Healthy sex is more than the addition of the parts
Almost every world religion has a story of a devastating flood. In the case of the Bible, animals were paired off, male and female, so as to replenish the world with each species once the waters receded. Noah and his family, as well, were saved on the great floating Ark. Regardless of the theological lessons of good vs. evil and God wiping the slate clean again, there is also an underlying theme of what life is all about at the sexual and physiological level.
The union of a male and a female, mating, is an animal act that continues the line. The fact that it's an urge and results in pleasure is a little trick that stacked the reproduction deck in our favor. But the higher up the food chain one goes, the more the actual sexual act is thought about, considered, and relished; at the human level there is also a spiritual fulfillment. It may be called affection or cherishing or loving, but it's final glory is the family, which was the top of the line on the Ark.
When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God; He made them male and female.When they were created, He blessed them and named them man. So begins the fifth chapter of Genesis. If you look at this carefully, there seems at first to be an error in grammatical agreement. God blessed them? And named them man? Them? How many people are we talking about? Two of course.
We take for granted that there could be such a difference between the genders in the same exact species. But because men and women are the same species, we fit together so nicely. While some are writing best-sellers that claim men are from this planet and women are from that planet, we often forget that both belong to the same planet and the same species and the same Ark. And they belong together, in fact united--and not just physically and mechanically--if you know what I mean. The whole idea of sexual attraction goes so far beyond merely fitting tab A into slot B. Unless there's an epiphany, many don't see beyond that, and these are doomed to having nothing more than empty relationships in the shells they occupy.
What sets us apart from the animals on the Ark is that we do more than just mate. We fall in love, commit to each other, plan to grow old together--plan to grow together. We make the sum greater than the addition of the parts. Sex without love is mating with just the genital organs, a kind of cooperative masturbation between two people. Sex with love is mating with the soul. And out of this springs the family, the highest expression of loving and commitment. Just ask Noah.
Sex is an important part of the relationship between two people. In Genesis, the first man is really being described as a hermaphrodite creature, torn apart to result in man and woman. In fact, many experts on word origins feel that the word sex is derived from the Latin, seco, secare,to cut or cut apart. Philo, a Jewish philosopher contemporaneous with Jesus, said that Adam was a double hermaphrodite being in the likeness of God. He explained that God separated Adam into his (her?) two sexual component parts, one male, the other female, and that this longing for reunion which love inspires in the divided halves of the originally dual being is the source of the sexual attraction and pleasure.
The longing for reunion pervades our sexual beings on all levels, humans more than other animals as we long to mate with our souls, not just our genitals. This is why we have an institution called marriage. If God is Love, then love joins us together into that composite entity that is in his image. We don't just seek to mate, we seek our soulmates. Whether you're Jewish, Christian, anything else--even an atheist--it is intuitively obvious that in monogamy sex is special and represents more than just a physical union. When two people are so joined, they each feel they are part of the others body--not unlike that hermaphrodite composite creature that was named Adam. And in monogamy, this relationship can grow stronger over time. A couple fine-tune their affections. More than good sex being healthy sex, good sex is also a healthy union.
In the field of Ob-Gyn, the medical word for painful intercourse is dyspareunia. At Charity Hospital there was a crude saying, Dyspareunia is better than no pareunia at all. This was an obvious reference to the physical aspect of sex, and the ones who said it missed the boat (or the Ark); and it wasn't very funny, because sex is so important between two people. The patients who complain of dyspareunia have more than just physical pain; they suffer in their monogamy, too, and are deprived of one of it's most beautiful healthy expressions.
Physical, Mental, and Sexual Fitness
Sex without love is merely mating with genitals, but sex with loving intimacy is mating with the soul. As human beings, our sex drives are controlled by more than just hormonal cycling and the phases of the moon. The human sexual response is a very complex, multi-factorial phenomenon that we still don't fully understand.
One of the most frequent complaints in my OB-GYN practice is that of a decreased sex drive. "Libido" is the medical word for sexual desire. Because the sexual response is so complex, decreased libido is usually a concern that cannot be fully addressed in a simple yearly exam. I've found it useful to ask just how long does it take for my patient to fall asleep at night.
"Oh, about 2 seconds," is often the response.
I can say that my job of increasing sexual drive is very difficult indeed if a woman is exhausted by the time it's bedtime. The change in her life is not one of sex drive, but one of exhaustion. The typical patient like this has one or more young children (usually including an infant), works all day, either professionally or homemaking, and has a controlling interest in assuring that the meals come off on schedule. Childbearing begins a very joyful part of one's life, but it also begins a very laborious time as well. I would say an adults-only vacation may remind this couple what sexual frequency used to be like before children.
The wrong contraceptive can also affect sex drive. Worry over its effectiveness or mechanical preparations that halt the mounting excitement can add negative psychodynamics to intercourse that is remembered all too well the next time. With over 40 different birth control pills on the market, each one touting a unique formula boasting the best of all worlds, it is common for a woman to live in continuing PMS on the wrong pill. I've seen couples on the brink of divorce because the wife was on the wrong pill and the man was clueless about rolling with these hormonal punches.
Perimenopause, a medical slang term for the "approach" to menopause, can cause decreases in female hormones that affect libido. Testosterone is not really "the male" hormone, because women have it too; it's just that men have so much of it. When testosterone falls in perimenopausal women, the libido crashes. There are estrogen hormones available which also include testosterone in the formulation for this problem.
Sexual dysfunction is a cause for decreased libido. Sexual ignorance of a partner's needs can lead to anger and then hesitation the next time. Pain with intercourse is sure to nix the mood, and this should be worked up by the woman's gynecologist or the man's urologist. If a woman cannot react or if a man suffers from premature ejaculation, the sex act will end up being an exercise in frustration. There are sexual dysfunction clinicians available for instruction and treatment using clinical techniques. There are a plethora of self-help books about intimacy that can help educate the inexperienced couple. Lately, antidepressants like Zoloft have been used unofficially by some doctors to treat premature ejaculation. Since sex is as psychological a function as it is physical, the Zoloft "trick" is demonstrating that sexual dysfunction is a warning signal that should prompt counseling.
Good, healthy libido all comes back to feeling good--feeling good about yourself, feeling good about your partner, and feeling good about your life with your partner. Good mental health is crucial as well--which is a sneaky way to introduce one of the best ways to seek sexual health: physical exercise. A healthy mind in a healthy body is the same as saying healthy bodies can have healthy sex, with all of the psychological and physical rewards that come with it.
The woman who's exhausted at night would benefit from the energy she would get from a consistent exercise routine. The man who's overwrought over bills and job security is going to have a healthier perspective when his body feels energetic, too. New benefits of exercise are constantly being added to the already long list. Since sex is a physical as well as mental exertion, it walks along exercise as a truly remarkable human endeavor.Otherwise, we'd just mate and that would be that, and we'd get up and run only when we absolutely had to.