TRACY:Clinical health psychologist and certified sex therapist Dr. Jordan Rullo joined us last week for a Chat on mindfulness and sex. Dr. Rullo is currently conducting a study on the effect of mindfulness on women's sexual health — and we had a lot of questions. So many, in fact, that we decided to continue the conversation in this edition of The Chat. Welcome to Part 2.
JOY:When we left off last week, we'd talked about the role of mindfulness in sex for women — especially in long-term relationships, or what Dr. Rullo calls the "sweatpants phase." So let's just dive back in. How does sex affect one's overall physical and emotional well-being? Have there been studies?
DR. RULLO:Sex has a lot of wonderful benefits on well-being. For example, research has shown that sex can boost immune function, improve heart health, lower stress and blood pressure. It also helps with sleep. It's the exercise equivalent to climbing two flights of stairs or taking a brisk walk. People who stay sexually active rate their general health as better than those who are not sexually active (but it's unclear which came first, the chicken or the egg).
TRACY:Why do women say "I just want to cuddle?"
DR. RULLO:Because they often want just that. For women who are older, and/or in long term relationships, what becomes more important is the emotional intimacy, not the physical. Often women want some emotional intimacy that doesn't to lead to physical intimacy, and this allows them to be more willing/excited when emotional does lead to physical.
TRACY:How does menopause typically affect women's sexual health?
DR. RULLO:Lots of ways! In fact, Mayo Clinic just published a new book, "The Menopause Solution," that talks about just this issue. Desire decreases, sexual arousal and orgasm become more difficult and less intense, and sexual pain is common.
TRACY:*Gulp*. I better get that book!
DR. RULLO:Although these all sound pretty negative, the silver lining is that many post-menopausal women report being as satisfied or even more satisfied with their sexual activity as they age. These are the women who have learned to adapt to their changes in sexual function, versus demanding that their sexual function was the same as when they were younger.
TRACY:If women could have a "Viagra option," would that help?
DR. RULLO:Viagra is about blood flow. So, let's say there was a pill that would instantly bring blood flow to the genitals. Do you think that that would, in turn, instantly allow the woman's mind to be interested in sex?
JOY:Somehow I don't think that's the key.
DR. RULLO:For women, sexual desire is much more than blood flow to genitals.
TRACY:So any men that are reading this would be wise to remember that! Let's get back to your study. How is it done?
DR. RULLO:This study is an online study for couples called Sex SMART. To be eligible, the female participant must be experiencing sexual desire, arousal, or orgasm difficulties, and she must have a partner who is willing to do the study with her. She will come to the Mayo Clinic for one brief introductory session, and then the remainder of the study is online. It involves watching videos, reading, and doing homework assignments in order to improve the overall relationship and sexual function. For more information, interested women can either call 507-266-1944, or email DOMCRO@mayo.edu.
TRACY:OK, so if anyone reading this identifies with the sweatpants phase and wants to learn more about the study, they can contact you. And if they want to make a mindful change starting tonight, what do you suggest?
DR. RULLO:Watch the TED talk by Andy Puddicombe, and/or visit his website at Headspace.com.
TRACY:And maybe change OUT of the sweatpants?