The physical and emotional elements of satisfying sexual relationships
The physical maturity necessary for a sexual relationship is signalled by the onset of puberty, when the individual’s body makes the transition from childhood to adulthood. The development of emotional maturity frequently takes much longer, and early sexual encounters, although sometimes exciting, may just as often be disappointing or cause anxiety. With age and experience, most people become better able to establish and fully enjoy sexual relationships.
A healthy relationship
What constitutes a healthy sexual relationship varies widely from person to person. Sexual fulfilment depends on a blend of physical and psychological factors, and what is right for one couple may not suit another. You and your partner should both be happy with the frequency of sexual activity, and you should be able to discuss which sexual activities you find pleasant and which you find unappealing.
Anyone in a sexual relationship should be aware of the risks posed by sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and know how to minimize the risk of exposure to them (see Safe sex). In addition, to avoid an unwanted pregnancy, you should be familiar with the options for contraception, including emergency contraception. It is important that children approaching puberty are given education about STIs, safe sex, and contraception. Most schools provide sex-education programmes.
It is normal to experience fluctuations in sex drive or occasional temporary loss of sexual desire, lack of sexual response, or inability to perform sexually. However, if sexual problems persist, they may be distressing and cause you anxiety, which further impairs your ability to enjoy sexual activity, and this creates a vicious circle.
Sexual problems may have a number of causes. Emotional difficulties in your current relationship will affect your sex life. External stress will also affect a relationship and may lead to problems. For example, ongoing problems at work or financial difficulties may cause anxiety, irritability, or lack of sleep, all of which may decrease your desire for sex. Past upsets of an emotional nature, such as the break-up of a former relationship, can affect your current situation even when the problem seems to have disappeared.
Decrease in sex drive or impaired sexual function may also be the result of complications of certain long-term physical conditions, such as diabetes mellitus; disabilities that cause pain and restrict movement; convalescence from surgery or severe illness; and the use of alcohol, recreational drugs, and certain medications.
What you can do
If there are matters that are bothering you, it is important to talk about them with your partner. If the problem is persistent, discuss it with your doctor, who can refer you for appropriate help. If you have a long-term illness or a disability that impairs your sex life, you may find it helpful to get in touch with an organization that has been established to help people with the problem.
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.
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