Anna Freud once said “Sex is something you do, sexuality is something you are.” Even without the benefit of dinner-time discussions with Sigmund Freud, his daughter’s astute insight can guide us as we start to develop an understanding of sexual health.
Sexual health is not just the absence of problems, nor is it a sum of behaviors — rather, it is built on your relationship to your own unique sexuality. Understanding yourself as a sexual being allows you to make choices about sexual acts that reflect who you are. By asking yourself the questions in this article, you can begin to form an identity about your sexuality that will help you make decisions about the kind of intimate life you want to create.
It is also worth noting that the healing effects of intimacy and connection extend far beyond the physical act of lovemaking. Hundreds of major medical studies have shown that an active sex life leads to a longer life, better heart health, a healthier immune response, reduction in chronic pain symptoms, lower rates of depression and even protection against some cancers. Men who have regular sex (only twice per week) have half as many heart attacks as men who only have sex once per month. In fact, a regular garden variety sex life has been shown to extend life by as much as ten years. People who enjoy a meaningful sex life are less anxious, fearful and inhibited.
Consider these questions…
Does my sexuality enhance my self esteem and self respect?
This should be the first consideration in developing an active and healthy sex life. Physical intimacy is the most vulnerable experience we share with another. Healthy sex lets you get out of bed feeling loved, accepted and valued. Although the acts we perform in our sex lives may leave us mystified, if they leave you feeling cheap or dirty, then something is amiss.
Are my sexual behaviors voluntary? Do I feel like sex is forced upon me or that I participate because I feel that I will be abandoned if I don’t agree?
Good sex always includes the willing participation of two people. Sexual desire is the result of a complex range of internal experiences that includes everything from hormonal stimulation to a prehistoric form of communication. Our ability to feel sexual is influenced by the culture and family we live in. In a couple, it is deeply affected by the communication that forms the basis of the relationship.
The issue of initiation in sexuality is a sticky one for many couples. Often times these complex issues boil down to arguments about who initiates and what response the initiator receives. The classic, “I am not in the mood” or “I am tired” responses create a cycle of defensive and offensive reactions that is almost like a pre-patterned dance. It’s a scenario that many couples just don’t have enough language to find their way out of. Creating a sex life that nourishes the relationship and both partners’ needs cannot be based on some romantic notions of a “mood” but rather must take into account and respect the different needs that each partner brings and a working compromise that inspires both people to want to find each other.
Are my sexual behaviors enjoyable and pleasurable? Does giving and receiving pleasure feel equally satisfying?
Sexual pleasure and orgasm are mysteries of epic proportions. So mysterious is this part of being human that early religions referred to this experience as the forbidden fruit.
Cultural and religious taboos about these experiences have relegated much of the communication about this experience to the adult entertainment industry which is a shame, because sharing the experience of sexual pleasure with someone you love and trust is one of the most transformative acts that can build intimacy and togetherness.
Abandoning some level of your everyday reasoning self and allowing yourself the pure experience of sensation are prerequisite to beginning to learn what kinds of touch feel most sensuous. Einstein once said that “imagination is more important than knowledge” which is certainly true when it comes to the experience of satisfying and sensuous intimate experience.
Do my sexual behaviors take my overall health and well being into consideration? Am I protected against STD’s and unwanted pregnancy?
Sexuality is an act that can create serious unintended consequences. It is essential to have conversations about your partner’s sexual history and also about the goals of a sexual experience. To engage in a sexual act with someone without this type of conversation could potentially open you up to a variety of diseases that would impact your life forever, and dealing with an unwanted pregnancy is one of the most jarring and emotionally difficult circumstances that you might ever face. A sexually healthy life is always built on honesty and concern for health consequences.
Am I able to respond to and be in touch with my sexuality in a healthy way despite sexual dysfunction issues that I may be dealing with?
If you’re in pain, it’s hard to enjoy sex — yet over a third of all women suffer from some kind of sexual dysfunction issues at some point in their lives. Distinguishing between your sexuality and your sexual dysfunction is key to maintaining an intimate life regardless of the symptoms that may currently be derailing your sex life. There are multiple solutions — ranging from the very simple to solutions your doctor can provide.
One of the most common and easy to address issues is lack of lubrication in intimacy, which can take on multiple forms and occur for multiple reasons. Age, childbearing and nursing and some medications often cause vaginal dryness and its associated pain with sex. Often this physiological issue is accompanied by a lack of sexual drive because our natural lubrication also acts as a sign that we are aroused. A good lubricant can help you realize that the body can teach the mind, and arousal and sexual enhancement may be as close as the lubricant bottle on your night stand!
On the other end of the spectrum are treatments your physician can provide. In the last few years doctors have developed many new tools — including non-invasive ones.
Identifying with your sexuality instead of your dysfunction is the first critical step in reclaiming a healthy and satisfying sex life.