If you are a woman struggling with physical intimacy, you are not alone. According to Dr. Rachel S. Rubin, a urologist and nationally-recognized sexual medicine expert in Washington, DC, most of us females face a bedroom dysfunction at some point in our lives, no matter our sexual orientation. Problems include (but are not limited to) zero libido; low arousal; pain and burning with penetration; orgasm challenges; weak or overly tight pelvic floor muscles; clitoral hypersensitivity; overactive nerves in the vaginal vestibule; and thinning, drying vaginal tissues. At the age of 48, not long ago, I finally admitted to myself that I had every one of these conditions.
My problems were not new though. Since my teen years, Eros had always felt broken to me, probably related to having been molested as a child. All my adult romantic relationships were crushed under the weight of how fraught sex was. In my early forties, however, I met an incredible guy who became my husband. Immediately, my problems worsened (I was now in peri-menopause). Desperate to save my marriage, I embarked upon a sexual healing odyssey that encompassed five years, fifteen kinds of healers, and thirty varied sexual healing modalities⎯including sex therapy and private Tantra lessons, where a tantric mistress showed me my G-spot by reaching right in.
I cured myself with the knowledge I gained. Then I became a Sexuality Educator and Sexual Healing Coach so I could help others suffering in silence like I was, or just needing basic information that can be, ridiculously, hard to find. Below are five strategies for sexual healing drawn from my personal experience as well as my work with clients.
1. Schedule a Pleasure Hour.
A Pleasure Hour is 60 minutes devoted to delightful sensations. If done regularly (I recommend once, weekly), this private time rewires your erotic nervous system for YES. These are not masturbation sessions though (there’s no goal of orgasm here). Think of it as carved out time to heal, discover, and celebrate your most intimate self⎯with no pressure to perform. You could spend your hour discovering new erogenous zones, working with a dildo (or dilator, see #4), or enjoying a safe erotic space that doesn’t trigger you. If feeling sexy seems remote right now, try lying in bed eating gelato! Any delightful experience, repeated, will build pleasure pathways in your brain and body. Don’t worry if 60 minutes are not available right now. Try 30 minutes. Or 10.
2. Throw Away Your Sex Script⎯And Improvise.
Long-term partnerships, too often, fall prey to staid patterns of lovemaking, which can dampen desire. When we throw menopause into the mix⎯with its potential for painful sex, frequent infections, low libido, and elusive climaxes⎯it’s a wonder anyone over 50 gets down at all! One way to reawaken a sleeping, or malfunctioning, love life is to re-conceptualize it. Try replacing a set sequence (for instance, a little oral followed by some insertion) with a loosely-structured improv that makes room for intimate moisturizers, buckets of lube, dildos, dilators, vibrators, Kegel exercisers, and lots of laughter⎯in any order. If you sleep with men, you might also include male erectile aids, like Viagra or a vacuum erection pump. By letting go of what sex should look like, you’ll find what sex wants to be. Just mutual pleasure.
3. Be Your Full (En)gorgeous Self.
Guys are not the only ones with erections. We gals have our own swelling amazement in the genital area, encompassing the clitoris (external and internal) and vestibular bulbs (these hug the opening of the vagina, like two big parentheses). Applying pressure to spongy areas on the topside of the vagina (G-spot zone) and the bottom (above the perineum, but inside) also spikes arousal. And sky-high turn-on is what you want. This heightened engorgement prevents (or lessens) some pain issues, keeps the natural lube factory working, stokes desire, makes coitus (or any penetration) comfy, and it’s really the only way to climax. Sexologist Betty Dodson, whose Bodysex workshop I attended as part of my journey, says women need 20 to 30 minutes of quality stimulation to get really “hard.” Have you heard the slang term for a semi-erect penis? A chubby. Make sure you’re not settling for a chubby.
4. Use It Or Lose It.
When it comes to sexual recovery for women our age, regular penetration (of any kind) is our best buddy because this activity mitigates narrowing of the vaginal canal, a symptom of hormonal changes that can complicate any bedroom problem. If closure has already occurred (you’ll know this has happened if putting anything inside hurts), Dr. Rubin recommends seeing your doctor, who can prescribe “safe, FDA approved, local hormone therapies to strengthen already damaged tissue.” Rubin also suggests working with a pelvic floor physical therapist. These miracle workers (I can attest to their magic) address atrophy and other issues, like incontinence and prolapse. Your doc or PT might additionally want you to recondition your genitalia at home with exercises and dilators, which are dildos in graduated sizes. The Pleasure Hour is great for these purposes, or any method that improves comprehensive hooha health.
5. Create a Pleasure Plan.
If the thought of getting sexually unstuck feels overwhelming or hopeless, try thinking of your healing as a project⎯in other words, frame your progress as a long-term endeavor unfolding over time. I call this approach, with its commitment to full recovery, the Pleasure Plan. To get started, for my single friends, use your Pleasure Hour as a sensuality laboratory, searching for an activity (or series of them) you love. Stay with this joyousness for a while (at least two sessions) until you begin craving something new; you’ll experiment with this next, and so on. It’s also possible to give your plan more structure by making a long list of options, like I did (say, a belly dancing class, a new doctor who specializes in menopause, and a book on rekindling desire). If you’re coupled, you’ll proceed as above; however, you’ll also bring your lover into the decision-making, ideally. The Pleasure Plan shifts the context for couples⎯from “I’m the one with a messed up problem” to “We’re working as a team to create wonderful lovemaking.” Whether you’re unattached or mated, don’t be afraid to see a sex therapist if you need assistance with this intimate growth. The field of sex therapy was invented for just this reason.
Sexual healing is possible by putting in place a few new practices. Doing just that, I not only resurrected my marriage, I found many shades of courage. I hope you will claim your right to pleasure, intimacy and, yes, power. I can’t think of anything more Woolfer than that.
Laura Zam is a sexuality educator, certified trauma professional, and a sexual healing coach. She works with women who have a wide range of bedroom issues. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Salon, HuffPost, and other publications. She is currently writing a memoir about her own sexual healing odyssey.