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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I'm writing this because of letters and surveys I have seen that indicate a large percentage of American women lack interest in sex. I hope my experience will help other wives.

My husband has always been a generous and thoughtful lover. However, my lack of interest in sex for more than 10 years caused much sorrow and frustration. Once I told my husband I would give him a divorce if it weren't for our children. He said he never wanted to hear that again -– he loved me and wasn't going anywhere. Though that was incredibly reassuring, my difficulties with sex continued. I sought counseling, but although I realized some of my problem resulted from unwise earlier sexual relationships and issues with my parents, nothing changed for the better. In my bitterness, I could never call sex "making love."

Then one day in passing, I heard the comment, "Sex isn't entertainment."

"Well, what is it then?" I wondered. It came to me that sex then must be about love and giving, cherishing and adoring another person, and the other person also giving, cherishing and adoring in return -– a supreme representation of unconditional love given exclusively between two people. This understanding changed everything.

The next time my husband and I had sex, I thought about how much I cared about him, all the many loving things he did for me, and tried to give myself in cherishing and adoring him. It was an amazing, healing and transcendent experience unlike anything I had experienced. It was making love for the first time.

Energy I never knew I had emerged and I "made love" three more times that weekend with my amazed but grateful husband. I have gone from dreading sex to realizing I would miss it if I lost my husband. Although at times I need to remind myself what I have learned, I feel reborn to my marriage and able to love my husband more deeply –- which is true joy. I am so grateful.

One more observation: Since my new outlook more than a year ago, I truly believe the casual and graphic way sex is portrayed on television and movies cheapens it and encourages an attitude that definitely made my difficulties much worse. The use of sex -- or violence, for that matter -- by the media for ratings or money causes much distorted thinking and needless pain in many people. -– A READER IN ST. LOUIS

DEAR READER: You have written a terrific letter. Somewhere down the line, many people have stopped regarding sex as communication and adopted the idea that it was recreation -– or even sport. What was lost in the translation was intimacy and, in many cases, fidelity.

DEAR ABBY: Many years ago, I dated a man who gave me a family heirloom as a gift. We went our separate ways on very good terms, and he never asked for it back. This gift has always been very special to me because it was made by his grandfather and had been given to his mother. Eventually I married someone else and so did he.

I recently learned that this man has died. I don't know if I should give this heirloom to his widow. Some of my friends say that if he wanted it back he would have asked for it. Others say I should return it to his widow. Your thoughts, please. –- SUSAN IN CHESTERFIELD, VA.

DEAR SUSAN: You seem like a lovely lady. The item was given as a gift and it legally belongs to you. You are under no obligation to return it. However, since you think it might have sentimental value to the widow or their children, it would be a kindness to offer it to them.

Dear Abby is written by Pauline Phillips and daughter Jeanne Phillips.

Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby -- Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

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