As a woman with many more or less insoluble problems in her marriage (it doesn't look like either one of us is going to be able to get a whole new personality anytime soon), I've come to believe that the secret to fulfilling sex is not to wait until I want it. I've had sex not only when I am stressed but also when I am quite pissed off. It's the same dynamic. If I waited for the damage to be repaired before I unzipped my jeans, I'd soon be looking for a lawyer in the yellow pages. But if I can just put my brain on hold and let my body take over for a few minutes, there is a nonverbal path back to closeness and compatibility. The bodies know the way.

I can't tell you how much it shocks me when I go from grudgingly leaving my e-mail behind and joining my husband in our bedroom, to taking off my clothes with all the romantic zeal of a person about to get a mammogram, to lying on the bed feeling cold, uncomfortable, and lazy . . . to complete flood-in-the-head, endorphin-spattered bliss in a matter of minutes. Suddenly, the dark clouds are gone. I can cuddle with this person and gaze at the bridge of his nose and his sky-blue eyes and gingery, freckled skin just the way I did back in the day, when my hotness for him incinerated about two years of my life.

Even against a backdrop of far more serious pain and catastrophe, sex can bring us back to earth. After 9/11, many days went by before the lower half of my body made its presence known. When my husband and I did find ourselves in bed, nude and fondling one another, it seemed awkward and wrong at first. But then we made love-we, made, love; I held my husband in my arms, pressed his flesh and bone and muscle into my flesh and bone and muscle, took his body into mine, merged our two selves into one. It was a tonic. Sex against death. Life against hate. I realized that I had spent the preceding week almost disembodied; all I did was watch television, surf the Net, talk on the phone. But when our heads and our hearts are in the darkest, most hope-sucking turmoil, our bodies have the power to remind us why it's good to be alive.

That's why I think of sex as medicine for stress, as peacemaker in battle, as healing. So often, it appears that sex is the problem. But sometimes, it's the solution.

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