We’re told that it’s good to talk — and yes, we’re all so much better than we used to be at discussing our emotions and difficulties. However, there’s one topic that still makes people clam up: sex.
We might be surrounded by it — in books and magazines, on TV and in films and adverts — but now it emerges that not only do we not talk about sex, we’re not doing it either.
Fewer than half of Britons have sex once a week, according to researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who found that there has been a steep decline in intimacy since 2001, especially for those over 25 and married couples.
Where there is a mismatch of libido, then the person with a higher sex drive can so easily turn to porn and forget that their partner might still want sex occasionally [File photo]
Why? It seems technological ‘distractions’ such as box sets, social media and email are a real issue here, making it all too easy to ignore the person sitting or lying next to you.
If you stay up late binge-watching Line Of Duty, for example, and your partner retires early, then of course your sex life will suffer.
And then there is the proliferation of pornography via the internet. Where there is a mismatch of libido, then the person with a higher sex drive can so easily turn to porn and forget that their partner might still want sex occasionally.
This can lead to relationship breakdown, with the person with the lower sex drive feeling unloved or unattractive.
Sex is undoubtedly good for our mental health. It releases the ‘bonding’ hormone oxytocin, helps us relax and — most importantly — it makes us feel wanted in a relationship [File photo]
Whatever the cause, half of women and two-thirds of men told the researchers that they’d like to have sex more often.
If you think about it, there is a lot of sadness behind that statistic — and a profound failure of communication between couples which is at the root of so many miserable, sexless relationships.
Resentment, frustration and anger can bubble away under the surface and manifest themselves in all sorts of ways.
I recently saw a very depressed woman in clinic. She had a poor body image, had tried numerous diets and had resorted to making herself sick after meals in a futile attempt to lose weight.
This had led to heart problems, which resulted in hospitalisation. I asked what she thought had brought it on and was startled when she replied ‘sex’. Or rather, she clarified, a lack of it.
She told me that she’d been married for 30 years but she and her husband had not had sex for more than a decade. She was convinced that it was all her fault, because she was ‘ugly’ and repelled him.
I suggested I talk to her husband alone, and he, too, cited the lack of sex as a reason for the tension in their relationship.
He explained how this had started when his wife was being treated for breast cancer and, because she was in pain and feeling sick much of the time, he’d stopped trying to initiate sex out of consideration for her.
Yet his wife had interpreted this as rejection and this persisted even after her recovery.
We might be surrounded by it — in books and magazines, on TV and in films and adverts — but now it emerges that not only do we not talk about sex, we’re not doing it either [File photo]
It was heart-breaking to think of these two people, who still loved each other, woefully misreading the other’s thoughts and intentions and unable to talk about it.
I suggested couples therapy, and after six sessions with a counsellor they were able to resume intimacy, their relationship improved and her depression lifted.
It was far better than any antidepressant.
Sex is undoubtedly good for our mental health. It releases the ‘bonding’ hormone oxytocin, helps us relax and — most importantly — it makes us feel wanted in a relationship.
Yes, it’s a difficult topic to broach, and there’s always a fear that talking about it will lead to rejection or humiliation.
But if sex is a problem in your relationship, then talking about it — either with your partner or with a counsellor — is the only way to get it back on track.
Henry Marsh, the celebrated neurosurgeon and writer, says he thinks women, on average, make better doctors than men.
He argued that they tend to be better listeners, are more empathic and work better in groups.
Overall I’m inclined to agree with him. Whether this is down to an innate difference between the sexes or dependent on how boys and girls are brought up is another matter.
What’s interesting is that had Marsh said the opposite — that men made better doctors — he would have been instantly denounced on social media and, quite possibly, fired.
Isn’t it odd how we tolerate sexism when it’s directed at men!
Star treatment for mums-to-be
Prior to the arrival of Master Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, there was much speculation about where the Duchess of Sussex would give birth.
It was widely rumoured that she wanted a home birth, but in the end Archie was born in a private hospital.
Meghan is lucky, of course, in that she had a choice. Giving birth in the NHS is often a very different experience.
Little Archie Harrison was introduced to the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, and Meghan’s mother Doria by his proud parents earlier this week. It was widely rumoured that she wanted a home birth, but in the end Archie was born in a private hospital
It’s not uncommon to see a different midwife at every one of the nine or ten antenatal appointments that most expectant mothers attend.
Then, when they give birth, it may well be that a doctor or midwife they’ve never met before is in attendance. This lack of ‘continuity of care’ significantly increases the sense of powerlessness that women experience.
Too often they feel their needs are not met as they’re passed from one anonymous clinician to the next, leaving them anxious. It can be overwhelming.
We know that women who are stressed are more likely to have complications giving birth, and are more likely to develop postnatal depression.
But let’s not lose all hope. This week, the NHS announced that it is doubling funding for maternity services to £40 million and — most importantly — women will be offered the same named midwife to see them throughout their pregnancy and labour.
This is a real step in the right direction.
We can’t let care costs kill our NHS
People with dementia need help with ‘unfair and unsustainable’ care costs, according to a cross-party group of MPs, and should have a share of a new £2.4 billion booster fund for the NHS.
I certainly agree that we need to act urgently to address the crisis in dementia care, but I’m not sure dipping into NHS funds is a long-term answer.
The so-called ‘dementia tax’ in Theresa May’s 2017 manifesto — it proposed using property assets to fund caring for people in their homes — proved unpopular to say the least, but with an ageing population the money has to come from somewhere.
I think the fairest way would be for everyone over the age of 40 to pay a contribution to their future care costs.
Indeed, social care provision modelled on the state pension, with taxpayers funding a flat-rate ‘universal care entitlement’, which patients could supplement from their own funds, has recently been proposed by the former cabinet minister Damian Green.
If we don’t do something like this, the cost of dementia care could sink the NHS.
When a G&T can beat CBT
The British are drinking less alcohol than ten years ago, according to latest figures.
But before we all pat ourselves on the back, a closer analysis of the figures shows this apparent reduction is not because we’re all drinking less: it’s mainly just youngsters who are abstaining.
A lot of my patients are in their late teens and early 20s, and I’m astonished how few of them drink.
Yet it must be said that they don’t seem any happier for it! Far from it. They seem more depressed, anxious and stressed than previous generations.
Instead of therapy, I do wonder if the odd tipple and a chance to let their hair down might not benefit them. A case of a G&T rather than CBT.
Dr Max prescribes…
Yang Sheng: The Art of Chinese Self-healing
There is much more to traditional Chinese medicine than acupuncture and herbal teas.
One of the appeals of Yang Sheng, which means ‘to nourish life’, is its holistic aim to put the mind and body back in balance.
The focus of this book is prevention, and it is a guide to everything you need to know to incorporate the Yang Sheng approach into your daily life, from meditation to nutrition. What’s more, it’s especially good on sleep and mood management.