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About last night; the power of appreciation 17-02-18

Q: My partner and I love spending time together, and have a great sex life, but it seems like everything I do is never quite right. No matter how much effort I put in, I get no thanks, or a criticism. Last week, I made a surprise romantic dinner, with candles, and my nan’s best tablecloth, and the only comment was, “Don’t spill wine on this cloth”. I would love to hear something appreciative.

A: Each one of us is unique, coming from different backgrounds, having differing experiences, and having different cultural mores. As a result, it is not surprising to find we communicate differently too. We all know that the secret to a successful relationship is effective communication, but we do not always understand what that looks like.

Once we understand what communicates love, and what we do not really care about it becomes easier to empathise with one another. Illustration: Michael Leunig
Once we understand what communicates love, and what we do not really care about it becomes easier to empathise with one another. Illustration: Michael Leunig

In 1995, prominent relationship counsellor Dr Gary Chapman published Five Love Languages. In this groundbreaking book he outlined the five main ways in which people communicate and receive love so you can better understand your partner’s method of communication.

Chapman explains that, “there are basically five emotional love languages – five ways that people speak and understand emotional love. In the field of linguistics a language may have numerous dialects or variations. Similarly, within the five basic emotional love languages, there are many dialects. The important thing is to speak the love language of your spouse.”

These five languages are: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Giving Gifts, spending Quality Time, and Loving Touch.

Sometimes, miscommunication happens when you like to give or receive affection in a different way to your partner. For example, being given a bunch of flowers might leave you cold if you are yearning to be held.

In your case, it could be that your partner shows love by sharing quality time with you, or through loving touch, but you need words of affirmation to feel loved. On the other hand, you might show your love through acts of service, or by giving gifts, but your partner is more receptive to being kissed and cuddled.

Once we understand what communicates love, and what we do not really care about it becomes easier to empathise with one another, and realise where we might be missing something, or what is triggering fights.

I would encourage you both to explore this further by taking Chapman’s online quiz, designed to help you identify your love dialects, and then to tune in to the love you are being given, and modify how you express love so it is fully received (5lovelanguages.com).

If you discover you both like one of the languages, that is the one to focus on to maintain your love. When you understand one another’s love languages it makes it much easier to recharge, and top up your “love tanks”, that reservoir of positive emotions that helps us to weather life’s storms. This concept is also helpful in simply expressing your love in the best possible way. Overall, it all comes down to knowing what’s important to people so you can understand, empathise, and work with more effectively.

Although originally formulated to assist in relationships, Chapman’s ideas can also be applied more broadly – in the workplace, with friends, and in general social interactions. Particularly helpful in everyday life is the positive power of expressing appreciation.

It is too easy to take a jaundiced view of life. The orientation of our media, our politics, and of the world of commerce is to focus on faults, mistakes, problems and errors. While it is important to deal with negative issues, it can become a habit to concentrate on what is wrong, and to overlook what is good.

We need to be careful about this as it can foster a negative and suspicious orientation towards life that can diminish our joy, and is disheartening to those who are doing their best.

Consciously choosing to show appreciation, not just complaints, is a practice that will enhance your life. Most of us will lodge a complaint if we have had a negative experience. Take the time to lodge an appreciation if you have enjoyed outstanding customer service, problem resolution, and kindness.

Email: abtlastnight@gmail.com

About last night: All about the clitoris 10-02-18

Q: My friends and I are in our mid-20s, and can talk about anything. We’re all pretty intelligent and tuned in, but I’m surprised, in this post-porn world, how little many of them know about women’s sexuality, especially when it comes to the clitoris. I remember reading one of your columns when I was about 19 that taught me so much about the clitoris. Could you give us that information again?

A: In 1858, Henry Grey published Grey’s Anatomy, which became the Bible of anatomy for the medical profession. Continuously revised and updated, it remains a vital reference. However, until relatively recently, it contained no information about the female clitoris.

Sex therapist Cyndi Darnell has produced a series of videos for adults on the subject.
Sex therapist Cyndi Darnell has produced a series of videos for adults on the subject.Photo: Penny Stephens PKS

In the 1990s, urologist Helen O’Connell, from Melbourne’s Royal Women’s Hospital, decided to investigate the anatomy of the clitoris, using MRI, and other modern technologies. She was amazed to discover that the small nub of flesh at the top of the vulva that we call the clitoris is actually the external tip of an extensive, internal structure. The reason this was an important discovery is because, before this time, ignorance of this structure meant that bladder surgery, and other surgical interventions in the genital area often resulted in a loss of sexual sensation and, while this never killed anyone, female sexuality was, for the first time in history, seen to be important.

Unfortunately, a certain level of medical misogyny persists. When O’Donnell presented her findings to a group of final-year medical students, one young man’s assessment of the lecture was, “A complete waste of an hour”.

In 2009, building on O’Connell’s work, Dr Odile Buisson and Dr Pierre Foldes gave the medical world its first complete 3-D sonography of the stimulated clitoris. As a result, Dr Foldes has been performing surgery on women who have suffered from clitoral mutilation, restoring pleasure to thousands of circumcised patients. At the time, he remarked that, “The medical literature tells us the truth about our contempt for women. For three centuries, there are thousands of references to penile surgery, nothing on the clitoris … and nothing to restore its sensitivity. The very existence of an organ of pleasure is denied, medically. Today, if you look at the anatomy books … you will find two pages … there is a real intellectual excision.”

More recently, Australian sex therapist Cyndi Darnell produced a series of videos for adults. The Atlas of Erotic Anatomy offers sex education in a format that is accessible to the layperson, including information about the structure of the clitoris (https://cyndidarnell.com/atlas-of-erotic-anatomy-arousal/).

Interestingly, the clitoris is the only organ whose sole purpose seems to be to give pleasure. It is possible that a woman’s orgasm might play some role in conception but, unlike the penis, which is used for urination as well as ejaculation, it only has this one function. This fact might explain why it was ignored for so many years.

So, “the little man in the boat” is, in fact, only the tip of the iceberg. Most of it is internal, within the pelvis. This external glans has almost twice as many pleasure-sensitive nerve fibres as the head of a penis. It is connected to much larger, internal structures – the corpus cavernosum and the crus.

The former are two structures which, when erect, wrap around either side of the vagina causing it to hug the penis. Further back in the body, this then splits to form the crus, two branches which extend about 9cm, which point towards the thighs but stretch back towards the spine when erect. Near to these, under the labia majora and on either side of the opening, are the clitoral vestibules. When these become engorged with blood they cause the vulva to “pout”, and to grip. A tighter-feeling vagina, therefore, has more to do with the woman’s level of arousal rather than the underlying structure of the vagina itself.

Also, the 40-year-old argument about clitoral v vaginal orgasms is thus rendered redundant because the entire area becomes an erogenous zone.

Understanding how your body functions is empowering, especially for women, whose traditional ignorance about their sexuality has made them vulnerable to ignorant misconceptions for many years.

Email your questions to abtlastnight@gmail.com

About Last Night: Good Vibrations was my inspiration 03-02-18

Q: I remember visiting Bliss for Women, as a nervous 21-year-old who was both ignorant and terrified about her sexual adequacy. Now 42, I still credit that day for launching the life journey that now finds me happily partnered, sexually confident, and positive about my older years.

A: In 1996, I opened Bliss for Women (bliss4women.com.au), hoping to create a safe space where women could explore their sexuality, supported by information, and education. My inspiration was Good Vibrations in San Francisco, founded in 1977 by sex therapist Joani Blank. I loved the tone and style of their catalogue, and identified with their ethos, but knew little about their history.

Safe haven: The Bliss for Women shop.

Safe haven: The Bliss for Women shop. Photo: Sylvia Tuz

Convinced that women’s sexual liberation was a feminist issue, I was shocked and disappointed by calls for feminists to picket my premises, by International Women’s Day’s oranisers’ decision to block my inclusion, and by a stinging remark from a feminist activist friend, “Maureen believes women should f— their way to freedom.”

I was, therefore, delighted hear about a new book, Vibrator Nation: How Feminist Sex-Toy Stores Changed the Business of Pleasure by Lynn Comella, a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Comella spent more than 15 years researching the history of alternative sex shops, which began in the mid 1970s. The book has drawn almost universal acclaim, being well received by academia, the mainstream media, and the commercial sex industry. Now embarking on an international book tour, Comella will be launching her book in Melbourne. (trybooking.com/book/event?eid=330557)

Speaking to Comella, I was struck by the way my Australian adventure mirrored that of those pioneers. It turns out the we all were motivated by a desire to make the world a better place, rather than to make money. We all discovered the tightrope walk between integrity, and financial viability, discovering that it is extremely difficult to combine ethics with business success.

Having provided a safe, non-exploitative environment in which people could explore what had been a tangle of ignorance, fear, shame, and desperation, we also witnessed the power of what unfolded.

One major change is in the nature of the industry itself. It used to be that a vibrator was a device a man purchased for a woman. Women had neither the financial independence, nor the courage, to shop for themselves, there being no shops specifically designed with them in mind.

As women became the customers they also became toy designers and manufacturers. When I first visited a sex toy wholesale warehouse, the majority of the vibrators were phallic. There were fake penises in plastic, vinyl and jelly, in flesh, pink, black, or Glo-in-the Dark. You could choose small, medium and large; with or without testicles, or veins. Today, a sex toy catalogue looks like something from the space age. New technologies have been employed, designs are ergonomic and elegant, and the packaging is tasteful and discreet.

“In Vibrator Nation, I trace not only the history of women-friendly sex-toy stores, but the making of an entire consumer market. The mainstreaming and popularity of sex toys that we see today stands on the shoulders of early feminist pioneers who, in the 1970s, boldly declared that women deserved greater access to both sexual pleasure and their vibrators,” Comella told me.

The global financial crisis of 2008 coincided with the availability of free, online porn, to produce a crisis in a sex industry that had always been regarded as an infinitely fecund golden goose. Traditional sex shops were forced to find new income streams, and they turned their attention to vibrator sales. They were delighted to find that there was a receptive market of both men and women eager to purchase sophisticated pleasure enhancers. What they did not realise, but what Comella reveals, is that that market did not emerge from nowhere; it had evolved and grown from the efforts of businesses such as Eve’s Garden and Good Vibrations.

Today, I see the benefits of this new openness, empowerment and acceptance having positive influences on the medical profession, the caring industries, sex education, human relationships and popular culture.

Globally, we have a long way to go before all women are liberated sexually, but I feel honoured to have been one tiny strand in an awesome rope.

Email your questions to abtlastnight@gmail.com

About last night, Too much to do? Try doing nothing 21-01-18

Q: Pam is a wonderful woman – hardworking, and dedicated to her job, the family and our home, but it’s like living with a Bunnings advert. Every time I’m off work, even if it’s only for the weekend, she has an endless list of chores for me to complete – mow the lawn, assemble flat-packed furniture, hang a picture, paint the kitchen, wash the car … I’m happy to do my fair share, but I’d also like some quiet time, reading, watching sport, or just veging. To her, sitting down means being lazy. How do I get some time out?

A: Many of us do seem to be endlessly busy. What used to be called the Protestant work ethic is now ubiquitous. In addition to working unpaid overtime, maintaining a house and garden, ferrying kids to after-school activities, and keeping fit, modern technology has brought us the added pressure of keeping up with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other cyber demands. As a result, many of us are compromising our health by never getting enough sleep, and not taking time out to smell the roses.

Because being busy is seen as a virtue we rarely question this, but it can appear that some people spend every moment doing things in order to avoid thinking about what really matters. They rush through life helter-skelter and then slide into the grave wearing a smug smile. This is fine, if it is how you want to live, but some busy people also judge those who prefer a slower pace, and have different priorities.

In long-term relationships, this over-active mindset can become a barrier to making space for love-making and intimacy. The challenge is to find a balance.

Simply being busy is not necessarily being effective or productive. Manfred Kets De Vries. a distinguished professor of leadership development and organisational change, is the author of Doing Nothing and Nothing To Do: The Hidden Value of Empty Time and Boredom. He says that “slacking off, and setting aside regular periods of ‘doing nothing’ may be the best thing we can do to induce states of mind that nurture our imagination and improve our mental health”.

This is an ancient wisdom with which we have lost touch. Taoism valued something called “Wu wei” (doing nothing).
“Introspection and reflection have become lost arts as the temptation to ‘just finish this’ or ‘find out that’ is often too great to resist. But working harder is not necessarily working smarter,” says Kets De Vries.

So, how do you convey this truth to Pam? You need to talk to her, not as a whinge, and not making her wrong, but in a way that expresses how you feel, and asserts your right to a different perspective. It might be useful to show her the scientific evidence for the benefits of being less busy.

Pam has tasks that she wants performed, and is not able, or willing, to do herself. Discuss this list, and work with her to prioritise the tasks. Commit to doing certain jobs, but ask her to allow you to do them in your own way, and at your own pace. For example, you might agree to paint the kitchen over Easter, but insist that you want to take any time left over for yourself.

It is important, especially at the beginning, that you do what you promise to do, so that Pam can trust you, and leave you to it. Do not resort to passive aggression, dragging everything out, as in the humourless meme: “When you ask a man to do something, trust him to do it. Don’t remind him every day for the next six months.”

Pam may need to accept that some things will not happen as quickly as she would like, but she needs to respect your right to allocate your time in a way that suits you.

Once this ceases to be an emotional battlefield, you might be able to encourage Pam to prioritise her own to-do list, and invite her to join you in some down time – take a walk, go out for coffee, or just sit down and be in the moment.

Email your questions to abtlastnight@gmail.com

About last night, Can I flirt at work without appearing sleazy or inappropriate? 14-01-18

Q: I am 26 and single. I’m quite shy, and am not much of a party animal, so I don’t find it easy to meet women. At work I have a large team of colleagues, and many of them are attractive women I would like to get to know better, but I am worried about how best to flirt, or give them compliments. I do not want to seem sleazy, or inappropriate, especially in the current climate of exposing sexual harassment. How do you walk the line?

 
A: Attractive women do not exist for men’s delectation. Young women enjoy dressing well, and making the most of their looks. This does not mean that they are setting out to be like cakes in a baker’s window, a tasty selection vying to be chosen. Even if they are single, and available that does not mean they are available to you, and they are not responsible for any desire they might inspire.

The best way to become comfortable around women is to practise engaging with all the women you meet in a friendly way, without a hidden agenda. Most women can pick up on insincerity or sleaze. Make sure that you interact positively with all women, regardless of their age or looks. If you only acknowledge the pretty ones it will not reflect well on you.

Women are human beings who go to work to earn a living, further their careers, climb the ladder of success … just like men. While they might look attractive, the workplace is not a dating site. You need to interact with them with respect. They are not at work to be picked up.

Obviously, there are times when people who work together find themselves drawn to one another, but it is important to tread carefully. Just because an attractive woman is friendly and approachable it does not mean that she wants to be more than a colleague, and she should not have to fear that any warmth on her part will be taken as encouragement to woo.

If you do sense a connection developing, take it out of the workplace ASAP. You might suggest going for coffee, so that you can get to know each other better, but do not have “deep and meaningfuls” in work time. If a relationship does develop, make sure that your behaviour is professional in the office. It is not appropriate to sneak off to the photocopy room for a pash. Make sure you do not make your other colleagues feel embarrassed or uncomfortable.  Relationships can fizzle out quickly, so think about how it would be to go to work with someone with whom you had a disastrous romance.

Avoid making comments about a woman’s body. I assume that you realise that it is inappropriate to tell a woman she has great tits, or a cute bum, but even commenting on her lovely eyes or pretty smile is still too personal. If you want to give a compliment, especially in the workplace, ask, “May I give you a compliment?”. Frame your observations as ‘I’ statements: “I like your dress/shoes/new hairstyle”. When you make a “you” statement it can give the impression that you feel entitled to make a judgment.

Make sure that you listen, and pay close attention to the response you get. If the woman says “no”, or is otherwise underwhelmed, respectfully back off. Do not take a negative response personally. It is not an attack on your manhood, and it is pathetic when the rejectee turns nasty (she must be a bitch or a lesbian). All that response exposes is your insincerity, and the fact that you were only chasing sex.

Be aware of the power dynamic between you and your colleagues. A woman under your management might not feel able to reject your advances because you have the power to affect her work prospects. As a rule of thumb, if you would not say it, or do it, to your boss, don’t do it. Some say that a pat on the bum is harmless, but, if your CEO were a woman, would you pat her bottom in passing?

Email your questions to abtlastnight@gmail.com

About last night, What can I do about my children’s offensive language? 07-01-18

Q: I have teenaged children who often bring friends home. They are great kids, but I get het up when I overhear the bad language they use all the time. Their constant use of the f-word is bad enough, but I cringe at how readily and casually they use the c-word, which I find deeply offensive to women. They have not heard this language at home. Why do they do this, and what can I do about it?

A: Firstly, if this is the worst thing your teenagers are doing you are getting off lightly. Teenagers push boundaries, and often copy their peers in order to fit in. While their swearing might seem ugly to you, do not overreact. Instead, use this as a learning opportunity. In cultures around the world there are words that are taboo. Using these in public is frowned upon, and using them has the ability to shock. These words are usually sexual, or blasphemous in nature, reflecting the areas that cause most anxiety.Swear words are constantly evolving, and can lose their power as society evolves. In today’s secularised society, blasphemy has far less power. A century ago it was unacceptable to say “damn” and “bloody”. Similarly, our increasingly open attitude to sex means that words like “f—” and “dick” are regularly used on TV and in public.

For some reason, however,  the c-word still has immense power to shock. This reflects our ongoing anxiety about female sexuality. It is particularly offensive to many women because they resent the fact that women’s genitals are seen to be dirtier, and less acceptable, than a man’s.

It used to be said that “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words can never hurt me”. We now know that verbal abuse can be very damaging, but it is important to keep things in perspective.

The power of “bad” language is contextual. When my friend’s grandmother visited from the Netherlands, she was horrified by all the signs advertising hot pies because “pies” is the Dutch term for urine.

Looked at rationally, it is ludicrous for a combination of letters, or the utterance of a sound, to do harm. “Duck”, “cult”, “tanker” and “shin” are only one letter away from causing offence, but are completely innocuous.

When people swear in order to shock it is best to deny them the reaction they want. One mother I know got so tired of her teens saying c— that she started chanting it repeatedly until it lost its sting and just sounded silly.

It is pointless to tell your children that they must not swear. They will, even if they are more cautious when you are in earshot. You are more likely to have an impact if you have a broader conversation about language.

For example, you might point out that poorly educated people with a limited vocabulary often overuse swearing. Their communication is peppered with swear words because they have difficulty communicating. This style of talk is ugly and boring, and reflects badly on the speaker.

The other point to make is about courtesy, and consideration for others. Swearing with your fiends might be fairly harmless, unless you are in public. Shouting obscenities on the tram, or in the street can cause some people, especially the elderly, distress and pain. This is not clever or funny. It is important to learn about time and place.

Research has shown that swearing can have its benefits. For example, it has been shown that swearing increases tolerance to pain. If you stub your toe and say, “fable, table” you will not get the relief you will get from a good curse.

It is important to pick your battles with teenagers. Keeping the channels of communication open is vital if you want them to come to you when they have a problem. For this reason, do not go overboard about something as trivial as swearing. At the end of the day, bad language never killed anyone. Your children will learn to moderate this behaviour as they mature because they will get to understand that it is in their own interests to give a good impression.

Email your questions to abtlastnight@gmail.com

About last night, Here’s a new year’s resolution that could save your relationship 31-12-17

Q: After 29 years of marriage, Fay and I make a great team. We enjoy our jobs, our kids, and our lifestyle, and share a great sense of humour. The only problem is in the bedroom. We rarely have sex, or even kiss and cuddle. We are so close in so many ways, but I do not know how to have “that” conversation without making things worse. I was going to buy her a book about libido, but I’m unsure. What do you suggest?

A: If I had a silver bullet for this perennial bugbear I would be writing from the deck of my private yacht. An unspoken and unacknowledged sexual no-go zone exists in innumerable long-term relationships, no matter how happy. Over time, this can leach the joy from life. Ignored, the issue does not go away, it just festers like an unlanced boil and becomes debilitating.Illustration: Richard CollinsIllustration: Richard Collins

This decline in physical intimacy stems from numerous factors that have little to do with falling out of love. The business of life takes over, and, if the couple does not make their connection a priority, a distance grows. For some reason, dealing with this is difficult. Couples who have been together for decades tell me they cannot talk about sex.

In the end, the partner who is reluctant to be sexual can become almost phobic about responding to affectionate touch, They freeze up for fear that their response could be misread as consent to go further.Meanwhile, the person craving connection can appear fixated on sex, only wanting the other for their body. They try to take advantage of every perceived opportunity to be sexual, and their anxiety is reinforced by rejection.

Each person’s negative self-talk widens this gap. Paranoia, guilt, misunderstandings and petty resentments result in a cycle of blame and shame that keeps each person separate.

The only way through this impasse is for you and Fay to talk, but you are wise to be cautious.  Dr Rosie King’s Good Loving, Great Sex is still the best couples resource I know of, but, if you give it to Fay without any preamble she might well take it as an accusation or a judgment. Instead, read it yourself before you try to raise the issue.

If you are in a long-term relationship, and are in a similar bind, I invite you to do something about it today.
This year, do not waste your new year’s resolution on dreary things like weight loss or giving up alcohol. Instead, resolve to put your energy and resources into revitalising your loving connection.

To get the ball rolling, I give you all a new year challenge to make January “Relationship Reboot Month”.
Firstly, using an idea in Dr King’s book, both of you need to agree to abstain from sex for the month. If you both find this unthinkable you don’t need a reboot.

Next, agree to have two kisses a day, with each kiss lasting six seconds. Even if you find these kisses arousing, you must agree that neither of you will try to go any further. The idea is for you to experience desire and anticipation for their own sake. Doing this over a period time will help the reluctant partner to build trust, and to enjoy the moment without their anxious mind kicking in. The other partner can enjoy some intimacy for its own sake, without hoping for more.

Dr John Gottmann, a renowned psychologist whose work on relationships is unsurpassed, developed the theory of the Six Second Kiss as a tool to help couples maintain regular touch. He found that six seconds was short enough not to interrupt a busy schedule, but long enough for sensual connection.

Whatever the outcome, taking the challenge could be a fun way to begin a fruitful conversation. If the situation is so fraught that your partner refuses to participate you probably need to get some professional counselling.

I would love to hear your your feedback about this experiment. Ideally, couples all over Melbourne will be undressing each other with their teeth on February 1.

Email your questions to abtlastnight@gmail.com

About Last Night: Christmas is the season of love? Not in my house. 24-12-17

Q: This year I am struggling to get into the spirit of Christmas. Apart from the fact that peace and goodwill seem to be thin on the ground around the world, I have two sulky teenagers who sneer at all my festive plans, and a partner who is more interested in the cricket than family celebrations. My deaf aunt is coming to stay, so the TV will be up loud, and every conversation will have to be shouted, with many repetitions, which puts everyone on edge. The season of love? Bah, humbug.

A: Love is a fuzzy, feelgood thing that we all claim to desire, but it can be difficult to understand exactly what it should look like in the everyday world.When I was a teenager there were sheets of stickers that were popular for decorating our pencil cases and diaries. Written in colourful 1960s groovy script, they said things like “Love is kind”, “Love is patient”. They were a product of the Summer of Love, but it turned out that they were taken from a letter in the Bible from St Paul (1 Corinthians, 13). Regardless of faith, this still stands as one of the best definitions of love I know.

It begins with: “Love is patient, love is kind”, and it is significant that patience comes first. We all understand the concept of loving kindness, and believe that we express love by doing kind things, like giving to charity. The more difficult path is, lovingly, to acknowledge our own failings, and to extend to others the patience we would like to receive. In your case, your challenge is to be patient with those awkward teenagers, your annoying partner, and the stress your aunt’s visit presents. Offering your aunt the opportunity to be included in a family get-together, in spite of the difficulties, is a huge act of love.

The Gospel passage then explains what love is not. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

When my sons were still at home, my desire to put on the perfect Christmas left me so tense and resentful that it threatened to ruin everything, despite all my efforts. It might be better to do less, or to ask for specific help to provide what everyone wants. In our case, my partner agreed to lighten the load by cooking the Christmas dinner.Love means striving to control the perfectly natural tendencies to play the burning martyr, to hold a list of resentments, and to assume an air of moral superiority. There is no place for passive aggression, or selfish manipulation, nor for making everybody around you wrong through guilt trips.

The letter continues: “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

Focus on the good rather than dwelling on the negative. Trust in your children’s innate goodness even when they are at their prickliest. Teenagers push your buttons, and boundaries, in order to test your love. If you maintain loving communication and are patient, they are more likely to grow into secure, loving adults. Similarly, your partner is more likely to make an effort if he does not feel judged, under attack, and slighted. Your forbearance will nurture your partner and children, creating a loving space in which to celebrate.

Love is not an outward display of generosity, work, and good deeds. It is an internal struggle to be positive, humble, and accepting of others, warts and all.

Finally, Paul writes: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

To be a loving person does not mean being a saint who is positive and cheerful all the time. Rather, it means understanding that we are all flawed, but choosing to see the best in others. It means putting on a family Christmas because of what that gives to everyone involved, not because doing so makes you better than everyone else. Have a wonderful Christmas.

Send your questions to abtlastnight@gmail.com

About Last Night: I have herpes – is this the end of my sex life? 17-12-17

Q: I am a single working woman (42) who is looking for a life partner. Over the past couple of years, I’ve encountered a number of men, but with no result. I never, ever had unprotected sex, although I did enjoy oral. Recently, I was diagnosed with genital herpes. I am trying to come to terms with the fact that I am infected and am a carrier. Is this the end of my sex life? I have read enough facts online about it and nothing is soothing me. Any help or advice please.

A: Unfortunately, there is never a way to engage in sexual activity that is 100 per cent safe, which is why we talk about observing safer sex protocols. The herpes virus is more difficult to avoid than other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Because it flares up on the skin in the genital area, it is not always covered by a condom. Also, although there are a variety of strains of the virus, a cold sore on the mouth can cause a genital infection if you have oral sex.The female condom offers more protection, because it covers the labia. These are not ideal, and can be difficult to find (they are available at my online store, bliss4women.com.au).

You have contracted an incurable virus, but try not to beat yourself up, or become disheartened. I spoke to Jocelyn Verry, who is one of the skilled and knowledgeable counsellors at the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre in Carlton (mshc.org.au). Her immediate message for you was, “No, this is not the end of your sex life!”

“Like you, the majority of clients I see here for counselling, have all the facts from their GP, the sexual health fact sheet about genital herpes on the MSHC website, or from the New Zealand Herpes Foundation (herpes.org.nz). However, they want clarification, and also want to talk about their condition without feeling judged. They are concerned about the social stigma, fear rejection upon disclosing to potential partners, and worry about passing it on to others.”

Verry suggests that your best first step would be to make an appointment to talk to one of the MSHC counsellors. The concerns that clients want to talk about are varied.

“They are scared that they will never form a relationship. They do not know how to tell someone that they have herpes. They feel alone, because they believe they are the only person they know with this condition. They can also feel victimised – ‘I’ve had very few partners, why is this happening to me?’ They fear this is going to make it even harder than it has already been to form a relationship.”

Other issues that can cause distress include the context in which they contracted herpes. They can be triggered when they find themselves in the same situation, especially if the cause stems from infidelity, or sex to which they did not consent. Many will give themselves a hard time if they did not use condoms, even though condoms do not always protect. All of their doubts and fears result in stress, and stress is the enemy of good health.

Verry says that it is vital to learn the best way to deliver the news of your condition to a potential partner.

“A straightforward, positive conversation is important. If you send the message that it’s not OK, that is how they will receive it. A negative reaction to this discussion often stems from ignorance and a fear of the unknown, so provide factual information. Avoid negative words and keep the dialogue simple.”

Verry is at pains to assure you that you can have the same level of intimacy as all couples by taking a few steps to decrease the risks, but, as with most STIs, there is never zero risk. These steps include abstaining from sex when you do have an occurrence, and using condoms and personal lubricant, to avoid skin trauma, which reduces the risk of transmission by 50 per cent. Frequent recurrences can be suppressed by taking suppressive therapy, which also reduces the risk of transmission.

And she advises: “Make an appointment with an MSHC counsellor today.”

Send your questions to abtlastnight@gmail.com

About last night: When one partner wants a family 10-12-17

Q: I married young and had two children by the time I was 25. We struggled for years, and eventually divorced, sharing custody of the children, who are both now living independently. Now 45, I’ve fallen in love with Amy, 36, and we’re talking about getting married. The problem is that Amy wants to have a baby, but the idea of starting all over again dismays me. I would be over 65 before the child left home, and I know how much my freedom would be restricted by a new family. What should I do?

A: Yours is a common dilemma. I cannot offer you a neat, one-size-fits-all solution, but I can suggest that you confront the issue straight away.A woman’s fertile years are much briefer than a man’s, and, at 36, Amy does not have time on her side. It might be tempting to avoid the subject, and enjoy your new love, but that would be unfair. If you are certain that your family is complete, let Amy go. It will hurt in the short-term, but will avoid either of you living with painful regrets or resentment.

You say that you are in love with Amy, but what does that mean for you? Are you attracted to her, and get pleasure from her company? Do you love her, as a human individual, wishing for her all the riches that life can offer? Do you love her enough to make some sacrifices?If your gut reaction is a “no”, that is all right, but be brave enough to act accordingly.

Your youthful marriage encountered unique challenges that neither of you were equipped to deal with at the time, and you parted. However, I am sure that you both love your children, and do not regret that they are on this earth.
You and Amy will also encounter issues but they will be different problems, and your responses and interactions will not be the same. Be careful not to allow fear to stop you from taking chances.

We live in the era of choice, but the constant need to make choices can give us the illusion that we can control life. That is scary, and we can end up avoiding decisions, or overthinking everything. A century ago, people had far fewer choices. Before reliable and accessible contraception people understood that any sexual relationship could result in conception.

You and Amy need to have an open, honest conversation. Take it in turns to listen, respectfully, as each of you fully articulates your thoughts and feelings about having a baby. Do not interrupt or comment until both of you feel that you have been heard.

Do not attempt to use “rational” arguments to persuade Amy, such as pointing out that the world is overpopulated, or that you will have more time and money to travel without kids. Many women have a visceral desire to become a mother, and that urge cannot be countered with arguments.

It might be useful for you and Amy to visit a relationship counsellor who could support you as you have this conversation. Unassisted, it can be easy to be overwhelmed by your emotions, making it difficult to talk calmly and honestly.

The truth is that we only have this moment. Nothing else is guaranteed. You might agree to have a child, but Amy might not get pregnant. You might decide to choose freedom, and then fall ill. Having a fixed idea of how life should be is a recipe for unhappiness. Beyond a certain point, you need to surrender to what is, and have faith that the universe will support you wherever life leads.

If you and Amy are genuinely in love, agreeing to try for a baby might be the greatest act of love you can perform. A new child might turn out to be a treasure that enhances your life more than it limits it. Listen to your heart.

If you know, with every fibre of your being, that you do not want another child, say so, even if it means losing Amy. That too might be the greatest gift of love that you can offer.

Email your questions to abtlastnight@gmail.com