Health news to heed–and not

The buzz lately is a recently released study by Marco Narici and colleagues of Manchester Metropolitan University in the United Kingdom. Narici, like many with Y chromosomes, was sitting around contemplating women in their high heels. As an experimental biologist, Marco began to ponder the effect on women’s calf and foot muscles of long periods of time in the unnatural position required of this fashion statement. When the researchers used MRI to examine the legs of high heel wearers compared to flats wearers, there was a significant difference. The muscle fibers in the calf muscles of the high-heeled women were 13% shorter than those of the flats-favorers, and the Achilles’ tendons were stiffer and thicker. These were actual physiological changes that persisted in women who regularly wear high heels. Narici asserts that women don’t need to give up their heels. Regularly stretching the affected body parts allegedly will ease the distortions.

Who says that permanently distorting your body and causing yourself pain for fashion purposes is sexy? Ever since I grew taller than all the boys in seventh grade, I’ve eschewed high heels and prided myself on my cute flats. Let’s call for a national “Flats are Sexy” day. Maybe not crocs or bunny slippers . . .

As for the health news to challenge, the National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC) announced in 2008 that breast self-exam (BSE) was not a reliable tool for women to employ in early detection of breast cancer. The data suggest that “BSE greatly increases the number of benign lumps detected, resulting in increased anxiety, physician visits, and unnecessary biopsies.” After the experience of a loved one this week, I say it’s time to revisit this issue. She had a clean mammogram in January, then detected a palpable lump last week. After multiple biopsies, CT and MRI scans, said lump was diagnosed as invasive ductal carcinoma. Talk to your doctor. Learn correct technique. Research, by nature, rolls the experiences of thousands of women together in order to draw conclusions such as that made by the NBCC. I’d rather undergo anxiety and unnecessary biopsies than miss the real thing. Just my opinion.

The broken libido link

So which would you rather live without? Cake or sex?

A friend sent me this Hallmark ShoeBoxcard. (Visit a Hallmark store today.)

Women’s missing libido is legendary. Consider the accepted “fact:: men think about sex every seven seconds; women think about sex seven times a year. There’s the classic bit from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. Annie and Woody’s character, Alvy, each tell the therapist that they have sex 2-3 times per week. Alvy labels this “hardly ever, never.” Annie says that it’s “all the time.” Books lament today’s sexless marriages.

The problem lies in expectations –and unquestioning acceptance– that a woman’s libido goes missing in action for years. Sex drive drops as work demands pile up. Children come along, constantly tugging, clinging, and creating mommy “touch fatigue.” Sometimes, women believe “mothers don’t do those things.” Fluctuating hormones take a toll, with breastfeeding, perimenopause, and menopause. Not to mention when women are constantly running on empty and even simple self-renewal like sleep, exercise, or fun stays on the bottom of the list for weeks on end.

Women can reclaim this most basic need by tuning into the benefits. Feelings of closeness to your partner rise with levels of the hormone oxytocin, which jumps to five times normal levels. Oxytocin increases drowsiness, easing sleep. Research has shown that orgasm releases endorphins, like a runner’s high, relieving pain of cramps and headaches. Endorphins boost mood and ease PMS irritability, too. Finally, the neurotransmitter dopamine rises, enhancing lust and the relaxation response. This explains why libido is enhanced by an active sex life. “Use it or lose it” is not a myth.

Acknowledging the benefits encourages us to put satisfying sex back on the list ,for ourselves, not just to assuage our fears of a wandering partner. But how to rebuild the missing link?

Cynthia Kling in A Bitch in the House nails it: “eventually the pure animal rutting feeling stops rising out of your depths, and that’s when you need … your brain to take over and bring it back.” Plan to ignite that sleepy part of your brain by simply allowing yourself to think about sex.

Read a sexy novel. Watch artfully crafted sex scenes in a movie –no porn required. Sex scenes are often labeled “gratuitous sex,” designed to lure young movie-goers. Who says we can’t enjoy them –if we allow ourselves to embrace this basic human response.

Then make time for sex, by handing over household/childcare chores, a carrot on a stick, to that hopefully willing partner. Young moms, in particular, can delegate bedtime rituals to dad for at least one night. Take the free time to relax in the tub, daydream, delve into erotica. Brent Bost, MD, author of The Hurried Woman, affirms it: the best aphrodisiac in the world is a man with a vacuum cleaner.

The Tiger Affair

The Tiger Woods affairs and his confessed sense of entitlement have revved up an ugly old myth: “if I’m not satisfying my man, he’ll look elsewhere.” Low level, anxiety-provoking brain chatter for many women goes likes this: “Keep the sex lively, or at least frequent, or he’ll stray. He’s only a man. Men have needs. My man’s needs are my job.”

The pressure of this expectation can be as tight around the loins as too tight control top pantyhose. (I love the line from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” The mother of the bride shrieks to her sister, heading to the store to buy pantyhose. “But not queen size. They make me look fat!”) The expectation that a good woman satisfies her man leads right into blaming the woman if her man has an affair.

When couples show up in the therapist’s office after he has committed a Tiger, inevitably he is penitent about straying and she is equally penitent about neglecting him. Nearly 100% of the time, in her head the “shoulds” and “if onlys” abound. “I should have enjoyed sex more.” “If only I was less tired.” This puts men into the category of one more person women need to take care of –and/or police. Not equal partners in a relationship, both committed to preserving that imperfect union.

This blaming stance is an outdated view. Personal responsibility comes first. If either party is dissatisfied with how needs are met — or not –in the relationship, it is that individual’s job to address the problem in the relationship. Problem= no sex? Not enough sex? Not the right kind of sex? Talk about it together. No emotional connection? Feeling neglected, secondary to kids or other life demands? Solve it within the context of the relationship.

In Tiger’s apology last week, he rightly claimed total responsibility for his behavior. When cheating occurs, physical or emotional, it is the sole responsibility of the cheater. Not the wounded party. Women need not blame themselves if the problem was never offered up as something to solve. No blame game. (See caveat #2.)

Differentiate sins of omission from sins of commission. He strayed because he made a bad decision about how to solve his unhappiness or his horniness–NOT because she was too busy, too tired, or too angry for sex. The cheater made a choice and wasn’t “driven to it.” A couple may need to solve underlying issues, but responsibility for the transgression still falls with the cheater.

Caveat #1: The above assumes an unfaithful “he,” because women frequently fall into blaming themselves if their significant other strays. I don’t know how commonly men blame themselves if she cheats. Women are unfaithful in lesser percentages than men.

Caveat #2: Exceptions exist. Sometimes, la Scarlett and Rhett, she banishes him from the bedroom, declaring “I don’t care about sex — or you — just leave me alone.” With this action, it’s arguable that Scarlett has relinquished the right to complain about Belle Watling.

What about women and sex? Why does sex end up last on the list? Tune into the next blog for an exploration.