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Dr. Christiane Northrup: Excerpt from The Secret Pleasures of Menopause

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The following excerpt is taken from the new book, The Secret Pleasures of Menopause, by Christiane Northrup, M.D. It is published by Hay House (October 15, 2008) and is available at all bookstore or online at www.amazon.com.

Chapter Two

Experience Unlimited Pleasure

We humans were born to experience unlimited pleasure and joy. It’s our birthright. Pursuing pleasure and also allowing ourselves to receive it on a regular basis are absolutely essential to creating and maintaining vibrant physical and emotional health. That’s right—the pursuit of good feelings is not an indulgence. It’s a life-affirming necessity! Pleasure in all its many forms literally stokes our life force (our chi or prana) in the way we’d stoke a fire by throwing another log onto it.

Think about the last time you really steeped yourself in something pleasurable—when you took that positive feeling right into your bone marrow. Maybe it was savoring a bite of gourmet chocolate, the smell of salt air at the beach, or an exquisite back rub. Everyone has a distinct pleasure profile, and you can count on your senses to let you know when you’ve dialed into yours. Remember the intensity of your pleasure. (If you can’t remember what it feels like to lose yourself in bliss, hang around a two-year-old for five minutes.) When you’re lost in the joy of pleasure, you are, in that very moment, renewing your cells, increasing your blood circulation, and creating health on all levels—body, mind, and spirit. In fact, you’re probably getting a healthful boost right now just imagining that wonderful experience all over again!

Another way to understand how potent pleasure is as a health enhancer is to imagine what happens when you aren’t feeling any of it. Think about a time when you were totally burned out. You probably felt like you were running on empty, right? Guess what? You were! It wasn’t just energy you were lacking; it was vital life force. Compare them in this way: Energy is what it takes to get through the day. Vital life force is what it takes to put spring in your step as you get through the day. See the difference?

Because pleasure fuels your life force, you’re naturally drawn to it by Divine design. Your body is actually programmed for joy! But before I go any further, let me explain what pleasure is not. Pleasure isn’t getting drunk or high and doing things that will embarrass you the next day; and it doesn’t mean renouncing your family and job to go live in a spa or escape to a desert island. Even though cutting loose once in a while can provide you with a temporary high that relieves tension, getting high, drunk, or going on a sugar binge won’t provide you with sustained pleasure—or vibrant health. Most likely, you’ll end up feeling worse. Avoiding responsibility and being physically, emotionally, or even financially reckless actually undermines your ability to maintain positive feelings.

When I recommend the pursuit of pleasure, I’m talking about learning how to recognize and value the things that bring you lasting joy, and then bringing them into your life deliberately on a regular basis. Think of it this way: Your body itself was conceived in orgasm—the most exquisite pleasure humans are capable of experiencing. From that perspective, how could pleasure not play a vital role in the optimal functioning of your body?

Why Pleasure and Health Are Related

Just as any piece of machinery works better when it’s properly lubricated, your organs (and the rest of your body) work better when you’re thinking thoughts and feeling emotions that bring you pleasure or when you’re pursuing enjoyable activities. That’s true in several ways.

First of all, experiencing pleasure improves blood flow. Healthy blood flow is important because the bloodstream brings nutrients to all of your body’s cells and carries away the cells’ waste products. It’s like stocking the fridge and emptying the garbage at the same time.
All of this happens by virtue of a gas called nitric oxide. When you’re experiencing pleasure or feeling calm, vibrant, and healthy, nitric oxide is released in little puffs mostly from the lining of your blood vessels.

Because it’s a gas, it diffuses rapidly in all directions—right through cell walls. It’s equivalent to e-mail blasts occurring almost instantly all over your body. Not only does this result in increased circulation, but nitric oxide also turns on the production of special chemicals in your body called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters carry myriad messages between the brain and nervous system, helping your body work and feel better.

One of the neurotransmitters that pleasure increases is called beta-endorphin, which acts sort of like morphine—it dulls pain and creates feelings of euphoria. This not only improves your mood, but it also helps you deal more effectively with the stresses of life. Another neurotransmitter that pleasure boosts is called prolactin (which is also known as the hormone of bonding). Prolactin is released when you nurse a child, have an orgasm, or even get together with good friends. It makes you feel bonded to the person (or people) you’re interacting with at the time. Prolactin supports loving feelings between mothers and their infants, women and their mates, and even between friends.

Speaking of orgasm and sex, perhaps the most obvious proof that our bodies were designed for pleasure is the existence of the clitoris. This fleshy little budlike organ, which is connected to deeper erectile tissue in the pelvis, sits right above the vaginal opening, partially covered and protected by a hood of skin. Despite its small external size (it’s no bigger than a pencil eraser), it contains 8,000 nerve endings that increase sexual excitement and ultimately bring on orgasm.

Although some people mistakenly assume that women urinate through this organ, thinking it does double duty like a man’s penis, this isn’t the case. Instead, women urinate from a tiny hole located between the clitoris and the vagina. The clitoris has nothing to do with urinating—or even with conception or reproduction. It’s actually the only organ in the human body whose sole purpose is pleasure. (Talk about being hardwired for good times!)
Every time you feel pleasure in your clitoral area, you’re also flooding yourself in nitric oxide, which, as we’ve just seen, radically improves the health of your whole body. We’ll talk much more about the life-enhancing effects of nitric oxide in the next chapter, including how you can increase the levels of this miraculous molecule in your body. But for now, just know that this is yet another way that pleasure enhances your health on many levels and in many ways!

If you’ve ever read my other books or heard me speak, you know that I talk a lot about the fact that your body has wisdom to share with you. If you listen to the language of your body through the various physical symptoms you experience, you’ll be better able to understand your heart’s true desire and create vibrant health both physically and emotionally.

Well, ladies, the truth is that our orgasms have wisdom to share with us, too! Female orgasms are, in fact, a metaphor, illustrating how pleasure works both in our bodies and in our lives.

Let me explain what I mean by that. To begin with, you can’t experience orgasm when you’re tense and upset. And it’s not even enough just to be relaxed. To climax, nothing less than total surrender to pleasure is required. You must give yourself over fully to the sensation of pleasure, or the bell doesn’t ring. It’s as simple as that!

This requires getting out of your head and into your body. You can’t force yourself to have an orgasm by willing it with your mind, but when the frontal lobes in the brain are turned off during sleep, it’s not only possible, it’s also normal to reach climaxes while dreaming. This is proof that your body knows how to receive such pleasure! You just have to learn to allow those 8,000 clitoral nerve endings (and the other pleasure circuits in the body that are connected to them) to do their job so that you can experience as much pleasure as possible. There’s no ceiling on sensual delight. You can even learn how to become multiorgasmic!

It’s the same way with cultivating joy in your life. If you really desire the rejuvenating magic of pleasure, you have to open up to it, trust it, and allow it to flood your being. The journey starts by simply noticing and enjoying the sensation of a gentle breeze on your skin!
Because women often need time to become sexually aroused and climax, some feel like there’s a flaw in the system or that the design doesn’t work quite right. But exactly the opposite is true. What your body in its infinite wisdom is trying to tell you is that it’s okay to take your time! Your body was designed to take the slow route, not the fast-track shortcut. You deserve all the love and attention that it takes for you to get there. In fact, the key to experiencing more orgasmic pleasure is, ironically, learning to enjoy every stroke and sensation along the way without even thinking about the “goal” of orgasm. You reach your optimal peak of both pleasure and health not through the quick fix, but through a long-term, sustained attention to cultivating pleasure. This is as true in life as it is between the sheets.

Why We Push Pleasure Away

But this isn’t the message we’ve been getting from society, is it? Unfortunately, most of us are used to thinking of pleasure as a dessert we can eat only if we have the time, money, and room for it, instead of as one of the major food groups. The majority of us don’t make pursuing pleasure a priority in our lives because our pleasure-starved culture talks us out of it. We say that we don’t have the time and that other things are far more important. We’re made to feel guilty for even thinking about doing something solely for our own pleasure. (Where do you think the expression “guilty pleasure” came from?)
Our culture (or sometimes our family) definitely gives people bonus points for pain and suffering. In fact, many individuals try to outdo each other in this regard. (“That’s nothing,” someone says after listening to a hair-raising tale. “Listen to what happened to me!”) After all, we’re living in a society where one of the major mottos is “No pain, no gain.”

Society teaches the belief that there’s a lot of value in blood, sweat, and tears; and suffering and playing the martyr are holy. That’s half right. Hard work and effort can indeed be good for anyone. When you push yourself to be all you can be, going past what you thought were your limits, you benefit enormously. But suffering has never been a necessary part of the equation. Making it a way of life or wearing it like a badge of honor does nothing but attract more misery to you. And being a martyr never made anyone a better person (except maybe Joan of Arc, and look what happened to her!)

The key is balance. Too much of anything isn’t good for you, and that includes hard work and effort. When you work too hard, push yourself too far, and allow yourself to become stressed over everything you think you have to do rather than giving serious consideration to what your heart is longing to do, you’re doing yourself a grave disservice. When this imbalance continues long enough, the results are often disastrous to your well-being.

The effect of denying yourself pleasure or pushing it away is sort of like what happens when you hold your breath. At first it feels uncomfortable, and then it gets downright unpleasant as your body screams for what it needs. You can easily imagine what would happen if you denied your body air. But what you might not realize is that by denying yourself pleasure, you’re doing something that is similarly damaging.

Damage Report

Here’s how the damage happens: When you lead a stressful lifestyle and don’t concentrate on bringing pleasure into your life on a regular basis, your body makes stress hormones that restrict blood flow and your nitric oxide levels plummet. As a result, so do your levels of the neurotransmitter beta-endorphin (that’s the one that’s like morphine). You’re likely to feel sad, depressed, and maybe even edgy or angry. You get irritated easily. And chances are, you reach for something to make you feel better.

Often what you reach for is a quick ecstasy fix through sugary junk food, alcohol, coffee, cigarettes, or drugs. You might even tell yourself that because of how hard you’re working or how much stress you’re under, you deserve this little treat. And because you really do feel better momentarily after you eat the doughnut or drink the wine, you convince yourself that it really does help. But what’s really happening when you indulge in overeating, smoking, drinking to get drunk, or taking drugs to get high (or even such practices as sadomasochistic sex) is that you’re numbing yourself out so that you don’t have to feel any of your unpleasant, or even downright painful, feelings. And the more you turn to numb those quick fixes, the more numb you become over time.

That kind of “help” backfires in the long run because your body gets used to your mood-altering substances of choice. And then you need more in order to achieve the same effect. It becomes a vicious cycle—not the best route to optimal health! In fact, that’s how addiction and disease get started. Pursuing pleasure and allowing yourself to receive it in your day-to-day life, on the other hand, produces significantly better and more long-lasting results.

Saying Yes to Pleasure

So how do you invite joy and pleasure into your everyday life? By bathing your brain and body in a constant supply of nitric oxide! And there are many ways to do this that don’t involve drugs, alcohol, or sugar. These include anything that gives you sustainable pleasure and creates vibrant health in your body. In addition to following your bliss, the list includes exercise, meditation, and orgasm. (At the moment of orgasm, there’s a blast of life-giving nitric oxide—which also bumps up levels of all the other feel-good neurotransmitters.)

Regularly engaging in any or all of these activities keeps your nitric oxide levels high. But the trick is the word regular. It’s like putting money in your retirement account: If you only make a deposit once in a while, it won’t really do much for you, but if you’re disciplined enough to make annual contributions, you’ll be surprised and pleased by how much your money has grown! So that’s the good news: Pleasure (including sex and specifically orgasm) isn’t just a good time. It’s part of the way your body resets its electromagnetic grid to maintain vibrant health and well-being.


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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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