Our emotions affect our sexual functioning. It sounds obvious when you say it, but many people behave as if they don’t realize this.

Sexual response is a reflex. We perceive a physical or mental stimulus (say, a caress or a fantasy). This message travels to the brain, which sends a message down the spinal cord to various parts of the body, instructing them to respond with tingling, extra blood flow, etc.

Emotions are electrical and chemical events in the body. They either facilitate or disrupt the sex-related messages going up and down the spinal column. Thus, if your partner says, “your skin tastes good,” your emotions facilitate a sexual response. But if your partner calls you the wrong name, your emotions disrupt the sexual response. This is how common feelings such as anger, anxiety, sadness and frustration interfere with reflexes such as erection, lubrication and orgasm.

Many people tolerate negative emotions during sex in silence. Most men and women have experienced sex that made them feel uncomfortable. This could be due to anxiety about performance, fear or anger about being coerced, or sadness about having their needs ignored.

Bodies in these situations rarely respond in an ideal way. Unfortunately, people frequently blame themselves, rather than the situation, for their inadequate response. This is often the beginning of believing that they have a dysfunction. That leads to more anxiety during subsequent lovemaking, undermining sexual functioning even more.

Unlike computers, our bodies respond to irrational factors like expectations, memories and emotions. This means that being aware of our emotions is essential for satisfying sex. Your feelings may embarrass, surprise or confuse you, but they’re real, and their impact on sexual function is also real.

Penises and vulvas usually tell the truth: a frightened penis often shrivels; an angry vulva often tightens shut, and sad mouths rarely relax and enjoy kissing.

Admitting to yourself how you really feel may be uncomfortable, and discussing it with a partner may be even more uncomfortable. But there’s no substitute for connecting with yourself–or your partner–emotionally. It’s a key step toward healthy sexual functioning.

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America Online likes to bill itself as family-safe, with its parental filters protecting kids from the wild, oversexed Internet. But if it weren’t for cybersex, we wonder if AOL would have grown big enough to swallow Time Warner.

AOL’s chat rooms are one of its most popular features, as well as one of the Internet’s premier spots for picking up a cyberdate for some casual sex online. And you don’t have to be an AOL member — you can access its romance channels through its Web site.

But why would you want to? I put that question to a friend of mine, happily married for more than a decade, who’s never even kissed anyone other than his wife. But he has had mad passionate cybersex with women he never met.

“It’s kind of like a mutual fantasy,” said KingBee, his screen name. “It just feels sobaad. But at the same time, there’s no actual contact.”

And that’s the point. Cybersex isn’t a good substitute for the real thing. It’s a lot more work for less payoff.

But it can be an exciting yet safe way for people in committed relationships to enjoy the natural human urge to fool around without risking the emotional and physical upheaval of having an affair in meatspace (the real world).

And yes, copulating with someone other than your spouse is a natural urge, according to evolutionary psychologist Dr. Helen Fisher. The theory that men are attracted to other women in order to transmit their genes as often as possible (like coral spawning into the open sea) has already been widely reported.

What Dr. Fisher points out in her booksAnatomy of Love and The Sex Contract is that women are also motivated to fool around for evolutionary reasons: to attract additional resources and protection for their children, and because having different fathers for her children, and thus different genetic backgrounds, increases the chances of one or more surviving.

So if we accept that to cheat is a natural urge, and cybersex is a reasonable way to indulge it without getting divorced, the trick is to find a compatible partner. To do that, you’ve got to troll the 21st century equivalent of spring break frat-boy bars: chat rooms.

Which brings us back to AOL, or to Yahoo, KingBee’s preferred venue. Before you can start chatting, you’re prompted to create a profile of yourself, a step many people skip. Don’t.

“The profile is very important,” KingBee said. “I think people look at profiles to decide who they want to talk to. Don’t be afraid to list some accomplishments. If you’ve won any Congressional Medals of Honor, let them know.”

Just as in most singles bars, women are in the minority and thus in demand. Of course, since you can create any identity you want in cyberspace, men sometimes pretend to be women. In which case you can discover just why it is that some women think men are pigs.

“A lot of men are really too forward,” KingBee said. “Too blatant and graphic. Start with some double entendres and see if the person on the receiving end picks up on them.”

But be prepared to really work at it. I spent many hours attempting to engage in cybersex for “journalistic purposes,” but wasn’t able to get it going. I found myself striking up conversations with women, discovering they were 17-year-old single moms (or at least posing as such), and ended up spending our chat encouraging them to stay in school. This actually happened three times in one night.

“You really have to sift through a lot of B.S.,” KingBee said. “I do political and social chat on Yahoo. Every once in a while you’ll get into an actual conversation, and sometimes that leads somewhere. But a lot of people in chat rooms just don’t have anything to say.”

If you do make a connection, take my advice and keep your relationship purely online. Unlike the movie “You’ve Got Mail,” cybersex is all fantasy, and translates poorly into the real world.

If you don’t believe me, check out a book by my friend, online advice columnist Spike Gillespie. In All the Wrong Men and One Perfect Boy, she details a marriage with a man she met online.

As a member of the digital vanguard, she was sure she didn’t need the trappings of traditional courtship. She thought their lengthy conversations ensured that she knew him better than most men she’d actually slept with.

Soon after her wedding, she had an angry divorce and an ineffective restraining order. But at least she got a book out of it.

So pursue your online fantasies with the “Olympic skating hopefuls” and “aspiring actresses” and “professional models” you’ll meet in the chat rooms. It’s a healthy outlet for an extremely disruptive urge. But don’t give out your phone number or address. With cybersex, you’re looking for variety, not reality.



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The artificially-enhanced sexual prowess of middle-aged men may be matched soon with the news that Viagra is one step closer to making its debut in the female market.

According to Pfizer, the company that manufactures Viagra, the results of tests on 500 women in 19 countries in North America and Europe are expected to be made available in the fall. The drug may be approved in the United States for female use in 12 months’ time.

In men, Viagra or sildenafil, acts on an enzyme that’s prevalent in the penis to boost blood flow. Researchers believe that it also boosts blood flow to the female erectile tissue of the vagina and clitoris, increasing lubrication and sensitivity to sexual stimulation.

But the jury is still out on how effective the drug dubbed the little blue pill will be for women. In a pilot study of 17 postmenopausal women by Dr. Jennifer Berman, a urologist at the Women’s Sexual Health Clinic at Boston, Viagra was found to improve overall sexual dysfunction. The participants were instructed to masturbate to an erotic video. Tests found a significant increase in both genital blood flow and vaginal lubrication, the symptoms of sexual arousal.

Other research has shown less positive results. A study published in the March issue of the journal Urology found that among 33 postmenopausal women treated with Viagra for a period of 12 weeks, only 20 to 30 percent reported improvements in orgasm quality, vaginal lubrication and clitoral sensitivity. The success rate is comparable to that of placebo. Such findings indicate that Viagra for women will not be the bombshell it was for men.


  • Viagra in women works by boosting blood flow to the genitals and increasing vaginal lubrication.
  • Research on women has shown mixed results. One study found Viagra was no more effective than placebo. A second study found it improved overall sexual functioning.

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