Sexploration, Israel and Cathie Helfand, Cabot Vermont, 1-800-707-4566
A Healthy Sex-Life
Sex is ultimately an expression of the whole person: body, mind, emotions and spirit. When any part is out of balance, as in any system, it affects the rest of the system. A husband might ask me why he and his wife enjoyed such great sex when they first met and now ten years later it's almost nonexistent. Her childhood sexual abuse didn't seem to stop her way back then from wanting and enjoying it. Now it has become an obstacle. Contrary to popular psychology, this "obstacle" can actually be a doorway to greater personal healing for her and a deeper bond for the two of them.
Some people need to review their childhood lessons and experience to understand, tolerate, and change their sexual views. Religion can play a negative role in one's sexual openness and comfort. People who have viewed masturbation or self-gratification as bad, sinful or dirty may have more difficulty understanding this and yet can benefit from this insight. Paradoxically, such a person could have fun playing with roles that include power and control, or weakness and vulnerability. Though these roles may or may not be verbalized, they nonetheless can be exciting, erotic, and fun.
Erotic fantasy often has its roots in early childhood trauma and neglect. People who have been abused early in life tend to partner with people who have been neglected. This formula may work well for the initial attraction phase of a relationship but requires some working through to develop a longer lasting and mutually satisfying mature emotional relationship and healthy sex life.
It is complicated! More often than not, couples come to us thinking that they know everything about each other and that they are quite different from each other... like night and day. They often leave with a new realization that they really are similar in who they are and what they want and how much there is still to learn not, only about their partner but about themselves as well. As we often say to couples, "We marry our level of pathology, and rise or lower to their level of functioning. The trick is to bring each other up, not drag each other down!"
The basic assumption, both in and out of therapeutic culture, is that intimacy must exist before sex can be pleasurable. Obviously most people want and/or need some level of trust, safety, and intimacy to be in a committed sexual relationship. And yet in reality, goals for intimacy could actually sabotage our exciting love life. Perhaps the opposite can be true too. Perhaps good sex could lead to a deeper emotional connection with our spouse. Either way, the more a person understands the healthy psychosexual developmental stages of a marriage the better chance they have of achieving them.
An example of a healthy developmental change is an aging couple who have been together for a long time. They may feel a sense of security and commitment to each other and their marriage and therefore can take risks to explore each other's sexual wants, desires, perhaps fantasies without the fear of shame or inhibition felt earlier in their relationship. Clearly this is one of the reasons why couples over 50 report a more satisfying sexual relationship than couples in their 30's and 40's.
Recent statistics say that half of all men over fifty deal with some form of erectile dysfunction (ED). Machismo would have us believe that a "real" man is able to have sex anytime and anyplace and with practically any woman. We have bought into a dysfunctional and damaging cultural belief. Obviously, Viagra contributes to this performance myth by profiting from riding its coat tails. It is estimated that for successful Viagra users it still doesn't work twenty to thirty five percent of the time and that the drop out rate over the first year of use is between forty and eighty percent. This focus on performance alone, of course, has been a leading factor causing inhibited sexual desire and/or ED… the fear of not getting it up.
Sex offers a desirable distraction from the everyday stresses of work and family. It can be a sanctuary, drowning out the anxiety and helplessness echoed by the news of the world around us. It is a spiritual possibility. It is connectedness and pleasure. It is wonder, awe and mystery. It can be playful and fun, as well as serious and deep. It can even be great form of aerobic exercise and good for your physical health. Won't your doctor be proud of you!
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