We are a couple in our early 50s. Three years ago my beautiful husband underwent surgery for bladder cancer, and we are grateful for his prognosis but he has been left with Peyronie’s disease. Now his penis is so bent and twisted that intercourse is painful and difficult for both of us. He has been told the surgery to correct this is painful and not 100 per cent guaranteed to even be effective. He is angry at times that he cannot make love to me and, even though he will not admit it, I’m certain he has become insecure.
This man is my best friend, my soul mate. Yes, making love is important to both of us but there must be some other way we could be intimate, surely? There absolutely are many ways to still make love that give great pleasure including orgasm and will maintain intimacy, passion and all the vitality sexuality can bring. First, though, there is grieving to do. It’s totally understandable that alongside feeling grateful to be alive, your man will be grappling with what this loss means for his masculinity and self-worth. You know there is far more to him as a man than his capacity to have intercourse, but this aspect of his sexual expression may well have been central to his sense of self for more than three decades. Anger and despair are normal stages of grief – just empathise rather than trying to override them with your loving reassurance. This will allow trust and deep emotional intimacy and overcome any possibility of avoidance of all intimacy developing. I know this means you have to hold your own sense of desirability and self-worth by yourself for a while but you sound strong and positive so I’m confident you two can do this.
When your husband is ready to focus on nonintercourse sex, agree that your goals will be to have fun and give pleasure. Spend much longer than you usually would kissing; there’s no rush to go anywhere. Touch each other through your clothes, undress slowly or not at all. Over time, kiss or touch everywhere, find out where each of your favourite places are. Shower or bathe together, concentrate on all the sensations, breathe deeply and linger in your favourite ones. Get a book or movie on erotic massage, use your creativity to find your 101 ways to seduce, pleasure and enjoy each other. When did you last stop short in wonder?
recommends a regular dose of awe to inspire – and calm – us. Visiting the Len Lye exhibition last weekend, I discovered (to my astonishment and thrill) that Len and I have something in common. We stood – husband, son, nephew, niece, childhood friend and god-daughter – mesmerised by his steel and light creations. They were moving – in more ways than one. What prompted him to make art in this way, how does someone come up with these ideas that are so unlike anything I’ve ever seen before? Walking over to the wall and reading the blurb revealed Lye’s inspiration: “As a small boy growing up in Christchurch, Len Lye once kicked a kerosene can around the backyard on a sunny day. The flash of light and clap of thunder that came from the empty can would provide the inspiration for the rest of his life’s work. ‘We’re all stopped short by wonder sometimes and that’s when it first stopped me in its tracks’, he wrote late in life.”
I can vividly recall being stopped short by wonder at various points in my own life. Early one morning, out on a headland in New South Wales, we were literally stopped in our tracks by a pod of whales launching themselves in and out of the ocean over and over again. Their majesty and might transfixed us, making us (and our daily life problems) suddenly feel very small. Watching something so incredible brought a different perspective to life, broadening our outlook from the mundane and everyday to the mindboggling and inexplicable. It was hard to pull ourselves away.
I had a similar but different experience with awe in the Auckland Art Gallery some time after Christchurch’s February 2011 quake, when viewing an exhibition of Samoan art brought on tears of joy, sadness and confusion, making me question, how can a world that brings such immense destruction also produce such exquisite beauty?
Science shows these moments of awe – being “stopped short by wonder” as Lye so poetically puts it – have both physiological and psychological benefits. They’re good for our hearts (dialing down our fight-or-flight response), broaden our perspective and prompt us to think differently (inspiring Lye’s out-of-the-box creativity for a lifetime).
SO MUCH MORE THAN A GUCCI HANDBAG
Sadly, too few of us appreciate the importance of those moments when we encounter things that stretch us beyond our current understanding of the world. Lani Shiota, one of the key researchers on the subject, from Arizona State, says awe is a muchunderestimated emotion and often regarded as a luxury akin to a BMW or Gucci handbag – great to have, but far from useful and certainly not necessary. Einstein thought differently, describing awe as the source of all true art and science and those people who fail to experience it as being “as good as dead”.
Awe resides in panoramic views, incredible weather phenomena (Aurora Australis and extraordinary sunsets/rises), works of artistic and musical genius, and architectural feats and monuments.
These are not moments we necessarily bump into in our daily existence, yet, nor are they entirely inaccessible, only requiring a short detour off the treadmill. Which reminds me that, according to my personal criteria for a successful 2017, I am currently coming up short. Back in January, I recognised the need to redress ongoing grief and workplace stress with more time spent outdoors, making the completion of another of New Zealand’s Great Walks a priority goal for the year. So far, I’ve managed one leg of the Alps 2 Ocean on a bike, one midweek ski day and a couple of forays into the foothills.
Time to walk the talk and get my head back among the clouds. Once there, experiencing awe will calm my mind, still my heart and invigorate me.