By Jennifer L. Valli
Sexual health throughout one’s lifetime is achievable, but many couples make the mistake of defining sex too narrowly, thinking sex is solely intercourse. For those couples, the goal of sex is orgasm, and if possible, orgasms occurring simultaneously. This idea actually originated from ancient Greek and Roman times, when people believed that simultaneous orgasm helped couples conceive.
Couples that maintain intimacy know they can engage in other sensual ways. The majority of women orgasm with clitoral stimulation while only 30% of women reliably orgasm from intercourse alone, so there are several reasons to view intimacy in a broader sense. Consider a menu of possibilities that includes penetration on some nights, or genital touch or oral stimulation on others. These elements don’t just constitute foreplay; they can be a goal unto themselves.
Remember that with sex, giving and receiving does not have to be equal in every encounter. One night may be about both partners, but another night may be about only one person. Measure equality over time, work to feel more comfortable as both a giver and receiver, and keep in mind that the most important aspect of sex is allowing yourself to create a space to connect with another intimately.
Another important concept that is often misunderstood is a woman’s sexual response. Although sexual response can play out in many ways for women after the honeymoon phase of the relationship, women often initially engage in sex with a neutral feeling rather than because of a biological urge. Many times women are motivated to be intimate from an intellectual space, wishing to connect with their partners, but as they proceed they feel physically aroused in the process.
Frequently it is not until after a woman feels aroused that she experiences the sexual thoughts and fantasies we associate with desire. This is very different from what we see in the movies, with women first feeling a biological desire and then bursting into orgasm. A woman can feel shame when she doesn’t feel overcome with desire prior to sex, and many hormone clinics capitalize on this anxiety. If a woman is not becoming aroused in the process, then hormones should be checked, but don’t label yourself as dysfunctional just because you are not overcome with a biological drive for sex prior to interacting.
The aging process has the greatest impact on the arousal stage of sexual response rather than orgasm. When engaging with a partner, the right lubricant is critical. Silicone lubricants are the best choice for those going through menopause. Uberlube is an excellent choice as it is glycerin-and paraben-free and has a healthy Ph balance. Also consider a vaginal moisturizer, such as Luvena or Replens; these are different than lubricants and should be used regularly as a part of maintaining sexual health. If you are having pain with sex, contact a pelvic floor physical therapist and also a psychotherapist that is certified by AASECT to discuss a plan to integrate sex back in, so that you can have success when intimately connecting.
Understanding any differences in how you and your partner approach and respond to intimacy is an essential element of lifelong sexual satisfaction. It’s never too late to let go of myths and embrace your own needs and desires.
Jennifer Valli is a psychotherapist who specializes in sexual health. She has a private practice in Germantown. In addition to being a licensed therapist in Tennessee and Maryland, she is certified nationally with AASECT, the American Association of Sexual Educators, Counselors and Therapists.
Visit http://www.JenniferValli.com for more info.
Recently, the FDA has approved a new medication, Flibanserin or Addyi (trade name) that may help treat low sexual desire in some women. Even though this medication has been referred to as the “female Viagra” in the popular press, it works in a very different way. Unlike Viagra, which increases blood flow to the genitals, Flibanserin works on neurotransmitters in the brain, and must be taken daily. Based on clinical trials, the FDA estimates that 8-13% of women with low desire may be helped by the drug.