Our Bodies, Our Lives
By Tristi Muir and Catherine Hansen

We treat women, sometimes men and, ultimately, couples for sexual dysfunction. A lot of the time, problems in the bedroom are an indicator of something much bigger. The relationship needs help.

Research has found that married men and women are healthier, happier and live longer than their unmarried counterparts.

We understand on many levels something that our patients may not be aware of when they ask for help — that healing a sexual relationship heals people. It restores individuals, couples, marriages and even families.

Studies have shown that growing up with married parents is associated with better physical health in adulthood and increased longevity.

Keeping our patients’ relationships strong can improve their individual overall health and improve how they function at home, work and in the community.

All relationships go through stages, with the first stage marked by an inability to use necessary brain functions, mainly critical thinking. This is the “honeymoon phase” of infatuation and romance.

In reality, no one can function like this for too long and the enmeshment that initially felt safe and loving becomes suffocating for one or both partners. Power struggles, push-pull and a need for independence result. Negotiation of necessary disentanglement becomes a make or break in the relationship. Often, couples come to us for sexual or relationship counseling as they assert their own beliefs, values, preferences and limits on each other.

Sexual function should not be isolated from the overall relationship. Sexual problems cannot be solved simply by learning new ways to touch each other.

Feeling the need to get it “right” according to some physical outcome measure can increase performance pressure. Lovemaking can become mechanical and appraised.

In some cases, this distances partners from each other with devastating consequences. Some partners can feel inadequate, others used.

Imagine for a minute that working with your partner toward a more satisfied sexual relationship also is an efficient and permissible way to work toward a more fulfilled sense of self within the relationship.

We have to be challenged and pushed beyond our comfort zone in order to learn where our lines really are. Being provoked to recognize our limits and consider stretching ourselves beyond them helps us grow. How many times have you ever thought, “Wow, that was hard but it was great!”?

Relationships can get to a place where they need so much work that repair doesn’t seem possible and motivation to work together on the issues is lacking because of previous damage, hurt or assumed wrongs.

Sometimes things we are asked by our partner bring to focus areas where we are flawed or feel insecure, forcing self-confrontation, evaluation and, ultimately, a decision to change ourselves on one hand or assert ourselves on the other.

This entire process helps us to know ourselves as much as it helps us to know our partner with even more important consequences.

Sometimes when we concede to our partner, we actually have learned something important about how we can be flexible as individuals. This is empowering and flows into all aspects of our lives.

Sex can be seen as a window into who we are, and sexuality can be a vehicle for personal development. Our patients affirm this view as we watch them evaluate themselves, stretch their limits, blossom in creativity, challenge old mindsets and learn to love again in a whole new way.

Our Bodies, Our Lives focuses on issues surrounding women's sexual, gynecological and emotional health. Drs. Tristi Muir and Catherine Hansen are gynecologists at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Learn more information at utmbhealth.com/pelvichealth.