One More Reason to Love Oxytocin: The 30-Day Challenge

By: Dr. Tina Schermer Sellers and Taylor Ulrey
Collaboration and Reference:


Several months ago, a friend of mine told me she had begun having terrible menstrual cramps. I suggested that the next time she was on her menstrual cycle, she try masturbating to orgasm one of the days her cramps were bad. I explained that orgasm releases a brain chemical called oxytocin, which among other things, is a natural painkiller.  I described a bit about the miracle of this chemical and all the ways it adds joy to our lives … how this was just another very cool attribute.  A few months later she called to tell me a funny story.  Her husband walked in on her that morning while she was masturbating. Apparently, that led to a curious conversation between the two of them. He was a bit confused at first. She said my advice worked and the orgasm was great too!

Today’s post is dedicated to this fascinating hormone, Oxytocin,

which is housed in our brain’s hypothalamus. This hormone is one of the important reasons why we all need to make loving touch a significant part of our everyday life.  We could all use more hugging, kissing, holding, gazing, and giving and receiving love from those we care about.  This concept of loving touch is just as important as a healthy diet and good night’s sleep.

So, what about oxytocin is so fascinating?

First, even though oxytocin is usually associated with women and infants, it is actually present in both sexes. Oxytocin has psychological, physiological, and even emotional effects on humans. And oxytocin doesn’t act alone, it is usually accompanied by it’s two best friends… Dopamine and Serotonin. In fact, oxytocin has the same effects as antidepressant medications in animals!

For women, this neuropeptide stimulates muscles in the uterus to contract during labor, causes milk to come in postpartum, and is responsible for bonding between mother and baby. For men, oxytocin affects the movement of sperm and the production of testosterone. For both sexes, the hormone may affect the arousal cycle, increase feelings of trust, potentially may help reduce stress, may act as a diet aid, and may increase the risk of addiction if our oxytocin systems are not nurtured well enough from birth to three. During the first six months or so of a romantic relationship, oxytocin is at peak levels. This aids in the “falling in love” of the couple.

Emotionally, oxytocin can help decrease feelings of fear and anxiety, and facilitate trust and attachment between individuals,

which is why it is beneficial for couples to engage in acts of intimacy that encourage oxytocin release, like cuddling, hugging, giving and receiving massages, sleeping naked, and sharing orgasms. In fact, when one is sexually aroused, the levels of oxytocin in their brain skyrockets. It also reduces stress by reducing the stress hormone, cortisol. By doing this, the hormone aids in digestion as well. Oxytocin also helps people feel more generous. Finally, the hormone helps with engaging in social interactions.

I think we could all use a little more of this ‘oxytocin-awesomeness’ in our lives. Don’t you?

I invite you to take the 30-day Sacred Sexuality Challenge below by doing “The Whole Being Hug” every day for 30 days. It takes 3 minutes a day. Three minutes unrelated to sex, or anything else … just a luscious, relaxing, present, loving hug.

Come see how this little-but-powerful hug can change your relationship.


Like this exercise? More exercises like this are in Dr. Tina Schermer Sellers’ book coming out this spring. Buy your pre-order copy here now.

If you purchase the book before April 20th and email an image of the receipt to you will be sent a bonus chapter written only for pre-sale readers with information, ideas and practices you can apply immediately to your life or clinical practice. You will also receive a podcast interview where Tina talks about the book.

If you want to be guaranteed a first edition printing, buy during the presale.

Collaboration and Reference:

Limited Offer … Limited Supply!! Sex, God, & the Conservative Church – Erasing Sexual Shame! #endreligioussexualshame

Whether you were affected by the church’s negative view of sex, or you are a clinician who works with people whose sexual experience has been diminished, many have been waiting for this book for years! The wait is finally almost over!In fact, if you purchase the book before April 20th, we will immediately send you a Bonus Chapter with exclusive information just for you!

This chapter is to say thank you for your patience and to give you something NOW you can put into use right away!!  

This information will not be available after this time. All you have to do is send us a copy of your receipt to While you are waiting for your copy, we will also send you the latest information on new podcasts, interviews, and book reviews as Dr. Sellers travels around discussing her research and the book.

LIMITED SUPPLY … the publisher will likely have to do a second printing because of the small size of their first run.  This means that those who wait to purchase their book will likely find themselves not being able to get a copy right away.   SO DON’T DELAY!


“Masterfully integrating psychology and theology, Sellers gives us a groundbreaking, razor-sharp view into conservative Christian culture and its shame-inducing sexual ethic. As a psychologist, I am impressed by the precision, validity, and robustness of her research. As a theologian, I am grateful for the Christian sexual ethic — rooted in justice, mutuality and an infinitely relational God — that she introduces. As a millennial who grew up in the conservative Christian purity culture that Sellers describes, the practices in this book lit my pathway to greater freedom from shame and more authentic connection to God, myself and others. I hope that therapists and Christian leaders — pastors, parents and youth workers — will read this insightful book with an open mind.”

– Christena Cleveland, Ph.D., Duke Divinity School, author of Disunity in Christ – Uncovering the Forces that Keep Us Apart


“Most clinical programs – whether they are based in psychology or marriage and family therapy, social work or medicine, pastoral counseling or any number of other fields in the “helping professions” – do not adequately prepare trainees to work with individuals or couples who have been indoctrinated with Church-driven messages of sexual guilt and shame.  As a therapist and educator, I have struggled to find resources that help guide clients on a path to healing and growth – and to do this in a way that simultaneously embraces their sexuality(ies) and religious/spiritual faith.  The wisdom and counsel that Dr. Tina Sellers offers in this book should be in every training curriculum, on every providers’ bookshelf, and in every couple’s home.”

-Tai J. Mendenhall, Ph.D., LMFT; Couple and Family Therapy Program, University of Minnesota


This book is powerful medicine for anyone who has ever suffered religious shame about sex.   You will find compassion for your dilemmas of conscience, wisdom regarding the teachings of the church, and best of all—explicit practices for opening your mind, nurturing your heart, touching your body, and celebrating the spirit of all that is truly erotic.

-Gina Ogden, Ph.D., LMFT, author of Expanding the Practice of Sex Therapy, The Heart & Soul of Sex, and other books


Dr. Tina Schermer Sellers’ provocative book addresses the sex-negative doctrine in the conservative Christian church that instills in many people deep shame about their body and discomfort with the opposite sex, making them ill-prepared for marriage. Showing how notions of Christianity and sexuality are complementary, Dr. Sellers offers both therapist and lay reader examples of working with clients to heal the soul-body split, reduce shame, and deepen a couple’s loving connection.

-Stella Resnick, Ph.D., Couples and sex therapist in private practice in Beverly Hills, CA. and author of The Heart of Desire: Keys to the Pleasures of Love


“This book is a practical and yet deeply theological path towards healing for those wounded by a shame-based purity culture. Dr. Schermer Sellers researched and written a roadmap towards a sex-positive Gospel ethic of intimacy. I will be recommending it to pastors and counsellors and teachers everywhere.”

– Sarah Bessey, author of Jesus Feminist and Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith


“This is an enlightening, well-written, and a clinically useful book on the problems and potential of conservative Christianity for clients dealing with sexual problems. Tina Schermer Sellers is uniquely positioned to make this unique contribution to therapy for a population often misunderstood by clinicians. Whether you’re new to the field or highly experienced, I promise you’ll learn a lot.”

-William J. Doherty, Ph.D., professor, director, Minnesota Couples on the Brink Project, University of Minnesota; author, Take Back Your Marriage.


Book Title:  Sex, God & the Conservative Church – Erasing Shame from Sexual Intimacy

Synopsis: This book is the first of its kind written to help people of faith who have experienced religious sexual shame. This shame and trauma come as an inadvertent byproduct of the sex-negative sexual ethic of conservative religion.  Based on ten years of research, it explains what happened in the formation of the Christian church, the recent purity movement, and how American culture can compound the problem. It goes on to reveal a sex-positive ancient Hebrew story that was buried in Christian history and the sex-positive gospel ethic that was never developed. Finally, it offers a four-step model for healing religious sexual shame, and actual touch and non-touch exercises to bring healing and intimacy into a person’s life.  The book is appropriate for clients, patients, therapists, clergy, physicians, and those who train sociology students, therapists, sex therapists, clergy or primary care physicians.  It also is a text that would function well in a book group or study group and for those who want to explore the impact of religious sexual shame and those who want to heal or help someone else to heal.  It is sensitive to those who grew up in conservative church environments, while simultaneously providing adequate information for the provider that may not be familiar with that culture.


Can We Overcome This Affair?

Couples who have experienced an affair within the relationship often ask me, “Is it possible to overcome this?” The short answer is “Yes!” Their pain and difficulty notwithstanding, affairs have the possibility of occasioning new bonds that can be even more meaningful than couples had prior to their affairs.

Getting to that point, however, takes time and patience. So when a couple comes to my office asking, “Can we overcome this affair?” My thought immediately is, “How much do they want to save this relationship?” I think this because overcoming an affair can be heart-wrenching work. It takes time and money (if you go to a therapist) to save this relationship. It is a big commitment emotionally and financially to reconcile and heal an affair.

An affair is a deep attachment injury. It often cuts at many core feelings of both partners, which can result in the formulation of some core statements about themselves. Some of those core statements can be: “I am not enough,” “I am a failure,” or “I am not worthy of forgiveness or love.”

Getting to those core emotions is essential when healing attachment injuries. To do this, it is important for partners to be able to identify the cycle they get into that causes tension. This cycle is often what leads to the affair. Knowing the cycle and the part each partner plays in the cycle can lead to an opportunity to change the way they respond to each other. This process can lead to the creation of safety, security, and love in the relationship…EVEN after an affair.

It is hard not to be defensive during times of difficulty; however, with counseling, a couple can learn to replace defensiveness with ownership. Anger with sadness can eventually be addressed with empathy and compassion from your partner.

The ultimate goal in therapy is to create a relationship in which both partners feel heard, loved, healed, and accepted. Learning to create both a new cycle and a secure attachment with your lover will eventually allow partners to tell each other what they need. This will allow each partner to look to each other rather than outside the relationship when life gets hard.

A couple who has experienced an affair can never go back to the way things were because things will not be the same. This can be a good thing! The reason this can be a good thing is that the way things were made the couple unhappy and occasioned the affair in the first place. The cycle that caused them to distance from each other is the enemy, but together the couple can learn how to break out of that unhealthy cycle and embark on a cycle that promotes love, security, safety, and trust.

So, is recovering from an affair possible? YES! Is it hard, heart-wrenching work? YES! However, if couples want to repair their relationship, create new memories. and live into new cycles of interacting, their marriage can be the best it has ever been!

Kimberly Costelo is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, a Certified Sex Therapist, and a Certified Integrated Intimacy Practitioner through the Northwest Institute on Intimacy. More information on her private practice can be found at:

The #1 Reason a Couple Will Be Dissatisfied with You

It’s a cold, late Tuesday evening. Your next clients are one of your most intriguing Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) cases. You’ve met with them a total of four times so far and they have begun to see progress in their relationship. You’ve taken a relationship history, a detailed history of their family of origin, held separate individual sessions, talked about their attachment, and have outlined their EFT cycle with them. The couple is aware of their cycle and is making steps to not engage when it comes up.

During the relationship history, the couple reported that there was a time where they were separated because of “something he was doing.” The way that the couple talked about this ambiguous thing was like it had a power of it’s own. You could tell they weren’t joined with you enough to begin talking about it, so you saved it for further assessment later on.

So you decide tonight seems like a good time to bring it up. When you bring it up, the couple looks at each other and then looks back at you and the wife says, “he has been experimenting behind my back with anal play, specifically to stimulate his prostate, and now he wants me to start doing it with him. I feel like this is what is preventing us from making any more progress in our relationship.”

This scenario could go one of three ways. First, you could refer this couple out to a sex therapist. You know as their therapist that the couple has identified this issue as being what is keeping them from progressing further in treatment, so you know the problem has to be addressed. Referring out to a sex therapist means that their treatment is paused or terminated. You haven’t begun to explore their primary emotions and underlying attachment needs and fears with them. You send them with a referral and a Release of Information for the sex therapist. You never hear back from the sex therapist when you attempt to collaborate, and the couple doesn’t return to therapy.

Second, you could be the sex therapist that is referred this case from a mental health provider. You have no idea that this couple has three children, one with Down Syndrome, which has put a major strain on the relationship. You have no idea that the husband’s father also enjoys prostate stimulation. You are clueless to the wife’s abandonment by multiple people in her life. You work closely with him, going back to understand how he learned about sex and his body and what his idea is of the origin of this “problem.” You co-create a a sexual ethic commitment for him that includes safety of himself when using anal play, and connect him with books to read and resources to utilize.

Believe it or not, there is a third option in this scenario! A couple’s therapist that is trained in systems thinking AND trained in sex therapy could treat this couple. The couple’s therapist could realize that this prostate stimulation is a part of their EFT cycle, as the husband tends to do this when his wife is emotionally unavailable for him. You could go back to the basics and give them both sex education around the genitals and stimulation. You could normalize, rather than pathologize the behavior by referring the husband out, the behavior by comparing the prostate to the female G-Spot. You could talk about how to be safe when using toys or other objects, and you could help the couple communicate about the prostate stimulation. You could help the couple co-create a sexual ethic around the prostate stimulation, use of erotic images, and then reframe all of these things in the lens of attachment. You could go deeper into the EFT cycle by helping the husband name his attachment need of being accepted, and you could name the wife’s need to be important.

Clearly, the third option is best for the client. In a world where we are trying to bring the mental health and physical health together in physician’s offices with a Patient Centered Medical Home, we can provide this in our therapy offices as well. Research shows that there are four main concepts that make for effective therapy: the relationship, utilizing extra therapeutic factors, placebo, hope, and/or expectancy and lastly, the structure, model, or technique (Donahey & Miler 2004). Dr. Peggy Kleinplatz (2013) makes an excellent case for combining couple’s therapy and sex therapy. She states that treatment of the symptom alone means that the context of the problem is often forgotten or dismissed. Had a sex therapist just worked with the husband, he or she would have missed that the wife is also experiencing a lack of pleasure. Emphasizing seeing the couple as a whole person, Dr. Kleinplatz makes a plea to combine the two therapies to best suit our clients and society as a whole.  This way they stay in therapy and reach their attachment goals through BOTH good therapy and improved sexual connection and shared pleasure. This is biopsychosocial-sexual therapy, and I have come to believe it is a core competency.

If you are a couple’s therapist interested in receiving training toward your AASECT certification for sex therapy, please visit

Taylor Ulrey is a graduate student at Seattle Pacific University studying Marriage and Family Therapy. Taylor is also obtaining her certificate in Medical Family Therapy and aspires to be an AASECT certified sex therapist in the future. Taylor is one of the administrative assistants at NWIOI. Taylor’s clinical work focuses on couple therapy, specifically postpartum couples and the many struggles that come with building a family.


Kleinplatz, P. J. (2001). New directions in sex therapy: Innovations and alternatives. Philadelphia: Brunner-Routledge.

Donkey, K. M., & Miller, S. D. (2004, November). Applying a common factors   perspective to sex therapy. 11(1), 42-51.


Until April 1st – Save $160.00 on the June SAR.  GRAB A SPOT WHILE THEY ARE STILL AVAILABLE

Becoming an AASECT Certified Sex Therapist is a two year process involving coursework and 50 hours of supervision. The Northwest Institute on Intimacy is the only place in the country where you can receive this training in an intensive highly efficient and cost effective two year format involving one four day class, one five day class, and 50 hours of supervision.  The next SAR Course (Sexual Attitude Reassessment) is June 22-25 and is now open for registration.  Until April 1st – the Early-Early Bird cost is $590.00 (regularly $750.00); $160.00 off the regular tuition cost. 

Swept Away- Women’s Low Sexual Desire

Her eyes, with a mind of their own, lock onto their target. Her partner has just entered the café and wine bar. Light beams radiate in all directions behind them and Donna Summer’s song, ‘Love to Love You’ begins to play. As she watches her beloved saunter through the crowd, a wave of desire washes over her, drenching her in a salty brine of titillation. The wave has also swept them together. Unable to fight the urge, she levitates out of her chair – they embrace and the rest of the patrons dissolve into the receding tide. In her mind, gentle winds blow off their clothes, fireworks explode on the horizon and they are destined for mind-blowing sex… forever.

This may be the way it ends for our fictional friend but in real life, a woman’s sexual desire is much more complex. Human desire is made up of physical and psychological components. Our sex drive, the biological element of desire, includes an interest in having sex as well as our sexual thoughts, fantasies and dreams. Whether we choose to act on our biological urges or not, most of us experience a certain degree of sex drive. There is also a psychological aspect of desire that includes a need for intimacy and closeness. It all seems so effortless for our character in the wine bar but for most of us, desire can ebb and flow causing distress in the best of relationships. If your level of desire is adequate for you and your partner(s) then there is no need to ponder this issue further as there is no standard to live up to. If you are having difficulty due to lack of desire you are not alone. In fact, the prevalence of low sexual desire ranges from 26.7% among premenopausal women to 52.4% among naturally menopausal women (Hildreth & Fellow, 2008).

Some common contributors to a women’s low sexual desire are:


Painful sex – Sex isn’t supposed to be painful unless that is your goal, with safety having been negotiated. Peri-menopausal and post-menopausal women may experience pain due to a decrease in estrogen causing vaginal dryness. Although normal, this is not something that you are resigned to live with. Remedies are available and usually fairly straight forward.

Hormone issues – as we age, men and women do experience a decrease in testosterone and estrogen, our sex hormones. This changes how our bodies respond to sexual desire and arousal.

Medical issues such as thyroid disorders, endometriosis, fibroids or chronic illness

Medications – antidepressants (SSRI’s), blood pressure or heart medications


Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or trauma-related symptoms

Body image issues

Conflict/confusion surrounding sexual orientation or gender identity


Job and life-related stress

Relational issues – decreased emotional connection and satisfaction in the relationship, trust and safety issues, feelings of obligation to engage in sexual activity, change in life such as having a baby, newly empty nesters or caring for loved ones, partner sexual performance issues, lack of communication, exhaustion

Religious shame around sex, sexuality, or your body


Although there are multiple contributors to low sexual desire, there are also several ways to seek help…

Communicating with your physician or psychiatrist can be helpful. Talking about health issues and medications and their potential contribution to low sexual desire are invaluable.

Making a commitment to see a sex therapist who is also trained as a couple’s therapist will allow you to see someone who can help you in multiple ways. This is true whether you go in as a couple or as an individual. If your primary concern is how your sexuality is affecting your relationship, we suggest you go in together. Being able to explore your relationship dynamics and life issues and communicate about your sexual likes and dislikes can be freeing and enlightening. Learning about your own body and that of your partner and new ways to think about sex and intimacy can recharge your sex life. If your concern is primarily about how your sexuality is bothering you alone, then going in individually is fine. Coming to terms with past hurts or conflict related to religious or family of origin beliefs can be life-changing.

Joining a women’s support group to have a place to voice your distress, wonderings and successes can be helpful. Many women struggle with questions regarding sexual desire – and you would find out you certainly are not alone! If you are interested in learning more about the ‘Understanding Your Libido” women’s support group that will be meeting on Sundays through October, please click here.

It is true, our lives are not those out of a romance novel but it doesn’t hurt to author our own story of sexual desire and fulfillment in the real world.



Kristin Nielsen MS, LMFT, CIIP is a marriage and family therapist in private practice on Lake Union in Seattle.  She visits with teens, individuals and couples desiring change in areas of their life such as relationship conflict, trauma and life transitions.  She is a Certified Integrated Intimacy Professional and sex-positive therapist specializing in sexual health and intimacy.



Hildreth, C. J., M.D., & Fellow, F. (2008). Prevalence of low sexual desire and hypoactive sexual desire disorder in a nationally representative sample of US women. JAMA, 300(10), 1128. Retrieved from




Sex, Sexuality and Cancer

depression-20280When you are coping with cancer and cancer treatment, your main focus probably has something to do with survival, which make perfect sense. As your team is assembled and a game plan mapped out, thoughts may wander to cancer’s effects on day to day living including sex and sexuality. After all, as humans we are made to love and be loved. Perhaps the following questions have crossed your mind:

How can cancer affect my sex life and sexuality?

Many cancer patients and survivors report some degree of sexual complication related to their illness. It is common to experience a decrease in desire for sex, changes in sexual functioning and orgasm and changes in connection to sexuality – the way you feel about yourself when it comes to sex and your need for closeness and touch. Emotional issues that existed prior to treatment or as a result of cancer such as depression, anxiety and grief may complicate sexual activity. Many individuals resign themselves to a life of unsatisfying sex as cancer’s ‘salt-in-the-wound’ but it does not need to be this way. There are lots of things to be considered, experimented with and talked about. Granted, sex may not be the same as before cancer but that does not mean it can’t be fulfilling and, perhaps, even better than before treatment.

How can body changes affect sexual desire?

Battling cancer is a life-altering experience and one that can leave physical and emotional evidence of the fight. As you cope with cancer, adjusting to how you view yourself as a sexual being takes time and can affect your appetite for sex especially if your treatment has left permanent reminders. Hormonal changes resulting from treatment or hormone therapy can also reduce desire for sex as the hormones testosterone, progesterone and estrogen get out of whack. Genital pain can occur when sexual encounters are attempted and affect your desire for future sex if pain becomes synonymous with intercourse. Anxiety may overtake desire as what came naturally in the bedroom prior to cancer treatment is now unpredictable and foreign. It’s important to keep sex focused on connection and pleasure and not engage in behaviors that are painful. Although it may seem unattainable, desire for sex can be nurtured and increased through conversation, patience and playfulness.

What can I do to tackle sexual issues associated with cancer treatment?

Talking about sexual issues is one of the most helpful tools in your toolbox. Discussing sex with your medical team over the course of treatment and during follow-up appointments not only provides you with information but it underscores the importance of intimacy to professionals. Talking with your partner about your fears, sadness and sexual side effects as well as what kind of touch might feel good, how you wish to be loved and how you would like to show love is vital to a healthy sex life. Finally, discussing sexual issues with a therapist specializing in sex therapy AND couples therapy can provide you with a safe environment to talk about your experience with cancer, your sexuality and sex. These therapists in particular, especially if they have worked with cancer patients and their doctors before, are a wealth of information, and have been very successful in helping their clients reclaim a loving and satisfying sexual life that suits both partners.

Important video resource provided by Swedish Cancer Institute:



Kristin Nielsen MS, LMFT, CIIP is a marriage and family therapist in private practice on Lake Union in Seattle. She sits with individuals and couples dealing with many issues such as anxiety and depression as well as relationship difficulties and life transitions. She is a certified integrated intimacy professional specializing in sexual health and intimacy.

Kristin Nielsen MS, LMFT, CIIP