In my late 40s, when I discovered my libido was on the wane, along with my hormones, I searched for a "fix." I read dozens of sex therapy books, wrote countless articles at my elephant journal column about my increasingly sluggish sex life, and even at one point journaled a 30-day daily sex challenge to see if I could jump-start my desire to a level remotely near my husband's.
Now, as a 52-year-old woman who has "been there, done that" when it comes to every sex variation possible (kink, same-sex sex, sex toys), I sometimes get a weary feeling when I read hugely popular articles on how to spice-up, jump-start, and repair flagging sexual activity. Here is why:
The underlying assumption never questioned in any of these articles, or in the culture at large, is the assumption that a good love relationship must have a healthy sexual component -- ideally, if you read Cosmo, a sexually sizzling one. Lack of sex is being treated like a nutritional deficiency to be resolved by more doses of hormones, drugs, and therapy sessions.
Often the subtle message being conveyed by sex therapist writers is that we must have a "sex life" rather than a life with sex (or without it). It's the difference between identifying as a "sexual being" or being sexual. The latter is about choice. The first is about compulsion and how we self-identify. (That I was a sexual being was surely true during my fertility years. But post-menopause, that is the last way I would identify myself).
I'd like to see a sex or relationship therapist, for once, champion the possibility that celibacy or infrequent sex is not a pathology. Because, of course, there are times in life where celibacy happens to be what is happening for various reasons.
For instance, menopause can be a factor for women (lower desire, decreased arousal, painful intercourse) or prostate surgery for men (that can involve erectile dysfunction). Both scenarios can lead a couple toward a more celibate union. Sometimes, too, in a spiritual awakening there is a natural draw (which looks like a drop in desire) to conserve vital force energy rather than expend it through orgasm.
A telling factor about how the culture pushes the sex life thing: When I went to a hormone clinic two years ago to discuss perhaps doing hormone replacement therapy, the doctor asked me: "Are you unhappy with your lowered libido?"
I said "No, why?"
She replied: "90 percent of the time women come in for HRT because their male partners are unhappy with the changes she is going through." In effect, in order to be lovable, a menopausal woman has to repair her sex drive, at a time when nature naturally is phasing it out.
Despite the societal thrust to make sure we are all having a rip-roaring sex life, sex and emotional well-being can be uncoupled -- they are not necessarily linked, as the cultural imperative would have us believe. Simply, the culture reveres sex and orgasms as if these two "gods" must be worshipped. What about the celebration of celibacy as an equally healthy option? I'd love to see sex therapy include celibacy on the menu of choices for a couple instead of diagnosing a non-sexually active couple as needing a remedy.
Of course, if one partner is miserable with an infrequent or non-sex life, then that needs to be addressed (perhaps an open relationship as an option, or other avenues for intimacy, such as cuddling and massage). But there are couples who are happily non-sexual -- and yes, these are mostly couples who've had children already and are well past the stage of wanting more (because let's face it, hormones do play a big role in sexual desire levels).
Finally, articles like this recent well-written but predictable hit "Doing Your Partner and Letting Your Partner Do You" that suggest zapping the sex life with a dom-sub twist can get things revving short term. But that too, will eventually become old news, not to mention the toll of the neurochemical 'sub drop' on a relationship that goes deep into the pleasure-pain games.
For a change, I'd like to see a sex therapist write about the upside of sex sabbaticals and how well-being can coexist in a union without the focus being all about "a healthy sex life."
In the meantime, I'll keep writing hugely unpopular appeals like this one that that question the idea that a deficiency of sex must be treated by a diet of more sex. Rather, what if times of celibacy can be an option for growth -- both as a couple and as an individual? What if in encountering who we are without a sex prescription, we discover who we can become beyond our habitual and culturally reinforced notions of how things should look?
It's in this spirit of discovery, I'm giving myself permission to step outside the sex-life box. I'll let you know where that takes me. (And I don't anticipate it's a monastery!)
St. John’s sister island St. Thomas might have the shopping and cruise ships, but if you’re looking for pristine white-sand beaches, natural beauty and quiet charm, St. John is the place. Over half the island is national park, which means lush greenery and hiking trails, as well as historic ruins from the island’s colonial past. Where To Stay and Dine: For an eco-friendly family adventure, try the Maho Bay campground, where pretty tent-cottages sit right near water’s edge and the resort has a load of daily activities including yoga, snorkeling and even glassblowing. The more luxurious will want to stay at the Westin St. John Resort & Villas with its beautiful rooms, spa and tennis courts. For Sunday brunch Ms. Lucy’s is an island must--be sure to try the conch fritters and callaloo soup. Where To Play: Trunk Bay, considered one of the prettiest beaches in the Caribbean, is the place to head to for snorkeling. For shopping, go to the artisan shops and boutiques in Mongoose Junction. Hikers will want to head to the Reef Bay Trail to see the petroglyphs left over from the island's Amerindians, as well as ruins of sugar plantations.
The under-the-radar "Gold Coast" town of Delray Beach is bursting with arts and culture, a blossoming restaurant scene, and wide, sandy beaches. Where To Stay and Dine: The sprawling, Mediterranean-style Delray Beach Marriott has two heated pools and spacious rooms with sofa beds perfect for traveling with a large family. Dine at one of its acclaimed restaurants such as O'Grady's Lounge or the Seacrest Grill. Where To Play: The area of Delray Beach is within walking distance of museums and ballet-and-jazz-performing spaces. In Old School Square, ride the carousel in-season, or take in exhibitions at the Cornell Museum of Art & American Culture. A few minutes drive from downtown is the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens where kids can enjoy the exhibition, Japan Through the Eyes of a Child.
A desert oasis with a mixed personality, Cabo is at the tip of Baja California Sur. Cabo San Lucas is party central, where every day feels like a holiday. Its mellower sister city, San José del Cabo, is popular with the Hollywood elite for serious R&R. Where To Stay and Dine: You'll have to drag the kids away from the kids' club and the lagoon-style pools at the all-inclusive Barcelo Los Cabos Palace Deluxe, which specializes in making families feel at home. The Mexican menus feature guacamole made at your table and served in a molcajete (stone mortar and pestle). Where To Play: There are plenty of beaches for sunbathing, but the ocean here is notoriously choppy and unfit for casual swimmers; therefore, the pool culture is alive and well. The area also boasts day-trips to nearby beaches, golf courses, and snorkel sites.
Though still sunny, winter brings light jacket weather to San Diego, famous for its zoo and large U.S. Navy and Marine military community. Where To Stay and Dine: A wallet-friendly home base is the 115-room, 80-year old La Valencia Hotel, in the middle of downtown La Jolla, with easy access to the two-mile boardwalk fronting the Pacific. Before heading to Point Loma, see the online camera trained on the line at Phil's BBQ, where diners say it's worth the wait for the price-is-right mesquite-grilled ribs and crispy onion rings. Where To Play: There are tons of family-friendly activities, including whale-watching and seal-watching at SeaWorld and the Birch Aquarium, imagination-stretching at LEGOLAND, and, of course, a visit to the San Diego Zoo, home to 3,700 animals and 700,000 plants. For more activities in San Diego, visit our City Guide.
St. George's is called the "Spice Island" because of the nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves that grow abundantly in the island setting. This Caribbean beauty is thriving again after being struck by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Where To Stay and Dine: The all-suite Calabash Hotel & Villas sits on eight acres of gardens facing L'Anse Aux Épines beach. English chef Gary Rhodes's restaurant at the hotel uses touches of spice in dishes like dorado with ginger-butter sauce and vanilla and nutmeg custard brioche. Where To Play: Busy St. George's Market in the center of town is a must for buying freshly dried herbs and pungent spices. At the Gouyave Nutmeg Cooperative, women process nutmeg and mace for export; watch their nimble hands work at unbelievable speed.
The fiftieth state is all-exotic, but Oahu is comfortingly all-American. It's a fantastic and fun location for families, and the weather couldn't be more enjoyable. Where To Stay and Dine: Hotels here can be quite expensive, but the Aqua chain, with some lanai (patios) and kitchen-equipped rooms and suites in its 14 locations around Honolulu, are made for families. With the savings -- rooms can be had for less than $100 a night -- you can splurge on shave ice, a sorbet-like ice cream that's an island favorite. Where To Play: The legendary beaches of Waikiki beckon surfers to take lessons at the Hans Hedemann Surf school. Head to Oahu's north shore for educational hula shows at the Polynesian Cultural Center.
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