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Archive for December, 2012

O wad some Power the giftie gie us

To see oursels as others see us…

         —Robert Burns

As Mary Jo Rapini discussed in her excellent post about body image, the way we view our bodies—our body image—is an inside job. It’s our own creation.

We construct our body image from childhood experience (comments, teasing, how our mothers viewed themselves), media messages, and social definitions of beauty. We also project our emotions onto our hapless bodies. (Passed over for a promotion? Look at those fat, ugly thighs.)

Did you notice that not one of those influences has anything to do with how others actually see us?

WilliamShakespeareThat’s because body image has nothing to do with reality. It’s the result of our own internal dialog, and I’m guessing that for most of us it’s pretty negative. That’s what Mary Jo was referring to when she said to knock it off. In so many words.

Body image is powerful because it affects our actions, including our sex life. “Women with poor body image don’t initiate sex as often, and they’re more self-conscious,” says Dr. Anne Kearney-Cooke.

When we’re distracted by our perceived flaws, it’s hard to be spontaneous with our honey.

Still the media steamrolls on. The ideal image of beauty has become thinner (American models are 11 percent below normal weight and only 4 percent above what is considered anorexic). At the same time, not only embroiled in an obesity epidemic, but most of us tend to gain weight normally as we age.

Weight is a huge component of body image. In a massive 1997 survey conducted by Psychology Today, participants were asked how many years of life they would be willing to trade in order to achieve their weight goal, 15 percent of women said they’d give up 5 years and 24 percent said they’d give up more than three.

That’s a high price for weight loss. And guess what? You can do it for free!

In the interest of bringing hope and perspective to the issue as we prepare to welcome a new year, here (and in the next post) are some thoughts and suggestions that make sense to me:

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This covers a lot of ground. For one thing, your partner probably sees you as more beautiful than you see yourself. People who love us tend to do that. All you have to do is to trust it.

It also means that standards of beauty are different throughout the world and that Americans have very narrow standards. After all, this is the culture that brought you Barbie. The French, for example, have much broader notions of beauty. Here’s one French woman’s reaction to American beauty: “The women all had thin bodies, big breasts, long blonde hair, and white teeth. Boring.” Rejoice in your lack of boringness.

Your body is amazing. Be proud of what it can do. Stop obsessing about weight and start working on health. Exercise to make yourself stronger and more flexible, not to lose weight. That Psychology Today survey found that moderate exercise was the most direct link to feeling good about yourself. (Good sex was another.)

You don’t have to get extreme—just get outside and walk several times a week. (Simply being outside feels good.) When you’re confident in your body’s ability to perform—when you can walk a few miles, move the couch, pick up the grandkid, not only do you feel better, but you feel better about yourself.

I’ll continue this how-to list in the next post!

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A Sexy Start to the New Year

I don’t know about you, but celebrating New Year’s Eve has become as exciting as a dirty sock under the bed. What happened to the crazy parties with friends? What happened to Auld Lang Syne and champagne and… other stuff?

I’ll tell you what happened. Life and maturity happened. At some point, we decided it was silly to party like it’s 1999 and wake up with the baby at 6 a.m. And now I’m betting that a good number of us won’t even make it ‘til the ball drops. And really, that’s not so bad, is it?

So maybe you’re staring down a quiet evening at home. Or maybe you’ve chosen to welcome the New Year with a quiet evening at home. So why not make it special? Just the two of you.

Here are some ideas:

  • Have a pajama party. Dress in cozy nightwear. (No, not your raggedy footies. Get some nice but comfy nightwear.) Play board games—Scrabble or Monopoly. Have some yummy but healthy snacks ready. Dark chocolate is a must. Wine. Fruit. Here’s a list of foods with aphrodisiac qualities.
  • Brew up some special cocktails for the occasion. Maybe you have a drink you both love, but here are some romantic nightcaps if you want to try something new. Very rich hot buttered rum, anyone?
  • Have a romantic movie night. Cuddle. Make popcorn and hot chocolate. My favorite gottahaveit movie snack? Peanut M&Ms. Have a favorite? Here’s a great list to get you started. Others might include Gone With the Wind, An Officer and a Gentleman, Ghost, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Casablanca, Doctor Zhivago, or West Side Story.
  • Rent (or borrow) a cabin in the woods. Celebrate the New Year under a canopy of stars in the deep quiet of a snowy forest in front of a roaring fire. Naked. Make magic happen.
  • Go bubbly. If you have a jacuzzi (or even if you don’t), fill the bathroom with candles, incense, soft music, champagne, and a warm bubble bath for two.
  • Don’t stop at New Year’s Eve. Make a resolution to romance your honey all year long. This is the best list I’ve encountered for sincere, creative ways to let your partner know you love him or her.

Happy, Sexy New Year!

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A young woman I know went to the hospital to have a baby. She packed all the things she thought she needed to keep her comfortable during labor—a big ball to sit on; small balls for back pain, power bars and snacks for energy. She also loaded her iPod with a playlist of her favorite music.

I was expecting Vivaldi, maybe Bach, or some soothing Tchaikovsky. But what filled the room as she puffed her way through contractions was a mélange of rock tunes she had found comforting on the subway when she was nauseated “and everything else I was into at the time.” These included bands like Cat Power and Sun Volt.

Yeah, I’ve never heard of them, either.

We may associate certain music with a happy time of life—French songs we heard in Paris or the Latin beat of Havana. We may like the music we listened to in our youth. Or, we may have cultivated a taste for one genre or another later in life—jazz or opera, for example.

I vividly remember the first time I heard Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring in college. That began my love affair with classical music, which continues to this day.

One thing is certain—music is powerful. Just listening to it—and it doesn’t have to be the favs on our playlist—can trigger emotion, such as patriotism, sadness, joy, excitement; it can relieve pain and depression; it causes the release of various chemicals such as testosterone, oxytocin, and those feel-good endorphins, such as dopamine, according to this Time magazine article. In fact, music taps into the same neurochemicals as sex, according to a recent study in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Since we humans seem hard-wired to respond to music, doesn’t it make sense to invite this powerful ally into the bedroom?

As we mentioned in previous posts about engaging all our senses during sex, music can help us “get out of our heads.” This is valuable all by itself. But music can also help us get in the mood. Music that has shared associations can make us feel close to our partner. Or, like Ravel’s Bolero (that quintessential piece to have sex by), it might track the crescendo of the action.

Ideally, your partner likes the same music as you do, but maybe you’ll have to stretch a bit to include his or her favorites. Or maybe you can recall special tunes that are significant to both of you.

Don’t use this as an opportunity to broaden your taste in music, however—this might not be the time to sample that heavy metal band your son told you about. What you want is music that’s familiar, whether it’s soothing, romantic, or energizing. What you don’t want is an unexpected clash of cymbals at an inopportune moment. You want to avoid jarring changes in tempo or volume. The music should either sound similar or transition gradually. You might also consider keeping the remote close at hand to click to the next song or turn the music off altogether if it gets too distracting.

The Internet is full of lists of sexy music. Amazon also sells downloadable and unadorned Music for Sex. (A little more nuance might be nice.) But in this sphere, the best music is your own, drawn from shared memories and personal taste. Whether it’s Aaron Copland or Buena Vista Social Club, country, R&B, or classic rock, make it yours.

So maybe sit down together tonight and compile your playlist of music to make love by. Let us know how it goes—and be sure to share with us what works for you.

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Sex and More Senses

In a previous post, we began exploring ways to engage all our senses when we make love. Today, we pick up where we left off.

Sight. Of all the senses, we humans rely heavily on eyesight. So why do we make love in the dark? Under the covers? With our eyes closed? Granted, we feel we look better in the glow of moonlight rather than the glare of incandescence. And closing the eyes helps us concentrate on the action at hand. Or mouth. Or whatever.

But we could use—or not use—our eyesight strategically to increase the pleasure of lovemaking.

To pleasure the sense of sight, make everything having to do with sex look beautiful. For example, that tray of aphrodisiacs we mentioned earlier should look as sensuous as it tastes. Your bedroom—or wherever you make love regularly—should be inviting, even sumptuous. Get rid of the clutter. Move the pictures of the kids to your office. Incorporate warm, sensuous colors and finishes. Use light strategically. Make it a pleasure to see and to be in.

The other way to deal with eyesight is not to use it. Eliminating one sense heightens the sensitivity of the others. Blindfold your partner and stimulate his or her sense of touch or smell in surprising ways. Touch with feathers or fur. Tease and back off. Not knowing what will happen next intensifies the experience.

Hearing. This is another of our sense that we don’t use enough during lovemaking. We’ll expand on this idea in a future post, but for now, think of ways to incorporate soothing, sexy, or energizing sound into the bedroom ritual.

Obviously, music is a powerful way to calm or motivate or rouse emotion. Use it as a pleasing tool during lovemaking to “get out of your head” or to bring yet another layer of sensuality to sex. You could also use the sounds of nature: pattering rain, bird calls, the womblike whoosh of the ocean. Experiment with sound and music to find what enhances and adds pleasure.

Some people also find it erotic to talk during lovemaking—erotically, lovingly, or sluttishly—whatever turns you on.

You might try reading aloud to each other—to get in the mood or to wind down after. This works best if you really know and love the piece rather than if you’re stumbling through it for the first time.

Remember how soothing and intimate it is to be read to? Read to your partner as an act of love. Poetry is especially powerful in its expression of emotion, passion, love, ardor, and beauty in ways that are lovely to hear. Plus, the lyric quality and rhythm blurs the line between poetry and music. And love is a common theme of poetry. She Walks in Beauty by Lord Byron brings me to tears. Or try the soaring How Do I Love Thee? by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

What poem do you love? Share it with your lover.

Touch. This, of course, is the king of the sexual senses. In this realm, the skin is one, big sex organ, tingling with nerve endings and alive to sensation.

Bring a variety of textures and temperatures to your sexual routine. Alternate heat and cold on your lover’s skin. (Ice your hands, touch your partner’s skin, then warm them and touch again.) Use warming lubes, introduce bedsheets with different textures. Check out products to enhance touch in our online shop.

You could try out some 50 Shades action and tie your lover’s hands with a necktie or some nonstick bondage tape. Then you can have your way with him or her, touching wherever and however you want.

Sex, and all of life, is a sensual experience. Think creatively and lovingly in ways to engage all your senses, and I’m betting the sex will be more varied, pleasurable, intense, and fun. Plan an experience that will engage as many senses as possible. A sampler tray of aphrodisiacs, for example, should also appeal to the eye. Sensual linens and clothing can be beautiful to look at, as well to touch.

Or plan an encounter that focuses on one sense at a time—a crescendo of music, a cascade of scent, a blind taste test of lusciousness.

Above all, savor. The senses can’t be rushed. Plan a rendezvous that gives you time to indulge, to nibble, sample, sniff, listen, and feel. It doesn’t all have to happen at once. Or the same way. The senses offer a cornucopia of surprise and delight. In this realm, your only limit is your imagination.

Unleash your creativity and harness the power of your senses. Not only will the sex be better, but maybe you’ll sharpen your senses for the rest of life as well.

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The pain that you describe sounds like vulvovaginal atrophy, and possibly vulvodynia (vestibulodynia). These conditions can both be treated, but need the attention of a physician for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Estriol and progesterone, which you say you’re trying, aren’t likely to be of great benefit to you, but localized estradiol is likely to help.

It’s sad at any age to put this important aspect of a marriage aside. And, because, unfortunately, the longer it goes on, the worse these conditions get, I’d recommend a visit to your physician sooner than later. If you’re unsure of your physician’s ability to adequately manage this part of your health, find a Certified Menopausal Provider in your area.

In the meantime, make sure you are using a good lubricant; a silicone lube like Pink is probably going to be most effective for this condition. It’s also important to use a vaginal moisturizer like Emerita.

I’m sure you feel discouraged. Know that I have had patients who have regained the sex lives they wanted! They’ve felt it was worth the effort. Good luck!

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Sex is all about the senses. That’s why “sex” is the fraternal twin of “sensual,” which broadly refers to “voluptuous gratification of the senses.”

Now, I ask you, what is more voluptuously gratifying to the senses than sex?

Trouble is, sometimes our senses get a little dull. They need a tune-up. They need variety and stimulation. They need us to pay attention.

We can pay attention to our senses, for example, by noticing the glint of sun on water, the smell of coffee in the morning, a warm breeze on the skin, a meadowlark singing on the fencepost.

But sex is where the senses can have a field day. We tend to rely on touch when we make love—and that’s a lovely place to start. As we mentioned before, the skin is our largest sex organ, so it makes sense to cultivate that sensory garden.

We do, however, have four other delicious sensory organs to awaken. And since our menopausal bodies need more stimulation and a longer runway these days, sexually speaking, why not incorporate other types of sensory delights into our lovemaking? This can serve several purposes—becoming more attuned to  the senses we don’t rely on as much; introducing playfulness and novelty into our lovemaking; and creating the more erotic and stimulating environment that helps get us airborn, so to speak.

Here are a few suggestions for cultivating the garden of your senses during sex. If you come up with other suggestions, please share!

Smell. Most of us rarely think about engaging the sense of smell when we make love. Sure, it’s nice to have, but doesn’t seem critical to performance in the bedroom.

Smell may be subtle indeed, but that doesn’t mean it’s not powerful. For one thing, it’s closely linked to memory. The part of the brain that registers scents nestles right next to the limbic system that controls emotion and memory. That’s why a certain smell is often linked to an experience or a person. And that’s the basis of aromatherapy—using certain scents to trigger certain emotion.

We can use this to our advantage in our love life. Is there a scent that you associate with particularly happy or romantic times? I love the smell of jasmine because it reminds me of a wonderful visit to the city of Oaxaca in Mexico. A whiff of jasmine, and I’m transported right back to the Zócalo in the middle of town.

Here are a couple ways to incorporate smell into your love life:

  • Get some good-quality essential oils and suffuse the room with scent while you make love. Lavender and sage are said to be relaxing; rosemary and citrus are energizing. (I always associate citrus with cleanliness and freshness.) Jasmine, rose, gardenia, and sandalwood are romantic. What works for you?
  • We are also subliminally drawn to the smell of our partner. During lovemaking, pay attention to the scent of his or her exhalation, the smell of his or her skin and the way that scent varies throughout the body. Get to know how your partner smells. Would you recognize that scent in a crowd?

Taste. This is probably another sense that we don’t incorporate well into sex. One way to develop our taste for sex might be to try some foods that are considered aphrodisiacs.

Some foods simply look suggestive, like fresh figs or asparagus, while other foods actually increase blood flow to the genitals. Some, like avocado and asparagus, do both.

The idea isn’t to eat until you’re stuffed. (Romantic candle-light dinners are bad for that.) The idea is to use the sight and taste of food to stimulate your senses and your passions. So maybe create a lush tray of aphrodisiacs to sample in bed. Or to feed each other. Or to slowly undress while you sample and feed each others.

Here are the top aphrodisiacs:

  • Red wine. Ahhhh. It relaxes and lowers inhibitions. Yes, and it contains antioxidants and boosts blood flow.
  • Chocolate. Ever the food of passion, chocolate contains a “love chemical” that releases dopamine in the brain. It also contains an element of serotonin, which produces feelings of euphoria and well-being. Make yours dark and creamy.
  • Pomegranate. Also full of antioxidants, not to mention beautiful and red and luscious.
  • Avocado.  Pairs of these pear-shaped fruits hanging on the tree reminded the Aztecs of testicles. Thus, they were banned by Spanish priests. You can enjoy these subtly hued and creamy fruits without guilt, however.
  • Oysters. Silver, slippery, full of zinc (cranks up testosterone production) and decadent.
  • Chilies. Some say that the heat-inducing capsaicin in red chilies increases blood flow and stimulates nerve endings. No argument there, just take it easy. Fiery red chilies on the sex tray would look passionate, at least.

We’ll give you some time to, um, digest these tips for now. More sensual suggestions in the next post.

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Diabetes has slightly more impact, statistically, on men’s sexual function than on women’s, but about half of both are affected. There are multiple reasons, most likely, which include neuropathy (impaired nerve function), vascular disease (narrowing of blood vessels for less circulation), and possible psychological issues. In women, that combination translates into lower interest, slower arousal, less lubrication, more difficulty experiencing orgasm, and the possibility of pain with intercourse.

As you often read, diabetes is a rapidly growing epidemic in the U.S., with obesity as the number one risk factor for developing the disease. Once again, maintaining overall health is vitally important to preserving sexual health.

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