Mindful that REAL wellness is a philosophy and lifestyle fashioned over time to promote a healthful existence and a high quality of life guided by reason, exuberance, athleticism and freedom, where, you might wonder, do sex and chocolate fit into this picture?
If you have wondered, well, let me offer a perspective on the matter, one topic at a time. First, let’s look at sex.
The Relationship Between Sex and REAL Wellness
Of course it is well understood that swimming, biking, running, weight training and other forms of strenuous exertions facilitate and enhance sexual pleasures. This is as self-evident as the method discovered for crossing vast interstellar distances in a mere nothingth of a second, that is, via the “Infinite Improbability Drive,” described by Douglas Adams in “The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide.” (See Chapter 10, page 60 in the 1986 Portland House edition of this classic work.) No need to go into details save to note that the revelation was based on the principle of generating small amounts of 'finite' improbability by simply hooking the logic circuits of a Bambleweeny 57 Sub-Meson Brain to an atomic vector plotter suspended in a strong Browian motion producer.
This discovery linking positive sexuality and REAL wellness for consenting adults not under the influence of mind-altering drugs or suffering from religion-induced guilt who have a well-developed sense of humor and can appreciate the ludicrous) is at least as self-evident as the discovery of the infinite improbability drive.
There is ample research support for the contention that sex and humor are integral parts of everyday life and important for overall health and happiness. Among the scholarly works that explore these links is “Sex and Humor: Selections from The Kinsey Institute” (edited by Catherine Johnson, et.al., Indiana University Press, 2002). Yet, sex by itself, without health-related justifications or elaborately controlled, romantic love and church sanctioned preparations, can be quite delightful without any harm being done. Naturally, sex works best when undertaken in socially approved ways, but that is not so easy to manage in most societies. The ultimate obstacles to sex that contributes to joy and delight are religious toxins, dogmas and mores that promote ignorance and fear. The expressed preference of the Catholic Church and many other religions is that no sex is good sex, except for purposes of procreation, and even then it's best if participants not enjoy it too much. Chastity, like faith, is a terrible idea but in the realm of theologies, both are put forward as virtues. I side with Aldous Huxley, who considered chastity “the most unnatural of the sexual perversions.”
A Short Case for Sex as a Good Thing in Boundless Ways
Sex is fun and totally exuberance-enhancing. Most secularists who study human sexual activity believe copious exertions of this kind, particularly with a loving partner, foster physical and mental health benefits. (This is true for sex with others who might just be friendly, not quite loving.) A key variable affecting the quality of life-enhancing aspects of sexuality is that relationships beyond the loving partner ideal are usually more complicated due to prevailing norms of a constrictive nature and are thus accompanied with risks and unintended consequences.
Sex and intimacy boost self-esteem and happiness. Happiness, as Ingersoll noted in “Improved Man,” is the only good, and everything that adds to the happiness of sentient beings is good and to do the things, and no other, that add to the happiness of man is to practice the highest possible religion.
Sex also boosts your immune system. Studies suggest college students who have sex one or more times per week have higher levels of the immunoglobulin A (IgA) antibody than their less successful peers. Surely one need not be enrolled in college to enjoy this immune system boost through sexual activity.
Abstinence Education Should Be Illegal
Surely that phrase is an oxymoron, for what abstinence education really stands for is keep kids ignorant about human sexuality. While sex is complicated enough in its own right, religious dogmas have always suppressed the dissemination of knowledge about it and thereby created all manner of dysfunctions.
Here are a few basics every young person should learn as thoroughly as anything else taught in the primary grades. Such knowledge would enable children to better care for their bodies, make more responsible choices and develop more confidence and self-respect.
- Sexual and reproductive anatomy.
- Gender identity and orientation (e.g., heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual).
- Ways in which morals, family, friends, religion, age, life goals and other factors shape our sexual selves.
- The nature and significance of intimacy, touch, love, compassion, etc.
Of course, this just skims the surface. It's mind-boggling to think of how little knowledge about sexuality (none in the case of religious schools other than the message don't even think about it) has been incorporated into the educational system for children over the centuries. How did we ever survive?
Let's do more to ensure that our children receive sound information informed by science, not superstition and ignorance, with a focus on such fundamentals as the following:
- Human reproduction.
- The biology of the fertility cycle.
- Birth control methods.
- Helpful facts, such as this one -85% of women who have vaginal sex sans birth control will become pregnant within a year.
- How to use and where to obtain birth control supplies.
- How to communicate assertively with a partner about protection.
Adults should know a lot more about the subject, for example:
- That sex enhances libido in women by increasing vaginal lubrication while improving blood flow and building elasticity;
- That sex improves bladder control in women by building stronger pelvic muscles;
- That mechanical devices exist that can increase sexual arousal, particularly in women, chief among them being a Mercedes-Benz 380SL convertible (thanks P.J. O'Rourke);
- That sex lowers blood pressure by burning calories, far more, for example, than watching TV.
- That sex reduces pain by releasing endorphins (the effects are a bit like morphine) during orgasm;
- That sex improves sleep via the release of prolactin, a relaxation hormone; and
- That sex contributes to feel-good sensations, thanks to the release of oxytocin, the hormone that also reduces anxiety and depression.
REAL Wellness and Sex - The Connections
REAL wellness is not focused on living longer, becoming more beautiful or more virtuous, though don't be surprised if these and other fringe benefits come to pass when you're in the throes of such a lifestyle. REAL wellness is not tied to vanities popular in the culture. However, if these pleasantries come to pass, well, don't hold that against REAL wellness. It is, after all, an exuberance-rich way of living.
There is a reason for mentioning this.
A recent study at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital in Scotland hinted at a link between sexuality and youthful appearances. An odd pairing, but being the exuberance-focused social scientist I imagine myself to be, I grabbed a magnifying glass and peered into this research with a jaundiced but hopeful eye.
It seems a randomized sample of judges were gathered and empaneled to observe randomly picked subjects through one-way mirrors. The assignment? Guess their ages. The judges had no information on the subjects seen through one-way mirrors. However, the resulting age guesses fascinated the good scientists at Royal Hospital. It seems that subjects who enjoyed sex on average four times per week, with a steady partner, were perceived to be seven to 12 years younger than their actual age. Quelle horreur! What could this mean?
The study authors concluded that regular sex promotes the release of testosterone and estrogen, which in turn promote soft skin and shiny hair which, at least in this case, made the study subjects pretty inept at guessing ages. These people have no future at carnivals guessing ages. I'm betting they'd be no better at guessing body weights, either.
Could this result really mean something related to the benefits of sex, if looking younger is indeed a benefit? Think of the implications. If I'm having sex four times a week with a steady partner and I'm 50 years old but look somewhere between 38 and 43, could I appear between 26 and 36 years of age if I have sex with two steady partners eight times per week? If so, how can I persuade my wife to support this approach, in the interest of science, of course, for regaining my youthful countenance?
Well, regardless, let's remember that REAL wellness is not about preventing or disguising age - it's about joy, exuberance and the bountiful pleasures of well-being.
Whether sex makes you look younger or not, know that other things being the same (which they never are), it's a good thing, in the right hands, yours or someone else's. Physical orgasms are only the most obvious expression of exuberance at the apex of human experience; these pleasures and all others must not be taken lightly or neglected.
And now let us turn out attention to chocolate.
The Relationship Between Chocolate and Real Wellness
In an era of political correctness, many people waste time being offended. If you are among them, at least pick worthy targets that offend. You might start by being offended by a food industry that devotes little attention to health and a health care industry that devotes even less attention to food. Choosing the right food most of the time is one of the keys to REAL wellness. Consider this: Eat more chocolates.
When I say, eat more chocolates, I mean now look here - life is short, eat dessert first, for god's sake. Well, for your sake - what kind of a god could possibly care? In my view, the gods, nature, the universe and the galactic cosmos are utterly indifferent - and not just about chocolate. You are on your own; we're all on our own. We must look after ourselves. There's no higher power out there likely to intervene on your behalf. Get used to it. This is common sense and, in my opinion, a wonderment that anyone with a brain would think otherwise. Well, that is, if it were not for the power and the hold of religions.
This is not a complaint. This is how I prefer it. No heaven above or hell below - just this life and none other. What could be better than that?
The Case for Chocolates as Part of a REAL Wellness-Friendly Diet
Help yourself to the best life possible with REAL wellness and eat more chocolate. Think of chocolate, like Janet Joplin's freedom, as just another word for nothing left to lose - but only as a way of kidding around.
I'm quite partial to plant-based, whole food diets, flavored with minimal animal proteins - but that in no way curbs my enthusiasm for the well-being enhancing effects of chocolate.
Some forensic anthropologists suggest that ancient Aztecs were the first to appreciate chocolate as one of the world's perfect foods. It's not clear how the Aztecs came to this conclusion but it's true that chocolate has a lot going for it. Modern nutritional science has found that chocolate builds immune resistance and helps our bodies fight fatigue. In fact, it offers enough nourishment to sustain a person for a entire day - with nothing else on the menu.
True, chocolate contains a fair amount of sugar and fat. Consuming too much sugar or fat is hazardous but a little each day is probably physiologically and psychologically quality of life enhancing.
There is ongoing debate regarding the health benefits of chocolate. What we know is that some fat with a meal helps in fat absorption of soluble vitamins and other nutrients, such as vitamin A, D, E, K, the carotenoids in green leafy vegetables and sweet potatoes. Thus, a small amount of chocolate before dinner may be a valuable addition to your diet, not only for its nutrient absorption qualities but also because the fat delays gastric emptying. The latter effect creates a sensation of feeling fuller, resulting in the consumption of smaller meals.
Research also suggests that dark chocolate has heart-protection properties. Cocoa contains high concentrations of flavonoids. Other flavanol-rich foods, such as black tea, green tea, red wine, various fruits and berries have the same antioxidant capacities as chocolate, but chocolate products, which contain more than 70% cocoa, appear to be the most beneficial. There is also evidence that flavonoids provide cardio-protective effects that defend against oxidation, improve endothelial function, reduce the tendency of blood to clot by improving platelet function and decrease hypertension.
Other Benefits Beyond Nutrition
Even better from a well being perspective, Dr Ruth Westheimer suggests the taste of chocolate is a sensual pleasure in itself. This puts chocolate in the same category as sex. The good Ms. Westheimer's view is supported by research findings that indicate chocolate stimulates the release of endorphins, the natural brain hormone that generates feelings of pleasure and thus a sense of wellbeing.
A useful ingredient in chocolate that accounts for some of this pleasing effect is tryptophan. This is an essential amino acid the brain uses to produce serotonin, the mood-modulating neurotransmitter that gives rise to feelings of happiness.
I Rest My Case
There you have it, the case for chocolate, literal and metaphorical, based on the reality that this is it - your one and only life. Our journey here is short, but making the trip without chocolate could be hazardous to your health and worse, injurious to your pleasures. Give up bad habits if you're up to it, but do not surrender the flag of exuberant living. There's a reason why there are no recipes for leftover chocolate.
Eschew denial, embrace and savor chocolate and experience multiple pleasures every day with chocolate flavored 'gasms of gusto' and REAL wellness.
Note: The essay is based on material in a forthcoming book, co-authored with Dr. Grant Donovan of Australia, entitled “Wellness Orgasms: The Fun Way to Live Well and Die Healthy."