The Art and Science of Resolutions You Can Keep (Sexually Speaking)
What is it about that first, unblemished day of a new year? The first white page of a journal? The hush that follows merrymaking; the pause before the quotidian rushes in again?
I’ve always loved that moment of held breath after one year ends and before the next begins. For me, it’s a day (or, more realistically, an hour) of reflection when I remember, take stock and my own measure, of what the year has brought, and how I’ve responded to it.
Resolutions, however? Not so good.
Turns out, there’s a bit of art and science to resolution-making—a few principles that increase our odds of success. In the spirit of helping us all out to a solid start, let’s explore ways to make our resolutions stick. (Success is always affirming.)
And secondly, instead of resolutions focused on self-improvement, let’s explore resolutions that focus on relationship-improvement.
Far be it from me to diminish the value of losing weight (#1 on the list of New Year’s resolutions for 2015) or of “staying fit and healthy” (#5), but I would suggest that, in addition to these worthy goals, you get a lot of bang for the buck when you work on your sex life. According to relationship consultant Dr. Sheryl Kingsberg, a good sexual relationship adds significant value to a relationship (15-20 percent), whereas a poor one actually drains a relationship significantly and negatively (50-70 percent).
Since only 8 percent of the people who make resolutions actually achieve them, let’s look at ways to beat those dismal odds.
- Make it fun. The good thing about improving our intimate relationship is that it doesn’t have to be a grinding exercise in self-discipline. In fact, it shouldn’t be. You want to tickle the most primitive pleasure centers in your brain—the part that eons of evolution fine-tuned so that sex is pleasurable and intimacy is deeply satisfying. So, for this resolution at least, a light touch and playful intent is better than acts of will and grim resolve.
- Make it specific. Grandiose is good but measurable is better. Dr. Paul Marciano, author of Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work, advocates SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, and Time-bound. What this might look like vis-à-vis our sex life is: This month I will improve my pelvic health by using vaginal moisturizer daily and a few reps of kegels four times a day. Or: I will notice at least one thing I like about my partner every day, and I will express appreciation for it. Or: I will suggest one new position for us to try each month. Or: We will reserve two evenings a month for a romantic date.
- Be realistic. I had a friend who would periodically go on an extremely rigorous regimen of weight loss and exercise. She’d cut out all sugar and strictly limit caloric intake; she’d walk four miles every day, and she’d do this for month. She’d lose weight and look great. But inevitably, the sheer difficulty of her regimen was its undoing. She couldn’t keep it up. So, she’d crash and burn with the same intensity, putting all the weight back on and then some. It was painful to watch.
Even with something that’s supposed to be light-hearted, like improving your sex life, you should realistically assess what is likely to work for both you and your partner. Maybe planning a romantic evening at home would work better than a night out. If your partner isn’t entirely on board, maybe you’ll work on your own sexual health and subtly introduce changes
- Write it down. Or better yet, get your partner’s suggestions and buy-in, so both of you are involved. Resolutions are more likely to be successful when you’ve made a verbal or written commitment.
- Persevere. Of course your resolve will wax and wane. Of course you’ll forget about your date night or run out of nice things to notice about your partner. We are all inextricably pulled back toward the dog path. We are all tempted by that niggling voice that whispers, you’ve already missed two months. Just give up.
Don’t give in. Get up and start again. That’s the very essence of discipline—keeping on.
Next January 1, when you reflect on the year just passed, I hope you can derive some quiet pleasure in having moved the intimacy needle a bit and generally banked some points in your sexual wellbeing account.
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.