Valentine’s Day isn’t about sex – or is it? Romance and sexual intimacy typically go hand-in-hand, so this is a good time to take a look at sexual wellness. Like good health in general, sexual wellness is about much more than just the absence of illness. Good health in general, and sexual wellness in particular, describes a vibrant state of well being on all levels – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Sexual wellness encompasses diverse issues as prevention of infection, healthy functionality, and the psychological impact of sexuality in your life.
A Look at Libido
Libido, or “sex drive,” refers to a mental process of thinking or fantasizing about sex. The conventional medical industry considers libido to be the necessary first stage of the sexual response cycle, for both men and women. Low sexual desire is labeled an adverse health condition that can interfere with sexual pleasure. Millions of women have been diagnosed with this condition; it is the most common “Female Sexual Dysfunction.” Men who are not interested in sex are also diagnosable. (Of course if someone is not interested in sex, and it has no ill affect on his or her life or relationship, it is not a disorder. Neither is not liking chocolate.)
However, recent research presents an entirely different understanding of the sexual response cycle and the role and importance of libido. It turns out that for many people, especially women, an interest in sex may arise only after the body’s physiological reaction to stimulation has begun. This is perfectly natural. Sexual desire does not need to be a prerequisite for a fulfilling sexual experience. If you have avoided entering into the intimacy of sexual engagement due to a lack of desire, this new thinking about sexuality encourages you to try the “just do it” approach. Sometimes we have to re-experience something to remember that we like it. Please note that this is different from “faking” an orgasm, which is definitely not recommended.
If you feel a lack of sex drive, but would like to engage in sexual activity, take some time to explore what turns you on. Pay attention to the level of interest that is generated through different types of touch. Whether you are self-stimulating or with a partner, if you notice even the slightest rush of sexual arousal, you’re on the right track.
Arousal: Are we there yet?
Did you know that your largest sexual organ is your brain? Having your head rubbed might not be erotic, but it is our thoughts and our internal interpretation of sensations that allow us to experience sexual arousal. It might take very little to turn you or your partner on, and yet it is just as natural for someone to need a much longer time to reach a similar level of excitement. Women generally require substantially more time than men, which might account for the gender differences in studies of sexual satisfaction.
Sexual excitement is more obvious in men than in women, yet both are indicated by an engorgement of genital and pelvic blood vessels. Although the medical industry has focused on increasing erectile ability for men, it is actually possible to experience and enjoy heightened sexual arousal without any visible signs occurring.
It’s a good idea to take an occasional inventory of what pleases you. Try different styles of stimulation and touch, and, if you have a partner, give each other guidance. We often think our partner should know exactly what feels good to us, but it rarely works that way. We may not even know ourselves. Discovering and sharing your own personal roadmap is the best way to help yourself—and your partner—on the journey.
Sexual wellness is not determined by how quickly you are aroused. Sexual wellness means being able to appreciate erotic sensations in your body, and, if you have a partner, to be able to comfortably communicate your likes and dislikes.
When a certain level of excitement occurs, there is a shift into the plateau stage of the sexual response cycle, where the delight of orgasmic energy really starts to manifest. Several specific physiological changes in the body signify this buildup of energy and there are also recognizable psychological or emotional signs. This stage can feel like being in a timeless zone, where nothing exists but the moment itself. There can be feelings of expansion and surrender.
The eyes are “windows to the soul” and if you look into a partner’s eyes during this stage of lovemaking, or into your own eyes in a mirror, you might just catch a glimpse of that eternal self.
Men who suffer from premature ejaculation move quickly from arousal to ejaculation; they pass right through the plateau without being fulfilled by its power. Extending the plateau stage, hanging out in this spiritually rewarding experience of high vibrational, pre-orgasmic expansion is often a focus of the breathing and energy awareness practices of Tantra.
Contrary to conventional belief, not all sexual engagements need end with climax or ejaculation to be intimately rewarding. That said, the Big O can be an explosive release of sexual energy that shakes us into the depth of our own being. Orgasm can also be a gentle wave, or series of waves, that frees us from the limited restrictions of mind and body.
An inability to reach orgasm during intercourse is the most frequently reported problem that women face, and some men also struggle, or “take too long.” Partnered sex isn’t always as easy or satisfying as it appears in Hollywood scripts. Sexual wellness in a relationship involves taking steps to address anything that interferes with the shared enjoyment of this intimate act of love.
Some readers might recall the “free love” of the sixties and seventies. This was a time when the link between sex and sin had been loosened. Birth control pills gave greater control over accidental pregnancy. Abortions were becoming legal and available. Sex seemed safe. Syphilis had been mostly eradicated. Gonorrhea, “the clap,” was easily treated and only mildly embarrassing. Sharing sleeping bags sometimes led to crabs (pubic lice), requiring a dose of Kwell lotion and some serious laundry. Little was known about herpes or hepatitis, and HIV/AIDS had not yet arrived on the scene.
The current international list of STIs includes more than 30 different sexually transmissible bacteria, viruses and parasites. In addition to those already mentioned are chlamydia, trichomoniasis, HPV (human papillomavirus) and LPV (lymphogranuloma vernereum). There are no established cures for viral infections. Pharmaceutical and natural solutions have been developed, however, that can make living with an STI more comfortable.
Sexual wellness means being aware of risks and taking precautions to lessen exposure. With new or non-monogamous partners, be sure to use condoms, regardless of your age. Women re-entering the dating scene after being divorced or widowed are sometimes as careless as teenagers, and can find themselves in unexpected trouble, long after their childbearing age has past. A fungal or yeast infection can also sometimes be passed back and forth between partners.
If you have any symptoms or concerns in this area of your sexual health, be sure to schedule a visit with a medical practitioner.
Birth Control & Abortion
Methods of contraception and abortion have existed since before humans even understood the details of how a new life is conceived. Today, the range of methods to prevent pregnancy include condoms, pills, patches, the ring, the shot, IUDs, diaphragms, tubal sterilization and vasectomies. There are emergency birth control pills that can work up to three days after unprotected intercourse. Of course, even if a method is 99% effective, there is always a chance of becoming pregnant.
Sexual wellness involves being thoughtful about the possibility of conception and acting appropriately according to your values.
Flexibility, Strength and Toning Your whole body participates in everything you do, so keep up your yoga, aerobic exercise and strength-training. To specifically enhance sexual wellness and pleasure, both men and women can do the “Kegel exercise.” This is the contraction and release of “pubococcygeus” muscles that run from the pubic bone to the coccyx. Not sure if you’re squeezing the right muscles? Test yourself by trying to stop your urination. During lovemaking, create a pattern of squeezing and releasing. Focusing on the release changes the pace of your lovemaking and allows more energy to flow through your body.
Attitude is Everything
Sexual wellness includes being psychologically comfortable with your choice of partner, or partners, or having no partner at all. Although partnered sexuality, with its potentially wonderful link to emotional connection, is desirable for many, you can also enjoy healthy sexual functioning if you are on your own. Masturbation, a word not often uttered in public, is a beneficial activity enjoyed by both men and women. When approached with awareness and without shame, self-loving can even provide spiritual renewal.
Healthy self-esteem and a positive acceptance of your body are a necessary foundation for sexual wellness. Celebrate this Valentine’s Day by acknowledging and empowering your sensuous sexuality.