Someone once said, “With sex, all roads lead to shame.” Society sometimes tells us that women are supposed to be sexual, but other times it is frowned upon. Some religions approach sexuality with fear and shame and rarely talk about pleasure. Many people carry guilt for fantasies that are not considered socially acceptable. With all this socialization— have you thought about sex as something that is healthy?
Studies show orgasms help relieve pain, reduce stress, and improve sleep. According to The British Medical Journal, orgasms boost the immune system and increase life span. Those who orgasmed two times a week or more added eight years to their lives. A recent study showed that 50-to-89-year-olds who engaged in sexual activity in the past year had higher levels of cognitive functioning. Self-stimulation and meditation both promote mindfulness, teach people to quiet their minds, and focus on one thing, even when they are not directly engaging. Here is how can you gain these benefits and establish a lifetime of sexual health.
DON’T WAIT FOR PERFECT: With lack of interaction, partners lose emotional and physical connection and eventually communication. Make pleasure your goal, not the orgasm. In long-term relationships, women tend to find their desire “during” rather than “before,” so don’t wait until desire is overwhelming to engage. A lack of drive at the start doesn’t mean a woman is dysfunctional, hormone-deficient, or not into her partner. Men, however, frequently withdraw from engaging intimately altogether because they don’t want to feel or appear incompetent. They may wait for the perfect erection and think anything less than 95 percent rigid is not good enough, but with direct stimulation, and piggy-backing their arousal off of their partner’s, men can orgasm without being fully rigid.
FREQUENCY IS YOUR FRIEND: A lack of intimacy over time results in resentment or couples relating like friends. If you haven’t been sexual recently, add intimacy in slowly but engage often, which will not only lower the pressure for everything to go perfectly but also increase testosterone and estrogen production.
BE FLEXIBLE: Many people narrowly define sex as intercourse and everything else as second-class sex. Consider broadening your definition.
DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY: It can be very difficult if your partner never initiates, or if you are repeatedly turned down. Rather than wonder if you are the problem, communicate. Remember that lack of desire or sexual dysfunction is usually due to a combination of physical and psychological causes, with both elements impacting one another. Intimacy is a complex issue with many layers and addressing only testosterone levels, for example, will not solve the complex dynamics involved.
SHAME-FREE ZONE: A desire discrepancy where one person’s drive is higher than the other is very common between couples and neither partner is dysfunctional. Don’t label the lower desire partner as dysfunctional and the higher drive partner as an addict. “Sex addict” is an overused term by the general population and addiction therapists, but the medical community does not recognize it as a diagnosis. The 12-step method of treatment, at least for sex, comes from a place of shame, often framing the partner as the enabler, and labeling any “out of the box” erotic interest as pathological.
CONSENT, EQUALITY, AND MUTUAL RESPECT: Enthusiastic consent, equality, and mutual respect are key elements to keeping sex emotionally healthy. Without these, sex becomes damaging. One out of four females and one out of seven males has experienced sexual trauma. Bring these three elements to every intimate relationship, whether you are just dating or with your partner for a lifetime. If you can’t be kind to a person before, during, and after being intimate, you shouldn’t be with them at all.
As a therapist with extensive training in sexuality and sex therapy, I emphasize that healthy sex is not everything going perfectly each time. It is more about feeling desired and connected with another, and handling barriers as they occur with maturity.
Jennifer Valli is a psychotherapist who specializes in sexual health. She has a private practice in Germantown, Tennessee. In addition to being a licensed therapist in Tennessee, she is certified nationally with AASECT, the American Association of Sexual Educators, Counselors and Therapists. See http://www.JenniferValli.com for more information.