The Midlife Affair, Thursday, Oct. 24, at 5 p.m. at the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre. $79 midlifeaffair. com
Maureen McGrath isn't shy when it comes to talking about sex, in fact, she's made a career out of it.
The West Vancouver resident and registered nurse is the host of the CKNW Sunday Night Sex Show, and also works as a nurse continence advisor, and sexual health educator and consultant.
McGrath is one of the featured speakers at The Midlife Affair, an upcoming information evening Thursday, Oct. 24, focused on aging, anti-aging and midlife change. Her presentation is entitled Sex in Middle Age and Beyond.
The Midlife Affair will be hosted by Dr. Art Hister, a Global TV health analyst, and will also feature presentations by Dr. William Davis, author of Wheat Belly, and Dr. John Whyte, author of Is This Normal? The Essential Guide to Middle Age and Beyond.
The North Shore News recently caught up with McGrath to find out more.
North Shore News: How did you come to be a sexual health educator? McGrath: My background and training has been in reproductive health in the acute care setting. My first experience in sexual health care was co-ordinating academic research at the B.C. Centre for Sexual Medicine in Vancouver about 10 years ago. I quickly learned the negative impact that living with a spinal cord injury had on sexual and reproductive health. Education has always been a passion of mine and I quickly saw how people's lives could be changed for the better with even a little health information. I thought if I could provide accurate up-to-date information based upon research to patients and deliver it in a way that put people at ease, and demonstrate how it may improve their overall health, then it would benefit people's lives and relationships.
North Shore News: What is your favourite thing about your job? McGrath: The opportunity to affect healthy change in people's lives is so fulfilling. I love the fact that people feel comfortable with me to discuss what is often considered a taboo subject. I recall one patient of mine in his early 50s and in a new relationship who came to see me for erectile dysfunction (ED). He had a very stressful job and a number of associated problems such as hypertension, elevated blood sugar, excess belly fat, a pending divorce, launching children, a sense of overwhelming guilt for ending his marriage and needless to say few strategies to manage his stress. I talked to him about emotional and physical health and told him that ED is like the 'canary in the coal mine' for heart disease. In fact, ED may be the first sign of heart disease. In addition to seeing his doctor about his ED so he could have a cardiac workup, I recommended he walk daily for 30 minutes to reduce anxiety and assist with weight loss, improve his diet to include more vegetables, add fibre, obtain a portable machine to monitor his blood pressure at home and address his anxiety through mindfulness. This patient was compliant with all of my recommendations and within four months not only were his blood sugars under control, his blood pressure dropped, he had lost 30 pounds and he said it was the best he had felt in a long time. His erections had improved dramatically and so had his emotional and physical health. Knowing you have helped someone help themselves is very rewarding.
North Shore News: What's the most common question or topic you're asked about?
McGrath: There are two, one is how often do people have sex? What is the normal amount? There is no straight answer for this as there are many factors that come into play when it comes to frequency of sex. It depends on where people are in their life and if they are dealing with any issues like pregnancy or medical conditions. Is it a new relationship? Sexual activity may be more frequent at the beginning of a relationship. The spark may flicker in a long-term relationship and therefore sex may diminish over time. Medical conditions such as dyspareunia or painful sex, depression or ED will lead to a decrease in sexual desire, which may impact sexual frequency. Trust and financial struggles are some other concerns that may contribute to less frequent sex.
The second most common question I receive is, is masturbation normal? If so, how much? Historically, masturbation has been regarded in many ways by different cultures and religions and has been considered to be everything from a perversion to a magical act to a sign of a mental health problem. The ancient Greeks considered it a safety valve against destructive sexual frustration.
Not only is masturbation normal, it is considered to be a healthy sexual activity that is pleasant, fulfilling, acceptable and safe. It is a good way to experience sexual pleasure and can be done throughout life whether a person has a partner or not. If one is masturbating so much so that their lives are being affected personally or professionally, then they may want to dial it down.
North Shore News: How important is sexual health to our overall health and well-being? McGrath: Sexuality is an important aspect of being human. Attraction, love, affection and intimacy are integral to overall health and relationships. According to the World Health Organization, "Sexual and reproductive health and well-being are essential if people are to have responsible, safe, and satisfying sexual lives."
So much of our life is tied both to our sexuality and to our health. Much is positive however there are medical conditions, emotions and life's challenges that may negatively impact one's sexual health. Sexual health issues also occur at many different times along the reproductive life cycle, for example during perimenopause.
North Shore News: If people have questions about sex, where should they go for answers? McGrath: It is important to discuss any sexual health issues with your doctor and/or your partner if you are in a relationship. Doctors, nurses, sexual health educators, psychologists and clinical counsellors who specialize in sexual health are also resources.
North Shore News: If you look at pop culture (TV, movies, pop music), in many ways it seems like our society is over sexualized. However, is that the case? Do you think we are as open as we could/should be about sex or is it still taboo? Why do you think this is? McGrath: It remains a taboo subject in part because it is very personal for people. The abundant depictions of sex in pop culture does not resemble in any way the realities of a healthy sex life. Sexual health and relationships are private matters for people and many are not comfortable discussing these health issues outside the privacy of their home with their partner or their doctors. We need to detach the shame that is associated with sex and yes this may lead people to being more open. People often don't even realize they have a sexual dysfunction or the impact it may have on their relationship.
North Shore News: Is more sexual health education needed? What are the benefits? McGrath: Absolutely. Individuals are often uncomfortable discussing their sexual health problems and this may be the biggest barrier to treatment. There are many benefits to sexual health education including improved health and relationships to name a few, releasing shame and becoming comfortable with one's sexuality. There are different sexual health issues that occur all along the reproductive life cycle and it is important that accurate information be disseminated.
North Shore News: What are you most looking forward to about participating in The Midlife Affair? McGrath: It is an opportunity to speak to a large group of people to provide information about sexual health at midlife at one time. The Midlife Affair will cover it all from physical to emotional health, sexual health and relationships. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to provide much-needed information to attendees and also provide a private and confidential opportunity after my presentation for people to have their questions answered.
North Shore News: What can you tell me about your talk, Sex in Middle Age and Beyond? McGrath: In my presentation, I plan to dispel some myths and provide information about common sexual health issues that are common at midlife that impact relationships. Let's crack open the conversation on vaginal health, low sexual desire, premature ejaculation and ED. I will outline the common sexual health issues that occur at midlife so attendees learn how to navigate the next years with confidence.
North Shore News: What are some easy ways people of all ages can spice up their love lives? McGrath: Place high value on your relationship. Understand the importance of a healthy sex life at any age, but especially at midlife when natural transitions occur like perimenopause, menopause and andropause (male menopause). Experiment with different sex positions. Bring sex toys into the bedroom.
North Shore News: What is the most important thing to remember when it comes to maintaining one's sexual health - both physical and emotional? McGrath: Become your best self. Get in good physical shape as a starting point. This will get a person well on their way to feeling good about themselves. It will be a positive step toward improving sexual self-esteem because it will help with one's emotional health which, much like physical health, is created. I recommend, depending on a person's general health and age, at least 30 minutes of walking each day, add to that aerobic exercise and strength training using weights. Make exercise a routine part of every day. Ensure adequate nutrition, water, sleep and stress management techniques.
In addition to the Midlife Affair, McGrath is scheduled to participate in: Sam Sullivan's Public Salon, Wednesday, Nov. 13 at the Vancouver Playhouse; Hot Flash Havoc at Kay Meek Centre in West Vancouver, Nov. 28; and The ICORD Autonomic Symposium, Nov. 27 in the Blusson Pavilion.
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