3 min

Sexual breakthroughs of 2011

The more we know, the better we do

Dear readers,

With the close of another year, let me take this opportunity to thank you for your questions and reflect on how they’ve been evolving.

In 2011, three quarters of your questions came from men in the community, with letters representing all ages and ethnic origins. These columns addressed issues concerning health, relationships, sex and personal quandaries. Relationship dilemmas topped the list, with health questions following a close second, and sex and personal issues coming in, surprisingly, last. Don’t be shy. If you are wondering about how something sexual works, you can be sure others are uncertain, too.

These statistics suggest that the Ask the Expert column provides a place where Xtra readers bring matters that are not being addressed by their physicians, the first line of approach for most with sexual questions. I understand this. Doctors are beleaguered by patient loads and befuddled by Big Pharma’s misleading information; they lack comprehensive and sensitive sexual education and are miscast as counsellors for the ripple effects of sexual dysfunction.

Then there are the questions about relationships. It’s hard to get along with others; doing so requires good will, good skill and good luck. We’re raised with a fairy tale that promises happily-ever-after when the reality is that life happens in ebbs and flows, shades of grey. We get precious little training in how to do important things like resolve conflict or negotiate fair deals. Throw in a sexual component and most people devolve into their elemental fight or flight responses.

I think sexual relationships are more difficult for most of us than they need to be, and there are many good reasons for this. We grow up with little sound information about our bodies and their changes, even less encouragement to cultivate our natural curiosity about sex, and then we are told that we’re bad for being interested. Add any digression from the straight and narrow and we’re bound to struggle.

Still, the more we know, the better we do. Let’s take a look at what’s new on the horizon in sex research.

We’re learning a lot more about premature ejaculation and how to treat it. Good assessment is key both for men who always ejaculate prematurely (which requires pharmacological intervention) and those who do so only in some circumstances (which requires different intervention). The good news? Better outcomes for both types with appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

Functional MRIs (fMRIs) are unlocking the mysteries of what goes on inside the brain. We can now watch our pleasure centres in real time, providing hard data on everything from how we process attraction and other emotions to what happens chemically during orgasm.

This knowledge challenges how we address pleasure as a society and spotlights how the dark Bush years of harm reduction–focused sex education must now include instruction in pleasure management — and appre-ciation — as well.

Science is also unlocking information about just how fixed and biologically based male sexuality is, including orientation and turn-ons. We’re learning why some men are more sexually impulsive — and possibly more inclined to use Grindr, for example.

Women have benefited from sexual science, too. What did we learn from the astronomically expensive and embarrassing failure of Big Pharma to invent, diagnose and then cure hypo-sexual desire disorder with various renditions of “pink Viagra” (see the film Orgasm Inc)?

We learned that women’s sexuality is far more fluid than we thought in terms of orientation, arousal patterns and fantasy potential. If given permission and encouragement, we have limitless capability. Women are enormously suggestible. Sadly, this makes us susceptible to sex-negative as well as sex-positive messages.

Still, new research documenting this sexual potential (fMRIs have recorded women thinking themselves off!) trumpets an optimistic change in women’s attitudes. Interestingly, and not without social foundation, older women are supporting and validating these findings.

Contrasting with this good news is what we now know about endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs). Hard science has overwhelming data that prove that EDCs have altered genetics and continue to do so. If you are reproductively inclined, or have children, do some reading to learn how to minimize your risks. At the very least, stop using plastics in the microwave. Be diligent about checking your reproductive bits. Expect no governmental protection.

Finally, what’s the newest buzz on the block? Well, in terms of fun, my vote goes to the Mojowijo, a device by Wii that uses Skype to connect people across any distance with shared visual, auditory and sensory stimulation. Just imagine!

With (somewhat) reinvigorated sexual research funding and an increasingly knowledgeable populace, we can anticipate medical, legal and social reform of antiquated sexual attitudes. We’re far from a utopian state, but we’re gaining solid ground. There’s a lot to celebrate.

At this time of year, when resolutions are so appropriate, envision your personal sex life as you wish it to be. In working toward that goal, if I can be of help, do drop me a line.