January 09th, 2013

A new year is unfolding – a blank page for creativity, love, passion, laughter, joy, new friendships and some exhilarating adventures.

For those of you who missed my last entry, I am writing a series of articles examining the complexity and benefits of sustaining an active sex life when you’re facing life’s challenges, including in my case physical illness – my battle with breast cancer and the subsequent treatment. Sex is just one element of the rich fabric of a successful relationship, but it is an extremely important part that we need to embrace.

We’re always looking for the magic potion that will increase our health, make us happier and provide longevity. A lot of the effects that sexual intimacy provides are directly associated with such benefits. In fact, studies show that couples who are regularly intimate report being happier, healthier and generally more satisfied.

There is an old saying that states that if you put a penny in a jar each time you make love during the first year of a long relationship, and then take a penny out each time you make love after the first year, that you will never empty the jar. I think this is a sad prediction, but from speaking with many friends and acquaintances, I realize that for many this is the reality.

For many of us, including those dealing with major life challenges, and those in longer-term relationships past the early animal- attraction phase – the tendency is to wait until we are relaxed and stress free before we will allow ourselves to even think about sex. Ironically, we are missing the point that sexual intimacy is the ideal natural stress releaser and relaxant. Some of it is just chemical. Studies show that during sexual intercourse the chemicals oxytocin (called ‘the love hormone’) and vasopressin are both released and increase the bond between a couple while relieving stress and anxiety and evoking feelings of contentment and security.

I learned this first hand as I went through my cancer treatment and my husband and I – newlyweds at the time – committed to maintain an active and deeply intimate sex life throughout. It was important to maintain a strong bond with my husband during this difficult time, and also making love with my husband helped me to realize that I was still desirable, beautiful and sexy despite what my body was going through.

During my journey through chemotherapy and radiation treatment, a good friend of mine came over with a book entitled 365 Sex Positions. She thought it was a fun way to distract me from my situation. The book became a focal point of many giggly nights with my husband. I’m proud to say that it took us almost thirty pages in to find a position that we hadn’t yet tried! And even when I was too sick or tired to make love, picking out fun positions was something to look forward to. We also had fun laughing and scratching our heads at some of the more absurdly acrobatic ones that may be better left to Cirque de Soleil performers. All this created visual imagery of pure joy and freedom from my weary body.

We have the power to create a heightened sense of intimacy in the upcoming year with our partners. It’s not easy. Like anything worthwhile it requires hard work. It’s like going to the gym: once you fall out of the routine it’s difficult to get back. But once you do, the benefits are worth it.

I have a challenge that my husband and I are undertaking that I’d like to issue to you as well. Let’s do this together. Going back to the adage of the jar of coins – let’s change the rules: let’s fill up the jar. For every sexual or deeply sensual encounter that you experience -it can be as simple as prolonged hand holding, cuddling or hugging while gazing into each other’s eyes, massaging each other, or a full out make out session – put some money in a jar (you decide the amount), and at the end of the year or mid-year, or bi-monthly, depending on your goal, empty the jar and celebrate. It’s a great way to save up to treat yourself, and at the same time build intimacy have fun and relieve stress. Your treat could be a trip, or going out to dinner periodically, or a concert or show. For us we’re planning a vacation at the end of the year. Jamaica seems to be at the forefront so far, but depending how amorous things get we may make it to Europe. Just four days into 2013 and Europe definitely seems to be plausible.

With the impulsiveness of life the power of self love continues to provide a spiritual awakening for me. It provides an opportunity not to get hung up on all the war wounds that my body has accumulated but instead delight in the beauty of touch, love, intimacy and laughter as I continue on my journey of health and self awareness.

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