Although sexuality is one of the attributes that makes a marriage a very “special” friendship, our culture has done it a great disservice. Our popular movies and novels imply that lovemaking should be a couple’s pinnacle experience, yet nowhere are we taught how to reach such heights.
We are somehow automatically supposed to be the perfect lover for someone whose body (if we are heterosexual, for example) is totally different from ours and which additionally changes over time. Thus, most of us are embarrassed to admit our lack of sexual knowledge, and also have been so shamed about exploring our own bodies that we are unable to give our partner very helpful instruction even if asked. Meanwhile, information out in the general public, especially about the female arousal system, is woefully inadequate.
Issues around sexuality
Behind closed doors, many couples from all age groups and life situations are struggling with issues around sexuality:
- Young adults just entering into their sexual lives and wanting to learn how to do so in a healthy way
- Couples losing their intimate connection due to focus on child-rearing or careers
- Couples dissatisfied with repetitive sexual routines
- Partners having difficulty communicating about sexual preferences
- Individuals sidetracked into porn yet wanting to bring increased pleasure into sex with their partner;
- Men ejaculating more rapidly than they wish
- Women with low libido and difficulty with orgasm;
- Heart attack and breast or prostate cancer survivors with a tenuous new relationship to their bodies and sexual selves
- Baby Boomers and older generations who are completely unprepared for the natural age-related changes in sexual functioning.
It is time to openly acknowledge that physical intimacy is a legitimate and important component of marriage and health at all ages, and deserves as much focus as other components when learning how to stay happy and healthy. We need only to be courageous enough to talk about this sensitive arena to realize how many others share similar confusions and concerns. This is also important for a healthy sex life in a marriage.
The largest segment of our population (the 121 million Baby Boomers and older) may now have empty nests and ample time, but many also have bodies that no longer function as they used to. Many have chronic illnesses that interfere with their familiar patterns of physical intimacy and don’t know other possibilities for intimacy and pleasure still available to them. When erectile difficulties catch a couple by surprise, too often they retreat into shame and even avoid physical affection, fearing it will lead to another embarrassing unsuccessful sexual attempt. Partners end up emotionally distanced, not knowing how to find their way back to intimacy. They associate “sex” only with sexual intercourse, not realizing that the arena of sensual/sexual pleasure is much broader, and that great intimacy and pleasure is still available irrespective of functioning capabilities.
Difficulty in establishing sexual connections
Each year brings 1,900,000 more heart attacks and breast or prostate cancers. Many survivors feel different about their bodies and don’t know how to re-enter sexuality addressing who they are now. Their partners are equally concerned about how to resume sexual activity respectfully (e.g. post-mastectomy) and safely (e.g. post-heart attack). These couples have difficulty finding their way back to a sensual/sexual connection which honors the illness-related changes.
Consulting a “sex-positive” physician (i.e. an MD who sees sexuality is an important part of life) can be critical to determine whether one is taking medication that interferes with sexual desire or performance (e.g. some antihypertensives; some anti-depressants) and if so whether it can be switched to a different medication without sexual side effects.
No matter what a person’s functioning capabilities are, an experienced therapist specializing in sexuality can be of great assistance to couples of all ages in rediscovering intimacy and pleasure, often even beyond what was experienced previously. Endless intimacy and pleasure is truly available at all ages. It is time to bring sexuality into the open and directly address people’s concerns in this arena, acknowledging physical intimacy as the joyous, natural part of marriage and healthy living that it is.