A healthy sex life is all about communication.
[dropcap]word[/dropcap]Many times, even in the most secure relationships, sex can be a difficult subject to discuss. But to facilitate a healthy sex life, communication and mutual respect are crucial.
“Both partners’ needs should be met in a respectful way,” said Fred Wyand, director of communications at American Sexual Health Association and the National Cervical Cancer Coalition. The association serves as a bridge organization between patients and providers to promote sexual health.
Sexual relationships work best when each partner communicates clearly what is wanted. It’s not about making demands or manipulating your partner; it’s about respecting boundaries. Whether it’s a short-term fling, or a long-term marriage, it’s very important that you like, respect and trust your partner and that you feel liked, respected and trusted as well.
“It’s not easy to talk about sex,” Wyand said. “If you’ve tried everything, and you come to an impasse, it makes sense to bring in a relationship counselor.”
Emotional wellbeing is important in a healthy sexual relationship; however, the physical side is also important to consider. It’s easy to forget or just forgo protection in the heat of the moment, so it’s important to plan ahead and talk about what type of protection is best. Sexually transmitted diseases [STDs] are prevalent.
“Who gets STDs?” Wyand asked. “It cuts across all demographic lines.” Between 2007 and 2011, chlamydia infections among Americans 65 and older increased by 31 percent, and syphilis by 52 percent. Those numbers are similar to STD trends in the 20- to 24-year-old age group.
Wyand said HPV, human papillomavirus, is most common, and three-fourths of all sexually active people have it. HPV is so prevalent that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it affects about 79 million Americans, and about 14 million people become infected each year. In fact, HPV is so common that most sexually active men and women will contract at least one type at some point.
“It’s the most common STD I see,” said Dr. E.J. Jones, board certified obstetrician and gynecologist. “We screen all women between the ages of 30 and 65 during routine annual exams.”
As couples age, there are several issues that could impede a healthy sex life. It’s important to consider your general health and understand the treatments available.
Jones said when someone is in poor health, nothing works well. Getting plenty of rest, exercise and eating a healthful diet can help improve overall health and lead to more enjoyable sex.
“We hear endlessly about erectile dysfunction, for which there are treatments,” Jones said. “In aging women, issues could include a general low libido and atrophy, or vaginal dryness.”
Although vaginal dryness is a natural part of aging, there are treatments, such as an estrogen cream or laser therapy.
“It’s normal for couples to naturally slow down in middle age,” Jones said, “but I see a lot of younger women in my office who have a waning interest in sex. [A decreased interest in sex] could possibly be a side effect of medications, which could happen at any age.
“[On the other hand,] expecting some quick action from your mate at 10 o’clock at night isn’t always a good option,” Jones said. With all of the pressures of everyday life, sex sometimes becomes a low priority. “Plan a romantic getaway, or send the kids to Grandma’s.”
Discuss any issues, concerns or changes with your doctor. Jones said if your low libido is attributed to medications, they can be re-evaluated and possibly adjusted.
“In couples, some of the expectations of sex are different, and that can be a problem,” Jones said. “Everyone has their baseline.”
Society usually dictates at what point in a new relationship a couple should be having intercourse. But what society expects and what an individual expects may be at opposite ends of the spectrum. By clearly expressing what you want and listening to what your partner wants — not just at that moment, but in the future — you will either foster a healthy relationship or stop an unhealthy one from continuing.
Successful relationships are based on trust, and communication is key, Wyand said. Trusting your partner creates a safe environment. Feeling safe from disease, demands and manipulation creates a foundation for comfortable, relaxed and healthy sex.