READ­ING BE­TWEEN THE SHEETS

The Star (St. Lucia) - Life Begins 2 Nite - - POP-POURRI - By Dr. Pamela Stephenson

Sex­ual prob­lems can have a dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect on any re­la­tion­ship. Guardian colum­nist Pamela Stephenson Con­nolly looks at their pos­si­ble causes and sug­gests some so­lu­tions Dur­ing ev­ery couple's life to­gether there will be times when there are sex­ual prob­lems. Th­ese can oc­cur for a myr­iad of rea­sons, per­haps as a re­sult of ill­ness or be­cause there is a nat­u­ral oc­cur­rence in one part­ner's life (such as low­ered de­sire af­ter a woman gives birth). Of­ten it's just a case of pa­tience and un­der­stand­ing, but some­times peo­ple can get wor­ry­ingly out of step sex­u­ally, and this can threaten the whole re­la­tion­ship. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion can be­gin to break­down, and prob­lems es­ca­late.

It might be that one or both part­ners ex­pe­ri­ence re­duced sex­ual de­sire, dif­fi­culty be­com­ing phys­i­cally aroused, prob­lems with de­layed, early, or non-ex­is­tent or­gasms, or in­ter­course might be­come phys­i­cally painful. In many cases the prob­lem is tem­po­rary, but some­times it be­comes en­trenched. Se­ri­ous sex­ual prob­lems rarely get bet­ter by them­selves.

There is of­ten a phys­i­o­log­i­cal rea­son for the de­vel­op­ment of a sex­ual dis­or­der and a physi­cian will be able to help. But there can also be psy­cho­log­i­cal or re­la­tion­ship causes - and com­monly there's a com­bi­na­tion of in­flu­ences. A couple's sex­u­al­ity of­ten serves as a metaphor for their re­la­tion­ship, so when things are go­ing wrong in the bed­room it might point to part­ner­ship dif­fi­cul­ties in non-sex­ual ar­eas. For ex­am­ple, al­though there can be phys­i­o­log­i­cal causes form a low­er­ing of de­sire, it could also be caused by un­spo­ken anger, re­sent­ment, or a sense of un­fair­ness be­tween two peo­ple.

ROOT CAUSES

A lit­tle de­tec­tive work may un­cover that the root cause of li­bido loss is some­thing that can be fixed with a re­or­gan­i­sa­tion of the couple's life­style: sim­ply al­lo­cat­ing more time for each other can of­ten make a dif­fer­ence.

Men­tal health prob­lems such as de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety can cause low­ered de­sire, erec­tile dys­func­tion, and a range of other sex­ual prob­lems; so can many med­i­cal con­di­tions, as well as some med­i­ca­tions and recre­ational drugs. Some­times sex­ual dif­fi­cul­ties are caused by psy­cho­log­i­cal is­sues from a per­son's past par­tic­u­larly in the case of sex­ual abuse sur­vivors, whose trauma can fun­da­men­tally af­fect their sex­u­al­ity - and psy­chother­apy is re­quired. Like­wise, prob­lem­atic sex­ual ob­ses­sions and com­pul­sions should be treated by a spe­cial­ist. There are many myths about sex and ag­ing, but the bot­tom line is that sex works on a "use it or lose it" ba­sis. Bar ill­ness and cer­tain other con­di­tions, we can con­tinue to enjoy sex­u­al­ity un­til the day we die - if we want to. Even those with se­vere phys­i­cal ill­ness or dis­abil­ity can find a way. Then again, some peo­ple choose not to be sex­ual.

Many peo­ple mis­tak­enly be­lieve that sex will al­ways (and should) be easy and spon­ta­neous. But it is a learned ex­pe­ri­ence that pro­gresses from self-ex­plo­ration to part­ner sex with a great deal of trial and er­ror - so main­tain­ing healthy sex­u­al­ity through­out one's life re­quires work.

Through­out any­body's life­span there will be times when, due to cer­tain events or cir­cum­stances, things go wrong with his or her abil­ity to be­come aroused, to or­gasm, or to have en­joy­able sex. The ad­vice is al­ways for cou­ples to talk about any sex­ual dif­fi­cul­ties that arise.

COM­MU­NI­CA­TION IS KEY

Start by prais­ing a part­ner for what is work­ing, and reaf­firm your pos­i­tive feel­ings for him or her. If you're the one with the prob­lem, state it clearly, de­scribe the feel­ings you have Dur­ing sex, the best type of com­mu­ni­ca­tion is clear, hon­est and tact­ful. Your part­ner will ap­pre­ci­ate know­ing what works for you and what doesn't. Fo­cus on the pos­i­tive - for ex­am­ple, if a part­ner does some­thing you dis­like, you might say "I loved If a part­ner has left you un­sat­is­fied, it's far more pro­duc­tive to avoid re­crim­i­na­tions and sim­ply an­nounce with a smile: "Hey, lover, no one leaves the room un­til I come!"

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