Fulfilling Your Sexual Potential in the Second Half of Life

Sexual desire and pleasure is our birthright. After all, we were created naked and with different genitals. There must have been a plan in mind. We are sexual beings from the day we’re born until the day we die. Sex is fundamental to our lives and seems to be the area of life that most deeply touches our most personal issues. Our sexuality is a core expression of who we are. We can hide with sex, we can hide from sex, but we cannot be fully ourselves sexually and hide.

Why have sex? Well, it is well known that sex enhances our lives in multiple ways, both psychologically and physically.

Health benefits include lower blood pressure, overall stress reduction, higher levels of antibodies so fewer colds and flews, burns calories, good exercise, improves cardiovascular health, boosts self-esteem, releases endorphins which makes physical pain decline and helps lift depression; reduces risk of prostate cancer; promotes sleep.

Interpersonally, good sex may be only 20% of a good relationship (80% when it’s bad), but it’s a crucial 20%. Orgasm increases the level of oxytocin, a hormone that allows us to nurture and to bond. Hence, sex increases love and connection even on a purely biological basis. Sex is an arena that is particular and special to a couple. We let ourselves be known to our sexual partner in a way that we don’t share with anyone else.

A couple who has a satisfying sex life is more able to create and sustain a long-term loving relationship. It is well known that people in stable relationships are thought to be more productive in their jobs, have better health and live longer.

The most rewarding sexual experiences are much more rich, diverse, and creative than the “get it up, get it in” approach. And sexual responsiveness has absolutely nothing to do with being able to meet the culture’s prototype of sexual attractiveness. Rather, it grows from connections of hearts, minds, and bodies. Truly good sex begins with a willingness to be open and vulnerable and to give and receive pleasure and nurturing freely. The psychological ability to share intimacy, both physical and emotional, is essential for good sex, but being intimate (as we’ll discuss later) is an art that confuses and even terrifies many individuals.

Good sex, then, is a complex concoction of openness and secrecy, risk and control, personal satisfaction and mutual fulfillment. Good sex requires an ability to be totally immersed in the moment (which is difficult for most people), ever-present to the sensuality of ourselves, our partner and our lives.

Sustaining a healthy, balanced sex life requires mindful attention to our senses, to the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual dimensions of ourselves, as well as our relationship with our partners. We must KNOW OURSELVES (“KNOW THYSELF”) to know what we want and need sexually. Then we need to have the courage and self-assurance to communicate these desires to our partner, even in the face of possible rejection. Also, we need to have relinquished some of the layers of narcissistic self-consciousness that, when young, may have prevented us from being truly attuned to another person’s reality and needs.

What I’m saying is: good sex requires PSYCHOLOGICAL MATURITY (which we all have because we’ve lived for a while now and have learned some things along the way.)

Mature lovers are more likely to experience not just satisfying sex, but are more likely to experience sexual ecstasy. Certain states may occur in sex where the boundaries of self are suspended in merger with the “other”. This kind of, well, self-transcendence, can open the channels to experiencing a sense of a broader, more universal connection.

Let’s see what the dictionary says about “ecstasy”: rapturous delight; intense joy; mental transport or rapture from the contemplation of divine things; displacement; trance; a shared sense of being taken or moved out of one’s self or one’s normal state, and entering a state of intensified feelings so powerful as to produce a trance-like dissociation from all but the single powerful emotion; this trance or rapture is associated with mystical exaltation.

Eastern societies routinely equate sexual ecstasy with spiritual enlightenment. Only in Western civilizations is there a chasm between sex and God.

So, it’s all good, right? Everything from lowering your blood pressure to experiencing mystical exaltation points to the fact that sex is a good thing.

But if it’s such a good thing, why are so many people not having sex?..or are subject to various sexual dysfunctions, compulsions or perversions?

The fact is that few of us will ever seize the opportunity to explore the full range of our sexual possibilities. One writer I read referred to those who achieve the heights of sexual fulfillment as “the blessed few”.

Why so few? According to a recent survey, one in five Americans is not interested in sex. According to recent estimates, more than one-third of the women in the United States have problems with low sexual desire. Even this statistic may be low, as people may be embarrassed to respond to the interviewer honestly. “Diminished sexual desire” in women, considered by some to be an epidemic, is the diagnosis “du jour” for many sex researchers and therapists.

The loss of sexual desire can undermine a person’s perception of herself, her relationship to her body and may cause an irreparable strain in her relationship. Chances are if her excitement for sex is diminished, her excitement for life in general is somehow compromised.

So why are there only the “blessed few”? One in five is “not interested”???? A third to a half of American women has no desire for sex???? What’s wrong with this picture? Why are so few people actually interested in having sex, exploring it, heightening it?

There are many, many reasons that people eschew sexual pleasure.

First, there are societal/cultural/religious influences. We live in a sex-negative culture. For instance, most Western societies do not support sexual education and development. Parents are still battling to eliminate whatever beleaguered sex education courses are offered in the schools (which, by the way, focus on procreation exclusively), stating that educating children about sex is the purview of the home. Yet, in the homes, silence is the order of the day and kids are still left to figure it out for themselves.

When children are left to their own devices, they are subjected to misinformation from peers and their own fantasies about what sex is. If they become fixated at these levels, there’s more of a chance that they’ll grow up with certain sexual problems. (perversions, dysfunctions and compulsions)

Western culture has historically done much to harm sexuality. Vestiges of the Victorian and Puritan eras, with their emphasis on exclusively procreative sex and discomfort with the idea of sexual pleasure, still resonate with many people, at least on an unconscious level. Sex is evil; sex is sin and eternal damnation.

(which has been a big problem in the Christian community throughout history, and still can resonate down from our own parents’ generation).

Today, we have the “free love” of the 70′s behind us, a growing understanding of sexuality in the mental health field, the significance of the women’s movement and the impact of the communications industry which have combined to break down some barriers to sexual understanding. But we STILL live in a sex-negative culture. The sexual terrain of our times, especially after AIDS, is filled with fear, uncertainty and reactivity – for “normal” people, never mind neurotics, homosexuals, alternative sexualities (BDSM), cross-dressers, people who embrace polyamory rather than monogamy,– AND for the baby-boomers who are trying to forge a new paradigm for sexy aging.

We still get mixed messages from the culture about sex. We’re still confused. “Sex is dirty, save it for someone you love.” Does sex have to be illicit for it to be good? Sex belongs as part of a committed relationship, which connotes high values but low passion. Honor and virtue do not seem to combine well with hot, trembling, lusty sex. Men in this culture still suffer from the “Madonna/Whore Complex”. Some men choose both but will have to be dishonest about it, thus making a tear in the fabric of the integrity of their primary relationship.

Then there’s the societal influence of new technology. The permeating influence of cybersex/pornography on men’s ability to attach and bond to a real, vital woman is a significant barrier to sexual intimacy. Divorce attorneys from the American Bar Association report that a whopping 50% of all divorces are the result of the husband’s addiction to cybersex – that is — pornography, chat rooms, webcam sex, ads for prostitutes, dominatrixes, female bondage and humiliation, the fetish of your choice.

Women, for their part, are encouraged to adorn themselves to be sexually desirable, but not to be sexual. In their historical roles as the guardians of morality, they fail as women if they “succumb” to their (base) sexual natures and allow for the experience of sexual pleasure. Religious traditions have, in fact, been part of this split way of understanding sexuality. The idea of sex as sin outside of marriage and sex as duty inside of marriage is still alive in the collective unconscious and has gone far to undermine the acceptance of sexual pleasure as normal and healthy. These antiquated ideas that there is something morally perverse about a woman who enjoys sex are cultural imprints that unconsciously paralyze many women when they try to experience their sexual selves.

It seems to me that the media, as the messenger of cultural values, promotes the image of an anorexic teenager as representing the height of sexual desirability. Can’t be too thin or too young (within legal limits) to have sex appeal. People are then obsessed with living up to this unrealistic standard for physical beauty being piped through the media. Women compare themselves to the unattainable, develop poor body images, and lose interest in sex.

(Ironically, physical beauty and sexual responsiveness are not interrelated. The fact is that superficial variables such as weight, age, height, facial structure OR the size of a penis make very little difference when it comes to a person’s ability to be sexually responsive and experience sexual passion.)

Our society also buys into the notion that good sex always involves intercourse and orgasm by both partners, preferably at the same time. This approach to sexuality is restrictive and unrealistic, especially as we get older. As I’ve mentioned, sexuality is a much broader arena than getting it up, keeping it up and getting it in. An emphasis on intercourse and orgasm strengthens the misconception men have that women need to be desirable and men need to perform. Performance anxiety and sexual dysfunction are the usual results of an exclusively intercourse/orgasm approach to sex. Furthermore, the focus on genital sex exclusively limits the full range of sexual/sensual dimensions that can be experienced in addition to, or instead of, intercourse.

Some people have “intrapsychic” conflicts about sexuality from having grown up with dysfunctional family dynamics. I don’t even want to think about the rampant sexual abuse of young females where the perpetrator is the father or other close family member. It doesn’t get reported, the rest of the family denies it, and the girl suffers in agonizing isolation, thinking it was her fault, until adulthood when she may get some treatment. Certain young boys are covertly incested by their mothers: there may not have been actual sex, but the mother may have been needy, narcissistic, enmeshed, over-involved, controlling and unable to let her son “differentiate” to become the individual that he should become. These boys may grow to be men with sexual problems.

However, the vast majority of sexual “shut-downs” comes from interpersonal conflicts between the partners. Anger, resentment guilt, hurt feelings, being shut-down and non-communicative are not the stuff upon which sexual fulfillment is built.

I think relationships go bad (and sex shuts down) (cite divorce rates) because the vast majority of people have misconceptions about love and intimacy. Yet, understanding intimacy is crucial to our understanding of hot and sweaty, yet warm and tender lovemaking. Sex is, by definition, an intimate act that is enhanced by the lovers knowing themselves and the other. If lovers are not able to know and disclose their deepest needs and wants to each other, sex becomes mechanical. This kind of knowing and communicating about wants, needs and fantasies requires a foundation of trust and safety that can be found in a loving relationship.

(A caveat – I have no problem with casual sex, booty calls, friends with benefits, or even “kinky” sex that’s not part of a primary relationship. This kind of sex can be fun and satisfying (depending on whether you respect each other), but it’s something altogether different than sex in a loving, monogamous relationship.)

Many people think of intimacy in terms of sentimentality or romanticism. To do so is to falsify it. “Being in love” is also a falsification of intimacy.

“Being in love” is a really a temporary state of insanity. Each person projects his/her own personal relationship agenda (established in childhood) on the other without having any real, knowledge of the other. Inevitably, the honeymoon is over, or people fall “out of love”, and disillusionment sets in. We do not want to give up our fantasy and grow into the reality of actually loving the person “as is”. At this point, either the relationship breaks off or the couple starts to work on building a relationship based in knowing the reality of each other.

People have all sorts of misconceptions about what “love” means. Love can mean sundry, ambiguous, neurotic and even evil things to some: Caring for, rescuing, infatuation with, dependence on, feeling close to, sacrificing for, being a martyr to, being sexually excited by, having a “trophy partner”, having control over another, being controlled by another, marrying someone who’s somewhat like you’re abusive mother in order to finally get her to change, the need for validation and admiration from the other, or the vilely self-destructive idea that love means pain – either from physical or emotional abuse.

These kinds of ill-conceived notions about love create plastic, destructive relationships in which intimacy cannot exist. These relationships can be used to manipulate others, to get our own narcissistic needs met at the expense of the other, and are in the service of other nefarious, unconscious, neurotic conflicts. Celebratory sex can’t exist in a plastic, alienated relationship because sex at it’s fullest requires us to authentic and connected with our lover.

So what is love? “I love you” means something very concrete. It means that I surround you with a feeling that allows you, even requires you, to be everything you really are as a human being at that moment. When my love is full, you are your fullest self. I experience you not as what I expect, not what I want, not as a mannequin upon which I cloche my unconscious, infantile, needs to have a parent and remain a child. You don’t need to reflect well on me. You are not my status symbol. You are, to me…your authentic self.

We love when we not only allow, but enable, enhance and enjoy the “otherness” of our partner.

Being loved, being moved by another’s acceptance into knowing ourselves as we really are may bring trouble, actually. The result of knowing what issues you have that impair productivity and intimacy may be painful, but it can be worked through. We grow with it. It is in human-to-human relationships that we learn, make mistakes and relearn. And the primary intimate/sexual relationship is where we can relearn most profoundly.

Love shatters roles and facades and is illuminative. The confirmation that you are loved lies in your increasing experience of being who you are. Love is unilateral…self as the one who loves actively, not so much the self who is in need of love passively. Real love requires no particular response from the other, so there is freedom of self expression without fear of disapproval or rejection. It is the fear of being alone (or being abandoned) that makes us dependent on the response of others, keeping us from experiencing authentic, real loving.

Let’s look at the word “intimacy”. Again, from the dictionary: the word is derived from the Latin intima, meaning “inner” or “inner-most.” Here again, it suggests that to be intimate, you need to know your real self. (KNOW THYSELF!!!) This ability to be in touch with our inner core is a requisite to being intimate.

Our intima holds the innermost part of ourselves, our most profound feelings, our enduring motivations, our values, our sense of right and wrong and our most embedded convictions about life. Importantly, our intima also includes that which enables us to express these innermost aspects of our person to “the other”.

So, to be in relationship, and to know yourself/your partner sexually, you need to know and respect your intima. The intima is also the way in which we value and esteem ourselves and determines how we are with being with others. To put it simply, if don’t value yourself, you can’t value another. If you’re not aware of needs and wants, or are shamed by them, then sex becomes no more than a fuck.

I think every person I’ve ever seen in my consulting room for sexual compulsions suffers from estrangement from his intimus. We can survive the disapproval of others. The feeling can be painful, but it’s nothing compared to the disapproval of ourselves. Your personal well being and your ability to love another cannot survive your dislike or disrespect of yourself. If you dislike yourself, you’ll never be comfortable with your sexuality.

It bears repeating… the outstanding quality of intimacy is the sense of being in touch with our real selves. When “the other” also knows and is able to express his real self, intimacy happens. Sexuality is both an expression of that intimacy and a bond that enhances intimacy. With this kind of personal/sexual intimacy, our growth experience as humans is energized, enhanced, and fueled. Intimacy is the most meaningful and courageous of human experiences. It’s why people long for it so.

However, despite this universal longing, the fear and avoidance of intimacy is a reality for many people. People fear and even dread that which they most long for. No wonder there’s such a demand for psychotherapists!

So why would people fear, avoid or sabotage this wonderful thing called intimacy and, in the process, avoid sex.

Our capacity for intimacy is formed in the crucible of the first two years of life. Mothers that are needy, narcissistic, depressed, enmeshed (over-involved), distant, too protective, controlling, chronically angry, addicted to substances, frustrated with their husbands and displace their needs onto their children… raise children who have the psychic imprint of closeness as being dangerous. They also raise children who will carry self-hatred into their adult lives unless they get good treatment.

As children, they developed a rigid defense system (boundaries, walls, turning inward to not need others) in order to psychologically survive. But what worked for them as children doesn’t work for them as adults. For these people, the vulnerability of intimacy harkens back to a time when they were vulnerable as children and they fear re-traumatization in their current relationship.

When a person like this is loved – seen in an affirmative light and encouraged to grow and change – this rigid defensive structure is threatened, so their psychological equilibrium is disrupted. Being loved is not congruent with the negative tapes they run about themselves. They can’t allow the reality of being loved to affect their basic defensive structure. Being vulnerable and open to change feels so threatening that they eschew close relationships and mature sexuality.

Entering into a relationship without having some resolution of childhood wounds results in various kinds of fear of intimacy: fear of being found inadequate, fear of engulfment, fear of the loss of control, fear of losing autonomy, fear of attack, fear of disappointment and betrayal, fear of guilt and fear of rejection and abandonment.

This panoply of fears and anxieties about being close and vulnerable definitely is not sexy. We are most open and vulnerable when we express ourselves sexually and we need to have a secure base in ourselves and our relationship to expose ourselves in this way.

Alright. Now let’s get to the nitty-gritty. Sex and aging.

Some of those “not interested” in sex may very well be the middle-aged and the elderly. They’ve bought into the myth that we’re supposed to stop being sexual after a certain age. The fact is, as we mature emotionally and psychologically throughout the lifespan, we mature sexually as well. We can look forward to the best years of our sexual lives because of that maturity. People under the age of 35 may look hot, but they rarely have the psychological maturity to achieve the kind of self-knowledge, intimacy skills, communication skills and willingness to be vulnerability that underlies intense sexuality.

In order to achieve sexual fulfillment as we grow older, we have to nullify – negate – disown and disbelieve — the sex-negative cultural myths about sexuality and aging. Let’s look at some of those myths now.

· The quality of sex declines for both men and women as they age.

· If a woman does not lubricate sufficiently or a man does not become erect immediately, it’s over for them.

· Erection problems are inevitable and incurable without medical intervention

· Female desire declines dramatically after menopause

· Men peek in their teens…then it’s all downhill.

· Women peak in their 30′s and lose interest in sex by 45-50.

· Men and women with heart disease or other medical problems should avoid sexual activity

· Sex has to end in orgasm

· Intercourse is the only kind of sex that counts; everything else isn’t sex

Those are the myths. But here’s what I think: older loves are more sophisticated about their own/their partners needs, have an increased ability to communicate sexual and emotional needs; there is improved sexual responsiveness in women and a corresponding improved ability to control ejaculation in men; a greater willingness to experiment with sexual variations; far greater technical proficiency as lovers with fewer inhibitions and an increased ability to have fun during lovemaking.

Sex need never disappear and orgasm in both men and women has been observed in the 9th decade.

Sex is different as we age and those who are able to retain a sense of sexual vitality are those who are able to integrate their altered and somewhat diminished, but by no means vanished, sexuality comfortably into their lives. Men, especially, tend to leave the sexual arena because these differences create frustration and anxiety. They compare themselves to their adolescent selves and feel defeated. The vast majority of sexual complaints of the elderly are a product of the person’s aversive psychological reaction to the normal age-related biological changes in sexual response.

Men change with age in that the frequency and intensity of orgasm diminishes. It takes a much longer time to up for “round two”. Older men no longer experience simultaneous erection, unlike much younger men who seem to be able to get it up just by…exposure to the air. By contrast, the older man needs to receive effective stimulation by his partner and then is perfectly able to attain erections.

Women, after menopause, may be less able to lubricate as freely as they once did. That doesn’t mean they’re no longer sexually responsive. All that is required is a sexual lubricate (I recommend Astrogel), and they remain capable of multiple orgasmic response throughout life.

Here’s a list of Hot Sex Tips, according to Dorothy.

* Don’t wait to be moved by desire or interest – allow yourself to be aroused and the desire will follow.

* Do consider some systematic way to relax and calm yourself before a sexual encounter. Anxiety is a killer of “in the moment” eroticism.

* Speaking of “in the moment”, do consider taking up some form of meditation that trains the mind to be focused on the present moment. The mind that is continually wandering to mundane life issues during sex will not be able to experience full sexual potential. (cite books) Being fully in the moment also reduces “spectering”, which is watching and evaluating your performance, which reducing the intensity of sexual experience.

* Do continue to cultivate your sexual skills

Sexual desire and pleasure is our birthright. After all, we were created naked and with different genitals. There must have been a plan in mind. We are sexual beings from the day we’re born until the day we die. Sex is fundamental to our lives and seems to be the area of life that most deeply touches our most personal issues. Our sexuality is a core expression of who we are. We can hide with sex, we can hide from sex, but we cannot be fully ourselves sexually and hide.

Why have sex? Well, it is well known that sex enhances our lives in multiple ways, both psychologically and physically.

Health benefits include lower blood pressure, overall stress reduction, higher levels of antibodies so fewer colds and flews, burns calories, good exercise, improves cardiovascular health, boosts self-esteem, releases endorphins which makes physical pain decline and helps lift depression; reduces risk of prostate cancer; promotes sleep.

Interpersonally, good sex may be only 20% of a good relationship (80% when it’s bad), but it’s a crucial 20%. Orgasm increases the level of oxytocin, a hormone that allows us to nurture and to bond. Hence, sex increases love and connection even on a purely biological basis. Sex is an arena that is particular and special to a couple. We let ourselves be known to our sexual partner in a way that we don’t share with anyone else.

A couple who has a satisfying sex life is more able to create and sustain a long-term loving relationship. It is well known that people in stable relationships are thought to be more productive in their jobs, have better health and live longer.

The most rewarding sexual experiences are much more rich, diverse, and creative than the “get it up, get it in” approach. And sexual responsiveness has absolutely nothing to do with being able to meet the culture’s prototype of sexual attractiveness. Rather, it grows from connections of hearts, minds, and bodies. Truly good sex begins with a willingness to be open and vulnerable and to give and receive pleasure and nurturing freely. The psychological ability to share intimacy, both physical and emotional, is essential for good sex, but being intimate (as we’ll discuss later) is an art that confuses and even terrifies many individuals.

Good sex, then, is a complex concoction of openness and secrecy, risk and control, personal satisfaction and mutual fulfillment. Good sex requires an ability to be totally immersed in the moment (which is difficult for most people), ever-present to the sensuality of ourselves, our partner and our lives.

Sustaining a healthy, balanced sex life requires mindful attention to our senses, to the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual dimensions of ourselves, as well as our relationship with our partners. We must KNOW OURSELVES (“KNOW THYSELF”) to know what we want and need sexually. Then we need to have the courage and self-assurance to communicate these desires to our partner, even in the face of possible rejection. Also, we need to have relinquished some of the layers of narcissistic self-consciousness that, when young, may have prevented us from being truly attuned to another person’s reality and needs.

What I’m saying is: good sex requires PSYCHOLOGICAL MATURITY (which we all have because we’ve lived for a while now and have learned some things along the way.)

Mature lovers are more likely to experience not just satisfying sex, but are more likely to experience sexual ecstasy. Certain states may occur in sex where the boundaries of self are suspended in merger with the “other”. This kind of, well, self-transcendence, can open the channels to experiencing a sense of a broader, more universal connection.

Let’s see what the dictionary says about “ecstasy”: rapturous delight; intense joy; mental transport or rapture from the contemplation of divine things; displacement; trance; a shared sense of being taken or moved out of one’s self or one’s normal state, and entering a state of intensified feelings so powerful as to produce a trance-like dissociation from all but the single powerful emotion; this trance or rapture is associated with mystical exaltation.

Eastern societies routinely equate sexual ecstasy with spiritual enlightenment. Only in Western civilizations is there a chasm between sex and God.

So, it’s all good, right? Everything from lowering your blood pressure to experiencing mystical exaltation points to the fact that sex is a good thing.

But if it’s such a good thing, why are so many people not having sex?..or are subject to various sexual dysfunctions, compulsions or perversions?

The fact is that few of us will ever seize the opportunity to explore the full range of our sexual possibilities. One writer I read referred to those who achieve the heights of sexual fulfillment as “the blessed few”.

Why so few? According to a recent survey, one in five Americans is not interested in sex. According to recent estimates, more than one-third of the women in the United States have problems with low sexual desire. Even this statistic may be low, as people may be embarrassed to respond to the interviewer honestly. “Diminished sexual desire” in women, considered by some to be an epidemic, is the diagnosis “du jour” for many sex researchers and therapists.

The loss of sexual desire can undermine a person’s perception of herself, her relationship to her body and may cause an irreparable strain in her relationship. Chances are if her excitement for sex is diminished, her excitement for life in general is somehow compromised.

So why are there only the “blessed few”? One in five is “not interested”???? A third to a half of American women has no desire for sex???? What’s wrong with this picture? Why are so few people actually interested in having sex, exploring it, heightening it?

There are many, many reasons that people eschew sexual pleasure.

First, there are societal/cultural/religious influences. We live in a sex-negative culture. For instance, most Western societies do not support sexual education and development. Parents are still battling to eliminate whatever beleaguered sex education courses are offered in the schools (which, by the way, focus on procreation exclusively), stating that educating children about sex is the purview of the home. Yet, in the homes, silence is the order of the day and kids are still left to figure it out for themselves.

When children are left to their own devices, they are subjected to misinformation from peers and their own fantasies about what sex is. If they become fixated at these levels, there’s more of a chance that they’ll grow up with certain sexual problems. (perversions, dysfunctions and compulsions)

Western culture has historically done much to harm sexuality. Vestiges of the Victorian and Puritan eras, with their emphasis on exclusively procreative sex and discomfort with the idea of sexual pleasure, still resonate with many people, at least on an unconscious level. Sex is evil; sex is sin and eternal damnation.

(which has been a big problem in the Christian community throughout history, and still can resonate down from our own parents’ generation).

Today, we have the “free love” of the 70′s behind us, a growing understanding of sexuality in the mental health field, the significance of the women’s movement and the impact of the communications industry which have combined to break down some barriers to sexual understanding. But we STILL live in a sex-negative culture. The sexual terrain of our times, especially after AIDS, is filled with fear, uncertainty and reactivity – for “normal” people, never mind neurotics, homosexuals, alternative sexualities (BDSM), cross-dressers, people who embrace polyamory rather than monogamy,– AND for the baby-boomers who are trying to forge a new paradigm for sexy aging.

We still get mixed messages from the culture about sex. We’re still confused. “Sex is dirty, save it for someone you love.” Does sex have to be illicit for it to be good? Sex belongs as part of a committed relationship, which connotes high values but low passion. Honor and virtue do not seem to combine well with hot, trembling, lusty sex. Men in this culture still suffer from the “Madonna/Whore Complex”. Some men choose both but will have to be dishonest about it, thus making a tear in the fabric of the integrity of their primary relationship.

Then there’s the societal influence of new technology. The permeating influence of cybersex/pornography on men’s ability to attach and bond to a real, vital woman is a significant barrier to sexual intimacy. Divorce attorneys from the American Bar Association report that a whopping 50% of all divorces are the result of the husband’s addiction to cybersex – that is — pornography, chat rooms, webcam sex, ads for prostitutes, dominatrixes, female bondage and humiliation, the fetish of your choice.

Women, for their part, are encouraged to adorn themselves to be sexually desirable, but not to be sexual. In their historical roles as the guardians of morality, they fail as women if they “succumb” to their (base) sexual natures and allow for the experience of sexual pleasure. Religious traditions have, in fact, been part of this split way of understanding sexuality. The idea of sex as sin outside of marriage and sex as duty inside of marriage is still alive in the collective unconscious and has gone far to undermine the acceptance of sexual pleasure as normal and healthy. These antiquated ideas that there is something morally perverse about a woman who enjoys sex are cultural imprints that unconsciously paralyze many women when they try to experience their sexual selves.

It seems to me that the media, as the messenger of cultural values, promotes the image of an anorexic teenager as representing the height of sexual desirability. Can’t be too thin or too young (within legal limits) to have sex appeal. People are then obsessed with living up to this unrealistic standard for physical beauty being piped through the media. Women compare themselves to the unattainable, develop poor body images, and lose interest in sex.

(Ironically, physical beauty and sexual responsiveness are not interrelated. The fact is that superficial variables such as weight, age, height, facial structure OR the size of a penis make very little difference when it comes to a person’s ability to be sexually responsive and experience sexual passion.)

Our society also buys into the notion that good sex always involves intercourse and orgasm by both partners, preferably at the same time. This approach to sexuality is restrictive and unrealistic, especially as we get older. As I’ve mentioned, sexuality is a much broader arena than getting it up, keeping it up and getting it in. An emphasis on intercourse and orgasm strengthens the misconception men have that women need to be desirable and men need to perform. Performance anxiety and sexual dysfunction are the usual results of an exclusively intercourse/orgasm approach to sex. Furthermore, the focus on genital sex exclusively limits the full range of sexual/sensual dimensions that can be experienced in addition to, or instead of, intercourse.

Some people have “intrapsychic” conflicts about sexuality from having grown up with dysfunctional family dynamics. I don’t even want to think about the rampant sexual abuse of young females where the perpetrator is the father or other close family member. It doesn’t get reported, the rest of the family denies it, and the girl suffers in agonizing isolation, thinking it was her fault, until adulthood when she may get some treatment. Certain young boys are covertly incested by their mothers: there may not have been actual sex, but the mother may have been needy, narcissistic, enmeshed, over-involved, controlling and unable to let her son “differentiate” to become the individual that he should become. These boys may grow to be men with sexual problems.

However, the vast majority of sexual “shut-downs” comes from interpersonal conflicts between the partners. Anger, resentment guilt, hurt feelings, being shut-down and non-communicative are not the stuff upon which sexual fulfillment is built.

I think relationships go bad (and sex shuts down) (cite divorce rates) because the vast majority of people have misconceptions about love and intimacy. Yet, understanding intimacy is crucial to our understanding of hot and sweaty, yet warm and tender lovemaking. Sex is, by definition, an intimate act that is enhanced by the lovers knowing themselves and the other. If lovers are not able to know and disclose their deepest needs and wants to each other, sex becomes mechanical. This kind of knowing and communicating about wants, needs and fantasies requires a foundation of trust and safety that can be found in a loving relationship.

(A caveat – I have no problem with casual sex, booty calls, friends with benefits, or even “kinky” sex that’s not part of a primary relationship. This kind of sex can be fun and satisfying (depending on whether you respect each other), but it’s something altogether different than sex in a loving, monogamous relationship.)

Many people think of intimacy in terms of sentimentality or romanticism. To do so is to falsify it. “Being in love” is also a falsification of intimacy.

“Being in love” is a really a temporary state of insanity. Each person projects his/her own personal relationship agenda (established in childhood) on the other without having any real, knowledge of the other. Inevitably, the honeymoon is over, or people fall “out of love”, and disillusionment sets in. We do not want to give up our fantasy and grow into the reality of actually loving the person “as is”. At this point, either the relationship breaks off or the couple starts to work on building a relationship based in knowing the reality of each other.

People have all sorts of misconceptions about what “love” means. Love can mean sundry, ambiguous, neurotic and even evil things to some: Caring for, rescuing, infatuation with, dependence on, feeling close to, sacrificing for, being a martyr to, being sexually excited by, having a “trophy partner”, having control over another, being controlled by another, marrying someone who’s somewhat like you’re abusive mother in order to finally get her to change, the need for validation and admiration from the other, or the vilely self-destructive idea that love means pain – either from physical or emotional abuse.

These kinds of ill-conceived notions about love create plastic, destructive relationships in which intimacy cannot exist. These relationships can be used to manipulate others, to get our own narcissistic needs met at the expense of the other, and are in the service of other nefarious, unconscious, neurotic conflicts. Celebratory sex can’t exist in a plastic, alienated relationship because sex at it’s fullest requires us to authentic and connected with our lover.

So what is love? “I love you” means something very concrete. It means that I surround you with a feeling that allows you, even requires you, to be everything you really are as a human being at that moment. When my love is full, you are your fullest self. I experience you not as what I expect, not what I want, not as a mannequin upon which I cloche my unconscious, infantile, needs to have a parent and remain a child. You don’t need to reflect well on me. You are not my status symbol. You are, to me…your authentic self.

We love when we not only allow, but enable, enhance and enjoy the “otherness” of our partner.

Being loved, being moved by another’s acceptance into knowing ourselves as we really are may bring trouble, actually. The result of knowing what issues you have that impair productivity and intimacy may be painful, but it can be worked through. We grow with it. It is in human-to-human relationships that we learn, make mistakes and relearn. And the primary intimate/sexual relationship is where we can relearn most profoundly.

Love shatters roles and facades and is illuminative. The confirmation that you are loved lies in your increasing experience of being who you are. Love is unilateral…self as the one who loves actively, not so much the self who is in need of love passively. Real love requires no particular response from the other, so there is freedom of self expression without fear of disapproval or rejection. It is the fear of being alone (or being abandoned) that makes us dependent on the response of others, keeping us from experiencing authentic, real loving.

Let’s look at the word “intimacy”. Again, from the dictionary: the word is derived from the Latin intima, meaning “inner” or “inner-most.” Here again, it suggests that to be intimate, you need to know your real self. (KNOW THYSELF!!!) This ability to be in touch with our inner core is a requisite to being intimate.

Our intima holds the innermost part of ourselves, our most profound feelings, our enduring motivations, our values, our sense of right and wrong and our most embedded convictions about life. Importantly, our intima also includes that which enables us to express these innermost aspects of our person to “the other”.

So, to be in relationship, and to know yourself/your partner sexually, you need to know and respect your intima. The intima is also the way in which we value and esteem ourselves and determines how we are with being with others. To put it simply, if don’t value yourself, you can’t value another. If you’re not aware of needs and wants, or are shamed by them, then sex becomes no more than a fuck.

I think every person I’ve ever seen in my consulting room for sexual compulsions suffers from estrangement from his intimus. We can survive the disapproval of others. The feeling can be painful, but it’s nothing compared to the disapproval of ourselves. Your personal well being and your ability to love another cannot survive your dislike or disrespect of yourself. If you dislike yourself, you’ll never be comfortable with your sexuality.

It bears repeating… the outstanding quality of intimacy is the sense of being in touch with our real selves. When “the other” also knows and is able to express his real self, intimacy happens. Sexuality is both an expression of that intimacy and a bond that enhances intimacy. With this kind of personal/sexual intimacy, our growth experience as humans is energized, enhanced, and fueled. Intimacy is the most meaningful and courageous of human experiences. It’s why people long for it so.

However, despite this universal longing, the fear and avoidance of intimacy is a reality for many people. People fear and even dread that which they most long for. No wonder there’s such a demand for psychotherapists!

So why would people fear, avoid or sabotage this wonderful thing called intimacy and, in the process, avoid sex.

Our capacity for intimacy is formed in the crucible of the first two years of life. Mothers that are needy, narcissistic, depressed, enmeshed (over-involved), distant, too protective, controlling, chronically angry, addicted to substances, frustrated with their husbands and displace their needs onto their children… raise children who have the psychic imprint of closeness as being dangerous. They also raise children who will carry self-hatred into their adult lives unless they get good treatment.

As children, they developed a rigid defense system (boundaries, walls, turning inward to not need others) in order to psychologically survive. But what worked for them as children doesn’t work for them as adults. For these people, the vulnerability of intimacy harkens back to a time when they were vulnerable as children and they fear re-traumatization in their current relationship.

When a person like this is loved – seen in an affirmative light and encouraged to grow and change – this rigid defensive structure is threatened, so their psychological equilibrium is disrupted. Being loved is not congruent with the negative tapes they run about themselves. They can’t allow the reality of being loved to affect their basic defensive structure. Being vulnerable and open to change feels so threatening that they eschew close relationships and mature sexuality.

Entering into a relationship without having some resolution of childhood wounds results in various kinds of fear of intimacy: fear of being found inadequate, fear of engulfment, fear of the loss of control, fear of losing autonomy, fear of attack, fear of disappointment and betrayal, fear of guilt and fear of rejection and abandonment.

This panoply of fears and anxieties about being close and vulnerable definitely is not sexy. We are most open and vulnerable when we express ourselves sexually and we need to have a secure base in ourselves and our relationship to expose ourselves in this way.

Alright. Now let’s get to the nitty-gritty. Sex and aging.

Some of those “not interested” in sex may very well be the middle-aged and the elderly. They’ve bought into the myth that we’re supposed to stop being sexual after a certain age. The fact is, as we mature emotionally and psychologically throughout the lifespan, we mature sexually as well. We can look forward to the best years of our sexual lives because of that maturity. People under the age of 35 may look hot, but they rarely have the psychological maturity to achieve the kind of self-knowledge, intimacy skills, communication skills and willingness to be vulnerability that underlies intense sexuality.

In order to achieve sexual fulfillment as we grow older, we have to nullify – negate – disown and disbelieve — the sex-negative cultural myths about sexuality and aging. Let’s look at some of those myths now.

· The quality of sex declines for both men and women as they age.

· If a woman does not lubricate sufficiently or a man does not become erect immediately, it’s over for them.

· Erection problems are inevitable and incurable without medical intervention

· Female desire declines dramatically after menopause

· Men peek in their teens…then it’s all downhill.

· Women peak in their 30′s and lose interest in sex by 45-50.

· Men and women with heart disease or other medical problems should avoid sexual activity

· Sex has to end in orgasm

· Intercourse is the only kind of sex that counts; everything else isn’t sex

Those are the myths. But here’s what I think: older loves are more sophisticated about their own/their partners needs, have an increased ability to communicate sexual and emotional needs; there is improved sexual responsiveness in women and a corresponding improved ability to control ejaculation in men; a greater willingness to experiment with sexual variations; far greater technical proficiency as lovers with fewer inhibitions and an increased ability to have fun during lovemaking.

Sex need never disappear and orgasm in both men and women has been observed in the 9th decade.

Sex is different as we age and those who are able to retain a sense of sexual vitality are those who are able to integrate their altered and somewhat diminished, but by no means vanished, sexuality comfortably into their lives. Men, especially, tend to leave the sexual arena because these differences create frustration and anxiety. They compare themselves to their adolescent selves and feel defeated. The vast majority of sexual complaints of the elderly are a product of the person’s aversive psychological reaction to the normal age-related biological changes in sexual response.

Men change with age in that the frequency and intensity of orgasm diminishes. It takes a much longer time to up for “round two”. Older men no longer experience simultaneous erection, unlike much younger men who seem to be able to get it up just by…exposure to the air. By contrast, the older man needs to receive effective stimulation by his partner and then is perfectly able to attain erections.

Women, after menopause, may be less able to lubricate as freely as they once did. That doesn’t mean they’re no longer sexually responsive. All that is required is a sexual lubricate (I recommend Astrogel), and they remain capable of multiple orgasmic response throughout life.

Here’s a list of Hot Sex Tips, according to Dorothy.

* Don’t wait to be moved by desire or interest – allow yourself to be aroused and the desire will follow.

* Do consider some systematic way to relax and calm yourself before a sexual encounter. Anxiety is a killer of “in the moment” eroticism.

* Speaking of “in the moment”, do consider taking up some form of meditation that trains the mind to be focused on the present moment. The mind that is continually wandering to mundane life issues during sex will not be able to experience full sexual potential. (cite books) Being fully in the moment also reduces “spectering”, which is watching and evaluating your performance, which reducing the intensity of sexual experience.

* Do continue to cultivate your sexual skills and techniques. (Cite certain readings from the list).

* People, as they age, do experience fewer sexual fantasies, thoughts and interest. So it’s important to experiment with alternative (external) ways to become aroused. Different postures, sexual techniques, erotic films and videos, the use of sex toys, all result in a more imaginative and creative sex life..

* Do eat nutritionally and exercise – feeling vigorous helps your sex life immeasurably.

* Do not smoke or drink alcohol excessively. A minimum amount of booze (no more than two drinks a day) can be an aphrodisiac: too much makes you loose (or placid and soft) and can ruin your erectile functioning. Smoking also effects erectile functioning in later years.

In conclusion, I invite you to meet the challenge of mature sexual intimacy, and to be and remain…the erotic, celebratory, courageous and connected person that you’re meant to be.
and techniques. (Cite certain readings from the list).

* People, as they age, do experience fewer sexual fantasies, thoughts and interest. So it’s important to experiment with alternative (external) ways to become aroused. Different postures, sexual techniques, erotic films and videos, the use of sex toys, all result in a more imaginative and creative sex life..

* Do eat nutritionally and exercise – feeling vigorous helps your sex life immeasurably.

* Do not smoke or drink alcohol excessively. A minimum amount of booze (no more than two drinks a day) can be an aphrodisiac: too much makes you loose (or placid and soft) and can ruin your erectile functioning. Smoking also effects erectile functioning in later years.

In conclusion, I invite you to meet the challenge of mature sexual intimacy, and to be and remain…the erotic, celebratory, courageous and connected person that you’re meant to be.

A Brief History of Female Sexuality – Part 1

Sexuality is a “condition” that is characterized and distinguished by sex and passion. It is, again, according to American Heritage Dictionary, “the quality of possessing a sexual character or potency.”

I really like that one. Potency. That means power.

Where “sex” is an act that has a beginning and end, “sexuality” is a quality, a sexual character and power. It has no beginning and end, no more than your personality does or your sense of aesthetics does. Sexuality is essential to your nature. It is you. It is your vitality. It is a wonderful thing.

Of course, the two – sex and sexuality – are related, and very often delightfully intertwined. However, I would argue that while it is possible to be sexual without having sex it is pretty close to impossible to truly enjoy sex without being in touch with your own sexuality. Which, in and of itself, is a pretty good reason to want to embrace your sexuality.

Too many women in the 21st century are divorced from their sexuality even as they participate in sexual acts. They may be having sexual intercourse with their partner or partners multiple times and reaching multiple orgasms but what they are engaged in is about as meaningful and deeply satisfying as riding an exercise bike. As a result, they come away from sex acts with a sense of “what’s the big deal?” or that felt good for the moment. Or, worse, they feel degraded and/or diminished; reduced to an object. For many of them, a good session at the gym would be more fulfilling – and might even provide a more satisfying release.

My dear, let me be very clear – that is not the way it is supposed to be.

Sex without sexuality is too often demeaning, it reduces the sexual act to little more than a heaving, grunting, often-sloppy and sweaty physical endeavor. It is not called the “beast with two backs” for nothing. If all you’re focused on is the “beast” part, the physical act, you cannot possibly be truly engaged in your own sexuality. Your sexuality is not engaged. And, when your sexuality is not engaged, you are removed from the power of the act.

However, with your genuine sexuality engaged, there is nothing you cannot do alone or with a partner that is not uplifting, satisfying and consistent with the person your are – whether that’s a twenty year old college student or a fifty-two year old church volunteer. With your sexuality engaged, that heaving, humping beast with two backs is an explosion of wonderful passion.

In short, it is and can be exotic and mind blowing. And when sex is emotionally deep and erotic, you and your partner are truly bonded together – rather than being the sexual equivalent of opposing and competing wrestlers, with you invariably being the one pinned down for the count, you are in control. You can be more or less dominant and be thrilled by either because no matter how you behave in a sexual encounter, it is true to who you are; it is true to your sense of your sexuality.

Unfortunately, history has rarely embraced this uplifting view of female sexuality. It has long viewed male and female sexuality as opposing forces, in opposition and in competition to one another. Not as it should be.

In ancient China, men who engaged in masturbation risked a complete loss of vital yang essence. As such, it was strictly forbidden. Women did not risk the same loss of their vital essence. The rules about female masturbation were much more specific and focused on a particular concern; women were free to masturbate as much as they liked, as they possessed an unlimited yin, however, they were warned against masturbating with foreign objects which could injure the womb and internal sexual organs.

Because women were understood to have an inexhaustible yin essence, they could keep on having orgasms long after their male partners had been reduced to shrunken, limp lumps of flesh snoring alongside them, while female sexuality was expressed in multiple ways. In addition to masturbation, lesbian relations were encouraged. Male homosexuality was forbidden, however as such behavior was thought to result in a complete loss of yang essence. In this Chinese understanding, sexual relationships between men could only result in the net loss of the yang without any possibility of regaining it, which was possible with heterosexual relationships.

Although a bit at odds with our modern sensibility, at least sexuality in ancient China was deeply rooted to a sense of essential essences. Sex was never just a physical act. Sexuality had everything to do with something basic in the nature of what it meant to be a man or a woman. Therefore, any sexual act was understood in the context of their fundamental essences – yin and yang.

For this reason, prostitution was very much accepted in ancient China. Men seemed to think that engaging with prostitutes gave them the opportunity to gain additional yin from them, more than from “normal” women. Men could “gain” some of that essence from women. In particular, the belief was that a woman who had sex with many men began to acquire some of the yang essence from her customers, yang essence that could then be “shared.” Consequently, it was possible for a man to gain more yang from a sexual encounter with a prostitute than he lost and more than he could gain from relations with his wife who, presumably, only had sexual relations with him.

This somewhat balanced the understanding of what essential male and female sexuality meant and began to change during the Ch’in Dynasty (221 b.c.e to 24 c.e.) when the role and place of women shifted from one of sexual energy to one of more familiar modern gender roles.

When the Ch’in Dynasty shifted from the Taoist culture that had predominated China to a Confusianist culture, women’s roles and the understanding of sexuality and sexual behavior then shifted dramatically. No longer was sexuality and behavior determined by essential nature, by the yin and the yang. Instead, there was a more “traditional” – patriarchal cultural dynamic. The dynamic many of us are currently familiar with. Women were not just possessing of a different essence than men but they were considered inferior to men. Physical relations between men and women were found mostly in marriage and were only to take place in the bedroom. At the conclusion of such “contact,” all physical contact was to end – there was to be no contact even between husband and wife.

In a way that is only too familiar to those of us in Western Civilization, sex itself came to be considered sinful and tolerated solely for the process of procreation.

Even at the conclusion of the Ch’in Dynasty, when the Han Dynasty embraced a return to a Taoist worldview, new perspectives on sexuality and sex had taken hold. Taoism had become a more structured and organized religion, with its own churches and priests. So too, sexuality and sexual behavior had become more rigidly structured. Sexual behavior was formalized, even finding expression in written texts. Two of the most famous of these texts were The Handbook of the Plain Girl and The Art of the Bedchamber.

In both, a “Yellow Emperor” sought to live a long, healthy life and to attain some degree or form of immortality through sex. In order to accomplish his lofty goal he needed to become an expert at techniques that would prolong his orgasm and allow his sexual partner to orgasm several times. By doing so, he would maximize the amount of her yin essence that he would gain from their encounter while minimizing his own loss of yang essence.

While concerns about yin and yang are foreign to our understanding, one valuable insight we can gain from these perspectives is that sexuality was considered essential to who we are and that sexual mores change. This Eastern view is consistent with our understanding that one is a dynamic, constant sexuality fluidity and the other is defined by the times and circumstances of sexual behavior and roles. During times when the two were balanced, there was a sensible and satisfying cultural norm that blends sex and sexuality.

Unfortunately, there have been too many other times when the two were in conflict. This back and forth seems to have defined much of Western culture and history, as well as the role of women and sex in our society. And, as frustrating as it is to find ourselves at the dawn of the 21st century still sorting out the power and need for sexual awareness and the ability to embrace sexuality. Fortunately, we are in a better place than women have been through most of history. We still have a long way to go for women to feel comfortable and confident with their sexuality and know the difference between sex and sexuality.

In Medieval times people’s fears focused on three things: the Devil, Jews, and women. The fear of women was completely tied into the perceived threat of female sexuality. In the “dark, moist heat” of women’s sexuality, men became prostrate with fear and trembling, a fear and trembling that have continued to the beginning of the twentieth century and, in far too many places across the globe, to the dawn of the twenty-first century.

Ironically, texts from the time display an astonishing detail of female anatomy and function. Men seemed to get the physical component right but when it came to understanding and embracing a woman’s essence, they fell far short. And these were not mere “common” men. As seems to be the case over and over again, the hysteria that punished women for being women came from the very minds and men who were capable of understanding physicality. The condemnation of doctors, “physics” and ministers might seem astonishing to us now – the stuff of witch hunts and fiction – but it continues to inform our sensibilities.

The times taught that female sexuality was a serpent that was secretly guided into the heart. Goethe, writing about syphilis, used similar imagery when he demonized the disease as a beast and warning of “a serpent which lurks in the loveliest of gardens and strikes us at our pleasures”.

In this poetic turn, Goethe captured the true “horror” of female sexuality and gets at the heart of men’s fear – it ensnares men in that “loveliest” of gardens, striking them at their “pleasures,” when they are most vulnerable.

In the last half of the nineteenth century, when more “rational” thinking took over, the female disorders of nymphomania, masturbation, moral insanity, hysteria and neurasthenia were almost universally believed to be a serious threat to health and life and civilization. Most “experts” presumed these dire maladies were the inevitable result of reading inappropriate novels or playing romantic music.

Novels and music?!

As irrational as this might seem, there are still large, mainstream religious institutions which separate boys and girls, prohibit music and dancing, and discourage any contact with modern culture.

Are we so very different than those who lived in the Victorian age?

Then, there were instances of mass hysteria much like the Salem witch episodes in which women were taken with something called “menstrual madness” and insanity, diseases which required an immediate response and often a very radical “cure.” Menstrual madness was often “cured” by laparotomy and bilateral “normal ovariotomy.” This is the removal of normal ovaries known as “Battey’s Operation”.

One professor of psychology, Charcot, gave public demonstrations of hysteria in women in the 1870′s that emphasized his belief that most mental disease in women resulted from abnormalities or excitation of the female external genitalia. Or, to put it bluntly, he masturbated these women in public!

Now, these public demonstrations may strike you a bit pornographic because… well, according to our standards today, they were!You could be sure that these “clinical tutorials” were very well attended by scores of men who were only too pleased to witness – in the most graphic detail – the demonic role of the vulva and clitoris in the causation of hysterical attacks in Charcot’s young and, not incidentally, attractive patients.

The Internet does not deliver anything any more graphic or pornographic.

In an historical note, one of Charcot’s pupils was none other than Sigmund Freud, who attended these demonstrations at the La Salpêtrière for five months, repeated this fashionable view in his writings and lectures while also stressing the effect of the mind on gynecological and mental disease.

There is reasonable evidence that Freud modified his case histories – excluding the realities of deviant sexuality and sexual abuse and replacing them with sexual fantasies which would be much more acceptable to the Viennese upper middle class who were his audience.

I trust you are beginning to recognize a pattern here. There is a very clear thematic trend in the history of female sex and sexuality.

During Victorian times, when much of our “modern” understanding of women’s sexuality found its voice, women were taught not to enjoy sexual activity. They were taught to actively repress their passions. They were actually taught – in so many words – that their enjoyment of sex existed in direct proportion to the moral decline of society.

With that kind of burden, it is not surprising that few women felt any sexual desire and satisfaction. How could a woman embrace her lover in full joy when, in the back – or front – of her mind she held the belief, a belief imposed upon her by her teachers, her clergy and her family, that by doing so she was contributing to the destruction of all that was good in the world.

Talk about a surefire way to inhibit pleasure and orgasm!

For the Victorian woman, sex had one purpose and one purpose alone – to procreate. Ugh! Makes it sound like an unpleasant chore, doesn’t it? It followed from this that a girl or woman’s worth prior to marriage (the only social structure in which this procreation could take place) had worth only if she remained chaste and pure.

Once married, she could expect to be engaged by her husband in conjugal acts only when “necessary.”

Let’s pause for a moment just to parse the profoundly disturbing truths in that last observation. The first, of course, is that sex was reduced to an act that was engaged in only when “necessary” – presumably for the relief and release of the husband and to further the goal of procreation. The second, however, is more subtle and even more damaging. “She could expect to be engaged by her husband…” In regards to sex acts, and her sexuality, the woman was to be passive. She was nothing more than the recipient of someone else’s sexual wants, needs and demands – for purposes that she did not demand. She had no control over, no rights to, and indeed, was meant to remain ignorant and disapproving of her own sexuality.

It is impossible to examine the nineteenth-century medical attitude to female sexuality and come away with the feeling that it was anything but cruel and heartless. We would be kind to call it ignorant. But it was too malicious to be merely ignorant. It was damaging and malevolent. With professionals, gynecologists and psychiatrists, leading the charge, the medical professions designed treatments designed to “cure” those serious contemporary disorders, masturbation and nymphomania.

The gynecologist, Isaac Baker Brown (1811-1873), and the distinguished endocrinologist, Charles Brown-Séquard (1817-1894) advocated clitoridectomy to prevent the progression to masturbatory melancholia, paralysis, blindness and even death! A rational person might think that these professionals would have been tarred and feathered for their cruel views.

A rational person would have been wrong.

Society as a whole embraced their horrific view of women.

Before becoming self-righteous in our judgments, however, we must ask ourselves, Have we changed so much? Compare the perspective and behavior of those Victorians to our modern world where this same operation is still being forced upon women and girls in Asia and Africa and certain religious communities throughout the world!

Look at our own communities where young girls and women are made to feel ashamed and “dirty” for having sexual thoughts and desires.

Still, things are much better than our Victorian past, when the medical contempt for normal female sexual development was reflected in public and literary attitudes. Consider that there existed virtually no novel or opera in the last half of the 19th century where the heroine with “a past” managed to survive to the end.

The Victorian woman was reduced to simply a vessel. Oh, she was a highly-valued and a necessary “vessel”. After all, sex was necessary to further the biological imperative. (Imagine someone using a line like that in a bar! “Hello, my dear, would you consider furthering the biological imperative?” My guess is that someone using that line wouldn’t be getting laid that night!)

Any sexual desire that a Victorian woman experienced was, by definition, contradictory to her virtue. According to The Physician and Sexuality in Victorian America (1974) by John S. Haller Jr., and Robin M. Haller, sexual promiscuity was an “ominous indication of national decay,” and not a sign of women’s liberation at that time.

This was the dominant perspective during Victorian times. As bad as it was, Victorian times were not Medieval times. Even against this bleak backdrop, there were other points of view being expressed. Many early “love manuals” actually emphasized sex for pleasure also. These manuals took the position that there could be equality in the marriage bed. An early indication that for sexuality to flourish, there has to be an acknowledgement of the equal needs and value of the partners in the sex act. There has to be respect and value on the needs, wants and desires of each partner.

These manuals took the revolutionary position that a women’s interest in sex depended upon her ability to seek satisfaction along with her partner. Sex could be an enjoyable act separate from its procreative imperative alone.

Joy of joys!

Of course, even these enlightened views were tempered by the presumption that indulging in sex too frequently was likely not a healthy thing and indicative of moral shortcomings.

So, there were other, “quieter voices” that spoke out in favor of greater sexual expression and enjoyment. Unfortunately, the dominant view took the more powerful grip on the culture’s defining morals. During the 1840′s there was a greater emphasis on the health aspects of “conjugal discourse” and less on the enjoyment aspects. There was a tendency to advocate for even less frequency in sex than earlier years. William Acton wrote in his text, Functions and Disorders of the Reproductive Organs (1888), that women experienced “no need for sex.”

No need for sex!? Certainly the idiocy of his position would have been disputed on its face.

Of course it wasn’t. Not only was it not disputed but it was actually applauded by others, including women. Acton’s belief that women were apathetic to the notion of sex in marriage had a great ally in Mary Wood Allen, M.D., Superintendent of the Purity Department of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. She held that “the most genuine love between a husband and a wife existed in the lofty sphere of platonic embrace.”

Thanks for nothing, Mary! I guess her idea of a successful marriage was a husband and wife having a “sleepover” together, perhaps going so far as to hold hands and gaze warmly at one another as the night deepened around them.

As if to prove that when it comes to silly ideas no degree of extremism is impossible, other manuals of the time embraced the idea of marital continence, which referred to the ” voluntary and entire absence from sexual indulgence in any form.”

People who took this position pointed their boney, self-righteous fingers at women who deigned to seek sexual satisfaction and accused them of not leading “God-filled lives.” We have evolved remarkably since then. We tend only to call them names like “slut” or “nymphomaniac.”

Thankfully, there were also sensible voices shouting to be heard. Sometimes, the arguments seemed to build on the foundation that women did not desire sexual satisfaction, as the argument of Elizabeth Blackwell, a physician who believed that female’s lack of sexual lust came from a fear of injury in childbirth. Implicit in her belief was that women lacked sexual desire or lust. So too when she noted that women were passive because men would be rushed to perform quickly, leaving them without gratification.

At least her observations hold true in one fundamental aspect – women have consistently blunted their sexuality and sexual desires in order to maximize the “gratification” of men.

There were enlightened voices crying out. Not everyone was blind to the truth of women’s sexuality. There were physicians who argued that a women’s capacity for sexual gratification was at times more intense and prolonged than the males. These physicians viewed ignorance as the root of the problem women had with sexuality. They argued that women’s lack of sensible sexual education had taught them to believe that any sexual feeling was “indecent and immoral.” As a result, women had become a race of sexless creatures, little more than “married nuns,” who experienced no pleasurable feeling during sex.

But no matter how loudly these voices cried out; no matter how reasonable and rational their arguments, they did not carry the day. Acton’s view remained the dominant articulation of women’s sexuality from the late 1800′s through the middle of the 20th century.

A Brief History of Female Sexuality – Part 1

Sexuality is a “condition” that is characterized and distinguished by sex and passion. It is, again, according to American Heritage Dictionary, “the quality of possessing a sexual character or potency.”

I really like that one. Potency. That means power.

Where “sex” is an act that has a beginning and end, “sexuality” is a quality, a sexual character and power. It has no beginning and end, no more than your personality does or your sense of aesthetics does. Sexuality is essential to your nature. It is you. It is your vitality. It is a wonderful thing.

Of course, the two – sex and sexuality – are related, and very often delightfully intertwined. However, I would argue that while it is possible to be sexual without having sex it is pretty close to impossible to truly enjoy sex without being in touch with your own sexuality. Which, in and of itself, is a pretty good reason to want to embrace your sexuality.

Too many women in the 21st century are divorced from their sexuality even as they participate in sexual acts. They may be having sexual intercourse with their partner or partners multiple times and reaching multiple orgasms but what they are engaged in is about as meaningful and deeply satisfying as riding an exercise bike. As a result, they come away from sex acts with a sense of “what’s the big deal?” or that felt good for the moment. Or, worse, they feel degraded and/or diminished; reduced to an object. For many of them, a good session at the gym would be more fulfilling – and might even provide a more satisfying release.

My dear, let me be very clear – that is not the way it is supposed to be.

Sex without sexuality is too often demeaning, it reduces the sexual act to little more than a heaving, grunting, often-sloppy and sweaty physical endeavor. It is not called the “beast with two backs” for nothing. If all you’re focused on is the “beast” part, the physical act, you cannot possibly be truly engaged in your own sexuality. Your sexuality is not engaged. And, when your sexuality is not engaged, you are removed from the power of the act.

However, with your genuine sexuality engaged, there is nothing you cannot do alone or with a partner that is not uplifting, satisfying and consistent with the person your are – whether that’s a twenty year old college student or a fifty-two year old church volunteer. With your sexuality engaged, that heaving, humping beast with two backs is an explosion of wonderful passion.

In short, it is and can be exotic and mind blowing. And when sex is emotionally deep and erotic, you and your partner are truly bonded together – rather than being the sexual equivalent of opposing and competing wrestlers, with you invariably being the one pinned down for the count, you are in control. You can be more or less dominant and be thrilled by either because no matter how you behave in a sexual encounter, it is true to who you are; it is true to your sense of your sexuality.

Unfortunately, history has rarely embraced this uplifting view of female sexuality. It has long viewed male and female sexuality as opposing forces, in opposition and in competition to one another. Not as it should be.

In ancient China, men who engaged in masturbation risked a complete loss of vital yang essence. As such, it was strictly forbidden. Women did not risk the same loss of their vital essence. The rules about female masturbation were much more specific and focused on a particular concern; women were free to masturbate as much as they liked, as they possessed an unlimited yin, however, they were warned against masturbating with foreign objects which could injure the womb and internal sexual organs.

Because women were understood to have an inexhaustible yin essence, they could keep on having orgasms long after their male partners had been reduced to shrunken, limp lumps of flesh snoring alongside them, while female sexuality was expressed in multiple ways. In addition to masturbation, lesbian relations were encouraged. Male homosexuality was forbidden, however as such behavior was thought to result in a complete loss of yang essence. In this Chinese understanding, sexual relationships between men could only result in the net loss of the yang without any possibility of regaining it, which was possible with heterosexual relationships.

Although a bit at odds with our modern sensibility, at least sexuality in ancient China was deeply rooted to a sense of essential essences. Sex was never just a physical act. Sexuality had everything to do with something basic in the nature of what it meant to be a man or a woman. Therefore, any sexual act was understood in the context of their fundamental essences – yin and yang.

For this reason, prostitution was very much accepted in ancient China. Men seemed to think that engaging with prostitutes gave them the opportunity to gain additional yin from them, more than from “normal” women. Men could “gain” some of that essence from women. In particular, the belief was that a woman who had sex with many men began to acquire some of the yang essence from her customers, yang essence that could then be “shared.” Consequently, it was possible for a man to gain more yang from a sexual encounter with a prostitute than he lost and more than he could gain from relations with his wife who, presumably, only had sexual relations with him.

This somewhat balanced the understanding of what essential male and female sexuality meant and began to change during the Ch’in Dynasty (221 b.c.e to 24 c.e.) when the role and place of women shifted from one of sexual energy to one of more familiar modern gender roles.

When the Ch’in Dynasty shifted from the Taoist culture that had predominated China to a Confusianist culture, women’s roles and the understanding of sexuality and sexual behavior then shifted dramatically. No longer was sexuality and behavior determined by essential nature, by the yin and the yang. Instead, there was a more “traditional” – patriarchal cultural dynamic. The dynamic many of us are currently familiar with. Women were not just possessing of a different essence than men but they were considered inferior to men. Physical relations between men and women were found mostly in marriage and were only to take place in the bedroom. At the conclusion of such “contact,” all physical contact was to end – there was to be no contact even between husband and wife.

In a way that is only too familiar to those of us in Western Civilization, sex itself came to be considered sinful and tolerated solely for the process of procreation.

Even at the conclusion of the Ch’in Dynasty, when the Han Dynasty embraced a return to a Taoist worldview, new perspectives on sexuality and sex had taken hold. Taoism had become a more structured and organized religion, with its own churches and priests. So too, sexuality and sexual behavior had become more rigidly structured. Sexual behavior was formalized, even finding expression in written texts. Two of the most famous of these texts were The Handbook of the Plain Girl and The Art of the Bedchamber.

In both, a “Yellow Emperor” sought to live a long, healthy life and to attain some degree or form of immortality through sex. In order to accomplish his lofty goal he needed to become an expert at techniques that would prolong his orgasm and allow his sexual partner to orgasm several times. By doing so, he would maximize the amount of her yin essence that he would gain from their encounter while minimizing his own loss of yang essence.

While concerns about yin and yang are foreign to our understanding, one valuable insight we can gain from these perspectives is that sexuality was considered essential to who we are and that sexual mores change. This Eastern view is consistent with our understanding that one is a dynamic, constant sexuality fluidity and the other is defined by the times and circumstances of sexual behavior and roles. During times when the two were balanced, there was a sensible and satisfying cultural norm that blends sex and sexuality.

Unfortunately, there have been too many other times when the two were in conflict. This back and forth seems to have defined much of Western culture and history, as well as the role of women and sex in our society. And, as frustrating as it is to find ourselves at the dawn of the 21st century still sorting out the power and need for sexual awareness and the ability to embrace sexuality. Fortunately, we are in a better place than women have been through most of history. We still have a long way to go for women to feel comfortable and confident with their sexuality and know the difference between sex and sexuality.

In Medieval times people’s fears focused on three things: the Devil, Jews, and women. The fear of women was completely tied into the perceived threat of female sexuality. In the “dark, moist heat” of women’s sexuality, men became prostrate with fear and trembling, a fear and trembling that have continued to the beginning of the twentieth century and, in far too many places across the globe, to the dawn of the twenty-first century.

Ironically, texts from the time display an astonishing detail of female anatomy and function. Men seemed to get the physical component right but when it came to understanding and embracing a woman’s essence, they fell far short. And these were not mere “common” men. As seems to be the case over and over again, the hysteria that punished women for being women came from the very minds and men who were capable of understanding physicality. The condemnation of doctors, “physics” and ministers might seem astonishing to us now – the stuff of witch hunts and fiction – but it continues to inform our sensibilities.

The times taught that female sexuality was a serpent that was secretly guided into the heart. Goethe, writing about syphilis, used similar imagery when he demonized the disease as a beast and warning of “a serpent which lurks in the loveliest of gardens and strikes us at our pleasures”.

In this poetic turn, Goethe captured the true “horror” of female sexuality and gets at the heart of men’s fear – it ensnares men in that “loveliest” of gardens, striking them at their “pleasures,” when they are most vulnerable.

In the last half of the nineteenth century, when more “rational” thinking took over, the female disorders of nymphomania, masturbation, moral insanity, hysteria and neurasthenia were almost universally believed to be a serious threat to health and life and civilization. Most “experts” presumed these dire maladies were the inevitable result of reading inappropriate novels or playing romantic music.

Novels and music?!

As irrational as this might seem, there are still large, mainstream religious institutions which separate boys and girls, prohibit music and dancing, and discourage any contact with modern culture.

Are we so very different than those who lived in the Victorian age?

Then, there were instances of mass hysteria much like the Salem witch episodes in which women were taken with something called “menstrual madness” and insanity, diseases which required an immediate response and often a very radical “cure.” Menstrual madness was often “cured” by laparotomy and bilateral “normal ovariotomy.” This is the removal of normal ovaries known as “Battey’s Operation”.

One professor of psychology, Charcot, gave public demonstrations of hysteria in women in the 1870′s that emphasized his belief that most mental disease in women resulted from abnormalities or excitation of the female external genitalia. Or, to put it bluntly, he masturbated these women in public!

Now, these public demonstrations may strike you a bit pornographic because… well, according to our standards today, they were!You could be sure that these “clinical tutorials” were very well attended by scores of men who were only too pleased to witness – in the most graphic detail – the demonic role of the vulva and clitoris in the causation of hysterical attacks in Charcot’s young and, not incidentally, attractive patients.

The Internet does not deliver anything any more graphic or pornographic.

In an historical note, one of Charcot’s pupils was none other than Sigmund Freud, who attended these demonstrations at the La Salpêtrière for five months, repeated this fashionable view in his writings and lectures while also stressing the effect of the mind on gynecological and mental disease.

There is reasonable evidence that Freud modified his case histories – excluding the realities of deviant sexuality and sexual abuse and replacing them with sexual fantasies which would be much more acceptable to the Viennese upper middle class who were his audience.

I trust you are beginning to recognize a pattern here. There is a very clear thematic trend in the history of female sex and sexuality.

During Victorian times, when much of our “modern” understanding of women’s sexuality found its voice, women were taught not to enjoy sexual activity. They were taught to actively repress their passions. They were actually taught – in so many words – that their enjoyment of sex existed in direct proportion to the moral decline of society.

With that kind of burden, it is not surprising that few women felt any sexual desire and satisfaction. How could a woman embrace her lover in full joy when, in the back – or front – of her mind she held the belief, a belief imposed upon her by her teachers, her clergy and her family, that by doing so she was contributing to the destruction of all that was good in the world.

Talk about a surefire way to inhibit pleasure and orgasm!

For the Victorian woman, sex had one purpose and one purpose alone – to procreate. Ugh! Makes it sound like an unpleasant chore, doesn’t it? It followed from this that a girl or woman’s worth prior to marriage (the only social structure in which this procreation could take place) had worth only if she remained chaste and pure.

Once married, she could expect to be engaged by her husband in conjugal acts only when “necessary.”

Let’s pause for a moment just to parse the profoundly disturbing truths in that last observation. The first, of course, is that sex was reduced to an act that was engaged in only when “necessary” – presumably for the relief and release of the husband and to further the goal of procreation. The second, however, is more subtle and even more damaging. “She could expect to be engaged by her husband…” In regards to sex acts, and her sexuality, the woman was to be passive. She was nothing more than the recipient of someone else’s sexual wants, needs and demands – for purposes that she did not demand. She had no control over, no rights to, and indeed, was meant to remain ignorant and disapproving of her own sexuality.

It is impossible to examine the nineteenth-century medical attitude to female sexuality and come away with the feeling that it was anything but cruel and heartless. We would be kind to call it ignorant. But it was too malicious to be merely ignorant. It was damaging and malevolent. With professionals, gynecologists and psychiatrists, leading the charge, the medical professions designed treatments designed to “cure” those serious contemporary disorders, masturbation and nymphomania.

The gynecologist, Isaac Baker Brown (1811-1873), and the distinguished endocrinologist, Charles Brown-Séquard (1817-1894) advocated clitoridectomy to prevent the progression to masturbatory melancholia, paralysis, blindness and even death! A rational person might think that these professionals would have been tarred and feathered for their cruel views.

A rational person would have been wrong.

Society as a whole embraced their horrific view of women.

Before becoming self-righteous in our judgments, however, we must ask ourselves, Have we changed so much? Compare the perspective and behavior of those Victorians to our modern world where this same operation is still being forced upon women and girls in Asia and Africa and certain religious communities throughout the world!

Look at our own communities where young girls and women are made to feel ashamed and “dirty” for having sexual thoughts and desires.

Still, things are much better than our Victorian past, when the medical contempt for normal female sexual development was reflected in public and literary attitudes. Consider that there existed virtually no novel or opera in the last half of the 19th century where the heroine with “a past” managed to survive to the end.

The Victorian woman was reduced to simply a vessel. Oh, she was a highly-valued and a necessary “vessel”. After all, sex was necessary to further the biological imperative. (Imagine someone using a line like that in a bar! “Hello, my dear, would you consider furthering the biological imperative?” My guess is that someone using that line wouldn’t be getting laid that night!)

Any sexual desire that a Victorian woman experienced was, by definition, contradictory to her virtue. According to The Physician and Sexuality in Victorian America (1974) by John S. Haller Jr., and Robin M. Haller, sexual promiscuity was an “ominous indication of national decay,” and not a sign of women’s liberation at that time.

This was the dominant perspective during Victorian times. As bad as it was, Victorian times were not Medieval times. Even against this bleak backdrop, there were other points of view being expressed. Many early “love manuals” actually emphasized sex for pleasure also. These manuals took the position that there could be equality in the marriage bed. An early indication that for sexuality to flourish, there has to be an acknowledgement of the equal needs and value of the partners in the sex act. There has to be respect and value on the needs, wants and desires of each partner.

These manuals took the revolutionary position that a women’s interest in sex depended upon her ability to seek satisfaction along with her partner. Sex could be an enjoyable act separate from its procreative imperative alone.

Joy of joys!

Of course, even these enlightened views were tempered by the presumption that indulging in sex too frequently was likely not a healthy thing and indicative of moral shortcomings.

So, there were other, “quieter voices” that spoke out in favor of greater sexual expression and enjoyment. Unfortunately, the dominant view took the more powerful grip on the culture’s defining morals. During the 1840′s there was a greater emphasis on the health aspects of “conjugal discourse” and less on the enjoyment aspects. There was a tendency to advocate for even less frequency in sex than earlier years. William Acton wrote in his text, Functions and Disorders of the Reproductive Organs (1888), that women experienced “no need for sex.”

No need for sex!? Certainly the idiocy of his position would have been disputed on its face.

Of course it wasn’t. Not only was it not disputed but it was actually applauded by others, including women. Acton’s belief that women were apathetic to the notion of sex in marriage had a great ally in Mary Wood Allen, M.D., Superintendent of the Purity Department of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. She held that “the most genuine love between a husband and a wife existed in the lofty sphere of platonic embrace.”

Thanks for nothing, Mary! I guess her idea of a successful marriage was a husband and wife having a “sleepover” together, perhaps going so far as to hold hands and gaze warmly at one another as the night deepened around them.

As if to prove that when it comes to silly ideas no degree of extremism is impossible, other manuals of the time embraced the idea of marital continence, which referred to the ” voluntary and entire absence from sexual indulgence in any form.”

People who took this position pointed their boney, self-righteous fingers at women who deigned to seek sexual satisfaction and accused them of not leading “God-filled lives.” We have evolved remarkably since then. We tend only to call them names like “slut” or “nymphomaniac.”

Thankfully, there were also sensible voices shouting to be heard. Sometimes, the arguments seemed to build on the foundation that women did not desire sexual satisfaction, as the argument of Elizabeth Blackwell, a physician who believed that female’s lack of sexual lust came from a fear of injury in childbirth. Implicit in her belief was that women lacked sexual desire or lust. So too when she noted that women were passive because men would be rushed to perform quickly, leaving them without gratification.

At least her observations hold true in one fundamental aspect – women have consistently blunted their sexuality and sexual desires in order to maximize the “gratification” of men.

There were enlightened voices crying out. Not everyone was blind to the truth of women’s sexuality. There were physicians who argued that a women’s capacity for sexual gratification was at times more intense and prolonged than the males. These physicians viewed ignorance as the root of the problem women had with sexuality. They argued that women’s lack of sensible sexual education had taught them to believe that any sexual feeling was “indecent and immoral.” As a result, women had become a race of sexless creatures, little more than “married nuns,” who experienced no pleasurable feeling during sex.