Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘intimacy’

Ah, summer! The sun is warm, the days are long and languid, and it has three holidays. It’s a season tailor made for spending time with the one you love, focusing on each other, and building intimacy.

While there’s nothing wrong with going to all those old familiar places, like the summer-only deck of your favorite restaurant, your time might be better spent mixing it up a little. That’s because familiarity and desire don’t always coexist happily. Couples often have to fan those flames, and the right kind of date night can help.

This summer, try applying Hollywood’s 80/20 formula: 80 percent familiar (girl meets boy) and 20 percent novel (girl happens to be a mermaid).

Choose something that the two of you have done and enjoyed in the past, but add a little (or big) twist. We’ll get you started.

  • If you like the theater, go see a contemporary performance art. Better yet: Take an improv class together. What you learn there will be useful in all of life, not just your relationship, and at the very least, you will share a few laughs.
  • If you like movies, go to a drive-in. Better yet: Make your own movie short using the camera on your smartphone. You don’t have to be a budding Martin Scorsese. Do a send up of a scene that you like from your favorite movie or TV show.
  • If you like to shop, go to thrift stores. Better yet: Spend a morning going to garage sales. You’d be surprised at what you learn about your beloved—and maybe even by what you remember about yourself.
  • If you like to play games on your smartphone (Candy Crush, anyone?), go retro by playing three-dimensional Scrabble or backgammon. Better yet: Pair the game with a bottle of wine and some cheese and turn it into a picnic.
  • If you like living a little on the edge—speeding, breaking rules, disobeying authority, in general—go parking, or go commando. Better yet: go skydiving. Commando.

Whatever it is you like to do as a couple, give it some spin, a kick in the keister. If nothing else comes to mind, try Phil and Claire’s trick. The Modern Family couple occasionally adds zing to their date night by pretending to be “Clive” and “Juliana,” two people who leave their responsibilities behind for a night of passion with “a stranger.” It may be the most ingenious solution of all to the love/desire dilemma.

Will some of this make you uncomfortable? We certainly hope so! Novelty—doing something you haven’t done before—involves risk, which leads to excitement, and can rekindle desire. It’s already July. How will you spend the rest of the summer?

Read Full Post »

Relationships at midlife are complicated. Expectations and needs of aging parents, boomerang children, extended family and friends—they can completely exhaust us. Especially if we have grown accustomed to putting others’ needs before our own, we can end up being busy, lonely and depleted. Exhaustion and loneliness can make us vulnerable to the allure of relationships that hold a little more excitement. The tough reality is that we can be tempted into relationships that are not safe.

When we were younger, safe sex used to mean sex that was “protected”: from unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. But now we know that those issues are just the first level of “safety” in sexual relationships. It’s one of the reasons that we at MiddlesexMD, in our recipe for sexual health, include emotional intimacy. The fundamental requirement for emotional intimacy is to be safe, emotionally and physically. If your relationships pose a threat to your sense of security, sex will not be intimate.

Lots of research has gone into what makes for intimacy. One of the most famous early researchers was Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) who studied psychologically healthy people. He developed a model that is called the “Hierarchy of Needs” to describe psychological development. Key to understanding how the model works is the idea that if the “first order” needs are not met, it is difficult if not impossible to work on attaining higher levels. Often portrayed as a pyramid, the hierarchy starts at the bottom with these first three levels:

  1. Biological and Physiological – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep
  2. Safety – protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear
  3. Love and belongingness – friendship, intimacy, affection and love, from work group, family, friends, romantic relationships

Notice that in Maslow’s model, sex is listed as a first-level need. Intimacy, on the other hand, is at the third level, part of love and belonging. And between those two is safety! So Maslow’s model tells us that to have real intimacy, we need safe sexual relationships. In recent years, the tidiness of Maslow’s model (really? one need first and then another?) has been challenged, but the central truth—that a sense of security is a prerequisite for the vulnerability that’s part of real intimacy—still holds.

Our suggestions–or anyone else’s–for developing intimacy aren’t helpful if the relationship is not safe. And no generic answers are appropriate. There is help available, and some resources are listed here.

It’s difficult and complicated territory. Women often feel culpable—that they’ve “asked for trouble,” or we assume that men are just more aggressive. If you feel threatened and can’t talk about it with your partner, that’s a warning sign. In a 1975 interview in People (right after the publication of her landmark book Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape) Susan Brownmiller was asked, “Are most women not wary enough?” Her response was “Not nearly enough. They should learn to say no at the door…. A lot of women make mistakes out of loneliness.”

You don’t have to be lonely. And you don’t have to be unsafe. You deserve better.

Read Full Post »

Just a Perfect Day

If you could plan out a perfect day, what would it look like?

Two researchers explored that question in a study, “Developing a Happiness-Optimized Day Schedule,” published in the Journal of Economic Psychology. The researchers, Christian Kroll and Sebastian Pokutta, took data on how a large number of women spent a typical day and how much they enjoyed each activity. Then they had some fun with the numbers.

Subtracting 8 hours for sleep, they were left with 16 hours to divide up, minute by minute, into a day that would offer the most pleasure and satisfaction. Here is what they came up with:

106 minutes “intimate relations”
82 minutes socializing
78 minutes relaxing
75 minutes eating
73 minutes praying or meditating
68 minutes exercising
57 minutes talking on the phone
56 minutes shopping
55 minutes watching TV
50 minutes cooking
48 minutes using a computer
47 minutes doing housework
46 minutes taking a nap
46 minutes childcare
36 minutes working
33 minutes commuting

Some journalists joked about these oddly precise numbers. Simon Kelner asks whether a perfect day is different for men (likely answer: yes) and recalls Lou Reed drinking sangria in the park in his classic song.

But the researchers’ method actually makes sense. They write, “Our research asks what a perfect day would look like if we take into account the crucial fact that even the most pleasurable activities are usually less enjoyable the longer they last and the more often we do them.”

Imagine doing a jigsaw puzzle for twelve hours straight. If you like jigsaw puzzles, you would enjoy the first hour or two, especially if you don’t do jigsaws every day. But over time it would get way less fun.

Using that idea, the researchers took 16 common activities and allotted a number of minutes to each one, so that the last minute of each offered an equal amount of happiness. The more pleasurable the activity, the longer it took for the pleasure to diminish enough to match the others.

True, anyone who tried to follow the suggested schedule would go berserk. That wasn’t the authors’ intention! It’s a thought experiment: a way to think about what’s most important for an individual or a society. As the researchers point out, their computation “differs considerably from how people usually spend their time.”

If I use myself as a test case, I ask: Only 36 minutes of working? Fortunately, I love my work. I hope my perception of pleasure throughout a whole day of seeing patients is not an illusion. And 56 minutes of shopping? That’s not at all attractive to me as a daily activity.

But the study encourages us to be intentional with what we do with our precious time. The six activities at the top of the list, which the women enjoyed the most—intimacy, socializing, relaxing, eating (eating well, we hope), praying or meditating, exercising—are all vital to health in body or mind. We can think of each one as a different color thread, and make sure to weave them all through our days—with intentional planning of time for our relationships, for example.

We will be happier, and so will the people we love.

Read Full Post »

If you don’t already have that perfect gift for your significant other, don’t despair. There are other ways to show your love. The most important thing is to be thoughtful about choosing the way that you show it. Try to set aside the traditional idea of Valentine’s Day. When you wipe away all those images of roses, chocolate, and candlelight, what’s left? You and your beloved, alone for an evening.

You may think you know where I’m headed with this, but not so fast! Take a few minutes to consider what you know about your partner. You might be familiar with the concept of emotional love languages: words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. Keep your partner’s love language in mind as you plan the evening.

Also think about what your partner enjoys. A recipe that you don’t normally make because it’s too much work (or you don’t like it yourself)? Make it for him. Ice fishing? Go with him (pack hot drinks and hand warmers!). A certain junk food? Buy it, put a big red bow on it—and let him enjoy it, guilt free. Whatever it is, give it with love.

If you want to take your gift to the next level (nope, not yet), look to your shared history. What did you enjoy doing together when you were first dating or right after you got married? Maybe you can find a way to revisit that interest. It could be as simple as putting together a play list of music that was popular when you were first together and dancing to it.

And yes, of course you can think of all of this as leading to intimacy. Valentine’s Day is a great time to be intentional about working on foreplay, which many of us need more at midlife, whether or not it was important to us before. You could be sensual with a scented massage oil (Just Love is an all-natural and organic addition to our collection) or playful with something like flavored body paint. Remember the lubricant to be sure you’re comfortable, and consider its frivolous possibilities, too (Just Love is formulated for both massage and “intimate glide”).

Maybe you just don’t have the energy for any of this. Maybe you and your partner have been “running on empty” for a while. If that’s the case, then try spending the evening asking each other these 36 questions, which can result in falling in love, according to one study. (And it seems to have worked for this woman.) Can it work for falling in love again? I don’t know, but what have you got to lose?

Read Full Post »

No conversation about dementia is easy, especially when it regards someone you love. Talking about sex is no piece of cake, either. But any conversation about Alzheimer’s or dementia ought to include sex.

Because sex will very likely be an issue that caregivers have to deal with at some point. A recent patient told me that sex remains a very special connection with her husband, who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s; she looks to preserve that connection as long as possible.

We are sexual creatures all our lives. Alzheimer’s doesn’t change that fact, although it will alter the experience and expression of sex in a relationship—both for the person with dementia and for the partner. It’s better to be emotionally prepared and to have your resources in place than to be taken by surprise by loss or uncharacteristic or embarrassing behavior.

So, let’s talk.

A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is heartbreaking. Its progression is long and unpredictable. There is no cure, although some drugs slow its advance. As one daughter said, “It’s like my father was taken away, little bits at a time.”

Unfortunately, it’s also becoming more common. In 2014, 5 million Americans over 65 were living with Alzheimer’s disease, two-thirds of whom were women. With the graying of America, those numbers will only increase.

You can’t predict the course of the disease or how it will affect your partner’s sexuality. Sex may be something that brings you both comfort, as my patient found. The body has its own memory, and the familiar movements and routines, the physical contact, may be reassuring and helpful to both of you.

But your partner may also become cold and withdrawn, confused and clumsy, or aggressive and uninhibited as the disease progresses.

He or she may lose interest in sex or become unresponsive—neither resisting nor responding nor initiating physical contact. This hurts, and it feels like rejection, even though you know it’s the disease talking. It may help to remember that intimacy comes in many and varied forms—as simple as brushing his hair behind his ears or a reassuring squeeze.

For all of us, touch remains a primal and powerful form of human connection. Your partner may be comforted by gentle, loving touch, and it may be an important way for you to stay connected as well. Hold hands, hug, cuddle, rub his or her back.

As your partner becomes more dependent and childlike, or the burden of physically caring for him or her becomes more demanding, you may lose interest in sex as well. Or you may lose interest in sex with your partner. You may feel guilty about this, but you may also feel frustrated or even turned off by your partner or by the intimate tasks of daily care.

This is normal and understandable. It’s tough to cope with daily life, with the grief of witnessing the transformation and ultimate loss of a lover and life-partner.

But there is another moral and legal morass to be aware of as well as you juggle your own sexual and emotional needs with the changing and sometimes ambiguous needs of your partner. Marital sex has to be consensual, but what happens if your partner no longer has the capacity to consent? Laws against marital rape at that point become murky, as this unsettling story illustrates.

At the other end of the spectrum, people with diseases like Alzheimer’s may lose inhibitions, especially sexual inhibitions. They may strip or fondle themselves in public; they may become sexually aggressive or make inappropriate comments to family, caregivers, and strangers. They may want to have sex, and then forget they just did. They may ask who you are while you’re having sex.

These actions are embarrassing, painful, frustrating, exhausting, and even scary. It’s hard to know how to respond and keep your cool.

Sometimes, your partner may not be acting out sexually at all, but may simply need to go to the bathroom or be wearing clothes that are hot or uncomfortable. You’ll need to assess these needs quickly, while both reassuring your partner, deflecting his or her confusion or embarrassment and dealing with the reactions of others.

Did I mention that you’ll need physical and emotional resources in place before the disease gets too advanced?

You may need help figuring out how to engage and reassure your partner, how to shield others, like grandchildren and caregivers, from inappropriate behavior, and how to maintain your own equilibrium during it all.

To comfort and engage your partner and to maintain intimacy and connection, you could

  • Go through old photo albums together and reminisce about the past
  • Play music—the tunes you used to listen to together or quiet, soothing melodies
  • Take walks together (exercise is incredibly important for both of you)
  • Keep children and animals in your lives
  • Do simple cooking or gardening projects or maintain hobbies your partner used to love. One woman with dementia can no longer drive, shop, or cook, but she finds release and comfort in the physical activity of caring for her garden. Are there similar activities that could continue to engage and soothe your partner?

And please don’t neglect your own health and emotional well-being. Alzheimer’s disease is long-term, and you’ll have to seek out long-term ways of coping.

  • Arrange for regular respite care
  • Find a support group of people who are also caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s. You need to talk with people who understand what you’re going through.
  • Find stress-relievers of your own. What soothes and relaxes you?
  • Don’t neglect exercise, particularly if you can get outdoors.

After all the years together, you are the one most familiar with and comforting to your partner. The one who knows him or her best. You want to be there for the one you love, but don’t forget to put your own oxygen mask on first.

Read Full Post »

As we mentioned last time, 47 percent of New Year’s resolutions are related to self-improvement—losing weight, quitting smoking, getting organized, or saving money. “Improving sexual health and wellbeing” doesn’t make the list (at least not the one in this study) but we think they should.

Because—let’s face it—chances are, they won’t magically get better on their own.

They used to, though, didn’t they? Or it seemed like it. Over the course of our relationships, all of us have probably experienced sexual desire come and go, as we went through things like pregnancy, health-related issues (for us or our partners), and times of stress. Looking back, we remember that desire always bounced back, as it does for most people who are generally healthy and on the young side of middle aged.

But at this stage of the game, how long should you let it go, hoping it will self-correct, before resolving to do something about it? Our take: Not long. Start now. You’ve got nothing to lose and so much to gain in the area of self-improvement.

Although we may not think of intimacy and sex falling into the “self improvement” category, it actually does. Do you want to lose weight? Be healthier? Feel better about yourself? Then get busy, sister, because having sex can help in all those ways. Equally as important is that when sex is good, as you’ll recall, it adds 15 – 20 percent additional value to a relationship; when it’s bad or nonexistent, it drains the relationship of positive value by 50 to 70 percent.

Make 2015 the year that you make a concerted effort at doing what it takes—kegels for better muscle tone, a vaginal moisturizer as part of your skin-care routine, lubricants or a vibrator to add some spice, an honest conversation about foreplay with your partner—to get your game on in the bedroom. Don’t just say you will; make it your New Year’s resolution. Research shows that if you make a resolution, you’re 10 times more likely to have been “continuously successful” at six months than if you don’t. Good luck and Happy New Year!

Read Full Post »

We know and have mentioned before that relationships and connection are what make us happy. And yet when it’s time to make a New Year’s Resolution, what do we choose? According to one study, 47 percent of us make self-improvement related resolutions, 38 percent make weight-related resolutions, and 34 percent make money-related resolutions. Only 31 percent of us make relationship-related resolutions. (Respondents could choose more than one answer.) The question didn’t break out romantic from non-romantic relationships, but it’s still fascinating that the response came in last on the list.

I don’t know why we are less likely to make resolutions about improving relationships. Maybe we think our relationships, especially with our significant others, are so deeply grooved that rejuvenation is unlikely. Maybe we underestimate our partners’ willingness to entertain the idea of change. Maybe the idea simply doesn’t occur to us.

Whatever the reason, we’re missing an excellent opportunity. I’d like to challenge you to make a New Year’s resolution to improve your relationship with your partner. It could be as simple as “I will make eye contact when we see each other at the end of the day” or “I will tell my partner one thing I appreciate about him/her every day.” Even simple things increase intimacy, which is the basis for a healthy sexual relationship.

If you have already mastered intimacy, then perhaps make a resolution to try something new in the bedroom—a new position, a new technique, or a new toy. Perhaps you and your partner could decide together what kind of resolution to make. That will increase the comfort level when you actually hit the sheets. On the other hand, don’t underestimate the power of small surprises to reignite passion. As we mentioned in a previous post on the love/desire paradox, we want security and passion, intimacy and mystery, safety and risk. So push that boundary a little and see what happens.

You can increase your chances of keeping your resolution if you:

Be specific. “I will try a new sexual position every month” vs. “I will try new things in the bedroom.”

Tell someone. Preferably your partner! But it could also be a close friend. When others know you have goals, you’re likely to hold yourself more accountable.

Write it down. There’s something about committing it to paper that makes it seem official. And it will help you remember exactly what you committed to!

There are other ways to increase your odds of making your resolutions reality, which is a good thing since only 14 percent of people over 50 keep their resolutions compared to 39 percent of people in their twenties, according to research. Apparently, those of us over 50 need as much help as we can get!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: