It's easy to find reasons to have more sex: Getting frisky burns calories, makes you feel closer to your partner, and can relieve pain and calm stress. In short, having sex is great for your health.
So if you're not getting a little action now and then, you're certainly missing out on all of these positive side effects – right?
It may seem backward, but if your sex life isn't quite where you want it to be, choosing to abstain for a short period of time might be just what you need to get your libido back where it belongs.
Jessica O'Reilly, a Toronto-based sexologist, says abstinence varies from person to person. "Some people abstain from all sexual touch, while others only forgo partnered activity or intercourse," she says.
The effects of abstinence differ on a case-by-case basis, but there can be both benefits and disadvantages to abstaining from sex.
The bright side to abstaining from sex High school teachers tell their students that abstaining from sex is the only way to guarantee they won't catch sexually transmitted infections or get pregnant, but there can be more benefits to abstinence than what you're not getting.
O'Reilly says her clients have reported a number of advantages after abstaining from sex, including "a greater appreciation for physical as opposed to only sexual pleasure. They learned to enjoy the sensations of touch to promote intimacy and connection, exclusive of sexual pleasure."
Choosing to abstain from sex for a period of time has also helped many of O'Reilly's female clients learn more about their own bodies. She says this is particularly positive for women who have never had an orgasm during intercourse with their partners. Once these women learn to pleasure themselves through masturbation, they become more aware of their own desires and responses "without the added pressures and expectations of partnered sex," says O'Reilly, and they are more likely to achieve orgasm during partnered sex.
Couples who abstain from intercourse but explore other types of play and touch may also experience an increase in affection, discover new erogenous zones and master other sexual techniques.
Page 1 of 3 -- Learn the influence abstinence can have on your partner's self-esteem on page 2
Downfalls of abstaining David McKenzie, a sex therapist and relationship expert based in Vancouver, says, for men – "if you don't use it, you lose it." Similarly, "the longer you're away from sex, the more shy you can become," he adds.
Abstinence can have a significant impact on a person's self-esteem. McKenzie says there are many variables in such situations – and a change in self-esteem is hard to pin solely on someone's sex life – but if one partner is downright refusing the other, then that person's self-esteem can certainly suffer.
"Our culture assigns value to the capacity to attract partners, so when we can't find willing sexual partners, it can have an unnecessary impact on our sexual self-esteem," says O'Reilly.
"The value you put on sex will shape the impacts of abstinence." Of course, how you're affected may also depend on why you have chosen abstinence. Negative Effects According to O'Reilly, some of the negative effects of abstinence include sexual frustration (particularly if you use sex as a stress reliever) and loss of affection. "If you are abstaining from sex because of tension or unresolved issues in a relationship, you may also cease being affectionate altogether, and this can obviously have a negative impact on levels of intimacy," she says.
O'Reilly also notes that some abstainers may have negative responses to sexual stimuli. "The brain is the most powerful sex organ and fuels all sexual feelings (positive or negative)," O'Reilly says. "Scare tactics used to pressure women (and men) into repressing sexual feelings can have a psychological impact on the development of one's sexual self." She also says sex-negative messages that force people into abstinence can adversely impact how people think about sex.
McKenzie agrees: "Usually people who abstain hide behind religion," he says, "and they could have a fear of intimacy."
Page 2 of 3 -- How far does abstinence go? Find out on page 3
What about masturbation? O'Reilly refers to masturbation as "one wonderful option from the delicious buffet of sex." It's not necessarily a replacement or substitute for intercourse with a partner, but women do get many of the same health benefits from masturbation as they do from partnered sex, including improved circulation, burned calories, stress relief and restful sleep, for example.
Similarly, O'Reilly says, "some people prefer masturbation to partnered sex, as many women report that they are more consistently orgasmic through masturbation."
Although the physiological effects may be similar, McKenzie says there are significant emotional differences between masturbation and partnered sex.
In this excerpt from Knitting From the North, Scottish knitwear designer Hilary Grant shares instructions for making fingerless mittens that will keep your hands warm and comfy while leaving your fingers free for texting.
These mittens are long on both the fingers and the wrists, so they are particularly warm. They are worked in the round, with the thumbs worked in on waste yarn.
Finished size Circumference: 7 7/8 in Length: 10 1/4 in
Yarn Jamieson’s Shetland Spindrift 2 balls Aqua (MC) 1 ball Natural White (CC) Waste yarn
Needles and notions US 2 (2.75mm) dpns US 3 (3mm) dpns Stitch marker
Gauge 29 sts × 38 rows = 4 × 4 in over colorwork using larger needles
Notes For each round, read chart from right to left, knit every round.
Right mitten Using MC and smaller needles, cast on 56 sts. Place marker and join to work in the round, being careful not to twist.
Work 30 rounds of K2, P2 rib. Change to larger needles.
Next round: [K27, kfb] twice. (58 sts) Next round: K.
You will have a plain vertical column of stitches separating the start and the end of the chart in every circular row.
*K1 in MC before starting chart. Join in CC. Following chart, work 27-st repeat.* Repeat * to * until end of Round 37.
Round 38: Work 3 sts following chart. Using waste yarn, K8. Slip these 8 sts back onto lefthand needle, then continue following chart.
Complete the chart to end Round 56. Break CC.
Next round: [K27, K2tog] twice. (56 sts) Next round: K.
Change to smaller needles. Work ten rounds of K2, P2 rib. Bind off.
Left mitten Work as for right to end of Round 37.
Round 38: Work 18 sts following chart. Using waste yarn, K8. Slip these 8 sts back onto left-hand needle, then continue following chart.
Complete as for right.
Thumbs Using smaller needles, pick up the 8 sts both below and above the row of waste yarn—you will have 16 sts over 2 needles.
Very carefully pull the waste yarn out, then divide the sts equally among 4 dpns.
Work for 1 1/8 in or to desired length. Bind off.
Finishing Weave in ends, closing any small gaps left at base of thumb. Block.
The move from high school to university is where the rubber meets the road, academically speaking. The transition can be difficult for many students—grades often drop due to much heavier course loads and much stiffer standards. But for Carol Drumm, who is entering her second year at the University of Toronto, the move to post-secondary education was a smooth one.
As a high school student at Toronto's Branksome Hall, Carol was enrolled in an International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma program instead of the regular curriculum, allowing her to tackle tasks she believes made the transition to university easier.
"The IB program requires students to take six courses and a theory of knowledge course; complete an extended essay, which is a two-year intensive research study in a subject of your choice; and participate in co-curricular activities under the areas of creativity, action and service. Completing all of this work in two years allows IB diploma students to arrive at university with a strong work ethic," says Carol.
An increasingly popular choice for parents and kids across the country, the IB diploma program provides a solid foundation for post-secondary-bound students. Grads say the focus on university prep gives them a distinct leg up. But getting your child into an IB diploma program can be challenging. While the curricula and standards remain consistent across Canada, fees and entrance requirements vary from province to province, district to district and even school to school. Here's what you need to know.
IB is about prioritizing Founded more than 40 years ago by the International School of Geneva in Switzerland, the IB diploma program operates in more than 3,800 schools in 146 countries. Four program levels encompass kindergarten onward, but the diploma program is most often the one parents and post-secondary institutions are looking for.
Sabrina Chee, a Grade 12 IB student at Western Canada High School in Calgary, says any driven student can join the program. "It can take passion, critical thinking and, of course, time management. A student's priorities also play a huge role. Mostly, it takes hard work and a willingness to go above and beyond what you are capable of doing."
Though it may sound like a program for academic elites, that's not the case, says Shelley Maximitch Johnston, an IB teacher at Abbotsford Senior Secondary in British Columbia. "We have such a variety of students that come through," she says. "The program is designed for anyone who has a strong work ethic and a passion for learning."
IB program structure IB programs aim to create well-rounded graduates: students who participate in community service, are physically active and engage in creative endeavours, such as music, dance or debate. But students at the top of their classes in regular public (or private) schools might find themselves needing to dig deeper for their IB diplomas.
All IB schools create their programs out of the IB framework, but each program differs. All the exams (known as "external assessments") are marked by international monitors and serve as ongoing report cards, not only for students but for teachers, too. Emphasis is on inquiry-based learning in which students are placed in the driver's seat to meet critical challenges that build skills needed for university.
Getting into the IB program IB diploma programs are taught in 155 schools in Canada. To find one in your area, use the search tool at ibo.org. There is no agreed-upon approach to how students are admitted. Some schools conduct a series of personal interviews and require entrance essays (completed at home or under the supervision of a proctor). And while some programs require top grades to get in, the overarching philosophy is to identify—and nurture—unrealized potential. Ultimately, schools are encouraged to open up the program to as wide a swath of students as possible. Cost of the IB program While independent schools commonly lump the cost of IB into tuition, public schools lack a unified policy. Costs can be significant because each school is required to pay for an IB program coordinator (who is also a teacher at the school) and annual fees, as well as provide teacher training, says Pamela Gough, a Toronto District School Board (TDSB) trustee. "It's substantially more expensive to run [than the regular curriculum]."
The TDSB doesn't charge the 700 students enrolled in its six IB programs. "The IB program attracts people to the public board because it offers curriculum at a standard that some of the very best private schools offer," Gough says.
But other school boards can't afford such incentives. The Toronto Catholic District School Board bills parents $1,200 per year for the two-year diploma program, while the York Region District School Board charges $1,500 per year. At Abbotsford Senior Secondary in British Columbia, IB diploma program students study for free. There's also the potential for savings down the road. Students may get university credit for the program's three higher-level courses if they achieve a certain grade, though standards vary from university to university. Does IB better prepare your child for university? Andrew Arida, associate registrar for undergraduate admissions at the University of British Columbia, says UBC surveys show that former IB students rate themselves as "very good" or "excellent" more often than other grads in areas such as research skills, library skills, reading, comprehension and presentation preparation.
"International Baccalaureate students enter university more confident in their skills and abilities, and that level of confidence is sustained through to the end of first year," says Arida. "How you do in first year sets you up for the rest of your university career."
According to Arida, IB grads are often more involved on campus, and even the most lacklustre IB students tend to perform as well as (or better than) straight-A grads from traditional programs. Students from low socioeconomic backgrounds are also more likely to go on to university when enrolled in an IB diploma program.
A somewhat less definable factor—teacher satisfaction—also comes into play. "It's a program in which students who love to learn are being taught by teachers who love to teach," says Arida. "When you've got passionate educators and engaged students, that is remarkable in and of itself."
Carol says one of the most valuable lessons she learned is something many first-year post-secondary students struggle with: finding time for everything. "IB students participate in the arts, numerous clubs, sports teams and service initiatives, and we do this on top of a rigorous academic program. By the time I finished the IB diploma program, I had found my own concept of balance," she says.
For Sabrina, she says she hopes attaining an IB diploma will help her earn a spot at an Ivy League school or a university abroad. "I believe with the help of my teachers, classmates, parents, friends and the resources provided for me in IB, I'll achieve my goal."
Preparing your teens for university can be daunting for both teens and parents. Here are five things university students want parents to relax about.
With files from Robin Stevenson
This story was originally titled "Higher Learning" in the September 2014 issue.
Want an in-demand job with a healthy future? Look no further than the skilled trades in Canada. "There is an incredible amount of opportunity in the trades industry in Canada right now," says Peter Harris, editor-in-chief of Workopolis, who reports on trends and changes in the Canadian job market.
"Trades workers need not be subject to the boom-and-bust cycles of provincial economies, because trades jobs are evergreen and also come with a great deal of freedom of mobility," he says. For example, in every city across the country, homeowners are always looking for reliable, affordable work on their homes: renovation, plumbing, electrical, roofing and more, says Harris.
Positions in the skilled trades offer another bonus: These roles are far more insulated from being sent offshore and to automation, says Harris. "[These are] the two biggest threats to many career paths," he says. Furthermore, Canada faces a shortage of one million tradespeople by 2020, as many people in that field will be retiring, he says. "The average age of welders is 57, and large numbers of trades workers across the board are also into their 50s."
Defining the "best" trade is highly subjective; it depends on where you live and what you consider most valuable: lots of demand, high pay, flexibility to set your own hours or whatever you feel is vital to a good job. That said, based on the job opportunities being posted online in the skilled trades, Harris says the most sought-after employees are in these five vocations.
1. Construction workers Whether it be working on new home construction, infrastructure (like roads) or commercial enterprises, construction workers are in high demand in Canada. Construction is considered a cornerstone of Canadian industry and it represents about seven percent of the Canadian workforce, according to the Canadian Construction Association. While positions may be plentiful, construction work is often seasonal and contract-based.
2. Vehicle repair In the past year, the number of job postings for the mechanic trades has spiked 94 percent over June 2013, says Harris. As anyone who has ever owned a car knows, auto mechanics tend to be perennially busy. According to Human Resources Skills Development Canada, this job is also called automotive service technician, helpful keywords if you're searching for post-secondary education programs, which tend to use this title instead of "car mechanics."
3. Maintenance worker Although maintenance work comprises a very broad array of specialties, these jobs are in high demand across the country, says Harris. Not just hands-on repair (although it can include these skills), maintenance work encompasses operations, planning and information management skills as well. These jobs are posted under a variety of names, such as maintenance technician, maintenance mechanic, maintenance specialist and, of course, maintenance worker.
4. Electricians Electricity is vital to life as we know it in Canada. Licensed electricians lay out, assemble, install, test, troubleshoot and repair electrical wiring, fixtures, control devices and related equipment in buildings and other structures, according to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. Electricians are highly sought-after in commercial, industrial and residential spheres. There are many positions open with electrical contractors, maintenance companies and industries, and there are also ample self-employment opportunities.
5. Heavy machinery operators (such as a backhoe, bulldozer) Wherever there's a freshly paved road or newly built construction, a heavy machinery operator isn't far behind. Operators work backhoes, bulldozers, graders and other heavy-duty construction vehicles. Another term that describes this trade is heavy equipment operator, which is the terminology post-secondary schools and colleges use to designate program offerings. Like construction work, these roles can be plentiful across the nation, but also tend to be seasonal.
How one woman found love with someone who had lost it.
After my husband and I separated, I didn't think I would ever fall in love again. I had two little children and couldn't imagine being in another relationship. I felt unlucky in love, as if perhaps I didn't deserve to be happy. Besides, I hadn't dated in 15 years and, now, didn't know where to begin. But six months after I separated, a mom I'd just met called to ask if I'd be interested in going on a blind date with her friend James*, a single dad who had recently lost his wife to cancer.
By then, every single person I'd met had baggage, including me, so it never occurred to me that dating a widower would be different from dating anyone else. I didn't even really consider the possibility that a first date might lead to a second. But from the get-go, I could tell James was different. The conversation flowed easily, he was funny and interesting…we ended up going on that second date, then a third. When he asked me to date him exclusively a few weeks later, I was ecstatic— but a few months into our relationship, something weird started happening. There were a series of days when, inexplicably, he wasn't himself. He was quiet and sad and didn't want to talk.
I knew what it felt like when a man wasn't interested in me anymore—that's how my marriage had ended. So when he would clam up and be distant, I had a familiar sickening feeling. We met for a drink at a quiet neighbourhood bar, where I cut to the chase. "I'm sorry, James, but I don't know what to do when you won't talk to me. I can't do it," I told him, too sad to drink my wine. I hoped ending things would spare him the trouble of dumping me and spare myself the pain of having yet another person leave me. I was beside myself: I couldn't believe things were ending when everything had been going so well.
Only now, James was ready to talk. "I've mentioned that my wife died two years ago, and I'm sorry for not being able to communicate with you better. Certain days of the year are hard for me, and I've just got through some very difficult back-to-back anniversaries," he explained, his eyes fixed on his lap. "Some days, I don't want to talk, but I'm feeling better again and I don't want you to take it personally. I'm just trying to cope as best I can; it has nothing to do with you. I really like you and I like where this relationship is going."
He looked up into my eyes and stretched his arms across the table. His warm hands enveloped my own. It hadn't occurred to me that he was going through a rough patch; because of my own history, I assumed it was something I had done. I didn't yet know enough about his life or about grief to understand his personality or the dates that would be difficult for him. When he communicated his feelings, I felt as though I understood him, like we were connecting on a deeper level. I realized then that this man was different kinder, deeper, stronger and more compassionate—than anyone else I was likely to meet. As a newly single mother struggling to get back on my feet, I had my own set of issues and insecurities; dating a widower on top of it all wouldn't be easy, but I had fallen in love. I had to try.
My situation isn't as unique as you might think. In 2016, about 1.83 million widowed people were living in Canada, and many of them are finding their way back onto the dating market. According to research conducted by the Pew Research Center in the United States, 19 percent of those who are currently divorced, separated or widowed report using online dating. In fact, Match.com saw an 8.3 percent increase in the proportion of widowed users in Canada from 2015 to 2016.
Rebecca Cooper Traynor, a Toronto matchmaker who founded Match Me Canada, has seen a similar trend. "I'd say that about 10 percent of my clients are widowers," she says; most of them are 55 and older, but some are only in their 30s and 40s. And at the same time as this group has become more interested in dating, she has also seen a shift in perceptions about them. "I've noticed that my other clients are more open to dating a widower now than when I started my business eight years ago," she says. "Some people are tired of dating divorcés and hearing about their anger and resentment on a date. They want to meet someone in a different space, someone who knows how to love."
A delicate balance As in any relationship, James and I have challenges—but some of the things we face are specific to his widowed status. For example, in the five years since we went on our blind date, I've learned to give James space on significant dates, such as on his late wife's birthday, their wedding anniversary and the day she died. Since our near-breakup early on, I've marked those days on my calendar so I can call to say I'm thinking of him and see if I can help. Being in tune with your partner's needs is often the best thing you can do, says Roy Ellis, a grief counsellor with the Nova Scotia Health Authority in Halifax. "Ask your partner what you can do to make those tough days better. Your awareness itself can be a lovely gesture. Maybe you don't need to be involved and you can give your partner the space he or she needs to continue that grief work," he says. "That can be a gift in and of itself."
I've also learned that, contrary to the proverbial "five stages of grief," how we mourn doesn't fit into easy steps. In fact, the psychiatrist who first identified those stages, Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, never intended them to apply to the living—her research was on people who were facing their own deaths. In other words, watching for signs of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance is no way to tell whether a mourner is ready to move forward.
Rather, many grief specialists champion the "companioning" philosophy espoused by author, counsellor and educator Alan Wolfelt. They believe that the process is individual and that bereaved people tend to know when they are ready to move forward. According to this model of grief, mourners have six needs that must be met in order to reconcile their loss: acknowledging the reality of the death; embracing the pain of the loss; remembering the person who died; developing a new self-identity; searching for meaning; and receiving ongoing support from others. But this isn't a checklist and there's no time frame for completion, or a particular order in which they must happen.
"The companioning model of bereavement distinguishes between grieving—the internal experiencing of pain—and mourning, which is the outward expression of that pain," says Maureen Theberge, a psychologist at Viewpoint Counselling Psychology in Calgary. "Grief isn't something you 'get over' any more than you 'get over' love, but those who can mourn well will have a better outcome for moving forward. Having a way to remember the dead, to honour and acknowledge them, especially when the mourner has children, can be healing. It's meaningful and may offer comfort."
Finding your way For the first few years, James commemorated special days only with his close family, but recently, I've been invited to participate by attending an annual memorial service and being with his family to remember his wife's birthday. I'm happy to support him in this way, much as he has supported me through my divorce—but the truth is, it can be hard for me emotionally. Sometimes, I'm sad for days afterward. I want to weep thinking about what an unfair loss James, his family and his wife suffered. I can't imagine what it must have felt like for his wife to be diagnosed with a terminal illness as a young adult, to hear she was going to die. But I've come to understand that grieving is a healthy sign. Even if the process hurts, it brings James' family and friends together. I've seen how remembering and celebrating his wife provides them with strength to continue on. We have been companioning without realizing it.
As much as I grieve with James and his family on sad days, I've also had a hard time coping with his loss on great days. It's embarrassing to admit, but sometimes, I've felt guilty for dating James. I've seen his late wife's beautiful photos, can sense how wonderful she was and feel how much she was loved—how much she still is loved. I've dissolved in tears, overwhelmed that James and I are on a romantic vacation together when he should have been with the love of his life, his wife. How was I ever going to fill her shoes? How would I measure up? What if I couldn't?
As difficult as these feelings are, experts say they're normal. Unlike dating a divorcé, Theberge says dating a widower can feel threatening because the person's partner didn't choose to leave; rather, "death tore them apart." Logically, however, jealousy doesn't help. "It's irrational," says Theberge. "You are not in competition with the deceased. Your relationship is new and unique."
Just because those feelings are irrational doesn't make them any less real, and it's important to deal with them, says Ellis. He suggests looking within at why you're feeling insecure. "We are each responsible for our self-esteem and self-love. Take stock, find out what's hurting and share it with your partner, but not in an accusing way," he says.
Overcoming feelings of insecurity isn't easy. As Ellis says, "You have to learn to integrate the presence of the deceased in a new relationship the way you don't in divorce. With divorce, you're out; with death, you've got to come to terms with the fact the other person is still loved and recognized." But while the challenges are different, "it doesn't mean you can't have a successful relationship."
Talk therapy In order to do that, though, you have to communicate. I knew I had to tell James how I was feeling, but it was difficult to have that conversation, to admit my insecurities. Tears streamed down my cheeks and I felt awash with shame. But James was patient and loving and told me his wife wanted him to be happy. Talking to him made me realize I couldn't change his past, but I could have a future with him—and I was helping him move forward, which is what his wife wanted.
Over time, I've grown to believe that we don't have only one soul mate for life. It's possible to love more than one person. When you have a second child, after all, you don't stop loving the first; you make more room in your heart. And now I see that grieving is good, that talking about fears and sadness can be healing. I know not to compare, not to think of myself as an inadequate replacement for the woman he really wanted.
James and I know too well that life can be fleeting. We understand that time is precious. We are taking things slowly—not rushing to combine families or get married—but when I look into his eyes, when I hold his hand on good days and bad, I know we are moving forward together.
Success factors Five tips from the experts for building a healthy relationship with a widower.
1. Communicate, even if it hurts, says Suzanne Farmer, a psychologist (candidate register) at Cornerstone Psychological Services in Halifax. "There will be times when your partner will think about his deceased spouse and miss her; there will be times when you might feel threatened or hurt. You have to be able to communicate these feelings."
2 Be open-hearted and understanding. "Sometimes your partner might experience bursts of grief, and you have to let him be sad and feel his pain. It's normal. It's not a judgment about you," says Calgary-based psychologist Maureen Theberge.
3. See your partner as a whole person. His experience of loving someone and having that person die is just part of his story.
4. Be ready for sudden mood swings. "Sex and emotional intimacy can sometimes trigger upwellings of grief and emotion," says Roy Ellis, a grief counsellor in Halifax. The best way to prepare yourself for the possibility is to have discussions about intimacy in advance.
5. Be open to a new life. "Your partner will never 'get over' the loss— he will be forever changed—but it doesn't mean life can't be beautiful again," says Theberge.