Who is Having the Best Sex? What Research (not the media) Says

photo by Chloe Sellers

photo by Chloe Sellers

We see this question on magazine covers lining grocery counters every day. I read studies looking at the numbers all the time. Many of the studies focus on frequency of intercourse. But how good is that frequency?

As a sex therapist, I hear far too many stories of bad-normal-bad-sex. The kind of normal-bad-sex that is “another thing on my ‘to do’ list” kind of sex, or the “it’s been three weeks” kind of sex, or the “something is better than nothing” kind of sex. But what I’m really interested in is … who is having sex they love … with someone they love … and have been loving for a long time. What is their secret!! Inquiring minds want to know!

So I set out to cull the research and see if I could get a handle on what truly made a difference as far as sexual satisfaction and frequency was concerned.

Here is what I found out about whose got it good and why (according to what is being studied, anyway)…

First and foremost … Contrary to what pop-culture would have you believe, it is

Those who are in long-term committed relationships

Not those who are wild, crazy, unattached and swinging from chandeliers! A 2010 study out of the Kinsey Institute found that those who were unattached were 40 percent more likely to not have had sex in the previous year than those who were attached. In another study analyzing ages of 25 to 59, married folks were five times more likely to be having sex two to three times a week (25%) than those who were single (5%). While the complexities of life may change frequency over time, that frequency still exceeds those who are not partnered. Researcher Laura Carpenter out of Vanderbilt University says long-term partnered couples also become more skillful in how they nourish their relationship, both in and out of the bedroom. This adaptation occurs in part because of the maturation of their relationship in the next three areas:

Partners having the highest sexual satisfaction and the most frequency:

ONE: Feel respected and understood by their partner.

Partners are responsive to each other’s feelings. This usually comes down to listening to each other …

listening to hear not listening to respond

This also usually comes down to flexibly sharing responsibilities in running everyday life. Both research out of John Gottman’s lab and from sociologist Constance Gager from Montclair State University found variations on this theme.  There is a sense of managing life and working out the details together – while also having a conscientiousness for preserving their overall energy. Partners feel like partners … on the same team … both mindful of their quality of life and quality of relationship.

Every couple gets out of sync at times,

and during these times one person, if not both, feel very alone and misunderstood. But this couple, soon finds a way to sit down, and re-balance their ship. One person sets their need to be understood aside for a moment and seeks to hear and understand the other. In doing this, they know the other will in time extend the same reciprocity to stop and hear them as well. There is responsiveness in both word and action.

 

TWO: They have found positive ways to respond to each other when one partner is not ‘up for it’.

Virtually every couple will have times, if not entire seasons, where one’s sexual appetite will be different than their partners. Like any other appetite in our life, we have preferences and those preferences can change. We have a hankering for steak or fish, ice cream or fruit.

We are more hungry or less hungry.

We desire comfort food, warm food, or fresh food. To expect our partner to be exactly like us all the time, would be as ridiculous as expecting them to want to eat the exact same thing all the time. So, in the same way as we might negotiate what restaurant we want to go to, we negotiate how we want to express our desire for pleasure and intimate connection.   If a couple has a narrow vocabulary of how to talk about sexual touch and a narrow way to think about sexual touch,

the vulnerability of the desire for touch can feel very risky.

For example a person may only know to say, “Hey, you up for it tonight?” The ‘it’ is understood to be intercourse only. The partner, equally as limited in their language and understanding, and who is not up for intercourse says tersely, “Not tonight.” Behind this terse reply, is an inability to language the guilt, the expectation, the resentment, and maybe even the desire for something different. They only know how to say “Not tonight” –

but this is packed with a punch and that punch is felt.

This kind of interaction repeated countless times is very hard on a relationship. This is just as true if the person being ‘turned down’ responds harshly or negatively.  A couple with more of a sexual vocabulary for both language and touch might say, “Hey, I’d love to have time tonight for some playful loving touch. You up for that?” The other who has limited energy, might say something like, “Well, I’m pretty pooped, but I’d be game for taking a quick shower together before bed and doing some fun touching there, then falling asleep to you massaging my body with that touch of yours I love.”  If the person asking, only gets the response, “Well, I’m pretty pooped …”, she/he might respond with the suggestion, “Is there some way I can love on you tonight that would let you know how much I love you without the touch feeling demanding?”

Since they have a long history of ‘making love’ in multiple ways,

some with one or both moving through their arousal cycle, some with neither moving through their arousal cycle, some with intercourse, many without, yet all drawing them closer, all pleasurable and all fun, they can be adaptable, flexible and open minded.

 

THREE: They keep their individual lives rich and adventure alive.

They believe in touch, adventure and play. Several years ago when I was first working on my book (which hopefully will be out in 2016), I had the pleasure of talking with the family and sex therapist Esther Perel about her newly released book, Mating in Captivity, which has now become a bestseller. Her TED talk has over 5 million views. She hit a marriage nerve when she suggested we need adventure, risk, difference and novelty in our longterm relationships if sex is to stay enjoyable. She makes the point that togetherness, sameness, constancy, even security, have a way of breeding complacency – and in the arena of sexual desire, this drains the tank.

Sexual desire and eroticism is fed by excitement, joy, adventure, even adrenaline, chaos and anticipation.

If we are to keep this alive in our long-term relationships, we must keep our individual lives vital and growing in order to keep ourselves engaged and offering something essential to our relationship. As we grow, we invite our relationship to grow. This is also true as we experience new things together as a couple – try new things, explore new places, take new risks, conquer new challenges. Adventure, play, anticipation, growth is like mainlining vitality into our erotic energy both inside and outside the bedroom.

As contrary as it sounds, protecting play and adventure, for us personally and as a couple

is one of the best things we can do for our relationship.

The “Oh!” in “The Big O”

I would anecdotally add from my years as a couple and sex therapist, that those couples who are open to seeing their love and sexual relationship as a deeply spiritual endeavor, will at times describe transcendent experiences that are ecstatic beyond description. One man who had come through an intimacy retreat where I teach sacred sexual intimacy practices said after an experience with his wife, “I had no idea sex could be so powerful and spiritual.  Nothing I have ever experienced, no porn, nothing, holds a candle to this. I only wish I had explored this side of sex before.” In America we display a very limited view of the capacity within sexual expression – one that is often void of being seen, known, loved or accepted.  Instead it is simply a physiologically focused response to a pleasurable arousal cycle.

But sex can, and often is for those who risk it, so much more.

So there you have it … the truth about sexual satisfaction and sexual frequency. It all boils down to emotional, sexual, spiritual and relational health … the easy and the hard of it. The journey of life.

 

Posted in God, intimacy, marriage, Relationships, Sex, sexual health, sexuality, spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are You “At Home” in Your Body? An interview …

picture by Emily Sellers

picture by Emily Sellers

Several months ago, I was interviewed by Jonalyn Fincher at Soulation on the impact of religious sexual shame on our ability to be ‘at home’ in our bodies and with our sexuality and sexual longing.  I love conversations with Jonalyn. They are always fun and provocative.  We both have a passionate belief that God created us intentionally and thoughtfully, including our sexuality. This includes a God who delights in the opportunity to commune with us in our desire for connection and pleasure.  Yet somehow this wild gift of desire and pleasure, of joy and comfort, got mangled and distorted by men in power all “in the name of God”.  Under this dark dank cloak, it has remained for over two thousand years, held in place by a church deathly afraid to deal with this gift, or with the God who gave it. The damage it has caused and continues to cause I have written about extensively in this blog. I see it every day in my office and my life has been dedicated to eradicating it. I believe this cloak can be exposed and stripped away. I believe it can be separated from the God who hard wired us for connection and pleasure, so we can manage desire and set it free to manifest love.

Dan Savage said in an interview once, “Christianity going back at least to [the Apostle] Paul has been a rejection of sex. The Christian church saw that sex was this sweet spot in the human psyche. They pathologized it and have been reaping the rewards ever since. It’s a scam, and it goes all the way back to the roots of the church.”

What is heartbreaking to me, is how many people are forced to choose between a healthy sexuality and their faith community.  More often then not, when forced to choose, they choose a healthy sexuality and walk away from their faith community and their faith. The reality of the lived Christian religion in the United States is it never sought God’s purpose in the gift of sexual desire and sexual expression. It never sought to understand what the New Covenant values applied to sexuality might mean.  Where the focus would be and where it would not.  It sought instead through an artificial focus on virginity, to judge, shame, isolate, separate, frighten and create power hierarchies all ‘in the name of God’. For hundreds of generations.

We are finally speaking up.  We are finally saying “the church has always been wrong about the gift of sexual desire and sexuality.” The church never developed a New Covenant sexual ethic based in justice, grace, mutuality and love. If it did, it would focus on relationship qualities to self, God and other, not on behaviors … what you have done or not done.  It would have endorsed comprehensive life, faith and sex education, just like it endorses comprehensive oral hygiene, drivers education and comprehensive spiritual formation. Why?  Because we want our children to have sexual, relational, spiritual and emotional intelligence, a healthy body and to keep themselves safe behind the wheel. We want our children to know how to love well with their whole self – body, mind, soul and spirit. And we understand that at the heart of this is their sexual and relational intelligence. We want them to know that this magnificent gift comes from a loving God; the same God who created them.

Alexandra Rios

Alexandra Rios

Before someone can be at home with someone else, they must first be at home in their own body and with their own sexuality and emotions. We know that Jesus, as a young boy, when found studying among the leaders in the temple, was confused why his family wouldn’t have known to look for him there, first.

Luke 2:49 says, “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Jesus was most at home in His father’s temple. We are told by scripture that our body is God’s temple … and like Jesus, we are invited to be most ‘at home’ here.

What does it mean for you to feel at home? At rest? At peace in your body? Can you feel at home here?  If not, what can you do to feel more at home? When do you most know God’s communion in your body … in your sexuality? What would it take for you to know more of God’s delight for the embodied, sensual and sexual part of you? I invite you to embark on this journey of coming home …

Posted in God, intimacy, parenting, Relationships, Sex, Sex Ed, Sex, God, and The Church, sexual health, sexuality, spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Do You Tell Your Kids the Truth? (about sex)

Photo by SalFalko on Flikr

Photo by SalFalko on Flikr

I grew up in a household where both my parents did anger in big and expressive ways.  As luck would have it, I was an introverted, happy-go-lucky, but sensitive kid.  This combo meant I learned very quickly to watch and read the emotional climate of my parents – and if the boilers were high, stay out of the way. Unfortunately this also meant I learned it was often unsafe or inconvenient for me to have feelings, or at least to express them.  I could not be sure there would be someone to listen or understand.  If one of my parents was caught in their whirlwind, my emotion would be dismissed or I would be needed to calm the storm.

Since I was often frightened by the strength of their anger, either at me or each other, I also decided I had better not do anger, for fear my anger might hurt, as theirs did.  This led to years and years of stuffing my feelings and focusing almost entirely on the emotional climate of others.  This deficit in knowing my own feelings, how to manage and express them, and much about what drew me to others, shaped my choices in partners, friends, even my career. My twenties and thirties were spent in therapy and grad-school unpacking these influences and reclaiming the wisdom of my feelings and the ‘me’ inside them.

iStock_000017120141Small - chastity beltI tell this story because I believe we do the same thing in the Christian church with sexual desire and sexual want.  We frighten children from the time they are young right through their adolescents.  We ignore the fact they will feel it.  We fail to teach them about sexual desire, about the larger purposes in it, or how to be honoring with all their sexuality – as they grow up. We fail to have the nuanced conversations about their body and sexual education, about the role of self-control and surrender, of intimacy in all her colors – emotional, spiritual, intellectual, physical and sexual.  We fail to help them understand the ways the world deals with sexual desire and sexual want, how that is contrasted with what God’s potential, purpose and hopes might be for us, and under what conditions God’s potential is most likely to be experienced. We fail to make this an ongoing integrated conversation along with all the other important conversations we have along the way.

Instead we tell kids about the power of sexual desire in such a way that it frightens them. We tell them to stay away from it, to stop it, to run from it. We tell them that to act on it is to somehow risk ruining their future. We begin when they are five or six telling them to ‘watch-out’, and continue scaring them with sexual information like this which offers at a click of a button, videos that frighten them half to death!  But of course, it does not stop them from feeling, it just helps them send their feelings underground where they can become ignorant of the feeling or how the feeling is shaping their life or their decisions.  It delays their access to their wisdom or to the integration of the feeling of sexual desire with their values and their faith.  It also interrupts their ability to see their parents as a resource to them as they are figuring it all out.  This learning delay can (and does) have a much more negative result – and negates their parents as a resource!

Photo by Mike Baird

Photo by Mike Baird

I realize that what I am proposing, requires that parents become more comfortable with this subject and with the reality of how kids (humans) learn to manage sexual desire.  All of us learn the delicate balance of self-control and emotional surrender as we mature. And most adolescents and young adults are low on self-control.  God actually made the pre-frontal cortex of our brains, where we have the highest access to executive decision making, to not be completely formed until 25-28 years old. We are made to learn through trial and error.  What we know from research, is that kids who have parents who talk (and listen) about sexuality, help them understand their developing sexual bodies, the sexually complex world around them, and who remain a safe place for them to ask questions and bring their mistakes, actually make less mistakes, have less regrets and make better decisions.  They choose better partners and delay sexual involvement. And, my favorite research statistic, they describe themselves as closer to their parents overall!  I love that! 

Photo by Gary Zak

Photo by Gary Zak

The blessing of my family growing up, is that while my parents were explosive, they were comfortable talking about sex and sexuality.  To this day, I am eternally grateful to them for that. For all their foibles and imperfections, that one gift, made raising my kids so much easier!!  We did open communication about sex and faith integration, and IT WORKED!!  My kids chose amazing partners, feel comfortable in their skin  (watch “Chloe in Seattle”) and see themselves as beloved of God.

Posted in God, parenting, Relationships, Sex, Sex Ed, Sex, God, and The Church, sexual health, sexuality, spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nov 26 – Best Friends – And Death That Comes Too Soon – Part 2

 

Camping on Orcas Island, 2003

Camping on Orcas Island, 2003

One of the greatest gifts of my life has been and will always be, meeting my best friend at college and being given her, as my kindred sister.  If you’ve ever read the lighthearted satir Lamb by Christopher Moore – you know it is the story of Jesus’ life as told by his best friend Biff – which showcases their adolescent and young adult adventures.  It is a parallel of my friendship with Annette – she was the inspired one, and I, the irreverent, edgy, out of the box, and rarely but sometimes, wise one.  Just like Jesus and Biff, we had a fierce and unconditional love, in spite of and because of our textured differences. We met when I was 18 and were attached at the heart ever since.  Over the course of our friendship, we fashioned careers, married men, raised children, wrote books, shared secrets, dreamed dreams, shed tears, climbed mountains, inspired thinkers, held hands and bore each other’s burdens.  Today is her birthday.  It is the second birthday in our 35+ year friendship where she will not be on the other end of the phone. Today we will not laugh, complain about our weight or the weather … or talk about our  next bright  idea or trip to the sun. Instead I laid in bed this morning and read over our near daily text conversations over the last two years of her life and illness.

While I still quell the reflex to call her, I am learning to live with her in spirit and love her through her girls. She is woven into the very fabric of my being and I know God’s intimate grace because of her.  Today, because she will infiltrate my every move as I make pumpkins pies and prepare to share Thanksgiving with her family tomorrow, I share this bit of Annette with you.

Here are three sections of a longer piece she wrote in November 2005.

Our Immaculate Conception – By Annette Moser Wellman

Some say at the end of our lives, we look back over our existence and a logic appears. Schopenhauer said, retrospectively it looked as though “life was composed by some novelist.”  Patterns emerge from the discreet set of choices we’ve made and it seems a guiding intelligence eased us along the way.

My first sense of the logic beyond my own was as a girl of twelve.  Stretched out on my bed, resting in the slanted light of adolescent boredom, a crystalline message came.  It was my first conscious word of self-advice. “When I grow up, I must have sons, because boys are the only ones who ever do anything in the world.”   The annunciation had come as it had to the Virgin Mary.  You will give birth, and in so doing, find a purpose.

****

But when I reached 24 the waiting stopped.  I stumbled into seminary and I fell into a short essay written by a woman theologian 25 years earlier.  I consumed Valerie Saiving’s article, The Human Condition. Her primary premise – the root of sin is not pride but, often for women, the negation of the self.  As I lay waiting, preparing to support the purpose of others, I was neglecting my own.  Hamlet’s question became mine: “Are you up to your destiny?”

*****

During my years in management, I married and gave birth to two daughters.   I suppose the furies laughed when I didn’t have sons.  The girls were born while I was working hard at “doing something in the world.” Children throw into high relief the rift between self-giving and accomplishment.  Now I had to span the rift, not just for my own sake, but also for my daughters.  Rather than choose between Gilligan’s poles of relationship and competition, I had to fling a line between them.

Answering “What were you put on earth to do?” is for some a simple multiple-choice question.  Mine has always been a complex essay.  You can argue humanity struggles with the question of purpose because meaningless shocks the higher lobes of our brain.   You can argue purpose is a resolution of the infantile need for security.  You can argue destiny is a function of social biology. Or you can stop arguing and start creating.

Virgin Mary was a mother. But she is also more than a mother.  She is a model of creativity.  She created ex-nihilo – from nothing. When we create, we perform our own virgin birth. We co-create with the eternal partner some call God, others call mystery.  We bridge the gap between “being” and “doing” and make a unique contribution for the sake of the world.

My seven-year old woke doughy-eyed one morning and declared to me with the force of a magnificat, “God told me we need to solve the problems on earth before we solve the problems of the universe.” This is the question of the heroine’s journey: What problems will you creatively work to solve?  What will be your immaculate conception?

Also by Annette Moser Wellman

AMWBk1 AMWBk2
amWBk3

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To All the Waiting, Struggling, Ashamed Virgins …

iStock_000004033416Large

I have had the privilege over the last two weeks to read the dissertation of a brilliant woman who has been studying how adult conservative Christians in Northern Ireland manage their sexuality and intimate relationships prior to marriage. I will leave later next week to go over and be the external examiner as she defends her research.

There are stunning similarities between how Christian’s are taught (or not taught) to understand and cope with sexuality here in America  …

1. Adults are marrying later there as well – mid to late 20’s early 30’s.

2. Just like here, they have no approved access to sex education and no safe place to go to ask questions when they have concerns about how to manage their sexual desire or sexual decisions. They believe if they were to seek out information or ask questions they would be judged as not faithful, Godly, serious about their faith, strong, or trusting of God. In their ignorance, women feel afraid of their wedding night, men feel entitled to sex, both are filled with misconceptions and assumptions of each other, themselves, bodies, sexuality, gender and how to pleasure each other.

3. These adults desperately try not to become sexually involved, may attempt to delay involvement once they ‘fall in love’, eventually find themselves sexually crossing ‘boundaries’, shame themselves, hide their involvement, condemn themselves and each other, and then believe that anything negative they experience (pain, low sexual desire, sexual dysfunction, abuse … even conflict in their relationship) is a byproduct of not being faithful enough. They then feel more shame and hide even further; (sound familiar??).

4.  And then, like here, when people get married, the years of saying no, of deadening desire, of shaming their body and its wants, of monitoring the passion in their partner, yields low sexual desire, obligatory sex, confusion, and still so much that is misunderstood … the assumptions never corrected.  Women are taught to put out and men are taught to take what they can get.  Neither know how to show up to each other with their heart open, body open, secure and aware of themselves first – sexually or relationally. So neither receive the love they crave.  She gives obligatory sex that is destined to kill her desire. And in receiving obligatory sex, he is destined to never receive the heart, heat and desire of her he craves. Both are left lonely and alone.

Why is it that we have turned a blind eye to the anguish felt by our young adults? They desperately want to be given REAL information, REAL guidance, REAL vision for how the sex God created and desires for us stands up against the sex the world offers … and yet we give them … DON’T and DO and NOTHING. It’s pathetic and heartbreaking.

For more on this subject here is an interview with colleague Jonalyn Fincher from Soulation (it’s more light-hearted than my little rant above …)

Here is what Jonalyn says about the interview:

In 7 minutes, Dr. Sellers covers:

  • the connection between the purity movement and sexual abuse (minute 3:48)
  • why the Christian idea of  “my body is a temple” includes your genitals (minute 1:23)
  • and how sexual stewardship before marriage plays into sexual pleasure after marriage (minute 2:58)

Pay close attention at minute 6:11 when she talks about what men want the most in bed. It’s more honest than what I’ve read in Cosmo.

Posted in God, intimacy, marriage, Relationships, Sex, Sex Ed, Sex, God, and The Church, sexual health, sexuality, spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What I Wish Everyone At 20 (& 30…) Understood About Marriage

Photo by Epsos.de flickr.com/people/epsos

Photo by Epsos.de
flickr.com/people/epsos

The goal of our life is…to bring more love and truth into the world. We marry to assist each other in this process. Leo Tolstoy

A dear friend of mine said on the eve of his oldest daughter’s thirteenth birthday, “Today is my last day to be an expert on adolescents!”  I giggled when I heard him say this thinking of the myriad of times I have had to learn this lesson.  It is so easy to think we know something before we are knee deep in the complexity of what it is REALLY LIKE!  That is certainly true of marriage.  The onlookers view of marriage and what pulls us into its gravity are only a painter’s brushstroke on the landscape of the actual nitty-gritty day to day of wedded life.  The descriptor is hardly the same as the lived heartbeat.

People get pulled into partnership through the disguise of a person they cannot live without. A person who initially reminds them in countless delicious ways of their inestimable value, talent, humor and creativity.  A person who for a time, invites only the best in them. But in time, as our uniqueness to each other gives way to familiarity and life’s demands bring forth our frustration and discouragement, we begin to reveal our cracks; our places of fear and insecurity.  This often invites us to act toward our partners in less than generous and loving ways.  If our partner is not already in their own cycle of frustration and discouragement, fear and insecurity, our new behavior toward them, usually takes them there.  Their response to us is one of defensiveness and criticism, anger and withdrawal.  We begin a cycle of relating which does not bring out the best in each other and does not give each other the benefit of the doubt.  Instead it inadvertently reinforces our insecurities and deepest fears – that we aren’t lovable or valuable after all … and our partner knows it and is on the verge of rejecting us.

So if marriage is not the stage of a never ending play of happiness and delight, what is the larger purpose in marriage?  If this pattern of challenges in relating is inevitable, how do we rise above it? Transcend it? Or are we meant for a series of short albeit intense relationships?

We know from research the yummy ‘love’ feelings and the brain chemicals that produce them last for about four years.  The “Your job is to make me happy” marriage lasts less than eight. With all of the centrifugal force pulling partnerships apart, what are we to do if we want our relationship to last a lifetime?  How do we do that? What do we need to do to cultivate a love that thrives? How do we defy the statistics?

Here are 3 tips that can help a relationship go the distance:

  1. Marriage is not about your partner making you happy

No one will make you more crazy, more frustrated, push more of your buttons or triggers than your partner … because no one will be closer to the nucleus of who you are and where you need to grow.   At the heart of what your partner will demand is usually an invitation to learn to love more fully and unselfishly.  He or she will ask you to listen better, be more emotionally engaged, understand their perspective and be more patient. All these requests are requests that ask you to love more deeply. Their behavior may require you to grow more voice or understand yourself more fully.  Their behavior may require you to understand your infinite value and believe in yourself more.  All of these things are also invitations to love more deeply.  I often think of the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.  This commandment is predicated on the fact that we love ourselves.  The degree to which we can love someone else is always limited by the degree to which we love and accept ourselves. Marriage is precisely a spiritual path because it is a path that teaches us to love ourselves and love someone else better … especially when it is most difficult to do.  When we extend grace to ourselves and seek to learn instead of condemn; when we extend grace to our partner and seek to learn instead of condemn, we learn to love.  When we extend the benefit of the doubt to ourselves as well as the benefit of the doubt to our beloved, we learn more what it means to love. This is the larger purpose in marriage – to grow us up; help us show up and shape up.  Ultimately, to teach us to love a perfectly valuable perfectly imperfect beloved other.

  1. Marriage is not about having someone who will always put you first

Here is another paradox of marriage.  When we go into marriage expecting this person to continue to make us happy by constantly affirming how awesome we are, and by channeling their life energy toward helping us achieve our goals, we spin a self-focused and self-centered dance that eventually leaves our partner feeling unseen, unloved and uncared for.  This happens slowly since initially in a relationship both people are usually singing each other’s praises so much that it gives the false impression that each CAN EXPECT THE OTHER TO STAY FOCUSED ON THEM ALWAYS.  Of course that does not happen.  Marriage and love are dances of paradox … when you put your needs and wants first and foremost, you find yourself frustrated and resentful with a partner who feels neglected and uncared for.  But when you put the other first, you are much more likely to find your needs being met.   Ironically when we put loving and affirming our partner and our relationship at the top of our list it has a way of affirming and supporting all other areas of our life.  It is as if all other areas are made stronger and put in clear view when we make this person and this relationship as loved and strong as we can.

I once challenged a client who ran a consulting business to put his partner and his marriage first for a month.  He had a habit of letting his anxiety cause him to work longer and longer hours, putting undue strain on their marriage but often without the financial result he wanted. I had him put together a grid where he tracked how he invested time with his wife based on ideas they had drafted up together – ways she especially felt his love and care.  Then a grid monitoring his consulting opportunities and jobs.  At the end of the month he learned that as he intentionally invested in his wife, his wife invested in him and his career.  She partnered much more with him around his work needs and did not see his work demands as a threat to their relationship.  He actually spent more time focused on work and had many more successes. They worked as a team, spent more quality time together, felt more connected, had more fun and he was much more successful and happy that month!

 

  1. Marriage is an advanced spiritual practice and not for the faint of heart

I once heard a quote that said, “If you want to love God don’t get married, but if you want to love like God, get married.” A person could be sitting alone on their prayer cushion studying the practices of compassion, forgiveness and loving kindness and have one experience. But I believe it is quite another to try and keep your heart open in the face of the fear of rejection, or intense conflict, disappointment or betrayal from someone who you are deeply attached to. Intimate relationships such as these are a fire, a kiln, where we are challenged to put into practice all the great spiritual teachings of surrender, compassion, forgiveness, patience and love.  There is no place to hide in the reflection of intimate partnership.  Our beloved reflects both our inner beauty and all the areas left to grow and heal.  Our partner is the one who lives with us behind closed doors and sees our darkest corners and uncleaned closets.  There is no hiding.  And if they love us well, they invite us to grow – to clean out those closets – to not settle for what can be healed, learned or strengthened.  They gently push us forward into uncharted waters where we can be more of who we were created to be.

 

The optimal marriage is when BOTH partners see their relationship as a place of intense learning, a place to practice the paradox of putting the other first, and ultimately a spiritual practice of compassion, surrender, forgiveness, patience and love.  When this happens both can walk with eyes of wonder and discovery observing what is being crafted in their hearts and lives. They can marvel at how they are becoming better lovers through this process as they see where body, mind, soul and spirit come together in the way they talk and touch and are together. They are free to see conflict as a time of growth and learning, instead of a sign of trouble or an opportunity to blame, shame or criticize.  Rather than focus on what their partner is doing wrong, they can look at themselves in conflict and examine their communication, their attitude, their approach – because conflict is THEIR opportunity for growth. There is enormous liberation when couples see marriage as a lifetime spiritual practice rather than the latest purchase guaranteed to make them finally happy.

 

 

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The Miraculous Love Drug …

Photo by Miran Rijavec

Photo by Miran Rijavec

Several months ago a friend of mine told me she had begun having terrible menstrual cramps.  I suggested next time she try masturbating to orgasm one of the days her cramps were bad.  I explained that orgasm releases a brain chemical called oxytocin which, among other things, is a natural pain killer.  I described a bit about the miracle of this chemical and all the ways it adds joy to our lives … how this was just another very cool attribute.  A few months later she called to tell me a funny story.  Her husband walked in on her that morning masturbating. Apparently that led to a curious conversation between the two of them. He was a bit confused at first. She said my advice worked and the orgasm was great too!

Today’s post is a re-post of a blog I found on Oxytocin in 2012.  It is fascinating – and shows us once again how amazing our bodies are!  Oxytocin, as you will see, is one of the important reasons why we all need to make loving touch a significant part of our every day life.  We all could use more hugging, kissing, holding, gazing, and giving and receiving love from those we care about.  Right up there with adequate sleep, eating well, and an active lifestyle is loving touch!  Each and every day!!

How are you doing making this a priority in your health care routine??

10 Reasons Why Oxytocin Is The Most Amazing Molecule In The World

Though often referred to as the “trust hormone” oxytocin is increasingly being seen as a brain chemical that does a lot more than just bring couples closer together.

New research is suggesting that oxytocin plays a crucial part in enabling us to not just forge and strengthen our social relations, but in helping us to stave off a number of psychological and physiological problems as well. But more conceptually, oxytocin is proving to be a crucial ingredient to what makes us human. Here are ten reasons why oxytocin is simply the most incredible molecule on the planet:

1. It’s easy to get

One of the neat things about oxytocin is that you can get your fix anywhere and at any time. All you need to do is simply hug someone or shake their hand. The simple act of bodily contact will cause your brain to release low levels of oxytocin — both in yourself and in the person you’re touching. It’s a near-instantaneous way to establish trust. And the good news is that the effect lingers afterward. There’s even evidence that simply gazing at someone will do the trick — or even just thinking about them. And you shouldn’t feel limited by the human species; it also helps to hug and play with your pets. And for those who can’t produce enough oxytocin on their own, or who feel they could use a boost, the molecule can be easily synthesized and administered as a drug.

2. A love potion that’s built right in

Often referred to as the “love molecule”, oxytocin is typically associated with helping couples establish a greater sense of intimacy and attachment. Oxytocin, along with dopamine and norepinephrine, are believed to be highly critical in human pair-bonding. But not only that, it also increases the desire for couples to gaze at one another, it creates sexual arousal, and it helps males maintain their erections. When you’re sexually aroused or excited, oxytocin levels increase in your brain significantly — a primary factor for bringing about an orgasm. And during the orgasm itself, the brain is flooded with oxytocin — a possible explanation for why (some) couples like to cuddle after.

3. It helps mom to be mom

But oxytocin isn’t just limited to helping couples come together — it’s an indispensable part of childbirth and mother-child bonding. Oxytocin helps women get through labour by stimulating uterine contractions, which is why it’s sometimes administered (as Pitocin) during labor. It’s been known to promote delivery and speed up contractions. After birth, mothers can establish intimacy and trust with their baby through gentle touches and even a loving gaze. In addition, mothers can pass on oxytocin to their babies through breast milk. And it’s worth noting that fathers can reap the benefits of oxytocin as well; new dads who are given a whiff of oxytocin nasal spray are more likely to encourage their children to explore during playtime and are less likely to be hostile.

4. Reduces social fears

Given its ability to break-down social barriers, induce feelings of optimism, increase self-esteem, and build trust, oxytocin is increasingly being seen as something that can help people overcome their social inhibitions and fears. Studies are showing that it may be effective in treating debilitating shyness, or to help people with social anxieties and mood disorders. It’s also thought that oxytocin could help people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. In addition, given that autism is essentially a social communication disorder, it’s being considered as a way of helping people on the spectrum as well. And lastly, oxytocin, through its trust-building actions, can help heal the wounds of a damaged relationship — another example of how the mind gets its plasticity.

5. Healing and pain relief

Amazingly, oxytocin can also be used to heal wounds (through its anti-inflammatory properties). Studies have also shown that a rise in oxytocin levels can relieve pain — everything from headaches, cramps and overall body aches. Now, that being said, the trick is to get some oxytocin action while you’re in pain — which is not so easy. This is where synthetics can certainly help. Alternately, if you find yourself in physical discomfort, you could always ask your partner for a roll in the hay. So guys, be sure to use this crucial information the next time your significant other declines your advances and tells you she has a headache.

6. A diet aid

Perhaps surprisingly, it can also be used to prevent obesity in some instances. Researchers have observed that oxytocin and oxytocin receptor-deficient mice become obese later in life — and with normal food intake. Scientists believe that the hormone might be responsible for a series of beneficial metabolic effects, both in mice and humans. Moreover, by giving oxytocin-deficient obese mice oxytocin infusions, their weight returned back to normal levels. The mice also showed a reduced glucose intolerance and insulin resistance. This clearly suggests an alternative option for those struggling to keep the weight off.

7. An antidepressant

Oxytocin was first observed to have a connection to depression through its effects on mothers suffering from postpartum syndrome. Researchers found that some new mothers were dealing with depression on account of low levels of oxytocin. In fact, they were able to predict postpartum during the pregnancy if the expectant mother had low levels of oxytocin. Recent studies of blood levels and genetic factors in depressed patients have revealed the potential for treating people with clinical depression, and even anxiety disorders.

8. Stress relief

Not surprisingly, given its ability to alleviate social anxiety and produce feelings of trust, oxytocin has the peripheral ability to reduce stress — which is no small thing when you consider the toll that stress takes on the body. Oxytocin has been observed to reduce cortisol in the body and lower blood pressure. It’s also been known to improve digestion, which is often disturbed by high stress levels. Interestingly, oxytocin and the oxytocin receptors have been found in the intestinal tract; it improves gut motility and decreases intestinal inflammation.

9. Increases generosity

In what could be seen as either a good or bad thing, oxytocin has been observed to increase generosity in humans. Evolutionary biologists, particularly those who subscribe to the selfish gene theory, have long struggled to understand why people sometimes share or give away things — often at a personal cost. But several lines of research have connected oxytocin to feelings of empathy. In one study that required persons to share money with a stranger, infusions of oxytocin were shown to make some subjects as much as 80% (wow!) more generous than those on a placebo.

10. It’s what makes us human

In other words, all the above. It’s clear that we really wouldn’t be human without it — we would simply lack the ability to be the social, caring species that we are. Now, it should be noted, however, that, while oxytocin increases in-group trust, it produces the opposite feeling for those in the out-group — so it’s not the “perfect drug” some might proclaim it to be. That being said, oxytocin plays a crucial role in forging our ability to spark and maintain relationships, while endowing us with the ability to empathize, trust, and even love one another. Without it, we would be something significantly less than what we are.

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