The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Chapter 3.5: The Magic of Chemistry

Spontaneity

Planning involves discipline, forethought, and the desire to reduce risk by analyzing variables to help ensure we make the right decisions given the facts at hand. But all the planning in the world doesn’t guarantee things will turn out exactly the way we intend, which is not to say planning is bad or ineffective. In the right frame of reference, it pays to be vigilant, cautious, and guarded at times about health, bills, job responsibilities, and other significant concerns. Planning is also important when it comes to anniversaries, birthdays, or other meaningful romantic events.

In terms of sex, important decisions on birth control, safe sex, and family planning come to mind.

From a man’s perspective, planning has always played an important role in the dating ritual. But at some point along the way, after the initial euphoria of a new relationship slowly tapers, many of us cling to our routines and plan everything as we go. Planning brings a measure of safety and comfort in our lives, but over time, if we plan every facet of our romantic relationships, complacency, lethargy, and boredom become the hobgoblins of desire. Fortunately, spontaneity can help balance the scales.

Spontaneity does not equate to reckless, madcap, irresponsible behavior. It equates to stepping outside our comfort zones and crossing the line a bit. No one wants to eat the same meals every day. The same way no one wants to wear the same clothes all the time. Many of us are creatures of habit, which is not a bad thing, but it can make our sex lives seem monotonous if we’re not careful. Being spontaneous doesn’t strictly apply to having sex in a bedroom behind closed doors; it applies to the notion of breaking out of our day-to-day routine and exploring everything life has to offer. Take a walk in a park you’ve never been to. See a movie on a work day. Have dinner last and sex first. Stay in bed late one morning. Stare at the stars instead of the TV. Rendezvous at lunch for a quickie. Make out in the car. Why put off until tomorrow what you can enjoy today? Variety stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain. Do what feels comfortable and safe, but make an effort to break out of your comfort zone. Or as fellow alumnus, Susannah Hopkins Leisher, wrote, sometimes you have to “jiggle the needle on the record of life.”

Foreplay

Most sex experts agree, the more foreplay, the better, especially from the woman’s point of view. This includes more time spent holding hands, kissing, hugging, touching, and enjoying the close proximity to one another without rushing into the main course of events. To experience passionate sex, we must be sufficiently aroused, both physically and emotionally.

Generally speaking, women take longer than men to reach a certain comfort level in their desire to have sex. For men, a state of erection can be instantaneous, as men are more visual creatures. For women, sexual arousal builds gradually through kind gestures, romantic words—think poetry and romantic comedies, or themes in films and stories involving affection and commitment with a partner. Women require sufficient warm-up or mental preparation to reach a similar level of arousal that men achieve from visual stimulation.

Foreplay doesn’t have to involve physical touch to stimulate arousal. For many women, the initial qualities that first attracted them to their partners remain the same qualities that keep them involved. Qualities like kindness, sensitivity, affection, and attentiveness can stir desire more efficiently than a particular foreplay technique itself.

Both physical and emotional intimacy play a role in foreplay and vary depending on the mood or circumstance. Soft caresses anywhere on the body and especially near specific erogenous zones can awaken sexual energy. The same goes for warm breath on our neck or behind our lover’s ear. And why stop there? Erogenous zones exist in many places on our bodies, including our lips, scalp, arms, and fingertips. A simple hand massage can prove incredibly soothing. In fact, aside from the mouth and genitals, the fingertips are the second most sensitive part of the human body. And don’t forget the lower abdomen, an area most women find very sensitive to stimulation through a feather-light touch or the gentle press of soft lips.

Take the time to savor your foreplay activity. Like most anything in life, foreplay gets better with practice. Couples who take the time to get to know one another on a physical, intellectual, and emotional level will discover what pleasures them most—an important step toward experiencing more fulfilling sex.

Kegel Exercises

Sorry guys, but Kegel exercises have nothing to do with hoisting kettle bells or kegs of beer to develop a strong chest and shoulders; although one could argue the merits of additional research study to determine a correlation between this labor and its impact on a man’s ability to garner female attention. All kidding aside, Kegel exercises involve the contraction or tightening of the pubococcygeus (PC) muscle, which controls the pelvic area in men and women. When you stop your urine flow, you’re using the PC muscle. To put it bluntly, Kegel exercises make the vagina and penis stronger—which some experts believe can help you delay, control, and achieve more intense orgasms. Originally devised by Doctor Arnold Kegel as an exercise to help women reclaim muscle tone after childbirth, Kegel exercises have the added benefit of intensifying sexual arousal. In their book, For Women Only, Dr. Jennifer Berman (M.D.) and Dr. Laura Berman (Ph.D.) recommend Kegel exercises for women to help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which can “improve orgasm response and allow for vaginal orgasms.”

The most common way for women to exercise their PC muscle involves lying on their back with their knees bent and the soles of their feet facing each other. They relax the stomach and vaginal muscles, then squeeze their vagina with the muscle used to stop the flow of urine. They hold the contraction for several seconds without using the stomach or gluteus maximus muscles and then relax for several seconds and repeat the contractions. Women don’t have to lie down to exercise the PC muscle, as the effort to contract the muscles can also be accomplished standing up or sitting down.

For men, Kegel exercises involve tying a string to their erect penis and lifting small weights. Hmmm. I’m thinking, don’t try this one at home. Seriously, there are other documented methods for men, which include trying to stop and start the flow of urine without using the buttocks, legs, or abdomen and without holding your breath. Consult a physician before attempting Kegel exercises in earnest, as your doctor will know what’s best for you. Kegel exercises won’t substitute for good communication, emotional intimacy, and quality foreplay, but some believe Kegel exercises can improve the physical sensation of sex.

Herbal Remedies

Tens of millions of Americans use herbal products to treat a variety of physical, and sometimes mental ailments. Within the context of sexual relations, this segment focuses on the application of herbal remedies as a method to help alleviate sexual dysfunction experienced primarily during the desire, arousal, and to some extent, orgasmic state of our sexual response cycle. I defer to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to define sexual dysfunction as “an inability to perform or reach an orgasm, painful sexual intercourse, a strong repulsion of sexual activity, or an exaggerated sexual response cycle or sexual interest.”

An important distinction exists between the nature of sexual dysfunction for men and women. With men, sexual dysfunction issues primarily center on the physiological event of achieving and maintaining an erection. In contrast, female sexual dysfunction extends beyond a physiological event and is often influenced by various psychosocial, neurological, and hormonal factors—as well as poor communication, at times, between partners, where a man fails to stimulate a woman to the point of arousal.

Though somewhat dated, a 1999 National Health and Social Life Survey published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that forty-three percent of American women, young and old, suffer from some form of sexual dysfunction. In the survey, men were found to suffer at a rate of thirty-one percent.

In a more recent AARP survey of adults ages forty-five and older, barely six percent of female respondents claimed a higher-than-average level of sexual desire, whereas forty percent of women claimed they have a lower-than-average libido. Within this same survey, erectile dysfunction problems were reported by thirteen percent of men in their forties, eighteen percent of men in their fifties, thirty-eight percent in the their sixties, and fifty-six percent in their seventies.

Much has been written about the value of pharmaceutical drugs used to treat erectile dysfunction for men. Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis rank the most popular among the five FDA-approved oral drugs on the market today. Each of these medications has a slightly different chemical makeup, but they all work in a similar fashion by causing the male body to increase nitric oxide to overcome an erectile dysfunction. Nitric oxide opens and relaxes blood vessels in the penis to help achieve and maintain an erection. Unfortunately this boost to men’s genital vasocongestion does nothing to increase sex drive in men. Ditto for the drug, Flibanserin, or “pink Viagra,” which was targeted at treating women with low sex drive, until a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel unanimously rejected it in 2010, citing safety concerns. Despite numerous studies that question the efficacy of drugs like Viagra on female sexual dysfunction, some studies suggest that Viagra can have a positive affect on women who suffer from arousal disorder—defined as “lack of or diminished vaginal lubrication, decreased clitoral and labial sensation, decreased clitoral and labial engorgement, or lack of vaginal smooth muscle relaxation”—as well as women who suffer from spinal cord injury or psychotropic-induced sexual problems. Similar to the way it works for men, women who take Viagra experience increased blood flow to the vagina, clitoris, and labia causing increased vaginal lubrication and enhanced sensation.

Although no FDA-approved products currently exist on the market to treat a low sex drive condition for men or women, a number of natural, over-the-counter supplements claim to enhance sexual desire. Unlike some of the more common FDA-approved drugs like Viagra and Cialis, herbal remedies are not fast-acting remedies. Instead, they work more slowly over time after the central ingredients build up in our system. Other factors, including age, health, body weight, certain medical conditions, illness, injury, hormonal imbalances, surgery, fatigue, stress, and so forth may preclude or enhance the effects of these natural herbs and supplements.

Also, note the distinction between FDA approved drugs like Viagra or Cialis, which are held to rigorous federal regulations, testing, and clinical studies required by the FDA—and herbal remedies, which are not classified as drugs and therefore not subject to the same rigorous standards and testing. In addition, herbal remedies contain a variety of chemicals in varying concentrations that fluctuate depending on the genetics of the plant, growing conditions, harvest time, preparation, and storage—versus FDA approved drugs that must meet strict criteria to determine a drug’s effectiveness, safety, interaction possibilities, and appropriate dosages. Yet despite the FDA’s longstanding classification of herbs as foods under the dietary supplement category and thus exempt from meeting the same standards for safety and effectiveness as clinically tested drugs, the FDA has adopted regulations requiring herbal supplement manufacturers to evaluate the purity, strength, and composition of their product to ensure they contain what their labels claim and are contaminate free. I’m not promoting one solution or condemning another, as debate will always rage on between greedy pharmaceuticals and the opponents of alternative medicine versus licensed naturopathic physicians who advocate the use of safe and appropriate herbs. Nor do I promote herbal remedies as a “cure all” solution for every sexual dysfunction men and women might experience. Instead, I find herbal remedies a viable alternative some men and women have found to help them achieve heightened sexual satisfaction.

The following paragraphs describe several over-the-counter herbal products available from Walgreens, Wal-Mart, GNC, Amazon, and other retailers. I leave the decision to explore these natural “sex boosting” treatments to your discretion. Given the potential for perpetual erections, sex-fueled insomnia, or other strange side effects, I encourage you to seek your doctor’s advice before consuming any of these herbal supplements in conjunction with your existing medications.

L-arginine

Our bodies naturally produce L-arginine, an amino acid found in food containing protein. In addition to over-the-counter supplements, products like granola contain L-arginine. Research suggests this amino acid can be helpful in treating erectile dysfunction by metabolizing into nitric oxide, the chemical known to relax blood vessels in the penis and clitoris. L-arginine can supposedly have a similar effect on the penis as Viagra, only less pronounced. For women, the benefit of higher blood flow to the clitoris makes the clitoral tissue more sensitive and responsive to sexual stimulation.

Taken by itself, L-arginine is not a particularly strong sex booster, but when taken in combination with other natural supplements, the effects appear more pronounced. One study found that postmenopausal women who took a supplement including L-arginine experienced heightened sexual response. Another study involving women of all ages found that after four weeks, roughly seventy percent of the women who took a supplement including L-arginine experienced greater sexual satisfaction, which included a heightened desire and clitoral sensation.

Ginseng

Ginseng, a popular Chinese herb, can be found in tea and other products widely available over the counter in various doses, formats, and combinations. Asian ginseng has been used in China for more than two thousand years to treat various conditions, including asthma, memory loss, fatigue, and even cancer. When combined with other supplements, studies claim ginseng can help with erectile dysfunction and sexual desire by increasing nitric oxide levels in the body. Ginseng also modulates the nervous system, which can boost your sexual energy and rejuvenate your libido. One particular product, ArginMax, contains ginseng plus the herb ginko biloba and the aforementioned L-arginine.

Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo Biloba, another popular Chinese herb with anti-oxidant properties, helps improve blood circulation, relieve anxiety, and improve metabolism efficiency. In one open trial, ginkgo biloba was found to be eighty-four percent effective in treating antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction. Results from the trial indicated that women were more responsive to the sexually enhancing effects of ginkgo biloba than men, though both genders experienced some positive effects on all four phases of the sexual response cycle.

Yohimbe

Yohimbe derives from the bark of an evergreen tree in western Africa with an active ingredient known as yohimbine, which has been synthesized by a pharmaceutical company and prescribed in the treatment of impotence. Research shows it to be effective in helping men achieve erections, but studies have not found yohimbe to be effective for sexual dysfunction in women. Yohimbe can be found in tea, capsules, and tablets to treat sexual dysfunction, though the FDA has warned of its potentially serious side effects, which include high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, and tremors.

Damiana

Damiana is primarily grown in southwestern Texas, Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Touted as an aphrodisiac, stimulant, and mood enhancer, the sexual enhancing powers of damiana have not been tested in humans; although, a liquor made from damiana leaves has been used as an aphrodisiac in Mexico. Damiana supposedly stimulates the genital area by enriching the oxygen supply. Damiana is generally recognized as safe by the FDA and is often used as a food flavoring. It can be purchased in leaf forms for brewing tea or in caplets and is often blended in combination with other herbal medicinal plants. In James Duke’s Handbook of Medicinal Herbs, the author claims the flower-stage harvested damiana makes “every nerve tingle with sexual sensation, whetting the appetite of lustful desire.”

Horny Goat Weed

Horny Goat Weed exists primarily in southern areas of China and has been used extensively in traditional Chinese medicine for treating multiple conditions. The principal ingredient in horny goat weed, icariin, works by increasing nitric oxide levels and relaxing smooth muscle tissue to promote similar effects to Viagra. Studies have shown horny goat weed influences levels of dopamine, a chemical primarily responsible for enhancing sex drive, mood, alertness, and movement.

Pumpkin Pie

No joke. According to a 1975 study published in Medical Aspects of Human Sexuality, the smell of pumpkin pie aroused men by enhancing penile blood flow. Though far from proving a direct correlation between the smell of pumpkin pie and men’s heightened sexual arousal, the study makes for interesting conversation around the dessert table.

Chemistry in Summary

Chemistry ignites our senses and emotions. Sometimes chemistry sneaks up on us. Other times, it smacks us in the face to snap us out of our daily doldrums. Unencumbered by logic or reason, the enigma of chemistry serves our physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual lust for human companionship at its most basic form. When two people converse face-to-face in multidimensional communication, we witness what author Daniel Goleman suggests as, “a dance of flashing eyebrows, rapid hand gestures, fleeting facial expressions, swiftly adjusted word pacing, shifts of gaze, and the like.” This emotional timbre, or chemistry we feel, subconsciously ties to our needs and desires, which in turn, fuel our romantic relationships.

If you’re not having passionate sex on a regular basis, you will not sustain a meaningful and lasting romance. Studies consistently demonstrate how people who remain sexually active report a greater satisfaction with life than those not sexually active. Furthermore, married couples who are able to talk about sex in addition to their personal needs and desires, enjoy greater marital satisfaction. And although sex plays an important role in maintaining the chemistry we feel, sex by itself will not sustain a romantic relationship. Other factors such as personality traits, ways of thinking, goals and interests, attitudes, opinions, education, family background, and emotional maturity all factor in as well. Chance, timing, proximity to one another, and an element of mystery add to the equation. In general, the more we can relate to one another in terms of personality and background, the more comfortable and compatible we will feel together.

Spending time with someone we find attractive, but not truly compatible, will only carry us so far. In his book, The Seven Levels of Intimacy, Matthew Kelly emphasizes, “Relationships are not to be understood and fixed and solved; they, too, are mysteries to be enjoyed.” And in many ways, chemistry remains a mystery unto itself. A mystery to be enjoyed like a grand illusion that takes your breath away. We don’t have to know how the trick is done, and in fact, we’d rather not know how the trick is done because the knowledge would detract us from the unfamiliarity and excitement.

Chemistry can be magic when it works and vexing when it doesn’t. Chemistry is not always synonymous with love; instead, a prerequisite for love. Real chemistry delivers a precious reward not to be taken for granted. But chemistry alone cannot sustain a meaningful and lasting romance. We can communicate without chemistry, but we can’t make the most of romantic chemistry without communication. If chemistry defines the key to unlocking the door to our heart, then communication describes the hand that holds it open.

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