Sexual Healing: Advice from Hilda Hutcherson, MD

Hilda Hutcherson, over-40 sex columnist, author, and gynecologist, tells how a daily dose of pleasure keeps you healthy.

By Wendy Rodewald

Essential PleasuresYou know how amazing sex can make you feel — but do you realize that your health depends on it? Many women don’t. According to Dr. Hilda Hutcherson, author of Pleasure: A Woman’s Guide to Getting the Sex You Want, Need, and Deserve (Perigee Books), sexual pleasure is more than a pastime — it’s a prescription for wellness, especially in women over 40. Dr. Hutcherson should know — in addition to having penned monthly magazine columns and two sex guides, she has been a practicing gynecologist for more than 20 years — and is over 40 herself."For older women, sex is absolutely physically necessary," Dr. Hutcherson insists, and she gives proof to back it up. In Pleasure, she points to studies that link longevity to a satisfying sex life. One study even suggests that sexual dissatisfaction increases a woman’s risk of heart disease. But despite the scientific evidence, many women over 40 fail to realize that for them, maintaining sexual activity is especially essential. "Many of us think that sex is only for young women, that for older women it is not necessary. But if you don’t remain sexually active, then there are changes in the genitals [that occur during menopause] — dryness and atrophy — that can make it very difficult and painful to have sex later on."Luckily, there are simple steps that every woman can take to get the pleasure she deserves. Middle age is a great time to start: Dr. Hutcherson views this phase as a woman’s chance to refocus her energy on her own desires — and away from the needs of others. Read on for her expert advice.Me, Myself, and IPleasure is personal thing, and there’s only one person that can tell you where to find it. Whether you have a partner or not, the process begins with yourself."Start slowly," Dr. Hutcherson advises. "Soak in a bathtub with bubble bath and candles. Spend time experiencing your body, concentrating on how the warmth of the water feels. Then after the bath, massage your own skin, and concentrate on what parts of the body feel good, what kind of touch feels good." It almost sounds too simple, but many of us forget to relax and then wonder why we’re stressed. Focusing on the senses — and not the daily to-do list — is the key to experiencing pleasure. Set aside some time to identify what really stimulates you, both sensually and in your life outside the bedroom. "It can be a very slow process," Dr. Hutcherson admits, but who deserves your time more than you?Straight Talk (Without Talking)After you’ve identified what brings you pleasure, focus on getting what you want, whether that process involves a partner or not. To receive pleasure, you must give — information, that is. Be honest about what you desire, and learn how to communicate your needs. "We have to feel deserving enough to give information [about our pleasure] to our partners." Broaching the subject can be difficult, but Dr. Hutcherson believes in the power of subtle, silent cues, such as nudging your partner’s hand toward the areas that drive you wild. No matter how you choose to say it, allow yourself to be frank about your needs.Communicating with your partner is only one part of the equation, however. Dr. Hutcherson is quick to point out the necessity of solo sex. Many women find themselves without a partner as they transition through menopause, but continuing to experience sex is essential to a woman’s health and well-being. As a solution, Dr. Hutcherson prescribes vibrators for her menopausal and perimenopausal patients. Even if you do have a partner, self-exploration can heighten your sex drive and allow you to recognize what gives you pleasure, making sex with your partner that much more enjoyable.The Big Oh-NoAs you explore what gives you pleasure, take care to avoid a common pitfall: performance anxiety. Men aren’t the only ones who suffer from performance issues in the bedroom — the pressure to achieve orgasm can put a woman on the spot, too. And obsessing over the "O" can ruin any chances of experiencing one.The orgasm-centric advice that some of her colleagues dish out peeves Dr. Hutcherson. "One of the things that’s caused a problem with women is that sex therapists are telling them that they should have an orgasm every time, and that they should have an over-the-top, all-night orgasm.

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