Mark and Heather Roberts

He: Is a 44-year-old federal agent.

How they met: Roberts met his wife Heather at a restaurant in Newport Beach, Calif., where both were working at the time.

What he loved about her then:”We were helping a mutual friend move, and Heather was wearing shorts,” he remembers. “So I was initially attracted by her legs. After that, she invited me to go dancing with some friends and she was really nice.”

What he loves about her still: The Roberts have been married for nearly 14 years, and over that time Mark’s attraction to Heather has evolved.

“When I think about loving Heather now, I don’t really focus on the physical aspect,” he says. “I mostly think about the inside — how nice she is and how great she is with our kids.”

Joe and Ilene Dimitri

He: Is a 51 year-old wine store manager.

How they met:Twenty-two years ago Joe met his wife Ilene at the last place anyone expects to meet his future wife.

“We met in a bar,” laughs Joe. “She was a cocktail waitress and I was an unsuspecting customer.”

What he loved about her then: “I noticed her eyes first, but I was probably most attracted to her because she looked like Lorraine Newman fromSaturday Night Live. I think that’s the real reason.”

What he loves about her still: They’ve been married for 15 years, and while Ilene has since outgrown the Lorraine Newman look, Joe says he continues to love her for many of the same qualities he was drawn to in 1979.

“I’m still attracted to her eyes, plus her sense of humor, her intelligence and sense of style,” he says. “I always liked those things about her.”

Her story: Ilene says Joe’s attraction to her has grown stronger over the years. “He tells me that I’m more beautiful now than ever,” she says. “It’s interesting how the initial components of attraction are still there.”

Sam and Lisa Armor

He: Is a 48-year-old massage therapist.

How they met: Sam met his wife Lisa at a San Francisco art show.

What he loved about her then:”Lisa was easily the most stunning woman in the room,” he says. “She had long, blond hair and the brightest green eyes. I went up to her and made a silly comment about a painting she was admiring, and we ended up spending the rest of the evening together.”

What he loves about her still: Though Sam says that he was initially attracted by Lisa’s looks, he soon came to admire her spirituality and healthy outlook on life. After 19 years of marriage, she still charms him.

“Lisa loves going to yoga classes and eating good food, so she’s really taken care of her body,” says Armor. “She does that for herself, not for me. She’s still gorgeous, but that’s just a bonus. Lisa has a wonderful soul, and we share the same values. I can’t imagine being with anyone else.”

So just what has kept the attraction alive for these men through decades of marriage, while others go running for affairs or divorces?

“Marriage is a ‘people-growing’ process, and if you don’t give up on yourself and your partner, you can go on to have thebest sex and intimacy of your lives in middle age,” asserts Schnarch.

The maturity and openness these men show their wives is only part of the equation. Their wives’ attitudes also help to fuel the flames. All four women radiate a confidence that is far more alluring and enduring than long legs in short shorts or sparkling green eyes.

This confidence is a powerful aphrodisiac. “In the letters that I get, men say the thing that really turns them on is when women know that they’re sexy and act like it,” says Levine. “Not by dressing youthfully or wearing too-short skirts, but by projecting confidence in themselves, their bodies and their sexuality.”

And one of the best ways to make a woman feel confident and beautiful, Levine says, is to tell her how attractive she is. “The happiest couples tend to compliment each other frequently,” she says. “People who do that are much less likely to stray or be unhappy.”

Sure beats signing your soul away for eternal youth.

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While the subject of infidelity has always been of interest, modern changes in technology and social arrangements have made the issue more complicated than ever.

One prominent change, of course, is that almost all environments in America are now mixed-gender: workplaces, shopping malls, gyms, cultural and social institutions.

In addition, technology has given us many new ways of communicating and connecting erotically with others, such as the telephone, VCR, computer, Internet and digital camera. Thus, questions such as “is it an affair?” and “is it infidelity?” are no longer easily answered.

For example, say you’re having phone sex with a paid stranger, or cyber sex with someone you just “met” online. Your mate walks in, sees this, and becomes hurt or angry, accusing you of infidelity. In the hundreds of stories I’ve heard like this, responses range from “it isn’t sex, so I wasn’t unfaithful” to “since it didn’t involve touching, don’t be upset.”

When couples bring such a dilemma to me, I never define whether one of them has been unfaithful. Such a judgment can only be made in the context of an agreement. Clearly, some couples have a contract in which even looking at a Victoria’s Secret catalog is a violation. Other relationships tolerate even erotic touching of others, as long as there is no emotional involvement. So the first — and scariest — question is how each partner interprets the couple’s fundamental agreement.

Couples in distress frequently ask me what kind of arrangement I think they should have: strictly monogamous, slightly open, technologically open (cyber-sex OK, neighbor-sex forbidden), etc. This is another question I rarely answer, although I encourage people to talk about what they really want, as opposed to what they’re willing to settle for.

Ultimately, the actual agreement couples reach is less important than the fact that both partners agree to it enthusiastically, and feel optimistic about keeping it. People who feel pushed into accepting a relationship that’s either more or less restrictive than they want often find themselves undermining the agreement, consciously or not.

Couples who have the courage to face their disagreements in this area eventually end up with a stronger relationship — whether with each other or with someone else.

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Health issues affect our sexuality in a variety of ways, including hormones, chronic pain, stamina, depression and body image. One of the most common health issues affecting our sexuality is prescription medication.

Most medications have side effects. When these are minimal or trivial, we ignore them. But some side effects are major. And when they affect your sexual functioning, ignoring them is difficult.

The most common unwanted effects that drugs have on sexuality involve reduced desire, limited arousal and inhibited or impossible orgasm. Here are common sexual side effects of some popular medications:

Antidepressants:inhibited arousal and orgasm

Antihypertensives: inhibited erection

Anti-inflammatories: inhibited erection, difficult orgasm, increased skin sensitivity

Ulcer medication: limited desire, inhibited erection

Birth control pills: limited desire, decreased lubrication

Like most things involving sex, doctors and patients don’t talk much about the sexual side effects of drugs. In fact, physicians don’t even discuss it much with each other, although issues like Viagra and AIDS are beginning to change that.

Since doctors don’t routinely raise the subject, you have to. Just as you might ask if a drug you’ve just been prescribed will make you drowsy or give you gas, ask if other patients experience sexual side effects from the medication you’ll soon be taking. Don’t worry about making your doctor uncomfortable: s/he’s just hired help, remember?

When you and your doctor work together, the sexual side effects of drugs can be decreased or eliminated. Several strategies can accomplish this:

  • Change to a different brand of drugs, or one that works differently.
  • Take an additional drug to reduce the first one’s sexual side effects.
  • Change the way you take the drug. For example, take it in the morning instead of the evening, or six days a week instead of seven.

Physicians and pharmaceutical companies have still not learned that sexual side effects are an important reason that people don’t take their medicine the way they should. It’s up to us to educate the health-care industry about the importance of sexual side effects, so that professionals will talk about it and think about it much more than they currently do.

If we don’t push them, why should they think that change is necessary?

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