"Hope Springs," the cringingly funny mid-life comedy about a marriage that has lost its sexual spark, seems to have struck a chord with audiences in its opening weekend. It's a departure for the movie industry, which usually creates the impression that everyone is having mind-blowing sex with gorgeous partners, but it more closely tracks what's really happening behind many couples' closed doors.
Even though we live in one of the most sexualized cultures ever, Americans are having less sex than they were in the 1950's. In fact, according to the American Medical Association (AMA), 40 million adults in relationships are not having sex at all, and a third of all women report a lack of interest in sex. No wonder people have resonated with Meryl Streep's and Tommy Lee Jones' characters as they try to restore intimacy in what has become a sexless marriage.
As a practitioner of Chinese medicine specializing in reproduction and sexual health, I've talked with thousands of people over the years about their sex lives. So I've heard over and over again about how much sex people are not having, how they just don't feel much like it, how they are too tired or too stressed to even think about it. But I also hear, with equal fervor from women like Kay, Meryl Streep's character in "Hope Springs," how much they want to want sex. So I'm always happy to be able to tell them there are simple solutions available, and that the ancient Taoist founders of Chinese medicine wrote it all down thousands of years ago. Their wisdom offers modern couples key insights about how to want -- and have -- great sex.
That's what my upcoming book "Sex Again: Recharging Your Libido" is all about, but in a nutshell: the Taoists understood that good sex is important to a person's health and happiness; that good sex is important to the health of a relationship; and that good sex always involves the mutual flow of energy between partners, with both people giving and receiving it. And that all those things are themselves intimately entwined. If sex isn't creating energetic connection, and powering both you and the relationship, then over time it is likely to drop off. As in, over a cliff.
But having sex again -- good sex -- can have you back scaling the heights. My single best piece of advice to anyone who wants to want to have sex, but hasn't really been feeling it, is to go ahead and do it anyway. Pretend you are in a sneaker commercial and just do it. I don't mean to sound glib, and I know it seems easier said than done. But there's real Chinese medicine behind the advice -- and a proven track record amongst my patients that it works. The Chinese medicine philosophy is that having sex creates connection, moves stagnant energy and restores balance -- both within you, and between partners. Balance, connection, and flowing energy are what you need to feel your sexual desire. In other words, having sex makes you want more sex.
Assuming it's good sex. And the Taoists have that covered, too. They offer plenty of meditations, positions and techniques designed to ensure the sex is good. As "Hope Springs" proclaims, "Sometimes to keep the magic, you need to learn a few tricks." The following is just one example. It's an exercise designed by the Taoists specifically to move stagnant sexual energy in the body, circulate sexual energy from the pelvis through the rest of the body, and find a place of balance from which to make a sexual connection with someone else. I call my simplified version The Loop. It combines breathing with visualization into a meditative practice.
Practicing The Loop will help you tap into your own sexual energy if you've been out of touch with it, and help you cultivate more of it. And it will enhance sexual pleasure. It is also, speaking very practically, a great way to get started, especially if, like the couple in "Hope Springs," your drought has been long.
Sit comfortably with your eyes closed. Imagine a shallow bowl nestled inside your pelvis -- a bowl filled with warm oil. Now imagine a tube or straw running along your spine. Inhale, and as you do, imagine the warm oil coursing up through the tube, as if led by your breath, moving from your pelvic area up to the very top of your head. Hold your breath in for a count of three (or five, as you get more experienced). Then exhale, imagining the warm oil flowing down, along a line in the center of the front of your body, from your head through your mouth, across your chest, down through your abdomen, and back into the bowl in your pelvis. Hold your breath out as the bowl finishes filling, then after three to five seconds begin again with an inhale. The idea is to create a continuous loop -- and run through it about six times.
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