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Keeping the spark alive in long-term relationships

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by Whitney Harder

It’s a well-known fact that sexual desire ebbs and flows throughout the life of a long-term relationship for a number of reasons. Questions like “What factors increase and decrease desire?” and “How can couples work through those factors?” have long been topics of interest for researchers and clinicians, but dozens of studies respond to those questions with different answers.

Research by University of Kentucky Associate Professor Kristen Mark brings decades of findings together to help researchers, clinicians and couples understand where the science stands in a new issue of the Journal of Sex Research.

First thing’s first: It’s okay to have low or changing desire, and it doesn’t mean your relationship is headed toward a dead end.

“Maintaining desire is complicated and multidimensional, but low desire is not necessarily indicative of relationship issues,” said Mark, director of the Sexual Health Promotion Lab and faculty member in the UK College of Education’s Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion.

If relationship issues aren’t causing the drop in desire, what is the cause? Mark and doctoral student Julie Lasslo identified several nonclinical factors in their study and how couples can work past them:

Gendered Expectations

Gender differences are often assumed, with expectations placed on men to always be ready for sex and expectations placed on women to be the gatekeepers of sex. “Women may express having less desire than men, but often that’s because women are not taught to pursue sex or that sexual desire and pleasure should be important to them,” Mark said. “Alternately, men are expected to be the pursuers of sex and to always be ready and willing. When they don’t fit that stereotype, it can be particularly difficult to address within the relationship.” Those expectations are played out across society, especially in pop culture, and can create issues for long-term relationships. What can couples do? Communicate with each other and acknowledge that these societal factors exist and may be contributing to the difficulty around desire—some may be entirely unaware of the influence of societal expectations.

Self-expansion is another important factor. When two individuals try to become one—how many think of a long-term relationship—”that’s a desire killer,” Mark said. It’s important to maintain a level of autonomy, where each individual focuses on expanding themselves, to have space for desire to grow. “Sexual desire is like fire, and fire needs air,” Mark said. “By becoming completely enmeshed with a partner, abandoning all autonomy, the excitement of the unknown is entirely removed from the relationship; and this can be problematic for maintaining sexual desire.”

In fact, individual sexual desire fluctuates over time, no matter what the relationship is like. Sexual desire is not a stable trait, “and if individuals and couples anticipate the fluctuation, there will be much less of a negative impact,” Mark said. For example, desire may decrease when someone experiences a job transition or faces uncertainty about their future, and may increase when children leave for school or college. “There are a variety of factors that impact individual-level sexual desire, many of which may have nothing to do with the relationship,” said Mark. “Having the expectation that these natural fluctuations exist helps to prevent negative influences of sexual desire discrepancy on the relationship.”

Individuals wanting to maintain desire in their long-term relationship can also focus on their own psyche, working to manage stress and improve confidence. “If someone is tired, stressed and lacking personal confidence, it is understandable that they may not want to have sex,” Mark said.

Of course, other factors include sexual compatibility, attraction and attitudes toward sex. So, what does all this mean? It means that desire is no simple issue, and a simple one-size-fits-all approach to the issue, such as medication, can be short-sighted, Mark said.

To help other researchers build on this topic and to help couples think about what impacts their own desire, Mark and Lasslo developed a conceptual model comprising individual, interpersonal and societal components, with individual and interpersonal factors interacting and societal factors serving as the context in which sexual desire is experienced.

“But there are still gaps to fill,” Mark said. “There’s definitely a need for more research on the complexity of sexual desire, particularly the similarities or differences of sexual desire experienced in sexual minority relationships and racial minority relationships.”

Some of Mark’s current research with her interdisciplinary team in the Sexual Health Promotion Lab is aimed at filling these gaps.

Complete Article HERE!

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Women Got ‘Married’ Long Before Gay Marriage

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Two women in the 1890s

In 1880, on the first anniversary of her marriage, author Sarah Orne Jewett penned a romantic poem to her partner. “Do you remember, darling, a year ago today, when we gave ourselves to each other?” she wrote. “We will not take back the promises we made a year ago.”

Jewett wasn’t addressing her husband—she was writing to her future wife, Annie Adams Fields. Over a century before same-sex marriage became the law of the land, Jewett and Adams lived together in a “Boston marriage,” a committed partnership between women.

They weren’t the only ones: For several years near the turn of the 20th century, same-sex marriage was relatively common and even socially acceptable. These women shared kisses, hugs and their lives—but today, few remember these pioneers of same-sex relationships.

Though homosexuality was taboo during the 19th century, intense and romantic friendships among women were common. At the time, women were encouraged to exist in a sphere separate from that of men. Public life, work and earning money were seen as the purview of men.

Two young women, 1896.

This ideology isolated women from the outside world, but it also brought them into close contact with one another. As women were viewed as devoted, asexual and gentle, it was acceptable for them to do things like kiss, hold hands or link arms, and openly express their affection for one another. At newly founded women’s colleges, for example, students gave one another bouquets of flowers, love poems and trinkets and openly declared their love. Having a crush on another woman wasn’t blinked at—it was expected and considered part of women’s college culture.

A group of New England women took this concept one step further by “getting married.” Though they didn’t commit to one another legally, they combined households, lived together and supported one another for the long term. These independent women pushed the boundaries of what society deemed acceptable for women by attending college, finding careers and living outside their parents’ home. But since they did so with other women, their activities were deemed socially acceptable.

In 1885, novelist Henry James explored the phenomenon in his book The Bostonians. The novel, which pokes fun at independent women, features a relationship between Verena Tarrant, an outspoken feminist, and Olive Chancellor, who becomes fascinated with the fiery speaker. They form a partnership and move in with one another, but when Verena decides to marry Olive’s cousin the relationship falls apart. The popular novel is thought to have contributed to the use of the term “Boston marriage,” though James never used the phrase in his book.

Michèle André and Alice Sapritch in “The Bostonians”, the drama adapted by Jean-Louis Curtis from Henry James’s novel.

Boston marriages offered equality, support and independence to wealthy women who were determined to push outside of the domestic sphere. They also offered romantic love: Though each relationship was different, women often referred to one another as husband or wife, kissed and hugged, wrote passionate letters when they were apart and shared beds. However, this was not necessarily seen as sexual in the 19th century since women were assumed not to have the physical desires of men.

Were these women lesbians in the contemporary sense of the word? Though we can’t glimpse into the bedroom behaviors of people of the past, it’s certain that many of the women in romantic friendships and Boston marriages did share sexual contact.

For some women, Boston marriages were used as a front for relationships we’d see as lesbian in the 21st century. As historian Stephanie Coontz tells NPR, “a pair of women who actually had a sexual relationship could easily manage to be together without arousing suspicion that it was anything more than feminine affection.” But for others, sex didn’t appear to be part of the equation. Rather, Boston marriages offered something even more appealing—independence.

Ironically, the practice faded as people became aware of lesbianism. At the turn of the century, the concept of “sexual inversion” made it possible to categorize relationships that had once been considered socially acceptable as sexually deviant.

Though Jewett and Fields lived together for over two decades, Jewett’s publishers seem to have edited out telling details from her letters to Fields, a society chronicler, to prevent readers from assuming they were lesbians.

It would take 100 more years for same-sex marriage to be legally accepted in the United States. But even in death, the commitment and love of same-sex partners from the 19th century lives on, like that of American novelist Willa Cather and her longtime companion, Edith Lewis. The pair lived together as committed partners for almost 40 years—and now they’re buried together in a New Hampshire cemetery. If that isn’t love, what is?

Complete Article HERE!

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Here’s How Long ‘Sexual Afterglow’ Actually Lasts, According to Science

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Turns out great sex makes you feel good for longer than you think.

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We already know sex is really good for you, and can basically double as medicine. I mean, it increases your immunoglobulin A levels and makes your immune system stronger, protects against certain cancers, helps you sleep betterand it relieves stress and keeps your mental health in check.

That said, it’s no surprise that an activity as healthy and fun as sex leaves you feeling happy and serene, in something commonly known as the sexual “afterglow.”

According to research published in the scientific journal Psychological Science, it turns out that splendid post-coital “glow” is actually all emotional, and comes from the happiness you feel courtesy of the “love hormone” oxytocin.

This actually makes a lot of sense, considering most would argue that a solid romp in the sheets leaves you a sweaty, drained, sleepy mess, even though you feel pretty damn amazing on the inside.

For their research, scientists analyzed the results of two separate studies that each surveyed 100 newlywed couples, where the couples filled out sex diaries for two weeks and recorded how many times they had sex, and how they felt about their relationships in the days following sex.

Not surprisingly, the couples reported increased sexual satisfaction on the days they fooled around, but more importantly, it was discovered that they had higher feelings of intimacy and happiness, a.k.a. the “afterglow,” that lasted for two whole days after a roll in the hay.

Nah, she just got laid.

Furthermore, the researchers discovered that during the afterglow phase, a man’s sperm quality actually decreases, but begins to recover after the third day.

It’s believed that this 48-hour afterglow and the two day decrease in sperm quality work together as an evolutionary remnant intended to keep the happy couple together for at least two days after a good lay, since sperm can only survive for a maximum of two days in the female reproductive tract. And when you can’t bust a high-quality nut for two days, it gives the previously deployed sperm a better chance of reaching the egg.

Did you get all that?

What’s more is that the researchers had the couples reevaluate their relationships four to six months later, and found that those who felt the strongest afterglows were more satisfied with their relationship months later, meaning the better the sex is, the better the relationship. But that’s not too surprising, is it?

“Our research shows that sexual satisfaction remains elevated 48 hours after sex,” says lead author, Dr. Andrea Meltzer. “The afterglow appears to last approximately the same length of time that it takes for peak sperm concentration to be restored.

“And people with a stronger sexual afterglow — that is, people who report a higher level of sexual satisfaction 48 hours after sex — report higher levels of relationship satisfaction several months later.”

To conclude, let’s sum up the entire study into one simple sentence: You feel sexually satisfied for two whole days after sex, and it’s only because you subconsciously want to knock up your lady with your high-quality sperm. The end.

Complete Article HERE!

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Preserving Our Right to Sex in Long-Term Care

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Do you need to put your wishes in writing?

By Kevyn Burger

At age 74, Joan Price likes sex and doesn’t care who knows it.

“I plan to continue to celebrate the sexual pleasure my body can give me. Things may change and I will adapt to them, but I say, sex has no expiration date,” said Price, who calls herself an advocate for “ageless sexuality.”

While prevailing wisdom may suggest that the sex lives of 70-somethings are spoken of in the past tense, Price, a speaker, blogger and award-winning author (Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex, Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk About Sex After Sixty) has her future sex life on the brain.

Sex in Long-Term Care: Unfriendly Policies

Price worries that if she would ever live in senior housing — from assisted living to skilled nursing to hospice — her desire for sexual expression could be thwarted.

“Residents in long-term care get no privacy, so how can they explore their sexuality with another resident or solo when they can’t lock the door?” she said. In fact, many facilities’ policies are “archaic, regressive and even ageist,” according to a 2015 article in Time magazine.

One notable example, Time wrote, was at Hebrew Home at Riverdale (in the Bronx), which drew up a Sexual Expression Policy. Among other things, it “recognizes and supports the older adult’s right to engage in sexual activity, so long as there is consent among those involved.”

Price urges individuals to be frank in stating their intentions.

“It occurred to me that we need to put it in writing, while we are capable to give instructions to our spouses and grown children, about what we want when it comes to exercising our sexual rights,” she said.

‘Advance Directive’ for Sexual Expression

Price created a sort of advance directive to make clear her sexual wishes. It begins with her desire to live in a facility with a sex-positive environment.

“I want my rights respected — the right to close my door and have privacy, the right to have a relationship with someone of my choice or the right to charge my sex toys in my room and use them without being disturbed,” she said.

A few facilities that house aging residents are cautiously beginning to address their lifelong needs and desires as a body of research is emerging on the sexual activity of older adults.

Previously, sex researchers typically stopped quizzing subjects at the age of 60, since prevailing wisdom suggested people were no longer sexually active beyond that age.

Sexually Active Well Beyond 60

But a 2012 study in the American Journal of Medicine found that half the women surveyed (median age 67) remained sexually active, with sexual satisfaction increasing with age. A national survey in the UK became the first to ask people in their 70s and 80s about their sexuality and confirmed that half the men and a third of the women enjoyed active sex lives into their eighth and ninth decades.

“Many service providers for older adults have had their heads in the sand. They refused to acknowledge the sexual needs of their residents. But now the Centers for Disease Control is reporting a high number of sexually transmitted infections in this population, so we know they are active,” said Jane Fleishman, a Massachusetts-based sex educator involved in ongoing research into sexuality in aging adults. “Facilities need to think about a sex policy or directive for their residents’ safety as well as their pleasure.”

Fleishman, 63, regularly consults with older adult service and housing providers. She has noticed that the intimate needs of their clients are starting to be recognized by a small minority of them.

“Sexual well-being lowers depression, social isolation and cardiovascular disease. As lifespans increase, so will people’s ability to have new adventures and relationships later in life,” she added. “Facilities should be constructed so there are private spaces where adults can be their authentic selves.”

What to Do About Dementia

Being open about older adult sex is not without its complications. With the cognitive impairment that often accompanies aging, questions can arise about whether an individual is capable of giving consent, even if he or she had previously stated an intention to remain sexually active.

It’s a dilemma that can create liability fears for administrators who run senior housing facilities and are charged with making sure their residents aren’t mistreated or exploited.

“Adult children may have the expectation that their parents are not sexually active, and administrators have seen that there will be hell to pay if the wrong two people start getting it on under their roof,” Fleishman said. “But deciding if someone can provide consent should come in a clinical assessment. It’s a question for a geriatrician, not a family member.”

Professor Gayle Appel Doll, a gerontologist and director of the Center on Aging at Kansas State University, noted that an advance directive can’t anticipate how individuals might change with age and the onset of cognitive impairment.

“When people have dementia, we see changes in their libido leading to less interest in sex. But we also see personality changes that go the other way,” such as the straitlaced older woman “who now wants to kiss men who look like her husband,” said Doll, author of Sexuality & Long-Term Care: Understanding and Supporting the Needs of Older Adults.

Building for Privacy

In her research, Doll surveyed developers who build senior housing to see if they considered resident sexuality in their planning. She found few retirement or nursing home developers accommodating the privacy needs of future residents who want opportunities for intimacy or conjugal visits.

But Doll thinks that’s changing, due to demands of the boomers and new federal policies.

“Facilities are under pressure to let their residents make their own decisions,” she said. “Mandates coming from Medicaid and Medicare require a personal care plan that lets residents say what they want for their lives and gives more weight to their preferences.”

Doll suggests that adults speak frankly about their sexual intentions to those whom they name to carry out their stated instructions.

“Creating the elements of an advance directive gives you the opportunity to talk to the people close to you and let them know what you want. I recommend having a conversation about your sexual desires in a general way with someone who might be your durable power of attorney,” she said.

But Doll admits that she doesn’t practice what she preaches.

“This means you have to have that awkward conversation with your kids, because that’s who’s going to be in control of you. And talking about the sex life you think you will want as you age is not easy,” she said. “I’m 63, and have I talked to my two grown sons about this? No.”

Persistent Silence on Sex

The lack of communication about older adult sex underscores society’s deep discomfort with acknowledging the intimate needs of the aging population.

“Even those who work in the field can’t get over what I call the ‘ick’ factor, their disgust with even the idea of wrinkly people having interest in sex,” said Price. “I’d like to see us talk out loud about lifelong sexuality without embarrassment, guilt or shame.”

Even if they don’t choose to formalize their sexual desires in a written document, Price urged people to ask questions about sexual policies as they evaluate older adult living situations.

“This is going to be your home, not a prison, so it’s incumbent on you to explore which facilities would respect your privacy and which ones would take it away,” she said.

Complete Article HERE!

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10 tips for good sex in long-term relationships – for men and women

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Penguins play before mating.

By Isabel Losada

Make pleasure a priority

A happy and nourishing sex life (for both partners it’s necessary to emphasise) is good for your mental health and your physical health. Tender and loving intimacy is central to your well-being and so your family’s happiness and this impacts on – well, everything.

Don’t compare your sex life to the absurd but Oscar-winning performances of porn stars

Real sex isn’t like that.  Neither of you has to perform. If you make your body feel good and your partner’s body feel good and you’re both happy in the moment and the following day  – that’s good sex.  There is no way anyone can fail if you feel loved and nourished.

Don’t get stuck in a routine

The sensation that can be experienced in our bodies is as wonderful and varied as food can be. Hopefully you don’t always go to your local Indian restaurant and order the same vindaloo. If you do you’re missing out on all the more subtle and interesting flavours. Broaden your knowledge about how to please and be pleased.

Women:

You must be honest about the sensation in your body no matter how difficult it is for you to give honest feedback.  I know it’s annoying but men can’t read our minds and if we exaggerate the pleasure we say we feel we don’t help the men or ourselves.  Don’t go down that path.

Men:

A lot of what you are told about having to be ‘longer, harder, stronger’ etc is all nonsense designed to make you feel you need to buy products.  Ignore those spam emails but please do learn the art of stroking a clitoris – (details in the book.)

Learn about women’s arousal

Both partners have a responsibility to ensure that the woman has as much pleasure in bed as the man.  (Clue – it’s usually more complex and subtle) How can a woman really desire her partner unless she receives genuine pleasure from them?

Don’t think about other things when you’re in bed with the person you love

It’s rude! ‘Listen’ to the touch and the sensation in your body when you’re having sex.  Allow yourself to enjoy every second. If you find yourself thinking about other things – don’t be cross with yourself just go back to ‘listening’ to the sensation. Make relaxed time for pleasure.

Don’t have any goals

Women don’t chase orgasms and men don’t put pressure on a woman to orgasm. Sex is not a performance and orgasm is an involuntary state. Just breathe, explore all sensation and remove all pressure. The only aim is to enjoy. There is no way for either men or women to fail in bed. Breath. Touch. Laugh.

Women and men:  Make sure you know what your pelvic floor muscles are

They are the ones you use to ‘hold wee’. Exercise these muscles every day; you’ll never buy incontinence pads and it will improve your sex lives too. There is an app from the NHS called ‘Squeezy’ – use it. Five times a day. Thank me in six months.

Men:

Take the 21-day challenge of not ejaculating for that time, either during lovemaking or on your own. It’s an ancient tantric discipline. You’ll learn a lot about holding your own arousal level and being more aware of your partner’s. It leads to some great sensation and ultimately more connected and rewarding sex.

Complete Article HERE!

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