Sexual History Should Not Be A Mystery

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BY MELANIE DAVIS, PhD | MelanieDavisPhD.com

When Ben Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” he wasn’t talking about sex; however, the aphorism is worth keeping in mind before you enter into a sexual relationship. Knowing a potential partner’s sexual history can help you make informed decisions about the level of risk you are willing to accept.

The following commonly asked questions illustrate why talking about your own and your partners’ sexual history is important.

Q. Asking about a potential partner’s sexual history seems so rude. How can I do it politely?

You needn’t ask for names, dates, and details. You do need enough information to assess any health risk you might expose yourself to. Be willing to share your own story. Start by giving your own answers to these questions, and then ask your potential new partner:

• Have you ever participated in intercourse (oral sex, vaginal sex, or anal sex) without a condom?
• Have you ever had unprotected sex with someone with HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, or herpes?
• What were the results of tests for sexually transmitted infection (STIs) conducted after your most recent partnered sexual encounter (request the paperwork; people may lie about test results)?
• Have you or your partner(s) ever had sex with an injection drug user or have used recreational injection drugs?

Q. When is the right time to ask about someone’s sexual history?

Some people ask before they kiss or get emotionally involved. Others wait until the topic of sexual activity comes up. Share histories before you engage in any type of genital contact with someone. Pick a private place when you won’t be interrupted or overheard and when you are both relaxed. Assure your potential partner that you will keep the conversation confidential and that you expect the same in return.

Q. My lifelong partner died last year, and I’m ready to find a companion/lover. Should I hide the fact that I’ve only had one partner my whole life, so I don’t look like a prude?

Anyone who thinks badly of you because you were in a monogamous relationship is misguided. Your choice to remain faithful says a lot about the way you approach relationships. . If your partner was also monogamous throughout your relationship, you have much less chance of having ever been exposed to sexually transmitted infections (STIs), which makes you a low-risk partner. Protect your healthy status by using condoms if you engage in partnered sex.

Q. The woman I’m dating was in an abusive marriage. Is that why she’s holding back sexually?

Abuse can leave both physical and emotional scars, but don’t jump to conclusions. She may want to build a relationship prior to engaging in lovemaking; indeed, she may be just as eager as you are to have sex. Past relationships, healthy and not-so-healthy, are part of each person’s sexual history. Offer your story and invite her to share hers.

 

melanie_davisMELANIE DAVIS, PHD, consults with individuals and couples to help them build sexual knowledge, comfort, and pleasure through the New Jersey Center for Sexual Wellness.  Through her firm Honest Exchange LLC, she provides professional development in sexuality. She’s a popular speaker on self-esteem and body image, and the sexual impact of cancer, menopause and aging. She’s an AASECT-Certified Sexuality Educator. On Twitter @DrMelanieDavis

What Hollywood Gets Wrong About Senior Sex

"Harold and Maude". Image from The Atlantic.

“Harold and Maude”. Image from The Atlantic.

Our cultural values and notions around sex and sexual health are partially framed and reinforced by media representations that connote ageist and ableist messages. As stated by Melanie Davis, co-president of the Sexuality and Aging Consortium at Widener University, it is extremely rare to come across a narrative in which senior sex is portrayed as dignified and pleasurable. Instead, it is the norm for elderly bodies to be depicted with disgust, devoid of any legitimate sex drive. Such sexual activity is often the brunt of jokes.

Despite media representations, the truth is sex and sexuality do continue into older age and elders can have fulfilling sex lives.

In this excerpt from Davis’s commentary with The Atlantic, she offer practical narrative strategies that would better represent senior sex in a more realistic and positive fashion.

BY MELANIE DAVIS, PhD | MelanieDavisPhD.com

The re-release of cult-classic film Harold and Maude, 30 years after it was first seen by audiences, had reporter Maura Kelly wondering whether Hollywood has changed in its depiction of older adults and sex. The resultant story can be read here. I was quoted in the article about what movies give us and what I wish we’d see more of. For example:

“Enough with the constant references to Viagra!” says Davis, who’s also sick of all the jokes about adult diapers. She wishes filmmakers would show an older character massaging his partner’s arthritic hands, or a senior couple making love gingerly so as not to aggravate a sore knee or hip. “I would like to see more longing—more interest and desire, even if it goes unfulfilled,” she says. “I’d like to see grieving over loss of a partner—not only for the companionship, but for the sex. I’d like to see conversations about how sex isn’t the only thing that changes, but that intimacy does, and that how we feel about our bodies and what we expect them to do change. Performance may be less important for some people. Closeness may be more important.”

Our expectations of sexuality in our later years is framed not only by the people in our families and communities but also by what we see in the media. Perhaps if we were given more realistic portrayals of senior sex, people wouldn’t assume that good sex is only for younger people.

melanie_davisMELANIE DAVIS, PHD, consults with individuals and couples to help them build sexual knowledge, comfort, and pleasure through the New Jersey Center for Sexual Wellness. Through her firm Honest Exchange LLC, she provides professional development in sexuality. She’s a popular speaker on self-esteem and body image, and the sexual impact of cancer, menopause and aging. She’s an AASECT-Certified Sexuality Educator. On Twitter @DrMelanieDavis

Should Older Women “Use It or Lose It”?

use it or loose itFor both sexes, the old saying “use it or loose it” is indeed true. Sex educator and aging specialist Melanie Davis explains why maintaining a sex life is healthy and does your body good.

As we age, however, our sexual bodies change and Melanie Davis advises that we adapt to those changes and re-think our ways of being sexual. For example, investing is lubrication, trying new sex positions to protect joints, being sexually active during the afternoon instead of the evenings, etc. Melanie Davis explains the biological changes to expect in post-menopause and offers ways to accommodate these changes in order to maintain a healthy sex life (men are no exception to the “use it or loose it” rule and do experiences changes as they age too. This article happens to focus on women.)

In sum, our sexuality is not solely for reproduction. Just because a woman’s body no longer produces eggs does not mean she is void of sexuality.

Here are Melanie Davis’ key points on why the “use it or loose it” approach is beneficial to your health:

  • Solo or partnered sex exercises muscles and increases flexibility. The contracting vaginal muscles during sex and orgasm conditions the vaginal walls and works the tendons and muscles of the pelvic floor.
  • Sex can be physically energetic which gives the heart and joints a great workout!
  • Research has shown that orgasm can ease pain for hours.

All of these benefits point to the power of “using it!”

This article was originally published here.

BY MELANIE DAVIS, PhD | MelanieDavisPhD.com

I’ve consulted with several women lately who are 50-65 year old and are planning to have sex after a multi-year break. Their main concern has been whether that old “use it or lose it” adage is true.

It can be, since the ability to enjoy penetrative sex depends in large part to tissue moisture and suppleness. The good news is that women can maintain and regain their sexual enjoyment.
Decreasing estrogen in an older woman’s body plays a large role in her level of sexual enjoyment. If you look at sex from a strictly biological standpoint, once there’s no guarantee of “good eggs” due to age, the body shuts down the reproductive factory, starting with estrogen production. Estrogen keeps tissues supple and triggers transudation (the process of natural lubricant flowing through tissues in the vagina and vulva). Once a woman can no longer reproduce, the body has no biological use for sex; ergo, there’s no use fornatural lubrication or supple tissues.

But that’s not what women want to hear! Women consider ourselves more than reproductive vessels, and many women want to be sexually active — for myriad reasons — until the day they die.

Because the loss of estrogen causes tissues to thin, the already delicate vaginal, vulvar and anal skin is more apt to tear or feel painful from handling that once might have felt great. Also, the muscles in the pelvic floor start to get lax, so the bladder and other organs may droop, causing unpleasant pressure during penetration. This news can sound dreadful, and many women just assume their sex lives are over. However, if women make accommodations mentally, behaviorally, and, if need be, medically, they can enjoy post-menopausal sex. The key to enjoying sex while aging is to understand naturally occuring changes and to adapt to them.

Older women may need to consider some sexual behavioral changes, i.e., body positioning to protect joints and tissues, using condoms or dental dams if they have new partners, and rethinking when they engage in sex. For example, switching from late night to late afternoon sex can be helpful because medications have kicked in and fatigue hasn’t. Now’s also the time to load up on lubricant — silicone or water-based or even olive oil from the kitchen cabinet (but don’t use oil with condoms!)— to lubricate vulvar tissues and the entrance to the vagina or anus. If tissues are uncomfortably dry, see a healthcare practitioner for advice on whether an estrogen-containing product is indicated.

The act of sex, solo or partnered, exercises muscles and increases flexibility. The clenching and unclenching of vaginal muscles during sex and orgasm conditions the vaginal walls and works the tendons and muscles of the pelvic floor. And, if a woman expends a modicum of energy and movement during sex, the heart and joints get a workout. Orgasm has another benefit — research has shown it to ease pain for hours. All of these benefits point to the power of “using it.”

If you don’t have partnered sex, pleasure yourself. If you’ve never masturbated before, experiment with what feels good to you. If you have a partner who’s willing to get back into the groove after a long break (or if you have a new partner), schedule an internal exam with your healthcare provider to see whether your vagina is supple enough for penetration. If you’ve had some atrophy, stretching with dilators or physical therapy may be indicated.

Communicating with a partner is important because older women may require more time to become aroused enough to naturally lubricate. And those delicate tissues mean that the level of sexual touch and/or penetration may need to change. Older adults typically feel an decreased need for athleticism in the bedroom, too. Getting used to this change may require on-going conversations so both partners get the sexual satisfaction they desire.

Older women also need to attend to their self-esteem as they deal with the loss of their younger body — including less firm breasts, changing fat deposits, the thinning and graying of pubic hair and less plump labia. There may also be the diminishment of a partner’s looks or sexual function to adapt to, as well. It can be helpful to re-think was sex “looks like,” so to speak. Perhaps the goal need no longer be orgasm, but intimacy — at least some of the time. It’s also good to be aware that intimacy may be very different in older age if one’s partner dies and cuddling with a friend becomes the easiest way to satisfy skin hunger.

Unsure what size

melanie_davisMELANIE DAVIS, PHD, consults with individuals and couples to help them build sexual knowledge, comfort, and pleasure through the New Jersey Center for Sexual Wellness. Through her firm Honest Exchange LLC, she provides professional development in sexuality. She’s a popular speaker on self-esteem and body image, and the sexual impact of cancer, menopause and aging. She’s an AASECT-Certified Sexuality Educator. On Twitter @DrMelanieDavis

Reclaiming Sexual Intimacy After Cancer

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Dealing with cancer can easily re-orient your sex life. During and even after treatment, being sexual can seem unappealing, painful or maybe completely off your radar. Dr. Melanie Davis offers guidance for reclaiming sexual intimacy after cancer and facing the challenges that entails.

This article is intended to help you navigate sexuality after cancer treatment. Here are some main points to take away:

  • Making small changes in your mindset can help to successfully reframe intimacy.
  • Non-goal oriented sexual intimacy (activities that do not lead to orgasm)
    eliminates the chance of “failure”.
  • Communicate with your partner— agree on how you define “sex”.
  • Take care of yourself so as to ensure comfort during sexual encounters.
  • Put sexual intimacy on your priority list on your own terms.

This article was originally published on Coping Magazine.

BY MELANIE DAVIS, PhD | MelanieDavisPhD.com

You may have crossed sexual intimacy off your priority list when you found out you had cancer. If you’re in active treat­ment, you may not feel like being sexual in the same ways you were before diag­nosis. After treatment, sex may still seem unappealing or even painful. This is all normal. But if you’re ready to bring sexual intimacy back into your life, you can work through the challenges – one small step at a time.

Defining Intimacy

Many people think of sexual intimacy as sexual in­tercourse or other genital stimulation resulting in orgasm, including any ac­tivities that lead up to it. However, if you broaden your definition of intimacy to include other pleasures that may or may not lead to orgasm, you can be sexually intimate without the pressure to engage in activities that aren’t com­fortable for you right now.

Sexually intimate activity can be goal oriented or non-goal oriented. Goal-oriented activities are considered complete when they end in orgasm. The problem with goal-oriented sexual inti­macy is that there’s a chance of failure if you or your partner do not experience orgasm. Failure can be frustrating, es­pecially if it happens on a regular basis.

On the other hand, non-goal-oriented sexual activity can’t fail because there is no goal, other than pleasure. Orgasm may happen, or it may not. There is no pressure to do more than you can comfortably do, given your interests, level of desire, and physical capability. Examples of non-goal-oriented intimate activities include kissing, fondling, body rubbing, massage, watching or reading erotic material, taking a shower or bath together, recalling past sexual encoun­ters, envisioning future encounters, reliving your favorite dates, cuddling with or without clothes, holding hands, walking arm in arm, or engaging in any other activities that you enjoy. They can also include genital stimulation or pen­etration as long as you and your partner agree to stop the activity if it becomes anything other than pleasurable for either of you.

Reframing Intimacy

Changing your mindset from goal-oriented sex to non-goal-oriented sex doesn’t happen overnight. It takes some time to get used to the idea that even though you or your partner may be aroused, sexual activity could end prior to orgasm. Communication and trust are crucial because you need assurance that you will not be pressured to do more than is comfortable or desirable for you.

New Jersey-based “reinvention catalyst” Gailann Bruen, LCSW, suggests making changes in imaginary 1/16-inch increments – tiny steps so small you are almost guaranteed success.

“My husband and I always planned to travel, but when he developed heart issues, he chose not to fly,” Gailann says. “A friend advised us to create local memories together. It turned me around. Now I tell people, ‘Don’t focus on what you can’t do, but on small things you can do together.’”

Gailann suggests taking a drive, going out for coffee, and hugging and touching throughout the day. “Work within what’s possible, and focus on all the tender intimacies. Touch and sweetness are so important,” she adds.

Redefining intimacy in this way requires communication. You and your partner both need to agree to change the way you define sex. Start by discussing how you can maximize closeness and intimacy within your levels of energy, desire, and physical ability.

“Talk to your partner about what’s possible for you now,” says Melissa Donahue, LCSW, of the New Jersey Center for Sexual Wellness in Bedmin­ster, NJ. “If intercourse is off the table, say so, and make sure your partner agrees not to push for it. Once you know that your boundaries will be respected, you won’t have to be anxious when your partner touches you.”

It’s also important to make the most of what you have by eating a healthy diet, getting ample sleep, finding ways to reduce stress, following your doctor’s post-treatment plan, and getting regular exercise. Take pain medications 30 min­utes before you begin any type of sexual activity if you typically experience pain during intercourse, and arrange for inti­mate encounters to coincide with your most comfortable, energetic times of day.

You can put sexual intimacy back on your priority list once you realize you can do it on your own terms. Take things one step at a time – you can make changes in tiny, 1/16-inch increments.

melanie_davisMELANIE DAVIS, PHD, consults with individuals and couples to help them build sexual knowledge, comfort, and pleasure through the New Jersey Center for Sexual Wellness. Through her firm Honest Exchange LLC, she provides professional development in sexuality. She’s a popular speaker on self-esteem and body image, and the sexual impact of cancer, menopause and aging. She’s an AASECT-Certified Sexuality Educator. On Twitter @DrMelanieDavis

How to Rekindle Your Sexual Spark and Regain Intimacy

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When our lives get busy with work, family, friends and more, sometimes sex can get reduced to feel like another obligation or obstacle. Consequently, it then gets placed on the back burner. If you’ve lapsed into a state of sexual apathy and bedroom boredom, Dr. Melanie Davis wants to help you figure out how to regain intimacy and recapture your sexual spark.

This article is intended to illustrate techniques for rekindling your sexual desires. Here are some key things to consider:

  • There are measurable physical and mental benefits to both solo and partnered sex.
  • Asking yourself a couple of key questions can help to identify what has caused your loss of interest.
  • Focus on intimacy and reconnect with a time when you felt sexually satisfied.
  • Take care of yourself- clothes that feel good, time off from demands, daily exercise.
  • Make sure you are communicating your needs and pleasing yourself.

Read the full article at Psychology Today

BY MELANIE DAVIS, PhD | MelanieDavisPhD.com

If it’s been a while since you’ve been sexually intimate, Melanie Davis recommends you ask yourself the following questions:

– When did my sexual interest start to wane?
– Am I preoccupied with work, home, or caregiving responsibilities?
– Did my partner give up trying to please me, if sex was ever pleasurable to begin with?
– Did a health crisis make sexual activity too challenging?
– Am I at a stage of life when hormonal changes may affect my sex drive?
– Did my interest in sex dip once the hormonal highs of a new relationship tapered off?
– Have I had a physical exam within the past year, to check my health status?

This detective work may help you understand the reasons for the dip in your sexual appetite. It may be useful to talk these questions through with a partner, a friend, a healthcare provider or sexology professional.

Once you identify what caused your desire to slump, you can begin making small changes to turn up the heat. If you’ve never enjoyed sexual activity, ask your healthcare provider about medical issues and medications that may interfere with sexual desire or pleasure.

Focus on Intimacy. Intimacy sets the stage for quality sex. You can build intimacy through conversations, shared jokes and experiences, physical affection, and trust. Intimacy is important for single people, too.

Turn Back Time. Who or what turned you on at the times you’ve felt the most sexually interested and satisfied? Try to reconnect with those feelings.

Dress for Success. If your clothes carry the stains and smells of your day, it may be harder to feel sexually interested once you have time to relax. Try changing into something that energizes you and feels yummy on your skin, even if all you plan to do is snuggle on the sofa. Yummy may be different than comfortable: Consider the difference between the sensual feel of silk, satin and flannel versus the comfort of fleece, denim, and cotton.

Take Time Off. Build in some time each week when you are off work, parent duty, caregiving duty, etc., and do something for yourself. Even it it’s only 30 minutes, it still counts.

Exercise Daily. Even 15 minutes of stretching can help get your blood flowing, keep you limber, and help you get you touch with your body.

Date Your Partner(s). Build intimacy through conversation, a game, a meal, a walk/hike, cuddling, showering, and other activities that let you focus on each other.

Don’t Have Sex Begrudgingly. Fulfilling a partner’s needs is great, but if you’re left unsatisfied time and again, you’ll feel used and your partner will feel undesired. If you find yourself creating grocery lists during sex, consider what you need to get aroused. Does your partner know? If not, what’s keeping you from communicating your needs?

Please Yourself. Sexual pleasure builds the desire for more pleasure, so start exploring your body and what turns you on. If you’re partnered, you can share that information, by describing it, demonstrating it, or guiding your partner’s actions.

It’s not uncommon for sex drive to wax and wane over the month and over the years. If you want to rekindle the spark, try these tips and explore whether they help you turn up the heat.

melanie_davisMELANIE DAVIS, PHD, consults with individuals and couples to help them build sexual knowledge, comfort, and pleasure through the New Jersey Center for Sexual Wellness. Through her firm Honest Exchange LLC, she provides professional development in sexuality. She’s a popular speaker on self-esteem and body image, and the sexual impact of cancer, menopause and aging. She’s an AASECT-Certified Sexuality Educator. On Twitter @DrMelanieDavis