is a bad thing throughout the lifespan. Some people enjoy that. Some people don’t want to be tied down. Some people want to be, maybe they’re extremely focused on their career. And they may also have a life full of friends and other interests and family. And there’s no reason that this kind of heteronormative idea of marriage and finding one person has to be kind of this one size fits all recipe for happiness.

Dr. Nicole McNichols (19:12):

But if you are finding that not finding that long-term person is bothering you, and you think it’s or suspect it’s because as soon as anyone starts to get close you get upset or fearful or starts to feel uncomfortable, then that’s really the time to go see a psychotherapist. Because there can be effective ways to work through those issues. But it usually takes a significant type of intervention from usually another person that the avoidant person has to be able to trust before you can kind of move successfully through that and become more securely attached, so to speak.

Dr. Richard Pelman (19:50):

What do you advise for those who really are finding within the LGBTQ community that they now are finding where they are in that spectrum? I mean, they come to you and they’re dating, or how do they explore that?

Dr. Nicole McNichols (20:06):

Well, I talk a lot about sexual orientation in my class, as well as gender identity and expression. We really explore this idea that the two are orthogonal constructs, which means that you can identify however you identify, and you can be attracted to whoever you’re attracted to, that one does not determine the other. And that’s oftentimes a really novel concept to students, especially those who are coming from more conservative backgrounds. What I really try to encourage is this understanding that, you know, we do see sexual minorities facing, struggling with higher rates of depression. Specifically, transgender individuals is what I see higher rates of depression and anxiety. And there’s this wonderful line of research by a professor named Kristina Olson. She used to be at the University of Washington. She just moved, I think to Princeton. Her research project on this is called the TransYouth Project*. And what she has consistently found is that if you look at transgender youth who are in environments where their parents are supportive; where their peers are supportive; where their teachers are supportive; the mental health outcomes of those trans children are exactly the same as those of cisgender** children.

*TransYouth Project: https://hudl.princeton.edu/research-0 

**Cisgender: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/teens/all-about-sex-gender-and-gender-identity/what-do-transgender-and-cisgender-mean 

Dr. Nicole McNichols (21:33):

Cis- just means that, you know, it’s a biological male that identifies as male and a biological female that identifies as a woman. And so what does that mean? It means that there’s nothing, you know, what I try to tell students is there’s absolutely nothing inherent to being trans or to extend that even a sexual orientation that makes you different in a way that’s going to cause you to have mental anguish. It’s about the community. It’s about how society treats you. And so I think that’s sort of an important message to drive home to students because a lot of them are coming into this place where they’re discovering their own gender identity, or they’re discovering their own sexual orientation. It’s not something to be afraid of. It’s something to embrace; it’s something to really enjoy. And the other thing is, I think there’s an important message to get out there to parents.

Dr. Nicole McNichols (22:22):

There tends to be amongst some parents this fear that if you educate kids about sexual orientation and trans issues, that it’s like something that the kids might catch. That you’ll confuse them. And that they may think that they have a different orientation or  have a different gender identity only because they’ve heard this very confusing idea. And nothing could be further from the truth. For kids, it tends to be something that seems much more logical than for adults. I mean, why should it be that we just have these two arbitrary categories of gender or orientation? Why can’t it be that we accept all and celebrate all? You know, there have been in my children’s classes kids who have transitioned socially. Where they started out as one gender and transitioned to another, and changed their name and took a pronoun and sort of dressing in a way that expressed the new gender.

Dr. Nicole McNichols (23:18):

And it was no big deal. It was no big deal to my kids. It was no big deal to the other kids in the class. They just, every now and then there might’ve been my son, for example, may have said accidentally use the person’s old name instead of the new name, and then would quickly correct himself. So this is not something that’s threatening or confusing to kids. You’re not going to catch being trans or, you know, catch being gay. It’s something that just needs to be honored and respected from the very beginning. It isn’t a trend. It’s not a fashion choice that kids are going to try on. It’s not just because they’re seeing their friends do it and think it’s cool. It’s something to be really respected and to be just encouraged them to think about it. And just trust that they have the ability intuitively to come back to understanding who they are and to really trust their instincts and to express who they know they are and not feel that it’s ever something that they need to be ashamed of or hide.

Dr. Richard Pelman (24:13):

So as people begin dating, and there are some cultures that do carry a different way of going about things, how do you advise your students if they’re cross-culturally dating? You know, how to be aware and sensitive to what another culture may see differently?

Dr. Nicole McNichols (24:32):

I almost think that the individual to individual difference is just as significant, f not more than when you look at cultural differences as a whole in relationship styles. So I think though that the question is still very pertinent because sure some people are going to be out there and self-confident, and easy to connect with. And some people may be a little bit shy and, you know, not be the center of attention and not be the kind of the life of the party. Sometimes there can be this tendency to kind of gravitate towards that sparkly shiny person. And look that sparkly, shiny person may be amazing and have, you know, a lot of depth and be, you know, worth connecting with. But a lot of times, it might be the shy person that’s kind of, you know, standing in, you know, with a group of friends, not that they’re totally a loner, but, or they could be. But that person sometimes has even more interesting and complex ideas and thoughts, and maybe even more to offer in terms of the type of relationship that you’re looking for. So I think it’s about the diversity of human sexuality and that’s what makes life beautiful, right? Is the fact that we have all these diverse people, both in terms of not just gender identity and expression, but relationship styles and ways of communicating and connecting. And I think it’s just kind of about exploring that and figuring out what you connect with best.

Dr. Richard Pelman (25:58):

What have you heard from students is their most frustrating part of building relationships? I mean, what do they come to you and go, “This is a problem.”

Dr. Nicole McNichols (26:07):

I pull my students every quarter about their impressions of the dating scene at UW, and it is a dismal picture. I mean, some of them say, “Oh, it’s great, and I meet people and I have a boyfriend, girlfriend.” But for the large part, I’m hearing that it’s extremely frustrating. But I think that for young people, you know, there’s research showing that they just, you know, for whatever reason, believe it or not, there’s this idea of a sexual recession that’s happening. You know, not just with young people, it actually exists across demographics in the US. And why is that? Well, we don’t really know. There are all sorts of factors that could be at play. You know, it could be technology. It could be that we’re so used to communicating with people now via phone, via text, via message that, you know, young people have almost lost their ability to really connect with somebody in a real, you know, face to face interaction. That we’re so not used to putting ourselves out there and making ourselves vulnerable because of technology that we’ve sort of lost that ability.

Dr. Nicole McNichols (27:17):

So that’s one idea. You know, the other thing though, that I really see is that students just seemed to be under a tremendous amount of stress. And I think everyone tends to be under an amazing amount of stress. And, you know, I think people are working harder than they’ve ever worked, are busier than they’ve ever been. They seem to be more worried about school and more worried about grades that they don’t have time for sex. They don’t have time for relationships. They don’t have time to really kind of develop these skills. And it’s such a shame. I mean, it certainly, I don’t remember it being that way at all. When I was in college, I remember it being much less stressful. Maybe I just have this kind of rosy, you know, rose colored glasses on when I look at my college experience. But I just felt like it was easier then. And what I always say is pick up the phone or go meet them in person; meet for coffee; meet for a drink;  meet for dinner or whatever it is that seems just the more face to face you can have.

Dr. Nicole McNichols (28:19):

And that’s scary. Yes. And make yourself vulnerable, but take risks. You know, you’re not gonna grow or learn or change or, you know, connect with people if you don’t put yourself out there and take risks. And yeah, you’ll get rejected. That happens to everyone, but being rejected is not the end of the world. And it’s kind of a helpful thing that you can learn from. So, and then be able to move on and find people who are better fitted for you. So yeah, I think it’s about vulnerability and risk and putting yourself out there. And most of all, just having that face to face interaction.

Dr. Richard Pelman (28:55):

Moving into individuals who either widowed or divorced and their experiences they date.

Dr. Nicole McNichols (29:02):

I think again it’s this idea of making yourself vulnerable and putting yourself out there and not being afraid to take risks. And yes, it’s a crazy world out there. And there are going to be a lot of frogs that you kiss before you find your princess or your prince. But you’ve got to go through that. What you tend to see in marriages that end in divorce or widows is that they’re sort of different things that members of a couple struggle with. So what we see is that women tend to be more anxious about maybe their financial situation, if they were in a marriage where they weren’t the primary breadwinner. And that might be something that is to change their lifestyle a little bit and make things a little bit more anxiety provoking. And again, in those types of marriages, again, where it is much more heteronormative.

Dr. Nicole McNichols (29:51):

So we say where you have again, the man who’s making most of the money and the wife, you know, maybe taking more care of the children. We tend to also see that what men suffer from is more of a sense of loneliness because oftentimes in those relationships, it was the wife who was organizing more of the social activities and social life of the couple. And all of a sudden there’s a divorce. And the husband is like, “Oh, wait, wow. Now I suddenly have to take on this role of putting myself out there socially and finding friends and connecting with friends.” So I think that those two things need to be acknowledged. But again, I think the advice is the same as I would give younger students, which is just to take risks and put yourself out there. And whether it’s a dating app or connecting with people through friends, just going for it and not being afraid to fall down because you will, but you’ll grow from it. And honestly, the next person is around the corner and you just have to believe that going through it.

Dr. Richard Pelman (30:47):

Let’s move into talking about intimacy and sexual relationships. I remember when my kids were in middle and high school, that happened off campus so that the parents who didn’t want their children to receive education didn’t have to. And it was done very well at Planned Parenthood*. And we went, and one of the points that was made to a lot of the parents was that sex starts earlier than many had conceived that it did occur. And that brought a certain scenario where maybe one of the pair wasn’t ready for sex and the other was. And what do you advise the students who are in that situation where somebody wants to move in and somebody isn’t ready for that?

*Planned Parenthood Sex Education: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/for-educators 

Dr. Nicole McNichols (31:31):

It’s about both couples communicating. Pepper Schwartz*, who is a big researcher in the sociology department. I think she wrote this opinion piece for Seattle Times a while ago. And the theme that at least I read out of it was this idea of we teach our children to use their words, right? When they’re in a tense situation where they want something, the other person doesn’t want, you don’t just go punch the other kid in the face or force it out of their hand. You teach them to communicate. And we as adults need to remember that and keep communicating. And so that means that both members of the couple need to be able to say, “Is this good for you? Should I put on a condom? How do you see this going? Are you good?” Right? I mean, how easy to say, “Are you good?” in a situation.

*Dr. Pepper Schwartz: https://soc.washington.edu/people/pepper-schwartz 

Dr. Nicole McNichols (32:21):

And then at the same time, we need to teach women that it’s okay to use their words as well. That we need to be able to say “No,” but you need to be able to say, “Can you do this instead of this?” Really, I think that what our culture needs is just a increased focus on using actual words in these types of situations so that you don’t end up in a scenario where one person’s really being coerced into something that they don’t want to do. Now back to this idea that people are worried about their kids having sex at a younger and younger age, or having more and more sex. Believe it or not that’s not what the data’s showing us. We think they’re having a lot more sex. We as a generation, we’re actually having more sex than they were at least as teenagers.

Dr. Nicole McNichols (33:05):

What we do see that has completely changed the landscape for especially that middle school, junior high, and high school crowd is the accessibility of pornography specifically online pornography. Porn is fantasy, and it represents not something that’s real. It represents something that is there to make us excited and turn us on, and maybe make us realize what we think is sexy versus maybe not. First of all, if it involves actors who are well-paid and who are consenting to doing what they’re doing, and it’s being consumed in a way where the person watching it understands that it’s fantasy but it’s not actually a portrayal of real life, it can be a wonderful tool. I mean, we see from the research that it can even enhance relationships so long as one person’s not threatened by the fact that the other person’s using it. It usually works better if a couples watching it together.

Dr. Nicole McNichols (34:01):

But for young people, the average age that kids start watching online porn now is 11, which to me is astonishing. I mean, if you think about just how easy it is to access and the problem with that is that, coupled with the fact that we really are lacking high quality, comprehensive sex education, you have kids who are now learning about sex from online porn. And so their ideas of what bodies look like, their idea of what sex is like are just totally skewed to completely unrealistic proportions. And if the type of porn the child’s accessing, especially in situations where it’s showing kind of this gender stereotype of the male in the more aggressive role, pushing the woman to do something that maybe initially she doesn’t want to do, but then she gets so turned on that she decides she wants to do it, and then they’re into it.

Dr. Nicole McNichols (34:52):

And it’s amazing. That’s teaching a kid that that’s what women want, right? And that that’s what great sex looks like. And I think that’s what’s really setting us up for problems, which again comes back to this idea of we need high quality, comprehensive sex ed. that’s showing everything about sex. Not just the dangers of sex, but actually what positive sexual interactions look like. Kind of combat that so that we can have healthy, consensual, egalitarian relationships, sexual relationships, where both people are entering into it with the same amount to gain and the same amount to lose, and are really listening to each other.

Dr. Richard Pelman (35:33):

Yeah. I had a number of patients who had been single and utilized porn. They were having a lot of difficulty moving into actually a relationship with another person. To be isolated and watch porn, yes sexual release masturbation with watching porn, but don’t lock into it to the point where you lose the ability to encounter a whole relationship with another person because it can really make it difficult.

Dr. Nicole McNichols (36:04):

Absolutely. I 100% agree with that. None of this is, you know, bad. No type of sexual behavior is bad so long as it’s not getting in the way of your own happiness in life, and so long as it’s involving somebody else that’s consenting. So if your porn use is so frequent that, and there’s no number that makes it too frequent. But if it’s getting in the way of your, you know, being attracted to real bodies. If it’s getting in the way of your ability to actually meet a person and have sex with somebody who’s real, then that would qualify as now being a problem. But having said that, I think it’s also important that it not be, porn not be portrayed as something that’s just bad no matter what it is. As you said, it can be something when contextualized in the right amount, whatever that is for the individual person. The right place, right type, it can be helpful. But yes, again, because it’s portraying sex in such unrealistic ways and showing bodies that are unrealistic, if that starts to become something that is established as a norm for the person where having sex with somebody who doesn’t look like that, or we’re having sex, that’s not imitating that kind of fantastical image. You know, if you no longer can get turned on by, you know, a sexual situation that’s not imitating that. Then I would say that that’s a problem, and it needs to be addressed

Dr. Richard Pelman (37:34):

Looking at, uh, resources as we’re nearing the end of our discussion. You’ve just completed a book?

Dr. Nicole McNichols (37:43):

I actually wrote an interactive textbook with my author, my coauthor, Matt Numer*, he’s at the Dalhousie University in Canada. And we wrote this book together with the idea that most of the textbooks that were out there that were being accessed by professors and students at schools were again, very sex-negative, using language that was stigmatizing, not explaining kind of the more positive aspects of sex, largely neglecting LGBTQI+ populations, that we needed something that was more comprehensive and that was more inviting to that. And that, you know, also, it’s just more fun to use just in terms of the types of interactivity that you could have with the book, meaning the types of questions and videos and ways in which the medium in which it’s presented. But yes, my next goal is to write a consumer facing book for sure, because I do think that a lot of the content and messages that I’m trying to spread in my class are applicable to larger audiences and would be of interest to larger audiences.

*Dr. Matthew Numer: https://www.dal.ca/faculty/health/health-humanperformance/faculty-staff/our-faculty/health-promotion/matthew-numer.html 

Dr. Nicole McNichols (38:52):

One quick note is if you are interested in the types of content that I’m trying to get out there, I have an Instagram account now that is Nicole, so N I C O L E underscore the sex prof*. And if you follow that, you can see kind of a lot of the ideas that I’m talking about in my class. And, you know, it allows people to comment, and I’ll answer so people can ask questions. So that’s just sort of the beginning of kind of trying to get the word out there, so to speak.

*nicole_thesexprofessor: https://www.instagram.com/nicole_thesexprofessor/?hl=en 

Dr. Richard Pelman (39:23):

So I’m also going to make a pitch for the podcast. We do have an episode 25 on transgender surgery with Dr. Maurice Garcia, which is excellent as a resource. And also, I always want to throw in since we’re talking about sex, sexually transmitted diseases. That’s episode 26. So episode 25 on transgender surgery, and episode 26 on sexually transmitted diseases in The Original Guide to Men’s Health are also great resources.

Dr. Nicole McNichols (39:51):

I can’t wait to listen. Sounds great.

Dr. Richard Pelman (39:55):

Anything else that you want to say to the listeners at the moment?

Dr. Nicole McNichols (40:00):

The fact that you’re even listening to this podcast is great. Knowledge is power. That we need to embrace information, be open to new ideas, promote inclusivity, promote respect, and that it’s, you know, a diverse world out there. And that’s a wonderful thing. And don’t be afraid of these ideas. Think about how, you know, they may be applied to you in the world around you and how they can help you and others.

Dr. Richard Pelman (40:27):

Dr. Nicole McNichols. Thank you so much for spending time with us. We really appreciate it.

Dr. Nicole McNichols (40:33):

It was my pleasure. That was so much fun. Thank you again for inviting me on.

Dr. Richard Pelman (40:38):

I’d like to let our listeners know that in two weeks we will be publishing part two of this episode on human sexuality. I’ll be speaking with Dr. Irwin and Sue Goldstein of San Diego Sexual Medicine* about some very specific information on male and female sexual response.

* San Diego Sexual Medicine: http://sandiegosexualmedicine.com/ 

Dr. Richard Pelman (40:57):

This completes another episode of The Original Guide to Men’s Health podcast. We wish to thank all guests who volunteered their time and knowledge. The information presented is the opinion of the speakers. The show’s recordings are engineered and edited by Shawn Fox, episode titles and descriptions as well as editing assistance are provided by Dr. Kathleen O’Connor PhD. Music for our show is San Juan Bell’s, written and performed by Dr. David Whiting. The podcast is sponsored and published by the Washington State Urology Society. The Original Guide to Men’s Health is an original publication of the Washington State Urology Society. Reproduction and use without the expressed written consent of the society is prohibited. For more information about men’s health and previous episodes, as well as additional recommended resources, visit us online at theoriginalguidetomenshealth.com. This is Dr. Richard Pelman, thanking you for listening and reminding you to take care of yourself.

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