VALENTINE'S DAY: Good or Bad for Health? A New Look at an Old
Well, it's almost Valentine's Day, a celebration of love, and
particularly of passionate, sexual love with a beloved person. Is
Valentine's Day a time to rejoice in your adoration of your sweetie?
Or are you left out, because you are one of the sizable group of
Americans who haven't experienced sexual love with another since
last Valentine's Day?
In a survey by the National Opinion Research Center (Smith, 1991)
22 percent of adult Americans 14 percent of men and 28 percent of
women-- had not had sexual relations during the previous year. Not
surprisingly, many of those who abstained were single. If you are
in this group of 22 percent, should you care? If you care, is there
anything you can do to get more love in your life? And what's the
relationship between loving attachment and sex, anyway?
Valentine's Day highlights the potent combination of attachment,
emotional intimacy, and sexuality within human relationships. If
you are at a point in your life where you are just interested in
casual sex, or if you have never wanted to combine attachment and
sexuality, you might not give a hoot about February 14th.
But if you're not in a relationship now and you want to be, or
if you've always wanted a loved one and you just can't make it work,
Valentine's Day can be a painful reminder of failure, the way Mother's
Day and Father's Day are to infertile couples.
It's pretty easy to make the case for why you should try to get
more love in your life. The rewards of being in love include feeling
liked, loved, and validated, physical affection, emotional security,
sociability, good communication, and sex. Furthermore, there are
the self esteem and social benefits of having a partner, being part
of a couple (Hatfield and Rapson, 1995).
It's difficult to separate love from sexuality. As one researcher
said, it is like trying to separate fraternal twins: they are certainly
not identical, but in any case, they are strongly bonded. Love and
sexuality are quite linked to each other, certainly universally
in women, and to both the physical and spiritual aspects of the
Having another person to love and depend on also is linked to happiness.
Psychologists have amassed a mountain of data indicating the people
are happier when attached to other human beings, rather than independent.
Repeated surveys in Europe and North America have consistently found
that compared to those who never marry, and especially compared
to those who have separated or divorced, married people report being
happier and more satisfied with life.
The rewards of accepting and expressing your own sexuality with
a loved person cannot be overstated. Research from the Touch Institute
in Florida has proven that just being touched enhances our immune
system. Being romantic and sexual actually has health benefits!
Being sexual with a loved one is such a powerful experience that
it can overcome many negative feelings, even pain, illness, isolation,
When we talk about being sexual, "sexuality "is NOT a
reference to some textbook-perfect experience of the Master's and
Johnson sexual cycle with another person: desire-arousal-climax-resolution.
In my book, SexSmart, I noted that "Sexuality includes a wide
range of activities (mental and physical) that may provide sexual
delight: a gaze, a conversation, flirting, a dream, a thought, dancing,
hugging, kissing, sensual massage, light touching or tickling, genital
stimulation, the intense merging of two bodies and selves, or intercourse.
Orgasm actually isn't necessary for sex to be intensely erotic,
lusty or significant, and neither is intercourse."(And if you
are doing these things with your loved one, I wouldn't consider
you to be in the 22 percent who hadn't had sexual contact in the
In the U.S. today, it's easy to forget the spiritual aspect of
sex. In the media, sex is something that is used to sell us things---to
make us feel inadequate the way we are, if we're not young, rich
and gorgeous. But that's total hogwash. You don't have to be perfect
and rich and young to create a special time and a sexual bond with
a loved partner. The sexual experience can be a complete break from
the travails of ordinary life, a re-creation, an almost-religious
experience of being part of something larger than yourself. The
ability to let go and trust your body and your emotions, to be naked
and to be vulnerable to another person, is a powerful experience.
So why would you choose not to have romantic love in your life?
Some people simply have no sexual interest in anyone, male or female.
In Kinsey's (1948, 1953) studies, half a century ago, there were
groups of men and women who preferred to refrain from sex, or engaged
in it only reluctantly. Even today, some people choose abstinence,
for a number of reasons. Some find the idea of sex unappealing.
Others may be single but be abstinent for romantic, moral, or practical
reasons. For example, they may be worried about sexually transmitted
diseases. Some may be too old or too ill to engage in sexual activity.
Some may not be able to find a partner.
Some 86 percent of widowed men and women had not had sexual contact
with anyone in the past year. On the other hand, maybe Valentine's
Day is not your favorite day because you are what I call "romantically
challenged." You're afraid of attachment and/or commitment,
and you certainly don't want to combine them with sexual passion.
Romantically challenged adults who have ongoing trouble forming
committed emotional and sexual bonds to others tend to have certain
elements of past family life in common with each other. These include:
not feeling loved or not experiencing empathy from your parents;
feeling controlled; lacking permission to explore yourself, your
body and your sexuality; and witnessing unhealthy or distasteful
relationship patterns between your parents.
If you are concerned about your lack of a love life, perhaps you
can take this opportunity to explore your inner feelings. Old family
issues may hold part of the key to how you feel. First, look at
what you learned about touch from your family.
Did your family teach you to associate touch with safety, soothing
and emotional attachment? If not, what are your word associations
to touch? (e.g. "strange," " suffocating", "
abnormal," etc.) Take some time to spell out your feelings
about physical contact and how you would like to feel about your
body and about touching others.
What did you learn about trusting others? Are you one of the 76
million Americans who grew up in homes affected by alcoholism? Did
your parents ignore your feelings and wishes? If you couldn't trust
your parents, it may be too scary to become emotionally dependent
on another person. Write down a list of the events that taught you
that it isn't safe to depend on others to fill your emotional needs.
Was there violence in your family, either between your parents
or between a parent and the children? If so, explore the link you
may have made in your mind between love, and "control",
Did you live in a family that never discussed sex, ignored your
emerging sexuality, or actually told you sex was bad and dirty?
If so, you may need to get help in overcoming these blocking beliefs.
If romantic love has eluded you for many years, maybe this Valentine's
Day is a good time to make a resolution to fix the situation. Don't
just accept it. Love can come along at any age and under many circumstances
when you are open to it.
Are you open, or are you defensive and cynical? You know, people
who are living for a long time without love and touch and sex tend
to " numb out," to create lives without romance, to forego
the pleasures of touch and attachment, and to tell themselves that
they are just fine.
That's a good defense, but all the medical and psychological research
on happiness and health proves you wrong! If you are afraid of getting
emotionally attached, or you cannot accept your own sexuality as
a good thing, it is time to figure out why. Don't stay left out
of the party on Valentine's Day.