Sex affects, and is affected by, our health, our personal belief systems and our relationship with those we love most. This interplay makes sex not only a pivotal player in any intimate relationship—but also one of the most talked about relationship topics within our society. At the same time, sexual intimacy is rarely a subject discussed with much depth.
This week, The Daily Key strives to break the boundaries of the sex conversation. We are going deeper with discussions on how the relationship with our health, our beliefs, and our cultural upbringing affects our sexuality as individuals, and as a society.
To launch the discussion, Ojanae Ellison asked integrative health specialist, Dr. Lisa Avila, and the belief coach, Wendy Watson-Hallowell, their professional opinion on how sex affects our relationship with intimacy, and with our loved ones.
In your opinion, does a person need to be physically and emotionally healthy in order to engage in a healthy sex life?
Dr. Avila: I think that physical and emotional health lends to a better sex life, but are not necessarily mandatory. This is in part because taking care of our bodies and our minds it is a lifelong process for us as dynamic beings. There is no point where we have finished the work. Whether discussing mental, physical, or sexual health, it is a journey and not a destination.
People need to work towards being healthy in all realms, it is true. The bigger issue of sexual health, however, is that people need to judge themselves less for their primal drives and desires.
For example, if you were to say: “I am not having healthy sex because I still have not achieved A, B, C in other departments,” I don’t necessarily agree with that. However, if you have a sexual proclivity that is not considered “standard,” and you have not emotionally dealt with or accepted it, then there could be a lot of shame for you around sex until you do accept it, which is something I see in my office quite often.
Do you believe that our perception of sex affects our intimate relationships, as well as our personal development and growth?
Dr. Avila: Caroline Myss said, and I agree, that sexual issues are nine times out of ten spiritual issues, and spiritual issues are nine times out of ten sexual issues. I think that point is a good one to keep in mind when working towards healthy sexual expression.
I think it is also worth noting that we could be more careful judging ourselves and all of our behaviors as healthy or not. The most “wild” sexual behavior can still be healthy if both parties say yes without coercion.
Important note: It goes without saying… but a child, someone mentally ill, a person incapacitated due to substance over indulgence, and an animal cannot adequately consent—so those are always NOs. Also consent becomes unclear for people in situations with extreme power differentials, where saying no can cost a job or a grade.
Can people engage in emotionless sex and still have it be considered healthy, or does all [healthy] sex involve emotion on some level?
Dr. Avila: I have not seen casual sex situations to work long term, for either women or for men, because feelings of attachment invariably develop , but I have seen sex one time with someone that you can connect to in the moment be a wonderful re-boot for both sexes. It gets emotionally dicey when it repeats with the same person, or if multiple casual sex encounters are strung together in order to avoid intimacy. I do think healthy sex involves some level of connection to the person, although it might not be true-love-forever and instead be even the emotion of “I respect something about you”
Is sex necessary in order for a romantic relationship to be considered healthy?
Dr. Avila: I think some level of physical intimacy defines the line between platonic and non-platonic, but that it does not always have to require penetration or intercourse. So no, sexual intercourse is not required but some level of physical intimacy separates the romance from the friendship.
Wendy: Romantic love is defined by Wikipedia as a relative term. The generally accepted definition is that romantic love distinguishes moments and situations within intimate relationships to an individual as contributing to a significant relationship connection.
First, let’s re-define the word intimacy. What if intimacy really meant ‘In To Me You See’? That changes the meaning of intimacy from a physical one to an emotional one. When we are willing to be, honor, and express our authentic selves, (good bad and ugly) in our relationships, we have the opportunity to connect on an emotional (energetic) level. This is often much more profound than the connection we experience just through our physicality.
That deep emotional connection can prompt us to make some type of physical contact, yet it does not always need to be or end in a sexual experience. Many couples have experienced a decline in their desire for sex, yet their emotional intimacy creates a loving and affectionate partnership that is obvious and lovely to be around.
How do you feel people’s childhood knowledge/teachings of sex and the sexual experience affects their perception of what a healthy sex life looks like?
Wendy: As children, in our first 7 years of life, our brains are mostly operating in ‘theta’. This is a highly suggestive brain wave state, and we have very little filtering capability at this age. As a result, we tend to become programmed by everything we have heard, seen and experienced and those early experiences forms the foundation for our view of ourselves and the world.
If a child does not witness a healthy sexual relationship in the home that includes physical affection, emotional intimacy, and age-appropriate boundaries, they may reject part or all of the sexual experience for themselves later in life.
For instance, if a child can feel that her mother feels powerless and afraid with her father when he is expressing sexual energy, then that child may connect feelings of powerless and fear with sex. This can lead to frigidity/impotence, or a strong inclination towards S&M activities.
If a child is exposed too early to sexual interactions, then that child may try and compete thinking that they are supposed to be sexual as well to stay connected to others. This can lead to frustration and a seeking of early sexual experiences as a way to feel included or loved.
If they are told that sex is just to make babies, or that men or women hate sex, they may become confused, inhibited, or disassociated around their own natural sexual feelings based on the the ‘rules’ they have learned to express those feelings.
What is your perception on how our relationship with sex affects (and is affected by) our overall health and wellbeing?