Use it or Lose it! Maintaining Sexual Health

Use it or Lose it! Maintaining Sexual Health

In our lives it is important to maintain physical and cognitive wellness. We do specific things to ensure that our physical health stays intact:

  • Physical movement every day;
  • Stretching;
  • Reduction or elimination of alcohol and tobacco;
  • Building awareness to avoid environmental toxins;
  • Regular check-ins with our physician and other healthcare providers;
  • Self-checks in regards to breast and prostate.

We also do specific things to maintain our cognitive health:

  • Read;
  • Engage in activities or games involving words and problem-solving skills (Scrabble, crossword puzzles, puzzles, etc.);
  • Learning new skills or hobbies;
  • Staying updated on and using new technology or societal innovations;
  • Regular social interaction.

If we do not engage in regular physical or cognitive activities, our bodies and our minds will deteriorate. Our physicians and medical health practitioners are well versed in the benefits of regular physical and cognitive exercises, and society is comfortable talking about physical and cognitive wellness.

Now, what about our sexual wellness? What specific things do you engage in to ensure your sexual health remains at optimal functioning? Unlike the other wellness areas of our lives, this is not a commonly discussed topic. The irony is that engaging in regular sexual activity isn’t just beneficial for our sexual wellness; it also benefits our physical and cognitive wellness.

Use it or Lose it

There is an important factor to consider when it comes to our sexual wellness – “use it or lose it”. Particularly for women, sexual drive is maintained when we regularly receive sexual pleasure, with a partner or through self-stimulation. There are two reasons for this. First, regular sexual stimulation maintains consistent blood flow to the vulva and the clitoris. Particularly as women age, blood flow can slow down, making sex and orgasm challenging or non-existent. When we build in opportunities to engage in sexual stimulation, it helps maintain optimal functioning.  When sexual stimulation involves penetration, this can also maintain the elasticity of the vaginal walls. Much like any muscle, when the vaginal walls are stretched (“use it”), they are more flexible. When sexual stimulation decreases or ends, women can experience vagina tightness, reduced lubrication, and difficulty achieving orgasm (“lose it”).

The second support for the “use it or lose it” approach is related to the cognitive component of most women’s sexual pleasure. Women, more so than men, have a direct connection between their thoughts and orgasm. When women are stressed or distracted, achieving orgasm is significantly more challenging. In addition, about 60-80% of women utilize fantasy thinking during sexual activity in order to facilitate orgasm. Learning to manage our thoughts for best results takes practice. If we don’t practice controlling our distractions and tapping into fantasy (“use it”), it will be harder and harder for us to stay in the moment and employ beneficial strategies (“lose it").

As we consider this idea of “use it or lose it”, I’ll ask you to do a quick internet search. Type in “use it or lose it sexual health”. Like so much of women’s sexual wellness and pleasure, there is an obvious gender bias regarding this topic in the search results. The articles which dominate the results are related to the benefits for men to engage in regular sexual activity with no mention of women. When women aren’t considered in these conversations, and when research is limited to the male experience, is it any wonder that women tend to see sexual activity as less necessary or less important because we are taught that it doesn’t matter for us? This must change.

 The Importance of Sexual Wellness

Sexual wellness is equally as important as physical and cognitive wellness, and as mentioned earlier, these three areas of our lives are interrelated. When one area is healthy, the others benefit. When one area deteriorates, the others suffer negative consequences. Women demanding more research about their specific sexual wellness is necessary. Promoting education for physicians in regard to women’s sexual wellness, particularly as women age, is needed. Having the conversations openly and without apology with friends, daughters, mothers, and other females in your life is part of “use it or lose it”. We can use the conversations to change the norms, so that we don’t lose the rights and opportunities to receive the benefits of a fully engaged sexual life.

Written by Dr. Robin Buckley