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The nitty-gritty of middle-age sex

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‘It’s good to experiment’

By Alana Kirk

If you are drinking your morning coffee while reading this, then perhaps this article should come with a warning. There are going to be phrases that we tend not to discuss much in public such as vaginal dryness, loss of libido and erectile dysfunction. However, they are a natural part of life, and if we want to continue to be active sexual people well into middle age and beyond, then we have to acknowledge and then address them, because turning the trials and tribulations of middle-age sex into the joy of sex is not difficult.

Sex is important to all of us, regardless of age. Not only is it excellent for getting the blood pumping and putting a youthful spring in your step, it has a number of other benefits too, such as reducing stress, strengthening your immune system, boosting self-esteem, and relieving depression.

The famous manual, The Joy of Sex, still has some salient advice for middle- aged and older people even though it was written nearly 50 years ago. It’s author Alex Comfort wrote: “The things that stop you enjoying sex in an old age are the same things that stop you from riding a bicycle – bad health, thinking it’s silly and no bicycle”.

Well, we can pump up a flat tyre, add some lubricating oil, and still be having sexual enjoyment with no partner. As recent research has shown, and despite an ageist societal view on the topic, our sexuality doesn’t die with middle and growing age. Our sexual needs and levels evolve and change over the years, and the particular issues that might arise from menopause, for example, do not mean we should give up on it. We just need to learn to adapt.

Emily Power Smith may be Ireland’s only clinical sexologist, and talks to large numbers of middle-aged women in her clinics and at talks around the country. “I’ve spoken and written more on this topic than any other related to sex, and the main driver for women coming to me with an issue is poor education. Generally women are very misinformed about what they should be expecting and are very quick to blame themselves.”

If we look at sexual activity as a life-long issue, there can be plenty of interruptions to the normal flow, including illness, childbirth and child rearing, loss of confidence, menopause, and hormonal fluctuations. Low libido, erectile dysfunction, and vaginal dryness are all just normal challenges that can affect our sexual lives, but importantly, ones that can be easily addressed.

“We do specific menopause consultations and counselling for women who start experiencing changes and want to know that they are a normal part of the ageing process,” says Dr Shirley McQuade, medical director of the Dublin Well Woman Centre. “Many women come in with a specific symptom thinking it’s all over, but in fact nearly all issues can be addressed. You just need to realise that your, and your partner’s body changes.”

So what are the main issues and what can be done about them?

Peri-menopausal symptoms

Menopause can effect every aspect of your being, and symptoms including hot flushes, not sleeping, and poor concentration levels, can affect how you feel about yourself.

“Hormonal changes can mean your libido and sex drive go, as well and the emotional havoc they can play,” explains Dr McQuaid. Mood swings, empty nest syndrome, trying teenagers, or work/life balance can weigh in to make us feel less than energetic about sex.

“It is really important to take the time for yourself when you are peri-menopausal, to take stock and adjust to the changes that are happening. I see lots of women who have reached senior career level or have lots of people depend on them and it can be difficult because they feel overwhelmed and aren’t giving enough time to themselves to deal with how they feel.”

The advice is to take pressure off yourself, and try and cull some of the responsibilities. Exercise, eat and sleep well and acknowledge that you can seek help if you need it. “I’ve seen women go to cardiologists because they think they have heart problems when they wake up sweating in the night, or go to rheumatologists with joint pain, when in fact they are just the symptoms of hormonal change.”

Hormone Replacement Therapy

HRT is a common treatment for women who are suffering from continued and difficult symptoms, and it only takes two or three weeks to find out if it will work for you. According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NicE) in their 2015 recommendations, the benefits of HRT, available in tablet form, gels, and patches far outweigh any risks.

According to Dr McQuaid, it is a positive option to take. “About 15 years ago there were scares about risks relating to heart disease and cancer, but the studies were seriously flawed. For women who take it through their 50s, the benefits are significant.”

HRT is available for as long as your symptoms last, with the average duration being eight years. Despite scaremongering to the contrary, there are no withdrawal symptoms or problems when you stop taking the drug, as long as you leave it long enough for your natural menopause to conclude. HRT masks the symptoms, so if you stop before they have fully receded, they will return.

Not all women experience menopausal symptoms, and for women who do, they do eventually pass.

Vaginal dryness

It is completely normal for most women in menopause to experience dryness. The drop in your body’s oestrogen levels means the vaginal membranes become thinner and drier which can makes for uncomfortable dryness. As a result, thrush and Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) are also more common. Lubrication is widely available and will transform your sexual experience if dryness is a problem. Dr McQuaid also recommends treating the underlying issue rather than just the symptom. A prescription product, licensed in Ireland as Vagifem, provides low levels of oestrogen to the local area, and if taken over the longer term can alleviate all symptoms of dryness. Regular sexual activity or stimulation from masturbation also promotes vaginal health and blood flow.

Erectile dysfunction

For men who may identify their every maleness with work and sexual ability, a lowering of libido or erectile dysfunction can be catastrophic. However, accepting that this will happen occasionally, and seeing it a normal part of the ageing process and hormonal changes may encourage them to seek help. The advice is to go to your GP to get checked out to make sure erectile dysfunction is not related to vascular changes and bold pressure / diabetes, and then again there is a simple medication solution.

Painful intercourse

Again this can be a common change in sexual experience, usually due to vaginal dryness. However, other reasons could be a prolapse of the uterus or front wall of vagina which can cause discomfort, so the first port of call for any pain is to get examined by your GP or at the Well Women clinics. All issues can be addressed with medication or procedures.

Heavy periods

A common complaint for women entering peri-menopause is very heavy periods, which are caused by the womb being uncomfortable and bulky. Some women from the age of 40 develop fibroids which make the womb heavier and along with hormonal fluctuations, combine to make structural and hormonal changes that affect the flow of periods. Some women have low iron levels, because heavy periods are the main reason for low iron which makes you tired, so it’s important to keep a medical check on your body while going through the menopause.

Traditionally this was often treated by a hysterectomy, whereas today women can access the pill or coil. All countries where the coil has been introduced have seen a significant reduction in hysterectomy operations.

Change of mind

Addressing specific symptoms is only one way of evolving our sexual lives. Changing the way we have sex is another. “I meet women who have only ever used one position, and now that that proves painful they are at a loss,” explains Dr McQuaid. “It’s useful to experiment and change. It’s more interesting too!”

What we need to remember is that sex is not just about intercourse. There is a variety of sensual, loving, exciting activities that can bring joy and satisfaction. For women experiencing menopause especially, they might need and want more touching and foreplay than before, but after years of marriage, it can be more difficult to change. Asking for what you need is important. Tantric sex – slightly ridiculed in the press after Sting and Trudie Styler admitted to it – is encouraged by many counsellors as it focuses on the sensual intimacy rather than an orgasmic goal.

Whatever the issue with sex may be, Dr McQuaid advises you start with a medical to check to make sure everything is okay. Once that is done, it’s just about dealing with specific issues. “I’ve had a 78-year-old woman come to me recently having a little bit of trouble because her partner has been given Viagra. So she went on Vagifem and has no more problems,” says McQuaid. “I have lots of women come to us for help and they’re happy and healthy and they certainly don’t stop having a sex life. Nor should they.”

Psychologically however, it is also important to rise above the social conditioning that we lose our sexiness as we get older. “There is just no scientific evidence to back this up,” explains Power Smith. “Irish women are very quick to blame themselves and feel guilty for not being better, not feeling enough or good enough. In part we are brought up to feel this way with magazines and media, and then when middle age hits, physical things happen to compound that.” She has three golden rules for women in their middle age with regards to keeping their sex lives healthy and functioning: masturbation, lubrication and communication.

So while the number of potential causes of sexual changes and challenges during menopause and middle ageing can seem overwhelming, there are just as many strategies and treatments for overcoming them.

You can go back to drinking your coffee now.

Complete Article HERE!

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How to Have a Sex Life on Antidepressants

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When quitting isn’t an option, is it possible to overcome the sexual side effects that come with an SSRI?

By Shannon Holcroft

So, you’ve finally filled the antidepressant prescription that’s been acting as a bookmark for the most recent novel you’re feigning interest in. Somewhere between missing your own birthday party and watching everyone else have fun without you, you gave in. After a few medicated weeks, things are starting to look up. Except for your sex life, that is.

Just last week, you were tied to a kitchen chair enjoying an amazing (albeit rather mournful) few minutes of escape through sex. Today, getting naked seems less appealing than all the other pressing tasks you have new-found energy to complete.

“Is it the meds, or is it just me?” you wonder as you deep-clean the fridge with new vigour. After some soul-searching, it becomes clear that you’re still the same person—just with fewer festering foodstuffs and a lot less crying.

“It must be a side effect,” you decide. But months after filling your prescription, your genitals are still giving you the physiological equivalent of 8d2cc2c1a43108301b149f7f33e1664d.png

Why Antidepressants May Be a Downer for Your Sex Life

“[Sexual dysfunction] is a difficult, frustrating, and very common issue with this class of medications,” says Jean Kim, M.D., clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at George Washington University.

Twelve percent of American adults reported filling an antidepressant prescription in the most recent Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. Not just for clinical depression, but for all kinds of off-label conditions like chronic pain and insomnia.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most commonly prescribed antidepressant class. And between 30 percent and 50 percent of individuals taking SSRIs experience sexual dysfunction. Desire, arousal and orgasm may be affected by changes in function of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine; the very mechanisms through which SSRIs treat depression.

How to Work Around the Side Effects

When fighting to survive a potentially fatal mental illness, there are often more important concerns than getting it on. It’s frequently not an option to stop taking life-saving medication to avoid side effects. So what’s a sexual being to do?

Despite SSRIs being pretty pedestrian, there’s no concrete answer to addressing sexual side effects. “Unfortunately, not much is reliably effective to deal with this [sexual dysfunction],” Dr. Kim notes.

This may sound pretty gloomy, but there are plenty of things you can try to bring sexy times back around. “Don’t hesitate to bring up the issue with your prescribing clinician, as there might be some helpful interventions available,” says Dr. Kim.

Here are other ways to work around the sexual side effects of antidepressants:

1. Time It Right

“Some literature advises trying to have sexual activity when the serum level of a daily antidepressant might be lowest in the bloodstream,” says Dr. Kim. In other words, the ideal time to get it on is right before you take your next daily dose.

If your dosing schedule makes it tough to pencil in sexual activities, chat with your clinician about changing the time of day you take your meds. In many cases, there’s room for flexibility.

“This would not work much with some SSRIs that have a longer half-life like fluoxetine (Prozac),” Dr. Kim adds. Those taking antidepressants that exit the body quickly, like Paxil and Zoloft, could be in luck.

2. Switch It Up

Switching to a different medication, with the support of your prescribing clinician, may make all the difference. Certain antidepressants have a greater incidence of sexual side effects than others. Commonly prescribed SSRIs associated with a high frequency of sexual dysfunction include paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft) and fluoxetine (Prozac).

Besides exploring the SSRI class, venturing into atypical antidepressant territory is another option. Buproprion (Wellbutrin) is an atypical antidepressant observed to present the lowest sexual side-effect profile of all antidepressants.

It may take some trial and error, mixing and matching to identify what works best for you, but it will all be worth it when you can [insert favorite sex act here] to your heart’s content again.

3. Augment

Some treatment add-ons may act as antidotes to SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction. “Supplementing with other medications that have serotonin blocking effects (like cyproheptadine [Peritol] or buspirone [Buspar]) or enhance other neurotransmitters like dopamine (like Wellbutrin) might help,” says Dr. Kim. She is quick to note that these findings are yet be confirmed by “larger-scale randomized controlled clinical trials.”

“Another common strategy is to prescribe erectile dysfunction drugs like sildenafil (Viagra) and the like for as-needed use before activity,” says Dr. Kim. Viagra has been found to reduce sexual side effects, even if you’re not in possession of a penis. In Dr. Kim’s clinical experience, “[Viagra] seems to help in more than a few cases.” Discuss with your doctor before adding any more medications to the mix.

4. Exercise

Now’s the time to take up aquacycling, indoor surfing sans water or whatever fitness fad tickles your fancy. Keeping active could be the key to preventing sexual dysfunction caused by SSRIs.

“Sometimes sexual dysfunction is not just a primary SSRI drug side effect but part of underlying depression/anxiety as well,” Dr. Kim explains. “Anything that helps enhance overall blood circulation, mood and libido might be helpful, such as exercise.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Time for a Sexual Revolution In Health Care Treatment

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Why is care for sexual health issues considered a luxury when it’s a necessary part of population health?

By Zachary Hafner

When Americans seek care for most common health conditions, there is rarely much question about coverage. Every day, consumers—including those on Medicaid and Medicare—seek care for sore joints, depression, and even acne without worrying about whether or not their insurance will cover their doctor visits and medications. For the most part, coverage for sexual health issues is less straightforward—but why? Is it because sexual health issues are not considered legitimate illnesses? Because the costs are significant? Or is it because raising the topic of sexual health can offend certain personal and organizational values? Whatever the reason, it is time for a change.

It’s hard to deny the human and economic burden of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) on this country. The CDC estimates that 110 million Americans are infected with an STI, resulting in direct medical costs of $16 billion annually. The most common and fastest growing STI in this country is human papillomavirus (HPV), and it is estimated that half of sexually active men and women will get HPV at some point in their lives. In 2006, a vaccine for HPV was introduced and now there are several. CDC guidelines recommend administering a multi-dose series, costing about $250–450, to all boys and girls at age 11 or 12. (Some states require the vaccine for school admission.) It was included in mandatory coverage under the ACA. Since the HPV vaccine was first recommended in 2006 there has been a 64% reduction in vaccine-type HPV infections among teen girls in the United States.

It seems clear that this kind of care for sexual health is necessary for public health and is also part of caring for the whole individual, a central tenet of population health. But what about sexual health care that doesn’t involve infectious disease? Is it still a population health issue if there’s no communicable disease involved?

Let’s take erectile dysfunction (ED) for example. It is nearly as common in men over 40 as HPV is in the general population—more than half of men over 40 experience some level of ED, and more than 23 million American men have been prescribed Viagra. With a significant portion of the population suffering from ED, is it important for payers and providers to consider ED treatment to be essential health care and to cover it accordingly? Medications like Viagra and Cialis are an expensive burden at upwards of $50 per pill. Medicare D does not cover any drugs for ED, but some private insurers do when the medications are deemed medically necessary by a doctor. A handful of states require them to do so, but they are typically listed as Tier 3 medications—nonessential and with the highest co-pays.

Almost 7 million American women have used infertility services. Coverage for infertility diagnosis and treatment is not mandated by the ACA, though 15 states require commercial payers to provide various levels of coverage. The cost of infertility treatments is highly variable depending on the methods used but in vitro fertilization treatments, as one measure, average upward of $12,000 per attempt.

Are treatments for ED and infertility elective or necessary? In an age of consumerism and heightened attention to the whole patient across a broader continuum of care, organizations that support the availability of a broad set of sexual health services to a diverse group of consumers will have a big competitive advantage, but they may face challenges balancing the costs. Health care has advanced in both technical and philosophical ways that allow people to manage their diseases, cure their problems, and overcome limitations. It has also shone light on the significant advantages to considering a diagnosis in the context of the whole individual—their social and emotional health as well as coexisting conditions. Studies have shown, for example, that infertility, ED, and STIs all have a significant relationship with depression and anxiety.

It’s time sexual health was folded in to the broader definition of wellness instead of marginalized as a separate issue. For too many Americans, it’s too big an issue not to address.

Complete Article HERE!

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What getting intimate at 60 really means

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Most people assume getting saucy under the sheets it just for the young, but what about the young at heart?

By Ashley Macleod and Marita McCabe

Sexuality encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction and what we think, feel and believe about them. It has been a research focus for over a hundred years, and highlighted as an important part of the human experience. Since the first studies on human sexuality in the 1940s, research has consistently demonstrated that sexual interest and activity are sustained well into old age. However, only a fraction of the research has explored sexuality in the later years of life.

Most of the early research on sexuality and ageing looked at the sexual behaviours and biology of older adults, generally ignoring the wider concept of sexuality. When researchers did discuss sexuality more broadly, many referred to sexuality as the domain of the young, and emphasised this was a major barrier to the study of sexuality in older adults.

Sexuality in later life ignored

Towards the end of the 20th century, research expanded to include attitudes towards sexual expression in older adults, and the biological aspects of sexuality and ageing. Consistently, the research showed sexual expression is possible for older adults, and sustained sexual activity into old age is more likely for those who had active sex lives earlier in life.

By the late 1980s, there was a strong focus on the biological aspects of ageing. This expanded to include the reasons behind sexual decline. The research found these were highly varied and many older adults remain sexually active well into later life.

But despite evidence adults continue to desire and pursue sexual expression well into later life, both society in general and many health professionals have inadvertently helped perpetuate the myth of the asexual older person. This can happen through an unintentional lack of recognition, or an avoidance of a topic that makes some people uncomfortable.

Why does this matter?

These ageist attitudes can have an impact on older adults not only in their personal lives, but also in relation to their health needs. Examples include the failure of medical personnel to test for sexually transmissible infections in older populations, or the refusal of patients to take prescribed medications because of adverse impacts on erection rigidity. We need more health practitioners to be conscious of and incorporate later life sexuality into the regular health care of older adults. We still have a long way to go.

By ignoring the importance of sexuality for many older adults, we fail to acknowledge the role that sexuality plays in many people’s relationships, health, well-being and quality of life. Failure to address sexual issues with older patients may lead to or exacerbate marital problems and result in the withdrawal of one or both partners from other forms of intimacy. Failure to discuss sexual health needs with patients can also lead to incorrect medical diagnoses, such as the misdiagnosis of dementia in an older patient with HIV.

It’s not about ‘the deed’ itself

In a recent survey examining sexuality in older people, adults aged between 51 and 89 were asked a series of open-ended questions about sexuality, intimacy and desire, and changes to their experiences in mid-life and later life. This information was then used to create a series of statements that participants were asked to group together in ways they felt made sense, and to rank the importance of each statement.

The most important themes that emerged from the research encompassed things such as partner compatibility, intimacy and pleasure, and factors that influence the experience of desire or the way people express themselves sexually. Although people still considered sexual expression and sexual urges to be important, they were not the focus for many people over 45.

Affectionate and intimate behaviours, trust, respect and compatibility were more important aspects of sexuality than intercourse for most people. Overall, the message was one about the quality of the experience and the desire for connection with a partner, and not about the frequency of sexual activities.

People did discuss barriers to sexual expression and intimacy such as illness, mood or lack of opportunity or a suitable partner, but many felt these were not something they focused on in their own lives. This is in line with the data that shows participants place a greater importance on intimacy and affectionate behaviours such as touching, hugging and kissing, rather than intercourse.

These results help us challenge the existing stereotype of the “asexual older person” and the idea intercourse is necessary to be considered sexually active. They also make it clear researchers and health practitioners need to focus on a greater variety of ways we can improve the experience and expressions of sexuality and intimacy for adults from mid-life onwards beyond medical interventions (like Viagra) that focus on prolonging or enhancing intercourse.

Complete Article HERE!

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For Veterans, Trauma Of War Can Persist In Struggles With Sexual Intimacy

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U.S. Marines march in the annual Veterans Day Parade along Fifth Avenue in 2014 in New York City.

By

Much has been said about the physical and psychological injuries of war, like traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder. But what we talk about less is how these conditions affect the sexual relationships of service members after they return from combat.

Since 2000, service members who were deployed received at least 138,000 diagnoses of PTSD. More than 350,000 have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury since 2000. Evidence suggests the numbers are actually higher because many don’t seek treatment.

These conditions cause their own sexual side effects, such as emotional numbness, loss of libido and erectile dysfunction. And the long list of medications used to treat PTSD, TBI and other medical conditions can worsen those side effects.

‘He would sleep for days’

Chuck and Liz Rotenberry of Baltimore struggled with their own challenges when Chuck returned from Afghanistan in 2011. He’s a former Marine gunnery sergeant who trained military working dogs. He left active duty in 2012.

For Liz and Chuck, sex had never been a problem. They’ve been married for 14 years and they’re still very much in love. Liz says she fell for Chuck in high school. He was that guy who could always make her laugh, who always had a one-liner ready and never seemed sad.

But when Chuck returned from Afghanistan, their relationship would soon face its greatest challenge. Baby No. 4 was just two weeks away; for sure, it was a chaotic time. But Liz noticed pretty quickly, something was terribly wrong with her husband.

“I wouldn’t be able to find him in the house and he wouldn’t be outside, and I’d find him in a separate bedroom just crying,” Liz says. “He would sleep for days. He would have a hoodie on and be just tucked away in the bed, and he wouldn’t be able to get out of bed. He would have migraines that were so debilitating that it kept him in the bed.”

When Chuck was in Afghanistan, an IED — improvised explosive device — exploded 3 feet behind him. Shrapnel lodged into his neck and back.

It would take three years for someone at the Department of Veterans Affairs to explicitly lay out for Liz that Chuck had developed severe post-traumatic stress and suffered a traumatic brain injury — and that she would need to be his caregiver.

The Marine self-image

During that three-year period, there were times Chuck estimates he was taking 15 to 16 different medications twice a day.

Sex was usually the furthest thing from his mind.

“I didn’t think about it. I wanted to be with Liz, I wanted to be near her,” he says. “When the desire was there, it was unique. It was rare, as opposed to the way it was before. And a lot of times, with the mountains of medication I was on, you know, in my head [it was] all systems go, but that message didn’t go anywhere else.”

Liz noticed that Chuck stopped initiating physical affection.

“The thought of him reaching out to me to give me a hug wasn’t existent. It was like I had to give him the hug. I now had to step in and show him love,” she says.

Sometimes months would go by before they would have sex.

“It started off as being pretty embarrassing, pretty emasculating,” Chuck says. “It was like, ‘Really? This too doesn’t work?’ You blame it on, ‘Oh, it’s just the medication,’ or ‘You’re tired,’ or whatever initially, and you don’t realize it’s stress or my brain just doesn’t work like it used to.”

Liz and Chuck had never really talked about sex in any serious way before. So they kept avoiding the conversation — until this year. That’s when Chuck finally asked his primary care provider for help. The doctor prescribed four doses of Viagra a month. Liz and Chuck say the medication has improved things substantially — though they joke about how few doses the VA allots them every month.

But asking for just those four doses took Chuck three or four visits to the doctor before he could work up the nerve. He says it can be especially hard for a Marine to admit he’s having problems with sex because it contradicts a self-image so many Marines have.

“You know, as a Marine, you can do anything. You believe you can do anything, you’ve been trained to do nearly anything,” he says. “You’re physically fit. You’re mentally sound. Those are just the basics about being a Marine.”

If he has any advice for a Marine going through the same thing he and his wife are facing, he says you need to talk about it. Bring it up with your spouse. Bring it up with your doctors.

“Marines always jokingly hand out straws. You got to suck it up. You got to do what you need to do to get it done,” Chuck says. “It’s just a different mission. … Don’t let your pride ruin what you worked so hard for.”

 Complete Article HERE!

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