One huge factor in enjoying a life-giving sex life is your overall attitude towards your own sexuality. Today, I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Anthony Hughes, and I’ve got to say his positive affirmation of our sexuality is contagious. I learned that it’s really good and beautiful to cultivate our own sexuality and to share that within the bonds of our marriage. By the way, Dr. Anthony Hughes is not only a sex therapist that’s a male, which is really rare, he is also a professor at Brigham young university, which is a private religious school. So, I was very interested to ask him about his take on his view of sexuality from a faith, spirituality standpoint. Spoiler alert, it’s super positive! Welcome to episode 42, religion and positive male sexuality with Dr. Anthony Hughes.

Dan:

Dr. Anthony Hughes, thanks for coming on the podcast today!

Dr. Anthony Hughes:

Yeah, I’m excited to be here!

Dan:

I’m a fan of your book, You, Me, & We, and have been following your work for a while. You’re a certified sex therapist and also have your doctorate in in human sexuality. You teach at Brigham young university, and you also have a private practice. You’re a busy man!

Dr. Anthony Hughes:

Yeah, I am pretty busy. And we were joking right before this that I am on vacation right now. Cause we decided last minute to do a quick vacation, but yeah. You’re right about all those things except that my PhD is in marriage and family therapy. So, you know my whole thing is an emphasis on sexuality. My dissertation, my thesis and my masters are all on sexuality.

Dan:

Oh, very good. That’s great. What got you interested in this?

Dr. Anthony Hughes:

Really, it’s kind of the relationship between Christianity and marriage. I’m a member of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and this is a topic that a lot of people struggle with. A lot of people will religiously struggle with this. But also outside of religion they struggle with this just in general in marriages. You know, a lot of marriages ended because of issues in their sexual relationships. So I know that you mix sexuality with religion and sometimes people struggle. A lot of people struggle when you mix marriage and sexuality. And some of the people that struggle with that will get divorced because of it. And so it’s a topic that I was always interested in, and never shied away from. I had good sexual education from family members, positive sexuality, and so I thought, you know, I’d love to go and talk with people about a topic that means a lot to me that I know means a lot to a lot of other people also, and hopefully it helps some people out along the way.

Dan:

Yeah. I like what you said about mixing religion and sexuality. Some people have a really hard time, like integrating that. So why do people struggle with that and what are some steps they can take to work towards integrating that better?

Dr. Anthony Hughes:

It’s really fascinating. I think that people struggle with it. Not that there aren’t reasons to, but you know, my own personal opinion, and I guess a little anecdotally, I think it’s because of culture in large part. It’s not usually because of religion, or at least it’s not the theology,

Dan:

Right. The culture is what you’re saying is the issue.

Dr. Anthony Hughes:

Yep, it’s all the subtle nuances of things that are closely connected to religion, but are not, like you said, the theological or religious concepts themselves. If anything actually, and I can really only speak about my religion, but I would guess that for other Christians it’s the same way for them that a lot of scripture is really sex positive. A lot of messages from leaders are super sex positive. And I laugh about it a little bit because people that are married for instance, and a lot of people that are religious like to get married and have sex within, or have a relationship within, a covenant marriage. People that are married have more sex than people that aren’t married. So just that alone, married people are more sex positive. They’re doing it more often.

They’re having sex more often than people that aren’t married. But there are tons of messages about positive sexuality. So, I always think it’s such an interesting mind puzzle to try to figure out. My best educated guess working with a lot of couples, supervising lots of therapists that work with couples that have sexual issues is this idea that the culture, and we can talk more about it if you want, but that the culture becomes sex negative. And just a couple ideas about why that might be. I personally think that that’s the adversary, Satan’s, really cunning way of getting at a sacred bond, getting at marriages, getting at families, it’s really intelligent. I mean, it’s a really smart way to get at people and destroy things that really matter that matter to God and matter to all of us.

That’s the big reason why I think that that’s the case. And then the other reason is that there’s a lot of shame for people about sexuality. So even though you get these messages, it’s like, okay, well you have the conversation with our kids. No, you have it! That’s a girl, you go have it with her, you’re the mom or you’re the dad, you go have it with your son. You know, we have a lot of shame and embarrassment around sexuality. But once again, I think that’s really the adversary inducing a lot of shame for us around that topic.

Dan:

Gotcha. So if you do struggle with those things, even now in a marriage relationship, reconciling religion and sexuality, what are some steps you can take?

Dr. Anthony Hughes:

Yeah, I think it’s a good question, ‘what are some broad steps for people to take?”, but I also think it’s an individual thing. Some people have experienced trauma and some of them it’s big T Trauma, like sexual abuse, and other people it’s little T trauma. Maybe they were caught exploring their body, and there was shame, maybe unwittingly, not on purpose from mom or dad or a sibling or something. And so for some people there’s trauma surrounding that. And so it may be diving into, and working on that trauma that they’ve experienced big T little T trauma. For other people it’s really surrounding themselves by people that are sex positive, it’s listening to podcasts like yours that say, “Hey, you can be religious and you can be like super sexual and sex positive.”

Those things actually go hand in hand. They’re not oil and water. They actually mix together. Those things actually work to boost one another. They’re good for each other. One thing that I kind of want or hope that people do in religious groups is talk more about sexuality in social media with friends, talk more openly about it. I almost envision a time where people might wear a hat or a shirt that says “I’m religious and sex positive”. That’s essentially the message that I hope gets out there. Because there’s a lot of twisted ideas out in the world about what sexuality is. And I think that it destroys marriages. I think it destroys families. I think it destroys our souls and who we are as human beings and sons and daughters of God.

Dan:

I appreciate this discussion because years ago, when I went through my own real big growth spurt with my wife about our own sexuality, this was a big hot topic for me to kind of reconcile it in me. What helped me is I really dug deep into the doctrines, into the scripture, into the theology. I was set in recognizing that culture is different than theology and really getting deep. What really helped me was recognizing that we believe that Christ was resurrected. He has a body and being physical is very much an important part of our human existence. And when you study back like the first and second century Christians, not the third, fourth, fifth, when Hellenism had a big influence in the church, but the original church, they were very positive about having a body, a physical body.

It’s later on that it crept into the Christian culture, this very Greek philosophy, that our bodies are secondary to our spirits. What helped me understand this is that our bodies are really important and if our bodies are important and if God has passions and He cries and He has joy, obviously He also has sexual passions too. Around that time, we went to the San Diego zoo as a family and just looking around at all the variety of all these different kinds of animals and plants and everything. God is a God of creation and sex, not just for procreative purposes, but for the creation of the excitement that comes from two people becoming one and the bonding and all of those things. I’m super proud to be a Christian that believes that God is a God that loves sex and sexuality and all the beautiful fruits that come from that.

Dr. Anthony Hughes:

You’re hitting on a topic that I love. I’m ready to jump in and just be all over this. Men are that they might have joy. Men and women are that they might have this happiness and this joy. We’re created in God’s image, male version or female version of God. We have the same hormones, we have the same drives, the soul is the spirit and the body. It’s not just a lot of the spirit and a little bit of the body. No, our soul is the spirit and the body, and we’re here on earth to have bodily experiences. These are things that we learn on this earth that we cannot learn anywhere else. And I think that’s pretty significant. We need those experiences so that we can more fully or completely become like God.

We need to have all these experiences. I actually think of our sexuality in the way that we’re working every day to become like God in every single way. And one of those ways is to become like God within a relationship and within our sexuality. And that’s individuals within sexuality, but also within a relationship. Because you can’t have a positive sexual relationship with your spouse if you don’t understand your own sexuality, if you don’t have a relationship with your own sexuality. And that’s one issue I see a lot of couples struggle with. They say “okay, well we can have this sexual thing together, but when that’s not happening sexuality doesn’t exist for me. I don’t even think about it. I don’t have a relationship with my sexual anatomy. It’s more something that I conjure up when we’re together.” And that really doesn’t work for people!

Dan:

It’s kind of like, it exists as its own entity outside of you that only exists in that marriage. I know a lot of couples that kind of have that mentality too. Why is that so harmful?

Dr. Anthony Hughes:

Well, I see it really leading to a lot of sexual issues, a lot of sexual dysfunction, sexual pain, lack of desire, inability to have an orgasm. I’m pretty religious, so a lot of this ties back to me with religion. I think it is, once again, one of Satan’s many ways of destroying relationships. He gets a lot of women, but definitely men too, to disconnect from their sexuality. It’s one thing that he works so hard at. And to forget who we are, all this stuff that you and I have been talking about how we are created in God’s image, we’re working to become like him in every way, including in terms of sexuality. And so he (Satan) tries to get us to forget who we are, where we’re going, and why we’re here.

That’s his objective, that’s his goal. And if he can do that and destroy marriages and families in the meantime, he’s winning, he’s doing awesome at his goal. I think that a big reason is because of that. I think for a long time there wasn’t a lot about sexuality for women. I think that the world in general has done a lot to try to change that and be positive for women, but like you and I were talking right before we jumped on here, men have taken a big hit in that cause, in that pursuit for balancing the scales and improving sexuality knowledge for women, men have kind of taken a hit in that. And that’s really sad because male sexuality is super important. It’s super important to be positive concerning sexuality for men and for women. So it’s too bad that it’s kind of played out that way.

Dan:

How is male sexuality getting a hit right now in our society? What are the symptoms of that?

Dr. Anthony Hughes:

There’s an author that I really like, her name’s Esther Perel, she’s also a clinician and she has this book that I really like called Mating in Captivity. I’m not trying to push the book, but if you’re interested in these concepts, it’s an awesome book. She also speaks tons of different languages. She’s amazing! She’s got all these Ted talks, she’s a super awesome chick. And she talks about in a general way how it’s just as legitimate for men to want connection through sexuality as it is valid for women to want connection through talking and through interacting in that way. She’s like, why is it that one is better than the other? Why is it that men can’t long for connection through sexuality?

Like why is it that talking is more important and more valid, more of a righteous place for connection? Why does it have to be second or third, or maybe even last place? I think that she is really hitting on something that’s pretty big, because I think a lot of people in the world, and maybe it hasn’t been written in stone, like “if you seek connection through sexuality, you’re bad, or you’re not as good as if you seek connection in these other ways”, but it’s definitely in relationships. It’s definitely in social media. It’s definitely a topic of conversation. You see that, people don’t think it’s as valid. “Oh, he just wants to have sex.” Well, okay. “She just wants to talk.” Why would that matter?

He wants to connect with you through sex! I mean, it could be she that wants to connect through sex, but in this topic, he wants to connect through sex. He wants to get closer to you. That’s what he’s saying. She wants to get closer to you through talking. And these are really overgeneralized. I think this was one of the issues that we face. This is one of the ways that male sexuality is taking a hit, that the way of connecting for a lot of men, isn’t as legitimate as the way that a lot of women try to connect. And I just think that’s not the case.

Dan:

And maybe the opposite extreme kind of on the same theme is if that’s all men want, they’re hedonistic, they’re brutes, that they can’t control themselves. That doesn’t speak very highly of men. It makes us sound weak. That’s not good male sexuality either.

Dr. Anthony Hughes:

I get the extreme of that. I get that if you are always seeking connection through sexuality, through intercourse, let’s say, I get how that could be problematic. So I’m not saying, oh yeah, you know, just do that as much as possible and neglect everything else. That’s king, that’s more important, or just as important as anything else. But I also see how it’s an issue if a man or woman is seeking connection just through sexuality, just through intercourse for the man or the woman that’s seeking it. When they are seeking connection just through that, it’s problematic in the relationship, just like for a man or a woman that only seeks connection through discussion, through going on dates and having long conversations. If that’s the only way they seek connection. I see that as just as problematic as the other.

Dan:

So, you need a good balance and blend.

Dr. Anthony Hughes:

You just hit on one of my soap box topics. You know, this is huge for me. I think that it’s super important that we have that have that balance. And I think that maybe it’s not a man or woman thing, but a person or person thing. There’s a lot of people that are driven to want to connect through certain means. And a lot of times we’re paired up with somebody that maybe has some overlap in the way they like to connect, but also likes to connect in other ways. And I think that that’s one of the beautiful things about us being so different from each other. And not just between male and female partners, but person and person. I mean, a wife may long for physical touch or sexual intimacy more than the husband does. And he may long for long conversations or deep conversations or time together or doing a project together or something like that.

I think that when you can incorporate all those things it’s synergistic and it becomes way more than if we just do the one that she wants, we just have a lot of sex, or just the one that he wants, we would just work on projects together. I think it’s synergistic. And I think that there’s a reason why God wants us to be in these relationships. I think there’s a reason why this is a sacred relationship, a marriage. Because I think we really become like God only in having those experiences.

Dan:

I love it. I hope those listening to this recognize how rare you are as an individual. You’re a male certified AASECT, certified sex therapist with your PhD in marriage and family therapy with an emphasis in sexuality. When you go to conferences do you stick out like a sore thumb?

Dr. Anthony Hughes:

Yeah, so the AASECT conferences, which is the largest professional organization. I love going to them. I think they are so much fun. I usually feel like I’m kind of in the majority. And a lot of times I go to those and I’m usually not. I am Hispanic. My skin is even darker right now because I’m training for a marathon actually, St. George marathon, I know you’re a St George guy. But other than that, you know, I typically fit in in the majority. I’m middle-class, I guess I can pass for Caucasian or pass for Hispanic, I’m religious, I’m conservative, and I’m in a monogamous relationship marriage. I definitely stick out like a sore thumb, which is funny, cause AASECT for instance, and I think this is the same for lots of sexuality organizations, didn’t really start out that way. It didn’t start out being more of a liberal organization or a membership that’s more liberal, which is totally fine. I mean, it is what it is, but it used to not be. It used to be a whole bunch of people like me, maybe with a little lighter skin than I have. But a lot of people just like me.

And now I definitely stick out like a sore thumb, but what was awesome is I had the supervisor that when I first got started on my AASECT certification, and she is transgender, so a male to female individual, and she was super supportive of me being part of that organization. This was before she made fully made this transition, at least to my knowledge, so I always think of her as him. He would always say, there’s a need for a voice like yours in this organization. There’s a need for a voice like yours out in the world. And I thought, how cool that someone that probably thinks very differently than I do is supporting me and promoting me being in this industry. And so I thought this is awesome. I want to be a part of this. And I know not everyone probably feels that same way. But I thought that was really neat. And I think she is right. I think there is a need for a voice like mine for lots of people, a voice like yours that is religious and sex positive. That’s like screaming it from the rooftops. Hey, you can be religious, you can be conservative, you can be liberal and religious. And you can be sex positive. Those things are not oil and water. They can go together. So, yeah.

Dan:

One thing that’s interesting talking to a male sex therapist is do you treat a lot of male sexual dysfunction through your practices?

Dr. Anthony Hughes:

Yeah, we definitely do.

Dan:

Because most sex therapists out there are women. And so it’s unique to have a man treating a male sexual problem.

Dr. Anthony Hughes:

Yeah. And, you know, it’s interesting, because I wondered getting into this profession and being a sex therapist, am I going to have a lot of men that are going to seek me out and be happy that there’s a man they can talk to about these issues? Because you know they’re really difficult for a lot of people, some people don’t have a difficult time talking about them, but a lot of men do. I imagined a lot of men would. But I also wondered are they going to feel a lot of shame coming to another man? It’s the whole locker room talk, no, guy’s going to go into the locker room and be like, Hey so I was having sex with my wife the other day. And you wouldn’t believe what happened. Like no one is going to say that. They’re going to say they had sex and had multiple orgasms.

That people are swinging from the rafters or whatever. Like no one is going to admit that there was any sort of bumper, hiccup, dysfunction or anything like that, that exists. And so I thought, well, maybe they’ll want to talk to a female therapist instead. But actually I have found over the years, just kind of anecdotally looking at it, that there are a lot more men that are wanting to meet with a male sex therapist. But you do every once in a while, get that guy that says “I’d prefer to meet with a female therapist if I could”. And I think a lot of that’s about that shame and that embarrassment. And am I not going to be a man in this male therapists eyes which is super sad that our society has seen it that way has put that out there that script that male sexuality doesn’t include dysfunction or roadblocks or anything like that.

Michael Metz and Barry McCarthy have this research that says X amount of a percentage of healthy relationships are going to have what could be considered dysfunctional sex, X amount of healthy sexual relationships are going to have sex where one partner’s more satisfied than the other. And then X amount of healthy sexual relationships are going to have it where it’s awesome for both of them. The research shows that a significant percentage of healthy couples, men and women, are going to have what could be considered or diagnosed as sexual problems. Which is really nice because when that happens, not if it happens, not thinking, oh, is that going to be me or not? But when it happens where maybe someone loses their erection or where they have an orgasm quicker than they would like, maybe under a minute or something like that, where it could be premature, they can roll with the punches and be like, oh, that was one of those times in our healthy sexual relationship where that happens. And they’d roll with the punches.

Dan:

They aren’t freaking out about it.

Dr. Anthony Hughes:

Yes. Because if they freak out about it, other than medical conditions, anxiety is the largest proponent of sexual issues for men and women. So, if they freak out about it, then it is going to make it a hundred times worse.

Dan:

I can relate. There was a season in my marriage where I had a lot of anxiety towards our sexual encounters and my body did not function. And because it wasn’t functioning, I got anxious about that. So it’s like this vicious cycle got worse and worse and worse. And then it started to drive me crazy. I started avoiding opportunities and I became the one saying, “oh, I’ve got a headache”. “I want to go to bed”. You know, doing funny things like that. I started thinking, “what’s going on with me?” So yeah. Anxiety, that totally happens.

Dr. Anthony Hughes:

Those are just conversations you need to have. You asked me how could it change in our society? It could change by people talking about it. By men saying, oh yeah, that totally happens! I was freaking out about it and then it made it even worse. You know, one thing that women have on men in that regard is that they have no problem saying, yeah, I don’t have a libido. I haven’t had a libido for the last year.

Dan:

It’s okay for a woman to say that, it’s socially accepted to say that.

Dr. Anthony Hughes:

It doesn’t mean anything about their femininity, it doesn’t detract from that at all. And it would be super empowering for men to have that same thing, because then we can roll with the punches much easier. I had a couple that came in a little bit older than me. We were talking about this and they didn’t bring up any sexual dysfunctions or anything like that. But they came back in one time and they’re like, so we had an interesting encounter the other day. I didn’t know that this had happened from time to time for them. I mean, I guess I could assume just based off of the research, but they’re like, “we we’re getting into sex, and then you know, he had such and such a thing happen. And normally he might’ve been a little bit freaked out about it. I might be disappointed that we’re not going continue and stuff like that. And you know, maybe a couple of days would go by and then we might try again, or a couple of weeks might go by and we might try again. But we just both kind of shrugged and we’re like, oh, we’ll chalk it up to one of those times. And they rolled with it and they kept on being sexual together, did some other things. It was like not even a speed bump in the road and they just kept going.

 And that is exactly how it should go, as a therapist I hate the idea of “shoulding on yourself”, using should too often. But that’s a really great way to look in a relationship when we have those little hiccups that happen to be like, “oh, okay, that was probably one of those times.” if it’s a hiccup that’s happening every time, or every other time, let’s talk about it. Let’s maybe go meet with a therapist, but you know, if it’s every once in a while just to chalk it up to one of those times that we’re not robots and we don’t perform flawlessly, we’re human beings.

Dan:

Yep, I love it. Another thing I got from that same book, I think the McCarthy and Metz’s book Men’s Sexual Health, it talks about how 5-10% of all sexual encounters are going to be duds. And that’s okay. Five out of a hundred is not too bad.

Dr. Anthony Hughes:

I think that also goes back to this concept that was never talked about “what is healthy sexuality?” Because our society has sort of termed it and made it seen as like pristine sexual encounters that lack any of these sort of I guess you could say “problems”, they take all the humanness away from it that instead of the couple coming away feeling connected and closer. If that was it, you could be having premature ejaculation every single time or never having an orgasm every single time. And if you feel connected like success, bam, we did it. So, it takes the performance out of it. And that’s one thing that I really like about like AASECT for instance, and sex therapy in general, is that they’re super sex positive.

They don’t assume that everyone’s sexual encounter needs look the same way. So instead of focusing on a performance that he’s always going to be able to have an orgasm, or she’s always going to be able to have penetration happen. Instead of that, they focus on what do we get from it? You know, do we feel connected for instance, do we feel alive? Did we feel like erotic beings? Okay, great, success. We did it. In that way, every single time you can predict every single time it’s going to be success. If that’s what you’re focused on you don’t have to worry is my body gonna perform the right way? And surprisingly, you decrease that anxiety and you’ll have, if you were to track it and not be pushing for flawless sexual performances, but if you were to track it, you would actually see a rise or an increase in quote unquote “flawless”sexual encounters, where there are none of those hiccups.

Dan:

Very good. All right. I want to switch gears a little bit. Let’s say you’re a couple and things are going great. You’re connecting really well, emotionally, physically, and now you’re ready to take things to the next level. So what are your black belt sex tips?

Dr. Anthony Hughes:

Ooh, black belt. So Sue Johnson, she’s an emotionally focused therapy, EFT, originator, one of the originator gurus. And she says that the thrill of sex is connection. And the frill, the extra stuff, is positions or novelty items or lingerie or any of that stuff. So I would say if you go into that black belt stage level that you make sure that that secure attachment is there, because then it’s going to make all those extra things really pop. Otherwise, and a lot of times couples will do this, they’ll try to do the frills stuff, all that extra stuff in hopes of taking their sexual relationship to the next level. But if they don’t have that base, that secure attachment with each other which looks like, I can go to him, I can go to her from this big, scary world.

I can come back to that person or I can leave that person and jump out into the big, scary world. I have that secure base, that safe Haven, they’re accessible, they’re responsive, they’re engaged with me. If you can have that, and those things exist also within the sexual relationship, then all of that other stuff, will maybe give them those ninja skills, those black belt skills that they’re hoping for. But for me, really, that thrill is going to be that connection. But it doesn’t have to look like a sacrament meeting sexual encounter for attachment to exist. It doesn’t have to be this really slow sexual encounter.. It may be the couples swinging from the chandelier’s, it may look like that or maybe super slow and super quiet, but if they can have that attachment, if they feel like in the bedroom they’re accessible, they’re responsive, they’re engaged with me. It will actually help them to be able to get to that next level.

Dan:

Very good. Is there anything else you want to share?

Dr. Anthony Hughes:

I could probably go on for hours and hours but I’m just glad that you had me here and that I could be on your podcast with you and grateful to know you grateful to have some people listen to the rantings and ravings of a religious sex therapist.

Dan:

Very good. If people want to find you where’s the best place for them to go?

Dr. Anthony Hughes:

@thecovenanttherapy on Instagram, we’ve got a pretty good social media going there. If they want to email me it’s anthony@covenantsextherapy.com, I’m happy to talk with people. But yeah, I think those are the best resources.

Like what you read? Be sure to listen to the full podcast episode here and download the Intimately Us app, the fun and sexy app for your marriage! It’s full of games, connecting activities, and ideas to increase connection and pleasure in the bedroom.