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It seems to be common wisdom that men have a stronger sexual drive then women. I feel this is not really accurate. I have seen in various studies and from my own experience that this is probably not the case—at least with the average man and woman.  Sexual desire is actually fairly equal between the genders. There are five major factors among the differences between men and women that may lead to misconceptions about sexual desire. I will place these under the following headings:

  • Adolescent Development
  • Sexual Desire Level Cycle
  • Arousal Time
  • The Menstrual Cycle
  • Emotional vs. Visual Traits

Adolescent Development

When the average male reaches puberty his sexual interest is sparked and develops quite rapidly. By age 13 or 14 he is well on his way to reaching his peak in sexual interest. By age 18 he has reached that peak and remains there pretty consistently the rest of his life, declining only slightly, until about age 60.

The average female’s sexual desire develops more gradually. Sexual interest begins at puberty, like the male, but develops comparatively slowly until about age 18 then begins to develop a little more rapidly. She does not reach the same level of sexual interest of the average male until around age 25.

Studies have shown that the average female’s sexual desire level actually exceeds, slightly, the male’s in her mid to late 30s. Her body may be telling her that her biological clock is winding down and she better start reproducing soon. Her sexual desire soon returns to the same level as the male’s.

Sexual Development Graph fixed

Figure 1

So, there is a gap or area of variance between the developmental experiences of males and females (see figure 1) where conflicts, pressures, and other divergent misconceptions about sex can be formed, particularly in females, that can be carried on and influence the rest of a person’s life and attitude toward sexual relations. The boy is fully developed and “ready to go,” so to speak, considerably earlier than the girl. He is also learning how to manage this new, and quite powerful, desire and may make some mistakes in the process. The girl, not yet at his level, may understandably develop habits of resistance if she is overexposed to sexual pressure before she has reached a coinciding interest.

Although these differences in development are eventually negated, the effects of adolescent experiences during the process, whether traumatic or benign, can have a powerful effect on adult perceptions. A woman who was continually pressured about sexual matters in her teenage years may read more into her husband’s sexual advances than is really there—thinking his sexual desire (like those gross teenage boys) far exceeds hers. Likewise, a man who had met continual resistance to physical attraction in his younger years may think all women don’t desire sex nearly as much as he does. If both are fully aware those experiences may only be a result of developmental differences, they may come to realize their sexual desire levels are probably more on a par than they thought now that they are older.

Advise to young men: It is important you understand that although your passions may be fully developed, your experience and maturity are not. You are not ready for the powerful emotions and responsibility that comes with that passion, and you will only hinder its enjoyment later on by not harnessing and channeling it towards constructive results now. Anything you try too soon will come back to haunt you, usually pretty quickly.

Advise to young women: Understand that there is a reason those boys are a little crazy right now. You must also know that you will not fully comprehend their motivations or desires right now, but you eventually will. Meanwhile, you need to beat those boys off with a stick while at the same time having compassion for their predicament and realize that with your own maturity and experience you will fully enjoy such passions in the future, when you are ready.

Sexual Desire Level Cycle

Probably the most apparent difference between the sexes is the “mood” cycle. Anyone who has been married for more than a day will understand this perfectly. Men are predicable, very predictable, when it comes to being in the mood for sex. People say the man wants sex all the time. Well that’s not quite true. There are times when he wants it, and times when he is indifferent, but these desires are pretty consistent and don’t vary much or go to any great extreme, usually.

Women, on the other hand, can change their mood almost continually. There are infinite variables that have an influence on her sexual desire level. It is not uncommon for a woman to change her clothes several times a day to match the mood she is in at the moment, whereas a man would wear the came outfit indefinitely if it didn’t start to smell bad. This cycle in women, like everything else about women, is multifaceted and complex. The woman is capable of reaching much higher highs and much lower lows than a typical man on a daily, weekly, monthly, and even seasonal basis. The female mind is more adept at processing variable data than the male’s; she therefore may have many more sources of influence having an effect on her mood and desire level. These influences and moods can change rapidly or slowly and can overlap on many levels. She may be in a “funk” for several weeks, with periods of excitement, or she may be energetic and happy overall for a time, but have occasional episodes of melancholy. It is all typically more extreme than men’s emotions, and is almost completely unpredictable.

Figure 2

Thinking of men as some sort of “Steady Eddie” while women are “Wacky Wanda” can be misleading when forming ideas about sexual desire levels. Yes, men seem to want sex a lot, but if you look at the graph (see figure 2), you may notice that he typically does not have very far to go to change his mood from indifference to wanting sex. But, there is a trade off. You will notice that his desire level usually does not exceed a certain level. Women, on the other hand, are capable of reaching much higher planes of sexual enjoyment than men, but they can also have periods where the very idea of sex is abhorrent.

Arousal Time

Another factor in the misconception of sexual drives is the difference in the time it takes for men and women to “get in the mood.” Women usually need 15 to 20 minutes—sometimes more, sometimes less—of romantic and emotional stimuli before they are ready for a sexual or even sometimes just a physical experience. The typical man, on the other hand, can be ready in as little as 30 seconds. (If he is over 40 years old, 32 seconds. Sigh…)

Simply because men can be easily aroused does not mean their level of interest is necessarily greater than a typical woman’s. Likewise a woman’s sexual drive may be just as powerful as a man’s, but simply needs more effort to be aroused.

Menstrual Cycle Influence

A major influence in the woman’s sexual interest level is her monthly “period.” This may have a wide range of different effects on different women and may not always have the same influence every month. In addition to the 4 or 5 days where sexual intercourse is not reasonably practical, there is the period of time just before menstruation begins and the couple days after it has ended that can have a strong effect on the woman’s mood. Premenstrual Syndrome, or PMS, can have a profound influence in attitudes towards sex and can be quite negative. When someone is experiencing cramps and hormonally-induced mood swings, sex is usually the furthest thing from their minds, and in fact they can even get hostile to the very idea. PMS is not an issue with some women, and some may experience it only infrequently, but it still may have some effect. On the plus side, though, there is a period of about 3 days or so about 14 days before menstruation begins when the woman’s body is ovulating (an egg cell within her ovary is ready to be fertilized) where she may be particularly interested in sex. An observant and caring husband can be aware of his wife’s cycle and be conscience of her body’s needs. Knowing when, and when not to suggest intimacy will go a long way in dispelling misconceptions about sexual drive.

Emotional vs. Visual

Women focus on the emotional

Men focus on the… well… visual

Finally, there is one major disparity between the sexual motivations for men and women. Men are primarily influenced by visual stimuli whereas women tend to enjoy the emotional and romantic side of sex more. In one study, men and women were shown a picture of a couple making love and then asked a series of questions about what they thought when they saw the image. Almost all the men described how they thought it would be like to have sex with the woman in the picture, and almost all women described how they thought it would be like to be the woman in the picture.

Now, this does not mean men are necessarily more “shallow” than women, or even have stronger or more “depraved” sexual needs. It is only a matter of emphasis. Women, of course, care about a man’s appearance and can be “turned on” by the sight of a handsome man, but it is a much less important factor to her than the emotional. These emotional factors include the man’s ability to provide for her and protect her; to give her security, comfort and peace of mind. Romance and seduction are much more powerful in the woman’s sexual experience than for the man. However, men need the romance as well. Both desires are there in both sexes—it is just a matter of what is emphasized more and what is emphasized less.

Because women desire the romance and “seduction” of intimate relations more than men, it is generally up to the man to creatively initiate sexual experiences. Likewise, the woman should do her best to be physically appealing to her husband. Both desires are also present in the other partner, however, so the needs go both ways—just to a lesser or greater extent. Taking these differences in emphasis into account, as a general rule men should be expected to initiate sexual experiences about 2/3 of the time, and women about 1/3.

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lasting-marriageThis was given to me by a coworker, David Bern, who found it on Todayshow.com. I thought it very interesting.

Matthew Boggs, whose parents divorced, was jaded about marriage. But he noticed his grandmother and grandfather, who had been married for 63 years, were still madly in love. To find out what was the secret to a long and happy marriage, Boggs and his friend, Jason Miller, traveled 12,000 miles around the U.S. to talk to what they call the “Marriage Masters,” couples who have been married 40 years or more. In their new book, “Project Everlasting,” Boggs and Miller share advice from the happy couples. TODAYshow.com asked the two bachelors to tell us what are the top seven secrets to a successful marriage. Here they are:

1. “Divorce? Never. Murder? Often!”

Entering matrimony with the mindset that “divorce is not an option” is vital for the long-term success of marriage, say the Marriage Masters (a term we gave couples who have been happily married over 40 years). They went on to explain that this kind of mindset allows a couple to see solutions to marriage’s boiling points — and trust us, not one of our interviewee couples avoided such periods of relational strife — which would have otherwise been overlooked simply because one eye was too busy examining exit strategies.

Marriage Masters simplify this into one word: Commitment. And they’re quick to point out that commitment is the virtue sorely missing from today’s marriages. That said, there are deal breakers that very few of our interviewed couples advocated working through. These are known as the three A’s — addiction, adultery, and abuse. A marriage overwhelmed by any of these three issues is unhealthy, plain and simple, and the Marriage Masters suggest that if you find yourself overwhelmed with any of the three A’s, take care of yourself (and your safety) first, and the marriage second.

In the end, the old saying holds true: where your attention goes, energy flows. So the next time you’re facing a mountain in your marriage, focus on the next foothold and soon enough you’ll find yourself over the top.

2. “There’s no such thing as a perfect marriage, only perfect
moments.”

We were shocked to discover how much work went into creating a great marriage. We’d always figured, “Hey, I’ll just find my soul mate and things will naturally fall into place after that … we’ll live happily ever after.” Um, not so fast, one Marriage Master wife said with a certain look that meant business. “Whoever said being soul mates was going to be easy?”  Her husband of 52 years nodded, then added, “Marriage is a bed of roses, thorns and all.”

Any time two individuals live together (especially over 40 years) there are bound to be annoying, irritating, and frustrating experiences. But whether it’s the toothpaste cap, toilet seat, snoring, or the last-minute pull-the-car-over-to-check-the-score-of-the-game-at-the-local-bar move, one thing is for sure: the best marriages are served with an extra helping of acceptance for one another’s peccadilloes. “And that’s the beauty of marriage,” said Maurice, another Marriage Master. “All of our individualities, all of our wonderful differences. You gotta have friction. You can’t get any heat without friction.”

We would do well, they say, to expect non-perfection; practice patience and give the acceptance we want in return. There’s no doubt that this is hard work, but judging by the end result, it’s well worth the effort.

3. Unpack the Gunnysack

“People ask us our secret to marriage,” said John, married 48 years. “I tell them it’s the boxing gloves. We aren’t afraid to say what’s on our minds.”

Unexpressed frustrations in a marriage can pile up and weigh us down like an overloaded gunnysack. These accumulated frustrations can quickly turn into resentments. “Holding resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die,” said Sally, married 50 years. “Resentment will eat away at your marriage.” The Marriage Masters encourage us to unpack the “gunnysacks” by opening the communication lines as frequently as possible.

But guess what? If we haven’t created and nurtured an environment where open, honest communication is welcomed and treated with diligent respect, then we can wave these crucial “clearing the air” moments goodbye. So where did some Marriage Masters go to build that trusting, open environment? Weekend marriage retreats! These powerful getaways stood out in many of our interviewees’ minds as the one experience that turned their faltering marriage into a flourishing one. The trick, of course, is convincing the husband to attend.

4. Never Stop Dating

It has been said that it’s the quality of time, not the quantity of time that matters. But now we know, thanks to the Marriage Masters, that it’s the quantity of quality time spent together that leads to a wonderful marriage. Whether it’s a vacation in the Bahamas, or simply spending a night at a local motel once a week, keeping the romance burning is easy: all you have to do is keep stoking the fire.

One woman, married 47 years before her husband passed away, disclosed her secret to lifelong love. Every night, when her husband came home from work, they went up to their bedroom and hung a sign on the door that read “Do Not Disturb: Marriage In Progress.” For the following fifteen minutes they’d focus all their attention on one another. No phones, no pets, no distractions; even the kids knew that mom and dad were not to be bothered. When asked what they did in their bedroom, she laughed and said she’d leave that to our imaginations.  That was probably best anyway.

5. “Love is a four-letter word spelled G-I-V-E”

Marriage Masters have a high degree of selflessness. “I’ll never forget what my mentor told my wife and me before we got married 42 years ago,” said a Marriage Master named Walter. “He looked at us and said, ‘Most people think marriage is 50/50.  It’s not. It’s 60/40. You give 60.  You take 40. And that goes for both of you.’”

It’s always super-apparent in the best of the best marriages that both spouses have followed this philosophy. Though it’s not a difficult concept to understand — putting one another first —it’s surely a bit more difficult to practice consistently, especially with the prevailing “Me first (and second)” mentality today. “The younger generations seem to have a sort of me-me-me mentality,” says Donna Lee, married 45 years. “The great part is that the me gets everything it needs when it puts the we first.”

6. Join the CMAT Club

Grandma Dorothy Manin, the inspiration for Project Everlasting with her 63 years of beautiful matrimony, formed an informal club when she turned 70 years old. She called it the CMAT club. The CMAT club stands for Can’t Miss A Thing and represents the idea that life is short, so make sure to enjoy as much as you can. The death rate for human beings hovers right around 100 percent, and is expected to remain there for … well, forever. Consider this: if the average life span is 77 years, then that means we only have 77 summers … 77 winters … 77 Christmas mornings … 77 New Years, and that’s it. The Marriage Masters know this all too well. It’s easy to get caught in the day-to-day craziness of life and, in the process, take our spouses for granted. A widow named Betty, married 54 years, says, “Now that he’s gone I wish I hadn’t had so many headaches.”

The Marriage Masters are here to remind us that this adventure we call life goes by in the blink of an eye; relish your sweetheart’s presence while he or she is still here.

7. The Discipline of Respect

“You can have respect without love,” said Tom, married 42 years, “but you can’t have love without respect.” His sentiments were not uncommon in our 250-plus interviews around the nation. By and large, the number one secret to a thriving, everlasting marriage, as declared by the Marriage Masters, is respect. It is the catalyst for all things beautiful in a relationship: trust, connection, authenticity, and love. Unfortunately, respect — in all its seeming simplicity — is too easily overlooked, leading to criticism and all the ugliness that eventually causes both spouses to wonder (and vehemently): How in the heck did I ever fall in love with this person?

“You are the master of your words until they are spoken,” a Marriage Master of 65 years pointed out. “Then they become the master of you … so choose your words carefully.”

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