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About Last Night :See the funny side and feel the love

Q: Married 12 years, with three children, we have been through a tough 18 months. Financial stress, my Dad’s illness, and a wakeful three-year-old have left us tense and irritable, especially when we’re all cooped up in winter. We used to laugh a lot when we were younger, and still see the funny side of things at times, but there’s more snapping and bickering, and as far as sex goes, forget it. How can we get the fun back?

A: You are up to your necks in life right now. When things all happen at once, you tend to go into survival mode. Energy is withdrawn from the inessentials, and you live from day to day, holding it all together. This is normal, but beware getting stuck in this state.

We all want to enjoy life, and need to be kind to ourselves, prioritising rest, recreation, time out, and fun. These things are not trivial luxuries. They are essential for wellbeing.

It is easy to blame one another when things are grim, but we can only keep the whole show on the road if we are working together, and supporting one another. Laughter can play a big role in revitalising your relationship.

We have all heard that laughter is the best medicine. Research suggests that shared laughter is also a great tonic for your relationship, keeping the “in love” romantic intensity alive.

 In a study published in the journal, Personal Relationships, social psychologist Laura Kurtz, of the University of North Carolina, looked at the social role shared laughter plays.

“We can all think of a time when we were laughing and the person next to us just sat there, totally silent, All of a sudden that one moment takes a nosedive. We wonder why the other person isn’t laughing, what’s wrong with them, or, maybe, what’s wrong with us, and what might that mean for our relationship.”

Kurtz recruited 77 heterosexual couples who had been together for about four years, and they were videoed telling how they first met. Kurtz and her team recorded how often they spontaneously laughed at the same time, and for how long.

“In general, couples who laugh more together tend to have higher quality relationships,” Kurtz says. “We can refer to shared laughter as an indicator of greater relationship quality.”

It seems obvious that a couple who can laugh together has a good relationship that is likely to last, but there is a “chicken and egg” question here.

“No matter how intuitive this distinction may seem, there’s very little research out there on laughter’s relational influence within a social context,” Kurtz says. “Most of the existing work documents laughter’s relevance to individual outcomes or neglects to take the surrounding social context into account.”

It seems that couples experience a sense of mutual support when they laugh together. “Participants who laughed more with their partners during a recorded conversation in the lab tended to also report feeling closer to, and more supported by, their partners,” Kurtz says. On the other hand, forced, awkward laughter can be a warning sign that something is wrong.

In a 1992 psychological experiment, 52 couples were recorded recounting their shared histories. The team noted whether their manner was positive and effusive or more withdrawn and tired. Three years later, the ebullient couples were more likely to be together than the subdued partners.

Kurtz acknowledges that cultural mores can influence our laughter. Eastern cultures tend to display appreciation with close-mouthed smiles, not the open-mouthed guffaws we Westerners favour.

Kurtz concludes that moments of shared laughter are potent for a relationship. “They bring a couple closer together.”

So, your homework is to laugh together. Watch more comedy than drama for a while. Do some family activities that will bring you laughter. Make a conscious effort to see the funny side of things, and share that.

Practise laughter yoga (hasya yoga). This is a practice involving prolonged, voluntary laughter, and is based on the belief that making yourself deliberately laugh provides the same benefits of spontaneous laughter. Do this together. Rope in the kids. At first it might seem forced and ridiculous, but you will soon find yourselves all laughing heartily at, and with, each other.

Email your questions to abtlast night @gmail.com

About last night: Partner swapping and privacy

Q: We are both really keen to open our bedroom up to other sexual play partners, but we’re anxious about how we protect our privacy. We’re worried that big crowd events (such as Saints ‘n’ Sinners) raise the risk of us bumping into people we know. At the other end of the scale, we’re suspicious about the truthfulness of some of the “couples” posing online. Is there such a thing as safe anonymous partner swapping and party play? And where do we start?

A: As it sounds like you are on the same page about this adventure I will make this mutuality the basis of my response. It is important to protect yourselves, and maintain your privacy as you proceed, so do your research, and plan carefully.

I spoke to one of the founders and organisers of The Saints and Sinners Erotic Fancy Dress Ball, who is also involved in the small party, and the adult contacts world. He acknowledged your concerns about bumping into people you know at S&S, and presumably the smaller parties, too.

“My standard answer to that is twofold. Firstly, at S&S there’s nothing to stop them wearing a mask, which is what a significant minority do. Combined with the low lights in the venue, that’s usually enough to avoid getting recognised.  Secondly, [if they’re] recognised … it simply means that they and their ‘friends’ each have a good reason to keep each others’ involvement a secret … any friend they come across … is probably just as worried as they are about discretion … Just assure the other couple that they’ll be discreet, then that will be enough for the other couple to do the same … and [you all] will probably feel much more at ease.”

When it comes to the challenge of locating like-minded, bona fide “playmates” with whom to explore your fantasies, he says: “Advertising these days is overwhelmingly geared towards one or both of two websites. Either Adultmatchmaker (AMM) or Red Hot Pie (RHP). In Victoria, AMM seems to work better. Both sites operate a ‘verification’ system that enables you to know early on if you’re talking to a real couple, and not some guy pretending to be a couple. However, there’s no substitute for eventually insisting on talking with both partners on the phone before arranging a meet up, just to ensure that the female partner really exists.”

When it comes to meeting someone, do not invite them into your home initially. It is much harder to extricate yourselves, and they know where you live. Meet somewhere public, like a bar or a cafe. To avoid any awkwardness, agree on a signal that means that you do not want to go any further with these people. If all goes well, use this meeting to establish some agreements before you play.

Agree on the safer-sex protocols that you will observe, Discuss other practicalities – cost sharing, his bad back, her latex intolerance, and so on. Set boundaries. What is the situation with same sex contact? Do you allow anal play? Sorting things out beforehand frees you to enjoy the encounter. A useful guide to establishing informed consent can be found at curiouscreatures.biz.au

At first, it is best to meet in a hotel room. Again, it is easier to bail out, and preserves your privacy.

Your sex play must be “safe, sane, and consensual”. Do not get off your heads on alcohol or drugs. Establish a “safe word” that means “stop NOW”. Continue checking in with one another to make sure everyone is OK. It is easier to relax if you know your wishes will be respected.

When it comes to visiting one of the smaller parties such as Debauchery or Monkey Club, the advice is: “As they’re seeking couples, tell them to avoid parties that allow single guys. Tell them to approach all parties through their websites initially, asking for information, and that will help them decide which party might be best for them in terms of location, facilities and numbers of people. After that they should phone the operators of the ones that appeal to them, for a chat.”

Email your questions to abtlastnight@gmail.com

About last night : Should I be worried about my sexual fetishes?

Q: In an article about fetishes and sexual fantasies, you once mentioned the concept of “core erotic themes”. I never followed it up, but I’m wondering if it might explain why I get aroused by fantasies that go against my rational belief systems. At the moment I feel confused, and ashamed of my responses.

A: Many people feel conflicted about the things that turn them on. Whether it be shoes, whips and chains, cross dressing, rape fantasies, food fights, rubber, equestrian equipment or Smurfs, they can feel ashamed of the power these themes have to arouse them.

Embrace your sexual nature, but stay safe, sane and consensual.

Acting out fantasies that are illegal, or cause harm, could be a problem, but the fantasies themselves can be very revealing.

In 1995, respected psychologist Dr Jack Morin published The Erotic Mind: Unlocking the Inner Sources of Passion and Fulfilment. In it, he describes: “the interplay of sexual arousal with the challenges of living and loving. Eroticism can be best understood as the multi-faceted process through which our innate capacity for arousal is shaped, focused, suppressed, and expressed. We’re born sensuous and sexual, but we become erotic as we receive both overt and subtle messages about ourselves from our primary caretakers and gradually integrate these messages with our experiences of touch, as well as the highly personal mental images and emotions that go with them.

“As we grow, the demands and ideals of our culture, along with the interpersonal dynamics of our families and communities, influence our responses profoundly.”

In other words, while sex can be “little more than a collection of urges and acts”, eroticism is the process in which sex becomes meaningful. The unique sexual triggers each individual evolves are called their core erotic themes (COT).

The challenge is to embrace complexity and paradox in yourself in order to blossom into your authentic sexual self, and get in touch with your unique erotic mind.

Conjure up one of your peak sexual experiences, when you were the most turned on. What was it about that experience that stands out? Did something close to your core come alive? This is some part of your core erotic theme. Can you see a pattern where this theme has featured in other hot experiences or arousing fantasies? Can you guess why this does it for you? How does it make you feel – desirable, deviant, empowered, submissive, naughty?

If nothing stands out, other factors could be at play. Were there physical or perceived obstacles preventing you from realising your desires?

“You already know how positive emotions can energise arousal,” Morin notes. “But you’ll see how unexpected aphrodisiacs such as anxiety, guilt, and anger can have similar effects. As your awareness expands you’ll marvel at your erotic mind’s amazing ability to transform life’s inevitable difficulties and emotional wounds into sources of excitation.”

One way to identify these confronting aspects is to notice if and when you withdraw from, or become critical of, your partner. What might have caused this defensiveness? Perhaps it threatened your COT.

Try to be honest with yourself, and do not shut down things that make you feel uncomfortable. You will not gain insights into your erotic truths if you have a judging and non-accepting mind. Set aside critical evaluation long enough to see what is there.

It can take time and courage to understand your truth, but those who do examine their personal, uncharted erotic territory find it life-changing, because it increases their energy, and frees them up to experience more passion and fulfilment.

Email your questions to: abtlastnight@gmail.com

About last night : My partner’s need for precision is stressful

Q: I enjoyed your column about Ms “Always’ Right” (25/5/17). You suggested this is a function of youth, but my partner is 40, and has not mellowed a bit. Our battles are over housework. Everything I do is “wrong”, and often gets redone. There is “a place for everything, and everything in its place”, and look out if the kids’ toys aren’t hidden by bedtime. I grew up in a more laid-back environment, and find this military precision annoying and stressful, especially as this inability to relax, be spontaneous, and enjoy the moment extends into our love life.

A: There seem to be two kinds of people whose approaches to life are incredibly different. Neither group is right or wrong, but they can find it difficult to cohabit.

One group, often keen on science and technology, delights in order, systems, and control of their environment. Often tagged “anal retentive” or “neat freaks” by the other group, this control helps them to feel at peace.

The other group, often more “arty” and creative, tend to be more messy and haphazard, preferring to “go with the flow”. While not actually dirty or unhygienic, they have a much higher tolerance for disorder. The others see them as lazy slobs.

Objectively, neither group lives longer, has a better life overall, or has a monopoly on happiness, but you would imagine that this must be the case judging by the intensity of emotion each inspires in the other.

Of course, it is a matter of degree. At one extreme is obsessive-compulsive disorder, and at the other, squalor.  Either can cause misery and ill health.

My grandmother had a saying, “This house is clean enough to be healthy, and dirty enough to be happy”. That resonates with me. I try to respect those who have a different approach, but I want to feel respected in return. When opposites attract, both partners need to be prepared to shift on their end of the see-saw in order to maintain equilibrium.

You can react to inflexibility by resorting to passive aggression, deliberately doing the task badly in the hope that you won’t get asked again, or you can grudgingly do the bare minimum to get by. No doubt, there is a way to counter this with more passive aggression, but this simply fuels resentment and a toxic atmosphere.

As with most problems, both of you need to be willing to call a truce, and stop trying to make the other person wrong. Make space to do some active listening, in good faith.

Take it in turns to explain your point of view. Do not interrupt one another, make comments, or get defensive. Listen attentively and respectfully, ensuring that you both feel heard. Just doing this can defuse a lot of built-up emotion.

Brainstorm possible solutions. Try not to dismiss anything out of hand, and be willing to both give and take. Ideas to springboard this conversation might include: can we agree on a minimum level of tidiness that is acceptable to both of us? If one has a fixed idea on how some tasks should be done, are they willing to take over doing those tasks? If not, can they live with your work, if you have undertaken to put in your best effort?

When you really listen to your partner you might gain insights into what lies behind the intense emotions. Did they come from a strict family or cultural background? Is their sense of worth tied up in the external appearance of their environment?

Similarly, what lies behind your extreme response? Did you have a parent or authority figure against whom you rebelled? Do you feel that there are things that are more important to you, and do you feel that these things are not being respected?

The status quo is not serving either of you. Its impact on your intimate life is driving you apart. If you are at a loss as to how to begin to reconnect, get some professional relationship counselling. You can find counsellors in your area at relationships.org.au/locations.

Email your questions to abtlastnight@gmail.com

About last night: At 70, I would like to meet someone attractive

Q: Since my divorce, I’ve seen a couple of women, but am basically single. At 70, I’m fearful of growing old alone. I’ve joined a dating site, and have met some pleasant women, but nobody special. One woman had used an outdated photo, and I was dismayed when we met. I’ve tried to be honest in my profile, and, while no Adonis, I do try to keep fit and healthy. I’d prefer to connect with someone I find attractive, as well as likeable. Although semi-retired, I keep very busy, so taking time out to meet someone totally unsuitable is frustrating.

A: The ageing process is daunting, and there is nothing like a birthday ending in zero to focus the mind. You sound like an active and vital man, but no one can predict what life will throw in his or her path, and it can be frightening to imagine walking it alone, so finding a partner could be wonderful.

Many older women would also love to meet a life partner. Online dating sites are one tool that can bring people together, but it is not as straightforward as online shopping. How you think, and feel, about this process will affect your chances of success.

Ask yourself some hard questions, and be honest. Are you really looking for a soul mate and partner, or are you looking for an attractive, live-in nurse? What do you have to offer that might enrich and enhance another person’s life? Are you willing to be a carer? Do you actually have the time needed to form a genuine relationship? Are you willing to make changes to your life to accommodate someone? Are your expectations realistic?

We often focus on what we are looking for in a partner, but spend much less time listing what we have to offer. Meet each person with an open heart, as well as a critical mind.

 When using a dating site, it can be hard to assess the accuracy of the profiles. Some people are deliberately misleading, but many are inaccurate because it is difficult to describe oneself. How difficult was it when you wrote your profile?
It is a big mistake to use an excessively flattering picture when you know you hope to meet people. You might think a glamorous portrait will get your toe in the door, and your personality will do the rest. However, if your date believes you have been dishonest, it could close that door forever. Better to only meet those who have agreed to meet when they have seen the real you.

Dread of a lonely old age might lie behind your dating site adventures, but engage with every woman you meet in good faith. They are all precious human beings. If you like someone, do not try too hard. An underlying whiff of fear or desperation could be off-putting.  Get to know each person, without an agenda. Go beyond first impressions.

Listening is far more important than what you say. A date is not a job interview, so you do not need to itemise your resume. By listening, you will find out a lot more than what you have read on a profile. Also, being a good listener is very attractive, and will elicit far more goodwill than a self-promoting monologue.

We all have a history that impacts on our present. Some women have had bad experiences with men, and are fearful and defensive. A widow might keep comparing every man with her lost love. Some older women are struggling financially, while others find themselves comfortable, and fear engaging with someone who wants to access their assets. Some feel free for the first time in their lives, and would run a mile at the idea of taking on someone who wants to be looked after. Some feel all at sea on their own and yearn for a rock to stand on.  All of them want an equal, loving connection.

None of them were put on this earth to be your helpmate, so be careful not to seem entitled.

Email your questions to abtlastnight@gmail.com

About last night: how will a hysterectomy affect me?

Q: I’m 42 and happily partnered.  I’ve been told that I have several large fibroids growing in my uterus, and my medical specialist has recommended I have a hysterectomy, which removes my uterus, but leaves my ovaries. I’m concerned that if my cervix is removed as part of the hysterectomy, my sexual pleasure and orgasm might be affected.  What role does the uterus and cervix play in orgasm? 

A: Fibroids are firm, compact tumours that are made of smooth muscle cells and fibrous connective tissue that develop in the uterus. It is estimated that between 20 and 50 per cent of women of reproductive age have fibroids, and up to 77 per cent will develop fibroids sometime during their childbearing years, although only about a third of these are large enough to be detected during a physical examination. Fibroids are usually benign, and are not associated with cancer, but they can cause a range of symptoms, including heavy and irregular bleeding, an increased need to urinate, or pelvic discomfort.

All women are different, and experience sexual pleasure in diverse ways. The deep network of nerve endings that make up the internal structure of the clitoris plays a major role, so surgeries that might cut through these, such as bladder surgery, can have an impact.

I showed Melbourne gynaecologist Dr Desiree Yap your letter. “That is a complicated question,” she responded. “I have always understood that some women feel their uterus contract with orgasm and some women get pleasure from stimulation of their cervix. I ask women to reflect on what they feel, as I can’t assess that.”

Consciously notice exactly what is happening in your body the next time you have an orgasm. Where is the sensation centred? Can you feel your cervix contracting? Understanding your unique arousal patterns will help you to make an informed decision.

Dr Wendy Vanselow, the head of the Royal Women’s Hospital’s Sexual Counselling Clinic, has a particular interest in this area. She says that the research indicates that most women feel their most focused sexual pleasure in the lower vagina.

This would not be affected by a partial hysterectomy. She also points out that hysterectomy research shows that overall sexual pleasure is improved with hysterectomy.

A total hysterectomy that involves the removal of the hormone-producing ovaries definitely does have a negative affect on libido, and sexual function – but this is not what has been proposed in your case.

Many women experience a hysterectomy as a major operation from which it can take time to recover. Dr Yap suggests that you get a second opinion if you’re worried.

So, double-check your options. For example, some fibroids that are about 3-5 centimetres in size can, depending on their place and impact, just be left there, Dr Yap says.

On the other hand, if surgery is necessary, but you want to keep your cervix, a subtotal hysterectomy (which leaves it behind) is possible. Ongoing pap smears would subsequently be required.

You may prefer to explore non-surgical options. “There is a new drug to shrink fibroids,” says Dr Yap. “Blood flow to fibroids can be blocked to try and shrink them, and there is an MRI treatment to conservatively treat fibroids being trialled at the Royal Women’s Hospital, so, depending on [your] circumstances, there are alternatives to surgery.”

Meanwhile, take a holistic approach to your sex life. Try not to worry, or fixate on the purely medical and physical aspects of sexual pleasure. Remember to nurture your relationship, take care of your overall wellbeing, and enjoy every aspect of your intimacy. After all, great sex is about enjoying the journey, not reaching an orgasmic destination.

Email your questions to abtlastnight@gmail.com

About last night: Should I feel guilty for being a man?

Q: The majority of sexual predators, violent criminals, abusers of women etc, etc, are men, and women get annoyed when men protest that it isn’t all men. I’m a man who is definitely not doing any of these bad things, but I end up feeling guilty, and wanting to apologise for being a “person with a penis”.

A: The website Good Men Project was set up by men who are striving to counter many of the negative traits associated with being male. Recently, retired therapist Jed Diamond posted an article examining the truism that “all men want is sex”. He argues that “there’s something that is more important than sex, but it’s something that men have difficulty admitting and women have difficulty giving.”

In “What Men Want More Than Sex”, which focuses on heterosexual relationships, Diamond explains that we are conditioned to believe that wanting a lot of sex is manly. Many men would rather be seen as “a jerk who is totally preoccupied with sex than to want something more than sex and be seen as less than a man”.

Some of this is biological. Whether we are peacocks or people, he says, we strut our stuff and hope it’s good enough to get us chosen by the woman we go after.

This process involves competition with other men, and the risk of being rejected, which can leave a man feeling vulnerable. By the time they reach adulthood many men, he says, “feel battered and bruised by the world of competition and rejection. We long for that safe harbour where we don’t have to pretend to be something we’re not in order to be chosen. We long for someone who sees us for who we are and wants us anyway, who can hold us and touch, not just our body, but our hearts and souls.

“Sure, there is the physical pleasure, but there is a deeper need that is being satisfied. Getting taken into her body gives us a sense of peace and homecoming that goes way beyond simple sexual pleasure.

Men yearn, Diamond says, for “the feeling of being nurtured that most of us didn’t get enough of when we were children. But admitting these needs makes us feel like little boys, not big strong men.”

It is difficult for women to give that kind of intimacy. They have their own conditioning, and if a man is not trying to have sex with them they can believe that they are not attractive enough.

When a man wants to be held and nurtured it can trigger feelings that they are dealing with a boy, not a man. As some women say, “It’s like I’ve got three children – two kids, and my husband”.

There is another, extremely serious, obstacle.

“Women fear men who don’t feel manly. They know that the most violent men are men who feel weak and powerless. They’ve often had experiences of men allowing themselves to be gentle and vulnerable, only to have them respond with anger and rage later.”

Bringing about change is not easy.

“It takes a lot of time and maturity for men to admit to themselves that they need a safe harbour where they can be nurtured and embraced by a woman. It takes a lot of courage to let his woman know he may want sex, but more important is his need for security, love, and nurture. It requires a level of wisdom to know that allowing ourselves to be as vulnerable as a child may be the manliest thing a man can do.”

Women also need to be willing to move beyond their own conditioning, says Diamond. A woman should try to be “open to a man who is making himself vulnerable in new ways. She must have a great deal of self-love and self-confidence to accept being a safe harbour. She must also have the strength to protect herself, when his shame at being vulnerable turns to anxiety, anger, or depression. It isn’t easy for men and women to take these kinds of risks, but the pay-off is a lifetime of deepening love and intimacy.”

Email your questions to abtlastnight@gmail.com

About Last Night: My vegan, feminist girlfriend is too intense for me. Am I just shallow?

Q: Emily and I (22) met at uni three years ago. She’s a good person – politically and environmentally active, vegan, feminist, and a defender of the oppressed. But I’m finding her too full-on and intense. I walk on eggshells for fear of being politically incorrect and cringe when she comes down on others, either crushing them, or making them angry. Maybe she’s a better person than me, but I’m going to leave if she doesn’t lighten up. Does wanting to have more fun make me a typically shallow male?

A: Virtue without the leavening effects of humility, compassion, and humour can be a horrible thing. Many of the world’s despots and dictators have believed that they were in the right, and some of the worst cruelty inflicted on others has been done in the name of an ideal. It takes more than having the “right” ideas to make the world a better place. Indeed, many of our problems are caused by people competing over who is right, in religion, politics, and lifestyle choice.

The first ingredient that needs to be added to the mix is humility, and a willingness to admit that one is flawed, and fallible. Jesus defines a hypocrite as the person who is so busy pointing out the speck of dust in their neighbour’s eye that they ignore the plank in their own eye. Only a person who is without “sin” should sit in judgment on another. When you acknowledge your own failings you become more tolerant and understanding.

Another key ingredient is compassion. It is tempting to treat people the way that you think they deserve to be treated, but that is not where true goodness lies. As Hamlet says: “use every man after his desert, and who shall ‘scape whipping? Use them after your own honour and dignity – the less they deserve, the more merit is in your bounty.”

A kind, inclusive and loving world can only be achieved through acts of generosity and kindness.

The third vital ingredient is a sense of humour. Emily reminds me of the joke: “When I met Ms Right I didn’t realise her middle name was ‘Always’!” Needing to be right all the time is very unattractive. Being able to laugh at yourself, and to see the funny side of things is more endearing.

Emily might argue that she is not in a popularity contest. She wants to see substantial change in a damaged world.  However, what it boils down to is not who is right and wrong, it is about being effective and achieving positive outcomes. If the way you act or speak results in people tuning out, due to paranoia or defensiveness, then any message you hope to communicate, or any change you hope to effect, will have failed. In fact, you are in danger of increasing the total of gross national unhappiness.

Deciding that you do not want to be with someone, no matter how worthy they are, does not make you a bad person. If it is over, it is over. However, the kind of earnest, dogmatic and brash manner you describe can be a function of youth. Time and experience can often mellow a person, and help them to take a more nuanced and less binary approach to life.

If you still love Emily it might be worthwhile trying to let her know how you feel.

Model a more effective communication by avoiding blame and accusation, and by demonstrating active listening. Use “I” messages, such as: “When you assume that I am saying the wrong thing, I feel like I am not being listened to”; or “I want to have more fun with you. I would like us to find a balance between the serious side of life, and enjoying the moment.”

By avoiding criticism and judgment of her in what you share, you are more likely to achieve a breakthrough in understanding. If this cannot happen, it might be time to move on. That would not mean that Emily is wrong, just that she is not right for you.

Email your questions to abtlastnight@gmail.com

About Last Night: Moving into adulthood

Q: My daughter, 17, and I are very close. As a child, she had cancer. Hugh and I supported her through painful and traumatic procedures, which welded us together. Sophie recovered, but, five years ago, her Dad died suddenly, making us even closer. Last week, Sophie went out with her friends Kat and Ben. As the car drove away, I saw there was another young man with them. When I asked about this she clammed up. She won’t tell me anything, and gets defensive if I suggest she brings any male friends home. I sense a widening gap between us and am terrified of losing her.

A: I am sorry to hear about the challenging times that you have all been through. Sharing trauma can form a close bond between people, but part of the recovery involves rediscovering and embracing one’s individuality and autonomy.

Sophie is at an age when it is important she becomes her own person. How you respond to her transition into adulthood will shape the nature of your future relationship. Do not allow your fear and neediness to drive a wedge between you.

You have been through hell, and I understand that you are reluctant to experience more pain, but you need to be brave. Step back, and give Sophie space to grow, trusting that, in time, you will evolve a healthier closeness with your daughter. Trust and respect are key right now.

It is natural and desirable for Sophie to blossom into a sexual adult, and you cannot be too closely involved in the process.

You could, through a combination of guilt trips, emotional blackmail, and bullying, bind her to you, and isolate her from her peers, but this could result in resentment, or could cripple her, making her incapable of forming healthy adult relationships. What do you want for her future? Surely you hope that she will end up happily partnered, and would love to have grandchildren? If so, try to let go.

Consider the incident you describe. Maybe the mystery man was just a friend. Maybe Sophie’s friends were matchmaking. Maybe Sophie has a huge crush on him, but does not know if he likes her. Maybe they are connecting, but she fears that suggesting he meet her mother might scare him off. There are any number of reasons why she is unwilling to go into it with you.

The drive to become an autonomous individual is primal and ruthless. Just as a plant will lift a paving stone to get to the light, so too a young person who feels trapped or constrained can be brutal in pursuit of freedom. Sophie’s history demonstrates that she is a fighter and a survivor. Do not stand in her way.

She needs to believe that you trust her, are willing to let her go, and that you will respect her privacy, and her ability to make her own decisions. If you have the courage to release your grip it is more likely that she will come back to you. Your relationship cannot remain unchanged, but it can develop into a mature and healthy mother-daughter connection.

This change in Sophie is a sign that you too need to make some changes in your life. You can no longer depend on your daughter alone for friendship, companionship, support and intimacy. If you try to maintain the status quo you could lose Sophie’s respect, and cause her to resent and despise a clinging vine that binds her to her past.

Lead by example. Start to organise activities that you do on your own. Try to build up a network of friends to supply some of what you get from Sophie. This is never easy, but be proactive – enrol in a class, join a Meetup group (meetup.com), join a gym or a sporting team, cultivate the friends you have, go on an organised tour.

When your daughter sees you getting a life, it will give her a role model for her own journey. She will no longer feel guilt or pity about you, two toxic emotions. Handled well, you will be able to look back on this scary transition with pride, enjoying a happy relationship with your daughter and, perhaps, your grandchildren.

Email your questions to abtlastnight@gmail.com

About Last Night: I still want to have sex but my body doesn’t respond

Q: Ron and I have been together for 44 years. Our sex life, in which I’ve been an eager participant, has had its ups and downs but has always been a pleasurable and important part of our lives. In recent years I’ve experienced diminished desire and a lack of sensation, meaning I virtually never achieve an orgasm, and find myself simply waiting for him to ‘finish’. I still want to have intercourse but my body doesn’t respond. Ron is aware of this and feels he’s just using me, which puts him off. We’re financially secure and enjoying our retirement but for this. My GP has put me on an oestrogen pessary, which has helped comfort-wise, but nothing else has improved.

A: Dr Sonia Davison, endocrinologist at Jean Hailes for Women’s Health, says many factors have a negative impact on sexual desire. These include longer relationship length, being married, menopause, psychosocial stressors and some medications. Studies have shown that sexual function and levels of activity decline with increasing age.

“There is no one correct answer or approach to female sexual dysfunction and it is useful to consult with an expert in this area, who may be a sexual counsellor or a dedicated women’s health practitioner. Further information can be found at  jeanhailes.org.au/health-a-z/sex-sexual-health or at the Australasian Menopause Society webpage, “Sexual difficulties in the Menopause”.

Dr Anita Elias is the head of Monash Health’s Sexual Medicine and Therapy Clinic, and Sexual Counselling Clinic at the Royal Women’s Hospital’s Malvern Psychotherapy Centre. She agrees that, “Anything and everything can have an impact on sexuality. The problems you describe are very common. Decreased desire for sex (libido) and arousal can be caused by general health issues, problems with physical or emotional wellbeing (including anxiety or depression), any relationship difficulties and general life stresses. Unfortunately, many medications have sexual side effects, such as the difficulties you describe”.

Dr Elias suggests you try to tease out the factors that have brought you to where you are now. She suggests a strategy that might narrow down the process.

“It can be helpful to track when this problem began. What was happening around that time? For example, did you have a health issue, ’empty nest’ syndrome, a bereavement?”

Think back. Was sex painful, post menopause? It often happens that a woman tries to ignore discomfort at first. This is a mistake. Each incident of painful sex acts like aversion therapy, making arousal increasingly difficult. The pessaries have eased the discomfort, but the reluctance continues.

Be realistic about the ageing process. Even the fittest person begins to slow down and lose their physical prowess. Neither of you are going to be randy teenagers again.

Dr Elias says, “As we get older, both women and men need more or different stimulation (physical, mental and emotional) to achieve the same level of pleasure and arousal”.

Allow more time for lovemaking. Spend more time on foreplay and flirting. Try not to be goal oriented. Rather, try to enjoy all of the sensual pleasures, moment by moment.

If you are both really stuck in an unhelpful pattern, Dr Elias says, “It may be helpful to stop intercourse for a while, which sounds like it has become a chore –and chores are rarely a turn-on! Instead, focus on relaxing, having fun times together and exploring what is enjoyable and pleasurable in other ways of being intimate (general closeness, touch, massage etc) without worrying about the outcome. This can free you both up from the stress that comes with ‘trying’ to orgasm.”

In order to get back on track with your happy lives it might be helpful to get some professional assistance.

“The first step would be to have a thorough assessment by a doctor with experience in managing sexual difficulties,” says Dr Elias. “There are two free public outpatient clinics in Victoria: The Sexual Medicine and Therapy clinic at Monash Health and the Sexual Counselling Clinic at The Women’s Hospitals, where experienced doctors assess and treat these issues all the time”.

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