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Health & Sex

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Frequently Asked Questions About Sex and Relationships

  • What is meant by a "healthy" sexual relationship?
  • Answer:

    A healthy sexual relationship is different for every couple because every individual has differing sexual needs. While the activities involved in each sexual relationship can vary widely, in general, "healthy" sex should encompass the following:

    • Both partners should feel equally pleased with the activities.
    • Neither partner should feel forced into doing something they don’t want to do.
    • The right to say “no” to sex at any time, for any reason.
    • Mutual respect before and after sex.
    • Neither party suffers a loss of self-esteem.
    • Trust exists as well as openness about sexual history and current activities.

  • Is there anything you can do to change or increase your sex drive?
  • Answer:

    Experts say the answer lies not so much in what your sex drive is, but whether or not it has reached its potential. While everyone’s level of desire is individual, it can also differ with each partner, and vary within a relationship, increasing or decreasing over time.

    Age can also alter sex drive, in men and women, and is usually linked to a decline in sex hormones. Moreover, there are a number of emotional and physical conditions, as well as medications, including some antidepressants, that can put a damper on desire.

    If a physical problem causes sex drive to plummet -- such as erection difficulties in men, or painful intercourse in women -- and treatment is received, desire usually increases. If emotions are getting in the way, talking to a counselor or sex therapist can help. And sometimes, sex drive will recharge on its own, as circumstances in your life change -- such as the introduction of a new sex partner.

  • Are you ever “too old” to make love?
  • Answer:

    Providing that both you and your partner are in good physical health, experts say both men and women can continue to have sex to any age. That said, the aging process itself, along with many health conditions, can make having sex increasingly difficult in later years.

    However, even if intercourse is not possible, remember that physical intimacy can take many forms, and that sometimes getting older really does mean getting wiser about the many ways in which partners can bring each other pleasure.

  • Can too much masturbation hurt your sex life?
  • Answer:

    As long as masturbation doesn't comprise the whole of your sex life, and does not take precedence over intimate relationships with a partner, then no, it's not generally believed to be harmful. That said, it's important to look at what your masturbation activities include. Is it just a mind fantasy, or are you using pornography, Internet videos or photos, or even online or telephone sex to increase your pleasure -- and does this upset your partner? Also important to consider: How much of your time do masturbation activities occupy and does it keep you from other things in your life, including having sex with a partner? If so, it can be problematic in many respects.

  • What is sex therapy, and what happens in a sex therapy session?
  • Answer:

    Sex therapy is a form of relationship counseling that focuses specifically on intimacy and sexual problems. A sex therapist can be a psychiatrist, psychologist, a family or marriage counselor, or sometimes even a clergyman, as long as they are specifically trained in this area. As with all forms of therapy, there are specific programs designed to help couples and individuals work through their sex-related issues. The role of a sex therapist is not to change someone's sex drive or orientation, but to help them maximize their potential for satisfaction and happiness. Generally, sex therapy is talk therapy. However, in a very small number of cases, surrogacy may be involved. But note, this is not common and should never be forced upon a patient, who should also not be encouraged to believe that surrogacy is their only treatment option.

  • What is the definition of “sex addiction” -- and what does it entail?
  • Answer:

    Sex addiction is described by the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH) as, “a persistent and escalating pattern of sexual behaviors acted out despite increasingly negative consequences to self or others.” In other words, it is an overwhelming need for sex, the pursuit of which frequently takes precedence over all other things in life, including work and relationships. Sex addicts frequently engage in risky behaviors, including not only unprotected sex, but also seeking stimulation in dangerous situations. Behavior is usually self-justified, so most sex addicts don’t view their actions as problematic, though they frequently feel a sense of shame or guilt after indulging their addiction.

    Behaviors associated with sex addiction include: compulsive masturbation; multiple extramarital affairs; anonymous sex partners or strings of one night stands; consistent use of pornography; consistent need for phone or computer sex; continuous use of prostitutes; sexual exhibitionism (such as “flashing”); voyeurism (watching others have sex); stalking a sex partner.

  • Is having cyber sex considered unhealthy -- and does it constitute “cheating” on a spouse, even if you never meet your cybersex or phone sex partner?
  • Answer:

    If you find yourself online trolling through sex sites, you’re not alone. Studies show that “sex” is the most frequently searched word online, and some 15% of the 57 million Americans who log on each day are visiting pornographic sites. For most it’s a harmless recreation.

    However, a recent study published in the journal Professional Psychology found that those who spend 11 hours or more a week on Internet sex sites show clear signs of psychological distress, frequently admitting their online sex pursuits interfere with other aspects of their life. These folks also run the risk of dependence with an ever-increasing need for more time devoted to cyber sex.

    As to the cheating aspect, in the eyes of at least some experts, having any type of sexual activity outside your relationship is wrong. Others take a more liberal view, believing that as long as your partner is not bothered by your cyber affairs, no harm is done. However, all experts agree that when cyber sex replaces or interferes with intimate human relationships, then it represents a problem much bigger than “cheating.” Also be aware that frequently cybersex escalates to “real” sex when one of the partners may push for a meeting.

  • Is it necessary to take “safe sex” precautions when you are having sex with just one partner -- or with someone you know well?
  • Answer:

    If both you and your partner are totally monogamous -- meaning you have no physical sexual contact with another person outside of the relationship -- and you have both tested negative for HIV, and other STDs, then it is not necessary to practice “safe sex” in terms of disease transmission.

    If, however, the person with whom you are having sex is having relations with even one other person, or even if you suspect that person might be, then yes, safe sex practices are mandatory. The best protection against sexually transmitted disease is correct and regular use of a condom, a fresh one used for every encounter. Be aware, however, that some sexually transmitted diseases, such as genital herpes, can be contracted from the skin around the genitals, even when no obvious signs of disease are present.

  • Is there anything a person can do to change their sexual orientation -- or is someone born “straight” or “gay”?
  • Answer:

    A subject of great debate for many years, there remains no proven answer. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles in the issue. Scientific consensus is that most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation. A growing number of researchers are leaning towards the idea that we all possess at least the possibility to be attracted to the same sex, and that these desires may surface or recede during different times of our life. There is also considerable evidence that sexual preferences can change over time -- and that earlier attractions to one sex may be just as real as current attractions to a different sex. While some say this is just a case of being a “late bloomer” -- someone who never recognized their true sexual identity -- others believe that changes in sexual orientation can and do occur.

  • Do aphrodisiacs really work? If so, which ones have the best track record?
  • Answer:

    Since almost the dawn of time, people have bestowed sexual powers on various foods, plants, scents, drugs, and devices. Among the most legendary are oysters (they do contain lots of sperm-friendly zinc) and green M&M's, which has no basis in reality! Legendary is the use of Spanish fly or cantharides. Made from dried beetle remains, its reaction is linked to an irritation of the urogenital tract, causing sex organs to become engorged with blood during sexual excitement. But Spanish fly is also a poison that can burn the mouth and throat, lead to urinary infections and scarring, and sometimes death.

    More recently, studies at Chicago's Smell and Taste Research Foundation found the smell of black licorice and doughnuts increased penile blood flow by 32%, while lavender and pumpkin pie boosted response to 40%. In women, vaginal blood flow was increased by smelling a combination of cucumbers and candy, while the smell of cherries, barbecue meat, and men’s colognes caused a decrease. Some researchers however, debate the integrity of these findings.

    In animal studies a substance known as yohimbine, obtained from the bark of an African tree, had results that the FDA has called "promising." But the FDA maintains there is no conclusive evidence that this, or any aphrodisiac, works on people.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on August 25, 2014

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