Virginia Johnson: An Equal in Research

While reflecting on our anniversary, we were reminded of how many women have come before us, paving the way for straightforward conversations about women’s sexuality. This is the fifth in a series (read the firstsecond, third, and fourth) launching our sixth year with gratitude, and the last unless you nominate, in the comments below, a woman you'd like us to highlight!

Virginia Eshelman grew up as a Missouri farm girl. She sang country music for a radio station in her home town of Springfield. During World War II, she sang with a band, and later she married George Johnson, a bandleader. In 1956 they divorced, leaving her with two small children to bring up alone. She needed a job, so she went to the placement office at the university in St. Louis where she was studying sociology. The office sent her to William H. Masters, who was looking for a female assistant.

Masters, of the university’s department of obstetrics and gynecology, had undertaken secret research into sex. He was using prostitutes as research subjects, but he wanted to recruit a more typical population. Gini Johnson had no college degree, but she had a warm manner and an easy smile. She also turned out to have a formidable intelligence and bottomless determination. She went on to become a world-renowned authority on The Human Sexual Response, as their groundbreaking 1966 book was called.

She noted that neighbors, after their first book was published, “had a kind of Midwest mode of handling us.” They pretended nothing had happened.

Masters and Johnson studied hundreds of volunteers, men and women from the ages of 18 to 89, who were willing to have sex or masturbate in a laboratory setting, wired up and filmed. They measured heart rate, blood pressure, breath, brain activity, and metabolism. They even gave women a Plexiglas phallus with a tiny camera inside, to record what happened in the vagina during sexual arousal. Their fundamental discovery: that men and women have the same capacity for orgasm.

In 1970, Johnson said, “I still have a real thing against the fact that 95 per cent of the things written about female sexuality in the past were written by men—without ever thinking to consult women.”

In a 1994 dual interview, Masters told the New York Times, “I desperately needed a female, an intelligent woman who would have original thoughts.” Johnson put in, “In two things we have common ground—the drive to do something extraordinary and an appreciation of the subject matter.” Their mutual appreciation was such that they married in 1971. After their divorce in 1993, they remained research partners.

Lizzie Crocker wrote in The Daily Beast, “The fact that Masters gave Johnson equal billing on his life’s work—something most male doctors at the time would never dream of doing—was a reflection of how much he admired and adored her. Masters had the degree, but it was Gini who, by sheer dint of her energy, intellect, and charisma, was largely responsible for the success of their work.”

The two remain so well known that the Showtime series Masters of Sex, based on their story, has run for three seasons. It began to air shortly after Virginia Johnson died at the age of 88. She once said, accurately if immodestly, “We are [to sex] like Kleenex is to tissue.”

Dr. Ruth: A Passionate Life

While reflecting on our anniversary, we were reminded of how many women have come before us, paving the way for straightforward conversations about women's sexuality. This is the second in a series (read the first here) launching our sixth year with gratitude to them!

The name of the world-renowned sex expert Dr. Ruth immediately brings to mind her warm, German-accented voice. Dr. Ruth Westheimer, 88 years old, has her own YouTube channel, where you can find clips of her answers to important questions such as I’m over 65—can I still have sex?, her frisky report on a kiss from President Obama, and even her thoughts on Fifty Shades of Grey.

Though only four foot seven in her prime, she’s been a huge figure in sex education since the early ’80s, when she started a fifteen-minute radio show,“Sexually Speaking,” on a local New York station. At first, the station was so wary of the subject that her show aired Sundays at midnight, and Dr. Ruth answered written questions only. Soon that evolved to an hour-long live call-in show with a seven-second delay. Live TV was next. She made several appearances on the David Letterman show, her radio and TV shows were syndicated, and she was on the cover of TV Guide and People magazine. She taught the nation that sex can be talked about, and on live TV!

She was reassuring and compassionate on-air with nervous people, especially the young—asking questions, putting them at ease. Even in her younger days, she exuded a grandmotherly air. It’s hard to imagine that, tiny as she was, she’d been trained as a sniper in Palestine.

She had a narrow escape from the Nazi horror. When she was 10 years old, her mother and grandmother sent her to safety in Switzerland. She spent the war in an orphanage with many other Jewish children, refugees from Germany. After learning in 1945 that her parents had been murdered in the Holocaust, she went to Palestine and trained in the army. She relates, “When I was in my routine training for the Israeli army as a teenager, they discovered completely by chance that I was a lethal sniper. I could hit the target smack in the center further away than anyone could believe.” But, she says, she never killed anyone. “Even today I can load a Sten automatic rifle in a single minute, blindfolded.”

She went on to study psychology in Paris, then immigrated to the United States, where she made her home in Manhattan. She earned advanced degrees from the New School and Teachers College, Columbia University, then did post-graduate work in sexuality with Helen Singer Kaplan from Vienna, a psychiatrist who pioneered scientific research about sex.

She retains a close association with Israel and Judaism. “For years, I wondered why I could talk about the things I talk about so openly. Now I know. For us Jews, sex was never a sin.” In her book Heavenly Sex: Sexuality in the Jewish Tradition, she writes, “The great rabbi Simeon ben-Halafta called the penis the great peacemaker of the home.”

In addition to her many books and recorded programs, Dr. Ruth’s Family Encyclopedia of Sex & Sexuality is available on-line. Those who helped her escape from Nazi Germany made possible a well-lived life, with a great legacy.

Dell Williams: Celebrating Sexuality

We saw the obituary for Dell Williams while we were gearing up for our MiddlesexMD anniversary. Realizing how many women have come before us, paving the way for straightforward conversations about women's sexuality, we decided to start our sixth year with a series on those women pioneers. This is the first in that series.

The courageous pioneer Dell Williams died in March at the age of 92. She spent the second half of her life on a crusade to help women “define, explore, and celebrate” their sexuality. Back in 1974, she founded Eve’s Garden, the first store in America where women could buy vibrators and other sexual aids in a safe, private environment. All these years later, it’s still going strong.

Dell Williams grew up in the Bronx. After thriving as a WAC, in show business, and as a New York advertising executive, she made an unexpected career move, precipitated by a march. As she put it, “I stepped into the Women’s March for Equality in 1970 like a lamb and I walked out like a lion.” She joined the New York chapter of NOW, and “another chapter in [her] life began.” It was an intoxicating time, when women were giving each other the strength to redefine what their lives could be.

In 1972 she helped to organize the Women’s Sexuality Congress, which set her on the path of her life’s work. More than a thousand women gathered at a New York high school to talk about sex in a brand-new way. About the sex educator Betty Dodson, Williams said, “Her forthright talk transformed women from body-shy to body-proud.” Dodson recommended the Hitachi Magic Wand, which was supposedly for muscle massage but was highly functional as a vibrator. Inspired, Dell Williams went to Macy’s to buy one. The male sales clerk asked what she was going to use it for. The embarrassing encounter led her to think, “Somebody really ought to open up a store where a woman can buy one of these things without some kid asking her what she’s going to do with it.”

So she founded Eve’s Garden, first as a mail-order business in her kitchen, then as a store nearby on West 57th Street, discreetly upstairs. She wanted it to be a place where women could “celebrate the joy of their own sexuality” in comfort, at first with no men allowed. The mission was “to encourage women to take responsibility for their own sexuality, honor the sacredness of sex, and clearly understand that bodily pleasure and spiritual joy are one, and an inalienable right.” Kim Ibricevic, the current manager of Eve’s Garden, said that Williams “wanted to focus on the spiritual side of sex and felt that if every woman had an orgasm, there would be peace in this world.”

In a video made when she was well into her 80s, she is as warm and enthusiastic as ever. Flanked by two doctors, women whom she was introducing as sex counselors, she exclaims that “Eve’s Garden is just a garden of delights.” She describes how empowering it was for her to learn that she could take responsibility for her own pleasure, and how she had spent decades fighting for “women’s awareness that they had a right to enjoy themselves.”

As she put it, after so many years of studying the subject, “Sexuality is the biggest mystery of them all.”

February 28, 2014


aging ›   culture ›   sexuality ›   The Good Stuff ›  

Aging—and Loving—in America

I don’t always catch AARP The Magazine, I suspect because I’m still adjusting to thinking of myself as part of their demographic. But the most recent issue contained an article I’m glad I saw: “You’re Old, I’m Not,” a report on an AARP survey on “Aging in America.”

Among the findings are a few you’ll accept as common wisdom: People in their 40s define “old” as younger (63) than people in their 70s (75). As we grow older, we find that the process is “easier than I thought,” that we’re not held back from doing what we want to do. Older people appreciate old-folks humor more than younger folks do.

One section of the results, though, sparked my interest in a different way. There’s a difference by gender in agreement with this statement: “I know I’ll enjoy sex no matter how old I am.” Seventy-one percent of men agreed; only 51 percent of women did. Gender mattered much more than age: There’s only a 7-point difference between people in their 40s (66 percent) and people in their 70s, 59 percent of whom still expect to enjoy sex.

Given my line of work, I take that difference by gender as something as a battle cry. I certainly don’t want women to be like menvive la différence! But I take it as a personal, professional, and generational challenge to see more women look forward to enjoying sex!

I doubt that AARP was able to delve into the thinking behind people’s responses to that question. My guesses about why women are less optimistic than men are based on my years as a menopause care provider, not on AARP’s data. But here are my theories:

First, we’re young at understanding menopause. The average age for menopause is now 50; until 1900, few women lived past that age. We’re living longer now, and have much more experience with menopause, but we have no deep cultural expectation of conversation about it.

And that leads to the second factor: In the absence of good information, the worst-case scenario tends to take over our imaginations. Have you noticed that talk about child birth and root canals nearly always leads to the sharing of horror stories—the labor that lasted four days, the excruciatingly painful dental experience? Even though those stories are the exception, not the rule? I’ve seen the same thing happen with women talking about menopause, and the women who hear those stories are more willing to accept limitations and less empowered to take control of their own sex lives!

There’s one more factor, too: We as women start to receive messages that sex and older don’t compute. For some reason, “sexy woman” conjures a young woman in our media and culture—and, for some reason, we’re susceptible to that suggestion!

I don’t know when AARP will conduct this survey again. But when they do, my hope is that women agree just as often as men that “I’ll enjoy sex no matter how old I am.” Because we can, when we take the time to understand what’s happening as our bodies change. And we want to, when we recognize what sex means to our health, our well-being, and our relationships—and all the ways those intertwine.

And, okay. Because we women can be a little bit competitive, too.

Learn What You Choose

For every reader of a study, there’s a different headline. That’s my conclusion after reading The Lancet’s publishing of the findings from the British National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NATSAL).

I’d been intrigued by an article in The Guardian that suggested Britons are having less sex because of the struggling economy and too much technology. I think either is credible. I agree with Kaye Wellings, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, when she says that “there’s a strong relationship between unemployment and low sexual function [which] is to do with low self-esteem, depression.” And common sense tells me that it’s hard to be aroused by a partner with an iPhone in his hand.

But when I read the full research report, there were other things that spoke to me.

This is the third time the full research has been done, using comparable methods so that trends can be examined over 60 years. And this is the first time that the eligible age range went beyond 44 years—all the way up to 74!

And that’s a very good thing, ladies, because we haven’t stopped having sex just because we’ve passed our mid-40s.

In fact, that one change to the study’s design led to two of their most notable conclusions:

  • That sexual lifestyles have changed substantially in the last 60 years (which sounds elementary, my dear Watson, but they can tell us exactly how!)
  • And that “research into the sexual health and well-being of men and women in later life—who now have increasing expectations of sexual fulfillment—and make up a growing segment of the population—is a neglected area.”

Well, yes! And I’m grateful to see conclusions like those from well-respected research projects!

A couple more things struck me as I read through the details, because they resonate with my experience as a menopause care provider. The frequency of sexual encounters does decrease as both men and women grow older; among women 65 to 74, intercourse is happening about a third as often as among women 25 to 34. There is, though, still a variety of sexual experiences among the older women, including oral and anal sex.

I note that men over 55 are more likely to have a partner of the opposite sex than are women at the same age, and yet men of that age are three times more likely to self-stimulate than women are. Now, I know that sexual behavior depends on many things, including social norms and attitudes.

But I also know that women are uniquely “use-it-or-lose-it” creatures. When we’re without partners, we can’t assume that our sexuality is stowed away to be taken out again at some later date. I encourage women to think about self-stimulation, because orgasm is good for us physically and mentally, and it helps us maintain patent vaginal tissues.

Given the numbers, I know it can’t happen for everyone, but I’ve seen enough women find a second love to think it’s worthwhile to maintain our sexual health. Not because a woman needs a man (that whole fish without a bicycle thing), but because sometimes the right woman and man find each other. And it’s a whole lot easier to maintain your sexual health and capacity than it is to reclaim it.

Because data show—British researchers proved it—that “sexual health is a key component of well-being,” even for those of us over 44, and even for those of us currently without partners.

The Tantra: Sexy Goodness for the Middle-Aged

I always thought of Tantra as one of those Eastern practices, vaguely connected with the Kama Sutra, and having to do with chakras and energy and contorted positions.

While it does involve some of these things, turns out that Tantric sex plays to the strengths of older people. We aren’t in a hurry. In fact, we’ve had to switch our focus from a quick, hot fire to a slow burn. From intense passion to warm intimacy. From fireworks to steady candlelight.

Tantric practice is all about taking your time and learning to be vulnerable. With Tantra, the journey is the destination.

Dr. Susan Kellogg Spadt, a MiddlesexMD advisor, defines it this way: “Tantric sex originally developed as a form of Eastern yoga practice, the goal of which was to use sexual energy to enter a higher spiritual realm. Although it is an ancient practice, this type of loving has undergone a recent resurgence of popularity.”

The main elements of Tantric sex are a focus on the breath, the alignment and flow of energy (specifically sexual energy), and attention to the partner in the present moment. You’re not in a hurry with Tantric sex, nor are you lost in fantasy world. You’re relaxed and present.

While I’m no expert in the practice, here are a few techniques drawn from Tantric sexuality that might energize your lovemaking.

Prepare the space. Since Tantra is based in spiritual practice, consider the place where you have sex as “sacred.” How would this space look and smell? How would you prepare the environment? Would it feel mysterious or would it be full of light? Would it look lavish or spare and uncluttered? Would it have music or the sound of chimes? Or silence?

You should make it as beautiful and natural as possible. You might have candles or incense burning. You might decorate it with soft fabrics, maybe silks, maybe beautiful tapestries. MiddlesexMD_Lindbergh

Prepare yourselves. Spend some time decompressing from whatever might occupy your mind. Loosen your muscles, especially those in your jaw, neck, and shoulders. Maybe take a bath so you’re soft, relaxed, and sweetly scented. Clear your mind of any preconceptions. Expect nothing. You are here with your beloved. That’s all, and it’s enough.

Breathe. Unsurprisingly, breath is central to this practice as it is to many Eastern traditions. Breath releases and directs energy.

In Tantric sex, you breathe in tandem with your partner. Face your partner and breathe deeply, fully, and consciously. Breathe together-you breathe each other’s breath.

Don’t hold your breath or let your breathing become shallow at any time. Concentrate on full, relaxed breathing throughout sex. According to the Tantra, this allows energy to flow unimpeded through your body.

Maintain eye contact. In fact, keep your eyes open throughout your sexual encounter. Breathe together and look into your partner’s eyes. This will probably feel strange and challenging.

Here is an account from a woman who attended a Tantric sex class with a platonic friend who was simply doing her a favor by accompanying her. The instructions were to “think about what this person looked like when they were first born… before they were wounded… what they will look like when they die.”

“Looking into Jeff’s eyes, I felt like I was watching the movie of his life. I saw my friend in a way I rarely see anyone; with all his vulnerability, fear, pain, and joy. It was unsettling but strangely beautiful. I felt cracked open and began to cry.”

If this is the experience of two friends, what might happen between committed lovers?

Get into position. There are lots of Tantric postures, but the one commonly mentioned is the Yab Yum position in which both partners sit erect and the woman sits on her partner’s lap, wrapping her legs around his or her waist. Then, according to Susan Kellogg, “The woman actively rocks forward and back, using her pubococcygeus [pelvic floor] muscles to “milk” her partner’s penis, creating high levels of sexual arousal.”

Don’t hurry. Don’t lose focus. Keep your breathing slow and relaxed. Eyes on your partner. Only tense the muscles you need to use and consciously relax everything else. Be present in the moment. Express what you’re feeling—pleasure, pain, discomfort, joy, connection—either in words or sound, any sound.

Direct your energy. A Tantric saying is, “energy flows where attention goes.” This means that you have control over the flow of energy depending on what you’re paying attention to. If you’re focusing on genital sensation, that’s where the energy goes. But if you pay attention to your entire body, this is where your sexual energy will flow. Powerful, whole-body orgasm is a hallmark of Tantric sex.

Finally, after fully exploring and experiencing this exchange and flow of energy, this intimacy with your partner, according to Susan Kellogg, “Tantric joining… ends when partners, at the point of orgasm, join in a close embrace, usually mouths sealed and fingertips in full contact. Each partner powerfully contracts the pubococcygeal muscles and ‘draws’ orgasmic energy from their genitals up through their pelvis, abdomen and throat to an area in the middle of the forehead known as the third eye that is the center of ‘spiritual enlightenment.’ ”

Not surprisingly, entire books are written about Tantric sex, and larger cities may offer classes on the practice.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to stick my head in the freezer.

Music to Make Love By

A young woman I know went to the hospital to have a baby. She packed all the things she thought she needed to keep her comfortable during labor—a big ball to sit on; small balls for back pain, power bars and snacks for energy. She also loaded her iPod with a playlist of her favorite music.

I was expecting Vivaldi, maybe Bach, or some soothing Tchaikovsky. But what filled the room as she puffed her way through contractions was a mélange of rock tunes she had found comforting on the subway when she was nauseated “and everything else I was into at the time.” These included bands like Cat Power and Sun Volt.

Yeah, I’ve never heard of them, either.

We may associate certain music with a happy time of life—French songs we heard in Paris or the Latin beat of Havana. We may like the music we listened to in our youth. Or, we may have cultivated a taste for one genre or another later in life—jazz or opera, for example.

I vividly remember the first time I heard Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring in college. That began my love affair with classical music, which continues to this day.

One thing is certain—music is powerful. Just listening to it—and it doesn’t have to be the favs on our playlist—can trigger emotion, such as patriotism, sadness, joy, excitement; it can relieve pain and depression; it causes the release of various chemicals such as testosterone, oxytocin, and those feel-good endorphins, such as dopamine, according to this NCBI article. In fact, music taps into the same neurochemicals as sex, according to a recent study in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Since we humans seem hard-wired to respond to music, doesn’t it make sense to invite this powerful ally into the bedroom?

As we mentioned in previous posts about engaging all our senses during sex, music can help us “get out of our heads.” This is valuable all by itself. But music can also help us get in the mood. Music that has shared associations can make us feel close to our partner. Or, like Ravel’s Bolero (that quintessential piece to have sex by), it might track the crescendo of the action.

Ideally, your partner likes the same music as you do, but maybe you’ll have to stretch a bit to include his or her favorites. Or maybe you can recall special tunes that are significant to both of you.

Don’t use this as an opportunity to broaden your taste in music, however—this might not be the time to sample that heavy metal band your son told you about. What you want is music that’s familiar, whether it’s soothing, romantic, or energizing. What you don’t want is an unexpected clash of cymbals at an inopportune moment. You want to avoid jarring changes in tempo or volume. The music should either sound similar or transition gradually. You might also consider keeping the remote close at hand to click to the next song or turn the music off altogether if it gets too distracting.

The Internet is full of lists of sexy music. Amazon also sells downloadable and unadorned Music for Sex. (A little more nuance might be nice.) But in this sphere, the best music is your own, drawn from shared memories and personal taste. Whether it’s Aaron Copland or Buena Vista Social Club, country, R&B, or classic rock, make it yours.

So maybe sit down together tonight and compile your playlist of music to make love by. Let us know how it goes—and be sure to share with us what works for you.

Sex and More Senses

In a previous post, we began exploring ways to engage all our senses when we make love. Today, we pick up where we left off.

Sight. Of all the senses, we humans rely heavily on eyesight. So why do we make love in the dark? Under the covers? With our eyes closed? Granted, we feel we look better in the glow of moonlight rather than the glare of incandescence. And closing the eyes helps us concentrate on the action at hand. Or mouth. Or whatever.

But we could use—or not use—our eyesight strategically to increase the pleasure of lovemaking.

To pleasure the sense of sight, make everything having to do with sex look beautiful. For example, that tray of aphrodisiacs we mentioned earlier should look as sensuous as it tastes. Your bedroom—or wherever you make love regularly—should be inviting, even sumptuous. Get rid of the clutter. Move the pictures of the kids to your office. Incorporate warm, sensuous colors and finishes. Use light strategically. Make it a pleasure to see and to be in.

The other way to deal with eyesight is not to use it. Eliminating one sense heightens the sensitivity of the others. Blindfold your partner and stimulate his or her sense of touch or smell in surprising ways. Touch with feathers or fur. Tease and back off. Not knowing what will happen next intensifies the experience.

Hearing. This is another of our sense that we don’t use enough during lovemaking. We’ll expand on this idea in a future post, but for now, think of ways to incorporate soothing, sexy, or energizing sound into the bedroom ritual.

Obviously, music is a powerful way to calm or motivate or rouse emotion. Use it as a pleasing tool during lovemaking to “get out of your head” or to bring yet another layer of sensuality to sex. You could also use the sounds of nature: pattering rain, bird calls, the womblike whoosh of the ocean. Experiment with sound and music to find what enhances and adds pleasure.

Some people also find it erotic to talk during lovemaking—erotically, lovingly, or sluttishly—whatever turns you on.

You might try reading aloud to each other—to get in the mood or to wind down after. This works best if you really know and love the piece rather than if you’re stumbling through it for the first time.

Remember how soothing and intimate it is to be read to? Read to your partner as an act of love. Poetry is especially powerful in its expression of emotion, passion, love, ardor, and beauty in ways that are lovely to hear. Plus, the lyric quality and rhythm blurs the line between poetry and music. And love is a common theme of poetry. She Walks in Beauty by Lord Byron brings me to tears. Or try the soaring How Do I Love Thee? by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. What poem do you love? Share it with your lover.

Touch. This, of course, is the king of the sexual senses. In this realm, the skin is one, big sex organ, tingling with nerve endings and alive to sensation. Bring a variety of textures and temperatures to your sexual routine. Alternate heat and cold on your lover’s skin. (Ice your hands, touch your partner’s skin, then warm them and touch again.) Use warming lubes, introduce bedsheets with different textures. Check out products to enhance touch in our online shop.

You could try out some 50 Shades action and tie your lover’s hands with a necktie or some nonstick bondage tape. Then you can have your way with him or her, touching wherever and however you want.

Sex, and all of life, is a sensual experience. Think creatively and lovingly in ways to engage all your senses, and I’m betting the sex will be more varied, pleasurable, intense, and fun. Plan an experience that will engage as many senses as possible. A sampler tray of aphrodisiacs, for example, should also appeal to the eye. Sensual linens and clothing can be beautiful to look at, as well to touch.

Or plan an encounter that focuses on one sense at a time—a crescendo of music, a cascade of scent, a blind taste test of lusciousness.

Above all, savor. The senses can’t be rushed. Plan a rendezvous that gives you time to indulge, to nibble, sample, sniff, listen, and feel. It doesn’t all have to happen at once. Or the same way. The senses offer a cornucopia of surprise and delight. In this realm, your only limit is your imagination.

Unleash your creativity and harness the power of your senses. Not only will the sex be better, but maybe you’ll sharpen your senses for the rest of life as well.

Sex and the Senses

Sex is all about the senses. That’s why “sex” is the fraternal twin of “sensual,” which broadly refers to “voluptuous gratification of the senses.”

Now, I ask you, what is more voluptuously gratifying to the senses than sex?

Trouble is, sometimes our senses get a little dull. They need a tune-up. They need variety and stimulation. They need us to pay attention.

We can pay attention to our senses, for example, by noticing the glint of sun on water, the smell of coffee in the morning, a warm breeze on the skin, a meadowlark singing on the fencepost.

But sex is where the senses can have a field day. We tend to rely on touch when we make love—and that’s a lovely place to start. As we mentioned before, the skin is our largest sex organ, so it makes sense to cultivate that sensory garden.

We do, however, have four other delicious sensory organs to awaken. And since our menopausal bodies need more stimulation and a longer runway these days, sexually speaking, why not incorporate other types of sensory delights into our lovemaking? This can serve several purposes—becoming more attuned to the senses we don’t rely on as much; introducing playfulness and novelty into our lovemaking; and creating the more erotic and stimulating environment that helps get us airborn, so to speak.

Here are a few suggestions for cultivating the garden of your senses during sex. If you come up with other suggestions, please share!

Smell. Most of us rarely think about engaging the sense of smell when we make love. Sure, it’s nice to have, but doesn’t seem critical to performance in the bedroom.

Smell may be subtle indeed, but that doesn’t mean it’s not powerful. For one thing, it’s closely linked to memory. The part of the brain that registers scents nestles right next to the limbic system that controls emotion and memory. That’s why a certain smell is often linked to an experience or a person. And that’s the basis of aromatherapy—using certain scents to trigger certain emotion.

We can use this to our advantage in our love life. Is there a scent that you associate with particularly happy or romantic times? I love the smell of jasmine because it reminds me of a wonderful visit to the city of Oaxaca in Mexico. A whiff of jasmine, and I’m transported right back to the Zócalo in the middle of town.

Here are a couple ways to incorporate smell into your love life:

  • Get some good-quality essential oils and suffuse the room with scent while you make love. Lavender and sage are said to be relaxing; rosemary and citrus are energizing. (I always associate citrus with cleanliness and freshness.) Jasmine, rose, gardenia, and sandalwood are romantic. What works for you?
  • We are also subliminally drawn to the smell of our partner. During lovemaking, pay attention to the scent of his or her exhalation, the smell of his or her skin and the way that scent varies throughout the body. Get to know how your partner smells. Would you recognize that scent in a crowd?

Taste. This is probably another sense that we don’t incorporate well into sex. One way to develop our taste for sex might be to try some foods that are considered aphrodisiacs.

Some foods simply look suggestive, like fresh figs or asparagus, while other foods actually increase blood flow to the genitals. Some, like avocado and asparagus, do both.

The idea isn’t to eat until you’re stuffed. (Romantic candle-light dinners are bad for that.) The idea is to use the sight and taste of food to stimulate your senses and your passions. So maybe create a lush tray of aphrodisiacs to sample in bed. Or to feed each other. Or to slowly undress while you sample and feed each others.

Here are the top aphrodisiacs:

  • Red wine. Ahhhh. It relaxes and lowers inhibitions. Yes, and it contains antioxidants and boosts blood flow.
  • Chocolate. Ever the food of passion, chocolate contains a “love chemical” that releases dopamine in the brain. It also contains an element of serotonin, which produces feelings of euphoria and well-being. Make yours dark and creamy.
  • Pomegranate. Also full of antioxidants, not to mention beautiful and red and luscious.
  • Avocado.  Pairs of these pear-shaped fruits hanging on the tree reminded the Aztecs of testicles. Thus, they were banned by Spanish priests. You can enjoy these subtly hued and creamy fruits without guilt, however.
  • Oysters. Silver, slippery, full of zinc (cranks up testosterone production) and decadent.
  • Chilies. Some say that the heat-inducing capsaicin in red chilies increases blood flow and stimulates nerve endings. No argument there, just take it easy. Fiery red chilies on the sex tray would look passionate, at least.
We’ll give you some time to, um, digest these tips for now. More sensual suggestions in the next post.
October 15, 2012


NAMS ›   NPWH ›   sexuality ›   Under the Covers ›  

Friends in Florida

The MiddlesexMD team and I have just come back from representing what we do at two conferences in Orlando. The first was the gathering of the North American Menopause Society; the second was the Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health.

These events are both exhausting and exhilarating. It’s great, as a medical professional, to learn from the presentations by my colleagues on topics I’m dealing with every day, whether in my office or by responding to questions on or researching products for MiddlesexMD. Both physicians and nurse practitioners are enthusiastic about what we offer—a safe place for both solid, reliable information about sex after 40 and private purchases of products that can help address changes many of us face. We met other people who share our mission of making sure women know that they can continue (or start!) to have comfortable, satisfying sex, no matter what their age.

We’ve been doing these events for a couple of years now, in a variety of places. We’re reminded—as I certainly know, investing in my continuing education—that medical professionals always have things to learn—and are eager to do so. They’re surprisingly up front about wanting information for themselves as well as for their patients. We love the women who come back to our booth on day two of a conference, having discussed their sex lives over dinner the night before! And we’re also touched by the woman who steps away to call her husband before she chooses a vibrator. We love to see all that conversation about our sexuality!

There are, of course, a lot of professionals at these conferences—people who talk about body parts and processes all day long. But we’re especially happy to talk to hotel employees who happen by, who may have fewer opportunities to have their questions about sexuality answered. We met Linda, who picked up information for her friend who’s just recovering from a hysterectomy, and Tony, who was deputized to pick up information for his coworkers to share with their midlife wives. Our fellow exhibitors are also welcoming; we exchange information about how we support women and are often able to share resources.

As some of our new relationships develop over the next few months, I’ll share details here. For now, just know there’s a whole community of people out there who are ready to help you maintain your sexual health. And we at MiddlesexMD are pleased to be a part!

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