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Better Sex through Coping and Communication

My generation owes Dr. Ruth Westheimer a debt of gratitude. The 1980’s were a very weird time overall and sexually they were a mess (HIV, AIDS, George Bush Sr.). For those of us who came of age in that era, we look upon our adult children’s sexuality with either envy or disbelief. Truth – for the current generation of young adults, sex just isn’t a big deal.

So…here we are in our 40’s and 50’s and I’ll ask the same questions Dr. Ruth was famous for:

–          Do you use contraception?

–          Do you masturbate?

Maybe you rolled your eyes at the first one. For those reentering the dating pool at the midpoint in life I encourage you to Google the following: “Prevalence of Herpes in sexually active adults.” Right. Now unclench your jaw and your knees and go buy some condoms.

As to the second question, I am always amazed at how many of us…well…don’t. If you don’t know what pleases you most, how on earth would you expect your partner to know? Bonus – masturbation is an excellent form of stress relief.

More good news -there is a strong reciprocal relationship between satisfying sexual activity and good mental health.

People who live with depression tend to have lower libidos. Depression leaves us feeling drained physically, emotionally, and mentally. In the midst of fatigue and sadness, intimacy seems unattainable and sex feels like “too much effort.”  We need to focus not what it takes but rather what it gives. Afterglow is really nice stuff.

People who live with anxiety tend to have unsatisfying sex lives. Anxiety tends to manifest in chronic muscle tension and significant G.I. problems (not tonight honey, I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome). It creates emotional barriers from being totally in the moment. Surrendering ourselves to throes of passion seems like something that can only happen in romance novels.  Anxiety manifests as “control issues.” If you think about it literally, what is an orgasm if not releasing control?

The biggest obstacle to good sex is attitude. The ways we spend our time says a lot about what we value. Raising kids, caring for parents, working full time jobs or even two jobs to make ends meet leaves us feeling disconnected from our partner. Disconnection is a downward spiral in which sex often ranks low in our priorities and/or becomes something we do mechanically to cross off the to do list (“are you done yet?”)

The best sex is a product of intimacy. Investing in your partnership leads to better communication and mutual needs fulfillment. As a therapist, I’m always amazed at how hard it is for couples to talk about sex. I’ve worked with folks who have experienced decades of bad sex simply because they’re too embarrassed to talk about it. Ten minutes of uncomfortable conversation can result in years of more enjoyment.

The biggest complaint I hear from straight men is that they’re not having sex often enough. I usually have to define intimacy for guys as being about far more than sex. I ask them what they do to make their wives/girlfriends feel loved/special? Most study my carpet and explain they aren’t sure. This is another ten minute conversation that’s well worth having with your partner. Straight men tend to view sex as something a woman does to express love as opposed to a culmination of intimacy.

The complaints I hear from straight women are too varied to list. I ask them to recall the day in 5th grade health class in which the boys and girls got separated. The girls I went to school with got a lot of good information from a woman about their bodies. The boys and I got a two minutes lecture from an embarrassed gym teacher who told us we’d be growing hair, having “funny” dreams, and he suggested that we ought not to “piss into the wind” (we were to interpret this as a suggestion to buy condoms).The point of my silly story is that at no point does a boy/young man/most older men become truly knowledgeable about a vagina unless he is in med school or unless a woman takes the time to point out a few things.

Ellen DeGeneres did a screamingly funny stand up routine years ago in which she professed to being perplexed about why anyone would ever video tape themselves having sex. She speculates hilariously that perhaps it could be used the way football coaches use game tape to point out what’s working and what’s not. For those who really can’t bring themselves to speak the words, my advice to couples is to show each other what’s pleasurable and what isn’t.

Still unsure how sex & masturbation can improve your mental health? Have two orgasms and call me in the morning. Alternatively, email me at I’ve gotten a few requests to write about sex and relationships of late and all questions and comments are welcomed.

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