Posts Tagged ‘self image’

My last blog post, about thinking about sex as we think about exercise to encourage us to keep our sexuality alive, reminded me of another article I saw a while back.

In “Men Don’t Think about Sex Every Seven Seconds,” Dr. Laura Berman set out to debunk the urban legend alluded to in the headline. She cited a study done at Ohio State University, which concluded that men think about sex, on average, 19 times a day; women think about sex about 10 times a day.

That’s a far cry from every seven seconds, which works out to somewhere over 8,000 times per day, if my math is right and assuming eight hours of sleep.

Now, that research was done with college-age men and women, and I’m willing to cross-reference the National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NATSAL), recently completed in Britain, to guess that by midlife, the rate is reduced by as much as 60 percent. For women like me, that means thinking about sex three or four times a day.

I don’t know how that strikes you—as too much or too little! Laura made another comment in her article that resonates with what I’ve seen in my practice: Researchers “found that incidence of sexual thoughts were most highly governed by one’s own sexual belief system. …People who had anxiety, shame, or guilt around their sexuality were less likely to have sexual thoughts, while people who were comfortable and secure in their sexuality were more likely to have sexual thoughts.”

That’s especially important to us as midlife women. We get lots of messages that conflict with the reality that we are still vital, complete, sensual, sexual creatures. As we watch our bodies change—through childbearing, decades, illness, losing and gaining (and losing and gaining) weight, new wrinkles—we ourselves sometimes question whether we are still sexual, attractive to ourselves as well as to our partners.

Dissatisfaction with our bodies is hardly exclusive to us midlife women, sadly. But when it affects what we decide to do or not to do, it begins to matter more to us. You’ve no doubt seen articles about staying active, because the more active you remain as you grow older, the more active you’re able to remain. You keep muscle tone, bone mass, and balance only as you exert yourself.

The same is true of our sexual selves. Physically, being sexually engaged increases circulation to vaginal tissues, which naturally thin and become more fragile as we lose estrogen. It’s equally important that we’re attuned to the mental part of the equation.

Remember Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live? The nerdy guy with the affirmations? “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.” What if we midlife women had affirmations for ourselves? Could we use them to both reclaim our bodies and nurture our sexual selves?

I’ll have to give that some thought. Possibly up to ten times a day.

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For years, the dominant theory among anthropologists and evolutionary biologists has been that men are lusty, sexual creatures, primed by eons of evolution to spread their seed far and wide, assuring the propagation of their genes.

Women, on the other hand, mind the hearth and home. They trade sex for security and protection, saving the sweetest honey for the most viral suitor, who is also the one most likely to provide, protect, and produce robust offspring. Thus, women prefer monogamy and fidelity over sexual exploits.

That theory fits the predominant cultural paradigm. It’s a comforting, unthreatening explanation of how things are.

Except that it may not be accurate. Exactly.

Lately, this tried-and-true evolutionary theory has come under fire. Maybe the sexes don’t fall so neatly into “his” and “her” categories. Maybe previously overlooked research casts a different light on how humans interact sexually.

Maybe, for example, women aren’t so monogamous and passive. Maybe, despite even their own self-described diffidence, women are just at lusty and promiscuous at heart as men. That’s the thesis behind the new book What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire by Daniel Bergner.

“Women’s desire—its inherent range and innate power—is an underestimated and constrained force, even in our times,” writes Bergner.

Consider that passion is one of the first casualties of long-term, committed relationships. According to Bergner, “flagging sex drive is not just an inevitability for women—it is specifically the result of long-term monogamy. Even [effects of] the hormonal decrease of menopause can be entirely overridden by the appearance of a new sexual partner.” (qtd. in this article in The New York Times. My italics)

So, dangle some studly dude before a menopausal lady, and she’ll be giggling like a teenager, but serve up the same old spouse and watch the sizzle drizzle.

Bergner references several studies that underscore the raw lust of the “gentle sex.” Female subjects were hooked up to a machine that measures vaginal blood flow. Then they were shown images of heterosexual and homosexual sex and even pictures of sex between bonobos—a species of ape. Women were turned on by all of it—even the apes—according to their vaginal reaction.

When heterosexual men were shown the same images, the response was predictable: they were slightly turned on by photos of men masturbating and male homosexual scenes, but they were overwhelmingly aroused by heterosexual and homosexual images of women.

But the really interesting thing?

In this study, both men and women also self-reported their levels of arousal as they watched the images. The men’s written responses were completely consistent with their physical responses—body and mind told the same story.

Not so with the women. Even though the instruments showed wide-ranging arousal at all the images, the women’s self-reported assessments were very different. The heterosexual women said they were turned on by the men but not by sex between apes or women. Right in line with cultural expectations and maybe their own idea of how they ought to feel.

Except that their bodies were telling a different story.

This female dichotomy between self-reporting and physical arousal has been repeated in several experiments that indicate women are turned on a lot more and by a wider range of sexual situations than previously thought, and also that women either aren’t aware of their own arousal or consciously under-report it.

Why is this? Why is the suggestion that women are naturally lusty such a shocking and forbidden topic? Why does this rattle the cage of cultural morés and expectations?

Women have, since time immemorial, been the kin-keepers, the caretakers, the foundation of the family, the social glue. But at what cost? Denial of their own primal sexual urges? Settling for sexual repression and boredom for the greater good?

No one is suggesting that monogamy, commitment, and long-term relationships ought to be tossed out, or that women should act on their urges. Clearly, stability, attachment, and intimacy create strong societies and families. Despite whatever sexual frustration it entails, monogamous relationships work for raising children and also perhaps for long-term psychological contentment.

But repression doesn’t work very well. So long as women feel they ought to ignore, deny—or to be puzzled or embarrassed by—urges that seem unacceptable or culturally unsanctioned, they will continue to be confused by and out of touch with their most primal urges. And maybe lose out on some healthy sexual energy as well.

No one has to act on their impulses, but acknowledging and accepting that they exist might be a healthy psychological choice, and one that puts women in touch with their sexuality.

How do men feel about all this female sexual sturm und drang? Well, “this scares the bejeesus out of me,” said one man in this article. The notion that, roiling beneath the domestic façade of the little woman tending hearth and home, may lie scary sexual urges has always been deeply unsettling, especially to men. Who’ll mind the children and navigate the social contract? Who’ll be the faithful one?

The growing scientific suspicion that women have a lot more going on beneath the surface than we let on or the culture sanctions is an interesting theory. While it may not be the whole story, I think somewhere we recognize it as at least partly true.

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Nip and Tuck

In my line of work, I’ve looked at a lot of lady-bottoms, and I can tell you that “normal” female anatomy is extremely diverse. We are each as unique “down there” as we are in every other body part, and, mostly, it’s all normal. (See for yourself. Check out images of this art installation titled “The Great Wall of Vagina.”)

So the recent buzz about “vaginal rejuvenation” has me befuddled. Why have women suddenly become so self-conscious and discontented with the way their genitals look? So much so that a new subspecialty of cosmetic surgery promises to nip and tuck, neaten and tighten all for the sake of a “comfortable, athletic, petite look,” according to a well-known cosmetic surgeon.

The procedure, called a labiaplasty, reduces or tidies up the labia minora (the inner lips surrounding the vagina), creating a smooth “clamshell” appearance. Sometimes the labia minora is removed altogether. This is called a “Barbie.”

But that’s not all. Cosmetic surgeons can tighten the vaginal opening, tweak the outer labia, reduce or remove the clitoral hood, or perform a little G-spot enhancement.

For the most part, these procedures are done for the sake of appearance. Some practitioners say their patients sometimes enjoy greater genital sensitivity, but no science supports these claims. In fact, surgery always carries a risk of infection or nerve damage, which could actually reduce sensitivity.

Plus, botched labiaplasties are not uncommon. “The problem with this surgery, frankly, is that it looks easy, but there’s a lot of finesse involved,” said a plastic surgeon who specializes in the procedure in this article. “If you don’t know those nuances, you’re going to have dog-ears, or complete removal of the labia when that’s not what’s requested.”

Another specialist estimates that 20 percent of his business involves fixing work that other practitioners messed up.

None of the surgical procedures to achieve a designer vagina are endorsed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, or even by the American Society of Plastic Surgery. Both professional groups are cautious about supporting an untested and unnecessary procedure.

Now, the distinction between reconstructive surgery and cosmetic surgery is important. Some women need surgery to fix functional problems like incontinence or to mend genetic defects like vaginas that are short, malformed, or missing altogether. And some women need labial surgery for physiological reasons.

But most women who seek “vaginal rejuvenation” do it to feel better about how their genitals look.

While cosmetic genital surgery is far less common than breast augementation, it has recently hit the radar as the next body part in need of perfecting. Some social commentators (and some women) say that the porn industry is setting the standard for how a woman “ought” to look.

And that look has become increasingly pubescent—hairless, small, and “neat.” Just like the photos of genitalia in girlie magazines. Which, just so you know, aren’t what normal women look like.

“It’s a concerning situation,” says Cheryl Iglesia, a specialist in reconstructive pelvic surgery in this article for Guernica. “A lot of women are being duped by the media and by unethical doctors who are preying on their insecurities.”

And why, I wonder, does it take a surgical procedure (or several) for a woman to like the most intimate part of her body? Does looking like a porn star—or like your girlfriend—create confidence?

I suspect that many of us have made our peace with the way we look and with the inevitable changes wrought by time. But cultural messages are powerful. They can catch us off-balance at times of transition. Certainly, they affect our daughters and granddaughters.

And that’s worth thinking about.

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In my last post, I talked about how we construct our body image from childhood experience, media messages, and social definitions of beauty. Body image is the result of our own internal dialog, not how others actually see us. For the new year, I hope we can all remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that our bodies are amazing.

If you’re working on health, start small. First, use this calculator on the CDC website to assess your body mass index (BMI). This gives you a more realistic picture of where you fall on the scale of avoirdupois. Then, change one thing at a time: walk to the store. Join a yoga class. Go to the gym.

“I don’t look like Jane Fonda,” said a participant in the Psychology Today survey. “I look like a normal 46-year-old woman who has had three children. But my body is beautiful because of all it does for me. I have two eyes that can see, a large nose for smelling, a large mouth for eating and smiling, two hands that can hold and hug, two breasts that have nursed three sons, an abdomen that was home to three babies, two legs that can walk everywhere I want to go, and two feet to take me there.”

Amen to that, Sister.

Focus outward. If you’re shy or socially awkward, you may also be overly sensitive about your looks. (I can relate.) If you focus on yourself rather than on the world around you, you become more critical of yourself. Try to make others feel at ease. “Once I worked on my people skills, I found that I worried less about my appearance,” said one 60-year-old woman in the survey.

Confidence is catching. People who are happy and radiate confidence are attractive, and it doesn’t matter how they look or how old they are.

Here’s a tip: If you don’t feel confident, fake it. Stand tall. “Walk like a queen,” my friend said to me. Think of yourself as attractive and interesting. Make eye contact and talk to others. Practice this until you can do it effortlessly.

P.S. Self-confidence is also sexy!

Be true to yourself. Why worry about conforming to expectations? Who has time for that? Wear what you like. Purple if necessary. Say what you believe. It’s time to let the world get to know that wise, experienced woman you are.

Body image, like our bodies, isn’t static. How you felt about yourself as a teenager or a young woman is obviously different from your body image today. The good news is that older women tend to be more comfortable with their bodies as they age. But the work of improving body image is never done. Perhaps being comfortable when we’re naked with our partner is the truest, most difficult, and most important, test of a rock-solid body image.

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Before Sex and the City, before Gloria Steinem, before Jane Fonda, there was Helen Gurley Brown. She was the creator of the iconic Cosmo Girl, wearer of organza and décolletage, and advocate of a woman’s right to a career, sex, and life on her own terms.

It may be hard to remember or to appreciate how radical her approach to a woman’s place in the world was as we look back through the lens of rapid change in women’s rights and cultural expectations.

In the old-school world that Helen Gurley Brown faced in the 1950s and 60s, women had only grudgingly been granted the right to vote. She did not come upon the scene with either pedigree or good looks. (She called herself a “former mouseburger… not beautiful or even pretty… not bosomy or brilliant,” although others said she was “obsessed with boobs,” as the Cosmo covers suggest.) Her achievements came because of hard work and skillful politicking and through the unabashed use of feminine subterfuge and seduction.

In this she differentiated herself from the bra-burning feminists who were to come shortly after. She was the anti-feminist. She challenged the traditional role of women in the workplace (as secretaries) and in the bedroom (as wives) just as vigorously as the ERA women, but from a different perspective. In HGB’s world, a woman had to be smart and confident. But it was also useful to be feminine and to know when to deploy those charms, either to get what you want or for the sheer fun of a sexual romp.

While she predated the feminist movement by almost a decade, her book Sex and the Single Girl was the first crack in the dike, the first shot across the bow, signaling the vast social upheaval that would follow. In her book, “Brown challenged [single women] to take the same liberties as young men: to enjoy a long and lusty sexual prelude to marriage and to use the rest of the time to build a successful career,” writes Gail Sheehy in Cosmo.

Although the feminists who followed disagreed, sometimes vociferously, this was HGB’s homegrown revolution, and she practiced what she preached.

Born into poverty and possessed of no great physical endowment, HGB worked like a draft horse at 17 jobs before reaching the seat of power she’d been striving for at the age of 42—editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine.

For the next 32 years, until she was forced out of her job at 74, HGB created the icon and the culture of the Cosmo girl. And while on the one hand, the Cosmo girl perpetuates the imperative of feminine beauty and bosom, perhaps at the expense of brains; on the other, it celebrates the power and potential of a woman who knows how to use her femininity.

At the time, the Cosmo Girl was fresh and naughty; then, however, as one pundit commented, “she became familiar. And then she became a cliché.” Maybe, in today’s world of silicone cleavage and über-sexiness, she has become a caricature.

But in her work and in her personal life, HGB was a cheerleader for lots of fun, juicy sex. Clearly, sex continued to be important in her last marriage to David Brown as they both grew older. And it is in this capacity that Helen Gurley Brown has something to say to us—mature women who might be wondering what role sex has in our lives and relationships. While we may not want to emulate her, from that perspective we can learn a thing or two.

In memory of Helen Gurley Brown, who died August 13, 2012, at the age of 90, here are a few choice quotes for the older woman:

  • “It’s just ridiculous for a woman over 50 to assume sex has to be over. You may not be as rambunctious as when you were a teenager, but an orgasm is an orgasm, it doesn’t matter how long it takes to get there.”
  • About keeping the romance in marriage: “It helps if you go on romantic trips together. …When you’re in another city and a glamorous hotel that is conducive to sex, you think, ‘Hey, let’s don’t let this go to waste.’”
  • “What you do have to do is work with the raw material you have, namely you, and never let up.”
  • “Being sexy means that you accept all the parts of your body as worthy and lovable … your reproductive organs, your breasts, your alimentary tract.”
  • “A woman who even occasionally enjoys an orgasm from the roots of her hair to the tips of her toes is sexy.… Remember, frigidity isn’t a physical disability. It’s a curable state of mind.”

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Recently, I took a photo of my college-age daughter. I saw a beautiful young woman in a candid moment—smiling, long hair blowing in the breeze, everything youth should be.

Her reaction?

“Look how dumpy I am. Look at my belly. My boobs are so big.”

And at the other end of the generational divide, a grandmother in her early 80s complains about how fat she is and compares her breasts to “rocks in socks.”

Ladies, will we ever get beyond all this negative chatter and learn to accept, if not love, the only body we will ever have? Will we ever stop wasting valuable energy judging ourselves according to totally unrealistic cultural standards?

Unfortunately, I’m not that self-evolved. Are you?

Do you make love under cover of darkness (or maybe just under the covers) because you’re embarrassed by the cellulite and love handles? Have you avoided looking in mirrors ever since you saw your mother (and maybe now, your grandmother) looking back? Do you head for basic black and avoid wearing the colors and patterns you really like? Do you hate being photographed? When was the last time you wore a bathing suit?

In 2009, Glamour magazine repeated a survey it had conducted 25 years earlier. Sixteen thousand women were asked about their body image—how they felt about their looks; what they like and didn’t like. The results: “Sadly, more than 40 percent of women are unhappy with their bodies, a number virtually unchanged since 1984.”

Even more telling—women under 30 are now more likely to feel good about their bodies than older women, which is different from the 1984 survey.

It’s understandable, of course. We’ve been drinking the cultural Kool-Aid about youth and beauty since infancy. Now we’re staring down the final taboo: We’re growing old. Not only that, but those bodies we may (or may not) have reached an uneasy peace with are changing, too. They’ve developed bags and wrinkles, aches, pains, and excess avoirdupois. And no matter what we do to turn back the clock, this process will continue relentlessly and irrevocably.

This may be a good thing. This may allow us to finally claim who we are, undistracted and unburdened by the judgmental nattering all around us. When we can finally face down our shaky self-image and put our insecurities to bed. Perhaps we can appreciate and develop the things that really matters—our relationships and our own unique and beautiful selves. And maybe, having shaken off that critical voice, we can finally engage more freely in life and love and the world around us.

Sounds like a worthy goal at least.

Here are some ideas to get started:

  • Monitor your thoughts. To paraphrase an old saying: You are what you think. Do you cultivate a stream of negative thinking about yourself and others? Observe where your mind wanders and how you react to things. Try to turn negative thoughts and judgments in a positive direction.
  • Watch your mouth, too. Turn off the gossip and negative chatter—and that includes putting yourself down.
  • Cultivate friendships with joyful people who inspire you and are healthy to be around. Identify some unofficial life coaches who have experience, wisdom, and joy to share. Ideally, you’ll take your place among these mentors soon.
  • Identify things that make you feel good about yourself, whether it’s a massage, volunteer work, an afternoon with a special friend or an evening with your honey.
  • Don’t diet. Most people who diet gain the weight back anyway and are obsessed with weight, guilt, and counting calories. Instead, make your goal a healthy lifestyle. Focus on eating well and healthfully.
  • Do move. Getting active physically not only makes you feel better, but you’ll also feel better about how you look. “Being active in and of itself improves body image,” says Jim Annesi, PhD., in the Glamour article. And getting those joints moving increases flexibility and reduces the aches and pains, which incidentally helps with the next point…
  • Have sex. Paradoxically, the activity that is most likely to trigger our insecurities can also embolden us and restore our self-confidence. “Women who are able to get past those insecurities can find those fears are unfounded and realize how empowering it can be to experience pleasure and connection with another human being,” says gynecologist Hilda Hutcherson. So, after changing your thought patterns, developing a healthy lifestyle, and cultivating positive friends, the final payoff can be uninhibited sex with someone who ideally loves you just the way you are. With the lights on.

Have you noticed how attractive joyful people are? How age has its own special beauty? Have you noticed that beautiful woman with joy in her eyes and the wrinkles and lines of experience on her face?

That’s you.

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You know that we always encourage you to exercise. Keeping fit is excellent for your overall health, and it keeps you sexually tuned up as well. You have more energy; you have a better self-image; you probably have less pain in your joints and elsewhere; and you probably have better range of motion.

So, far be it from us to discourage any form of exercise. But, we have a teensy qualification for those of you who like to ride bicycles.

Take care of your bottom.

Turns out that the numbness and tingling you feel after a nice, long ride is an indication that the nerves and tissue on the pelvic floor may be affected, which means less sensation in the genital area. And lord knows we don’t want to compromise anything down there.

A few years ago, researchers found that policemen who rode bikes on the job had less sensation and some erectile dysfunction. Following the study, women cyclists began to suggest that this wasn’t just a guy thing.

Sure enough. A new study of female bike riders by researchers at Yale University confirms that women who ride at least 10 miles a week also lose sensation on their pelvic floor. This effect was particularly striking for women whose handlebars were lower than their seats and was even greater when riders lean forward onto the dropbars for a more aerodynamic effect. These positions put the most pressure on the perineum. “That part of the body was never meant to bear pressure,” Dr. Steven Schrader, lead researcher for the study on male riders. “Within a few minutes the blood oxygen levels go down by 80 percent.”

Granted, these gals were competitive bikers, so a maximal aerodynamic position isn’t likely to be your overriding concern, but if you tend to lean forward as you ride, or if you feel numbness, pain, or tingling in your pelvic floor, you should raise your handlebars to a more upright, granny-style position. This helps to distribute pressure to the anatomical part that’s meant to take it—your sit-bones.

And if you really, really like to ride, you could consider a no-nose bike saddle. A list of manufacturers is here. A cyclist’s discussion of the pros and cons are here.

The take-away? By all means continue with your regimen, and more power to you. With a few minor adjustments, you should be on the road and more comfortable than ever.

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An advisory board discussion turned to our experiences as professionals supporting women who find themselves newly single, often after a divorce. I asked Mary Jo Rapini, one of our medical advisors, to share some of her observations and advice.

A divorce leaves most people confused, hurt, and angry. Sex with another person—or sex at all—may be the farthest thing from your mind in the midst of a divorce. Sex with an ex is more common than you might think, but it usually doesn’t last; it may help put closure on the end of the marriage. Sex with an ex usually reminds you why you split and reinforces that you are alone (one of the loneliest feelings is waking up after your ex leaves from a night that was nothing more than sex).

Be aware—both if you compare yourself to your partner and as you meet new people—that men usually have more partners after a divorce. Men suffer more from being alone. Their heart rate and respiration take longer to return to normal after an argument, and they have less of a social network to turn to for emotional support. Many times their attempts to find someone new quickly are driven by emotion as well as sex. Women have stronger social networks that help to emotionally support them. This is a benefit for women and also prevents them from feeling the “need” to begin dating right after a divorce.

For both women and men, there are new sexual adventures waiting after a divorce. On-line dating, texting, sexting, emailing, and social networks have all provided a virtual world of new suitors. If you have been married for a long while, this may seem overwhelming and intimidating. It may be one of the reasons you hesitate to get back into dating. I hear questions like these from many recent divorcees; “How do I date?” “Where do I begin?” “What do men or women expect now while dating?”

Before you begin dating, get comfortable with both your post-divorce body and your thoughts about sexuality. If you were married for a long time, sex may have become routine, and your body most likely was accepted for the way it was. If you don’t like your body, this is an optimal time to begin a healthier life style that includes taking time for yourself. Exploration of your own sexuality can be a part of that healthier life style. Rushing into dating before you know what makes you feel good, where you like to be touched, and how to touch you won’t be as successful as taking your time and knowing yourself. You aren’t the same person you were when you got married. Your body isn’t the same body, either. Here are some things you can do to understand your sexual self post divorce:

  1. Take at least one evening or morning a week to begin touching yourself. Sitting in a bath tub with nice music, bubbles, and a hot tea or other favorite beverage is a wonderful opportunity to touch your skin and notice where your body is most sensitive. If you feel numb since the divorce, watch for goose bumps. These are good indicators of areas on your body that enjoy touch.
  2. As you feel more comfortable with your own touch, introduce a vibrator. If you aren’t sure of which kind to try, begin with a vibrator you can take in the water. The water is relaxing and if you are still uncomfortable looking at all your body parts (many women and men have body image issues after a divorce) the water is a gentle way to cover parts you don’t like. Massage your neck, arms, breasts, chest, groin, thighs, and then gently introduce it to the genitals.
  3. When you are finished in the bath, gently dry yourself and begin looking in the mirror. Note the areas of your body that are sensitive to touch and appreciate those. Repeating a mantra or a favorite quote or prayer at this time is a loving addition to your body and will begin helping you feel more sexual and confident.
  4. After dressing, sit down and write down things that you appreciate about your body and list reasons someone would want to love you. Keep these writings in a journal where you can continue this practice. Writing will begin your healing process of self love, discovering your sexual self, and preparation to love again.

Whether you wanted the divorce or were forced into one, knowing your intimate, sexual self post-divorce is so important. The majority of divorcees do go on to have relationships and marriages. Many of these don’t work out, and it’s often because one or both partners rushed into another relationship without fully appreciating what they had to offer another.

If you didn’t want the divorce, it’s especially important to heal emotionally, as well as restoring your sexuality. These suggestions will help you get through the immediate months following a divorce:

  1. Talk to a counselor to help you navigate your feelings. Venting to your friends, parents, and children is not helpful and can actually isolate you. Children can be emotionally damaged when parents trash-talk an ex, so confide in a counselor and one or two close friends.
  2. Make exercise a part of your daily life. Exercise helps motivate you when you feel too fatigued to go on, and it restores your body image. If you can’t exercise by yourself, ask a good friend to walk, run, or go to the gym with you.
  3. Join at least one support group or a like-minded group. This will help you minimize your aloneness; it will also get you out into the community where—who knows?—you may meet new people, including, perhaps, someone you’d like to date.
  4. Minimize meeting up with your ex as much as possible. The more you engage with your ex, the more difficult moving on can be.
  5. Continue to enjoy the events you used to. You may not “feel” the same enjoyment at the same deep level, but eventually you will.

Going on with a new life you never wanted or chose is painful. Many times, the partner left feels revengeful, and although this is a common feeling (don’t beat yourself up for feeling it), you eventually have to give that up, too. Before you give up on that feeling though, remember: The best revenge is becoming the best version of you! This includes taking care of your emotional and spiritual health, your children’s health, and your physical health. You will make it, even though your heart may be breaking. You are strong, you will survive, and you will continue to grow, change, and love again.

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The popular TV show Modern Family has a running joke with Clare and Phil, a 40-something couple with three kids: They go to a hotel once in awhile pretending to be strangers who meet in the bar and flirt like crazy with each other. They do it just to liven up their sex lives a bit. And guess what—it’s not a bad idea!

Flirting, the real thing, is not just for the young, or the single. Flirting at any age is a turn-on, especially when it’s unexpected. It’s a way to say “I love you” or “I want you” in a fun, sexy way. It helps you make those important human connections that lead to real intimacy. It can be a great prelude to great sex—the start of foreplay, really.

To get yourself in the mood, try thinking about what initially attracted you to your partner all those years ago. His voice? His smile? His laugh?

Or maybe look at some photos of when you first met and remind yourself of what it was like to flirt with him.

Because unlike orgasms, you can’t really fake flirting; you have to mean it. And once you get back into it, you’ll see that flirting can help increase your sexual confidence, too, making you feel like you’ve still “got it” when it comes to being sexy and alluring.

If you’re a little out of practice, here are some things you can try:

  • Use your eyes; they’re two of your sexiest body parts. For example, next time you’re sitting across the room from your partner—say he’s reading the paper—grab his gaze and then wink at him. Trust me, you’ll get a reaction.
  • Or stare at your partner in a loving way and let him catch you looking. Then smile and say something nice. (“I was just thinking about how cute you looked last night…”)
  • When you go out to dinner, wear a top that shows cleavage and play with your necklace running your fingers along the tops of your breasts.
  • Next time you give him a hug, make it last a little longer… shoot for 10 seconds.
  • Send him a sexy text (just make sure you’ve got the right number!).
  • Leave a note under his pillow some night saying you’re ready for some fun.
  • Rent an erotic or romantic movie and set the stage for watching it later together.

You can turn almost any situation into a flirtatious encounter, just by having the idea in your head. Now that it is, why not try it out this weekend? Let us know what happens!

For more on the subject, check out Alternatives to Intercourse on our website and “How to Flirt Over Age 50” on ThirdAge.com.

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