When terror struck on September 11, it destroyed more than the World Trade Center, a wing of the Pentagon and an airplane bound for the White House. It changed life as we knew it just hours before. That day husbands, wives, mothers, lovers and friends all experienced a chilling wakeup call. Our sense of innocence was replaced with an exhaustingly constant state of anxious vulnerability -- something that can make or break a sexual relationship.
It was just days after the terrorist attacks when I was scheduled to be interviewed by a popular women's magazine. It was one of those typical "10 ways to seduce your new lover in bed" articles, and as the Sex Coach at iVillage, I was being asked for a quote. Frankly, I was distracted and found it hard to concentrate. My heart was somewhere else -- thinking about the lives that were lost, fearing future attacks and contemplating the changes that would need to be made in my own life. What happened on that phone interview, however, was an awareness of how the September 11 events were affecting sexuality and intimate relationships around the country.
The freelance reporter did her usual check-in, followed by a series of questions. I answered the best I could, and between standard guidance for better seduction skills, we kept coming back to our perceptions and interpretations of life since the attacks. What struck most was when she told me how many of her friends and contacts in the New York area were making major relationship changes. Reactions ran strong, fierce and abrupt. They were either breaking up with lovers altogether or getting married as soon as they could. That's how trauma affects relationships.
How has your relationship been affected? We polled iVillage women and 64 percent of you said that you are feeling clingy toward your partners. You want increased intimacy, and you need to feel more connected than ever. But does your partner feel the same? The following are four basic reactions that people have in times of trauma. You might be suprised at the amount of insight each one brings -- regardless of your reaction to the attacks. Take a look:
Hold Me CloseThis is the clingy mode. In this mode you feel the desire to be close to your partner (or an increased longing to have a steady partner), wanting to raise your level of intimacy.
"I NEED dh more than anything. Yes, we're having more sex and it is so much more intimate, loving and giving …" --iVillager R
This is the place where you as a couple may decide to get engaged or married, partly as a response to the devastating times. In the 1980s a friend and colleague, Dr. Carol Cassell, wrote a groundbreaking book called Swept Away. Her research showed the often boys or men give love to get sex; girls or women give sex to get love. The reverse is also often true: That men often report finding a feeling of love from the act of sex and that women feel more sexual after the loving romantic words are shared.
"When things are so uncertain in the world, my first instinct is to want to be closer with my boyfriend ... for us to tell each other how much we care and love each other ... and sex is a big part of our connection."
Although sharing these dark moments in the closeness of your honey's arms is always a good thing, be wary that you don't rely too heavily on sexual bonding in order to replace the need for real emotional closeness.
Beat the Biological ClockInterestingly enough, this reaction pushes you to go against the odds when terror strikes and doom looms large. In times of war, such as the WWII baby boom that produced over 70 million Americans, the urge to merge usually means a baby in nine months. That biological imperative to procreate and prolong life (or replace losses) is a common thread in times like these. Sending 50,000 troops overseas to fight the enemy and 500 war planes says that we are in wartime. Many spouses of service people will feel the need to be close, have more sex, and inevitably, multiply.
"We prayed, kissed and ended up making love. It wasn't as much about sex as it was about comforting each other, connecting with each other and feeling alive." --iVillager P
Even if you're not in a military family, it's common for couples to want to sow seeds before the man marches off to war -- even if it's figuratively. Of course, if you openly decide to have a(nother) child, celebrate your chances. If not, think well before leaping into the sack or into unprotected sexual territories.
Shut DownThis reaction means you may feel like being alone. Shut down is nature's way of taking you off the hook, postponing responsibility or preserving the energy that you just can't give away. The fact is that sex takes energy -- even though for some, it also gives it back.
"... and so sex was put on hold for about a week after the tragedy ..."
If you are feeling emotionally drained, energetically depleted, or are just plain hiding in the solace of your own being, let it be. Give yourself time to recover. By now, weeks after the attacks, you may be telling yourself that you should bounce back to normal. Be gentle on yourself and on your partner.
"He wanted almost zero physical contact, while I wanted to be as close as is humanly possible."
If you or your partner is desirous of sexual contact but the other isn't, then find a middle ground. Kissing, cuddling or even watching a romantic movie together might work for both of you. Whether it's sex or conversation, don't be surprised if your partner's thoughts and feelings are harder to read than usual. As John Gray so aptly teaches about one of the significant differences in the sexes: When men get upset, they run into the cave to be alone and slay the inner dragons; when women get upset they run to the telephone to tell their girlfriends all about it! Honor where you and your partner are, and act on your feelings in a way that makes you both feel better.
Live Now, Tomorrow May Not ComeThis method of reaction is basically an escape mechanism. The rush of endorphins can act as an antidote to the depression that many people are now feeling, and you may feel the desire or the impulse to act out sexually. What does this mean? For some it implies that having a one-nighter after a year of committed relationship is worth the risk. Deceivingly, cheating or having that affair may seem like a good decision right now in the wake of such confused and threatening times.
"…I fell off the wagon of 10 years just a few short days after. Somehow I thought life was too short, and it was time to really enjoy myself ..."
For others, abandoning safer sex with condoms or birth control may seem okay -- you may feel that urge to try something new, different or outside the box. Whether it's attending a swingers' party or answering a personal ad for sex, it's a "just live for the minute" attitude without regard for the future consequences of your decisions.
The rediscovery of caution is key though. Without a realistic regard for consequences, this behavior can spell doom for your intimate relationships.
How to Apply the Four DirectionsWhichever mechanism you find yourself using, here are some tips for maximizing your peace and pleasure:
1. Consciously honor yourself and your partner. Talk openly about what you think and feel about your relationship and your sex life during this aftermath period. This is an important time to give each other positive acknowledgments for the little things you love: the outfit you wore to work, the dinner she just made, the back rub before bed or those four great kids you have.
2. Try to feel good about your body. Remember that solo sex is okay even if you are in a lifelong committed relationship. Try to find ways to feel good in your body. Remind yourself and your partner that by getting back into your body, your mind and emotions may calm down and help you feel grounded.
3. Focus on something you can control. Terrorism works because it's based on fear. By being put on guard, you feel completely out of control and feeling out of control increases your sense of vulnerability. So, find one specific thing in your life that’s a sure bet. For example, set a schedule for sharing intimately (sensually or sexually) and stick to it. This may be the perfect time to institute that weekly sex date with your sweetie or invite a lover over for a special meal. Plan a holiday spa trip or buy an erotic video or book this week. This is your chance to find a way to take charge of at least one aspect of your life -- your sex life -- and make it pleasurable.
4. Act as if things are going to get better, evolve and grow. Life will continue, no matter what else happens. This is a good opportunity to do something for your future, or if you have a partner, for your future as a couple. Part of positive self-talk training is acting as if whatever you want to create, manifest or change will soon do just that. By behaving as if there is a future in store for you, your subsequent actions will have more value, and be more powerful tools for change.