The simple guide to better sex
Whether your sex drive has taken a total nose dive or an innocent catnap, these 40+ science- and expert-approved tips and tricks will boost your mojo in no time
Sex is important – you’d be surprised at all the unexpected health benefits regular sex offers. In addition to improving your mood and whittling your waistline, sex can even help you live longer. “Investigate and learn how sex is fundamental for our physical and mental health and serves much more than reproductive and gratification functions,” suggests William Kolbe, EdD, author of The Rejuvenating Power of Masturbation. “One way to do this is by exploring both solo and paired sexual activity to stimulate your major endocrine axis and nervous system, which manage all your major body functions.” The sex hormones are involved in maintaining muscle and bone mass, male and female characteristics, sex drive, as well as certain cognitive functions and memory, he adds. Understanding how your body works is a good first-step into truly enjoying sexual activity.
Insure you’re in optimal health
It’s important to remember that sexual health and general health go hand in hand. “Prevention and treatment of typical chronic diseases are clearly associated with better sex,” adds Alyssa Dweck MD, ob-gyn and author of The Complete A to Z for Your V. “For example: Are you too tired for sex? Get checked for anaemia (low blood count) which can cause significant fatigue and shortness of breath for some, and treat if needed with iron-rich foods or iron supplements.” If you’re suffering from vaginal dryness and pain during sex, she also notes that untreated hypertension (high blood pressure) or coronary artery disease may be the cause. “Insure you don’t have diabetes and treat if you do, as out of control sugar levels can lead to chronic vaginal yeast infections which can cause itching, discharge, inflammation and discomfort during sex.”
Go back to the basics
“When people have let there be a growing distance in their intimacy – and this can be as simple as kissing and cuddling – being affectionate and intimate with one another becomes awkward,” explains Nikki Martinez, psychologist and clinical professional counsellor. “It might seem like you will never be able to overcome this feeling, but nothing could be further from the truth – you just need to go back to the basics of where your attraction for one another started, and work your way up.” In other words, act young – make out, but don’t have sex. Create anticipation and attraction and the rest will grow and follow, she says.
Set the mood with foreplay
You’ve most likely heard about the importance of foreplay, but a recent study published in the Journal of Sex Research backs this point up even further. Researchers found that both male and females experienced more pleasurable orgasms when sexual arousal and desire was peaked through foreplay. But this foreplay doesn’t have to be sexual in any way. “The relaxation of getting a massage, spending time together or enjoying a candlelit dinner definitely help spark your sex life if you’re having a drought,” says relationship and etiquette expert and author, April Masini.
OK, we agree that this one sounds bizarre, but a study in Sweden found that women had more difficulty achieving orgasm when their feet were cold. This is definitely a good reason to ask your partner for a relaxing foot massage before foreplay – or at least to get toasty together by the fire!
Make a bedroom bucket list
Masini suggests doing this activity over a bottle of wine, with the plan to carry it out over the next six or twelve months. “Just brainstorming and discussing what you have always wanted to do and never brought up, is sexy,” she explains. “You can make an oral list, a written list or put your wishes on note cards in a fishbowl and once a week, or once a month, dip in and do what’s on the card you pull out.”
This is the kind of thing that works at any age – don’t buy these myths about sex after 50.
Rent a hotel room for a night
Hotel sex is tried and true, Masini says, whereas your home has implications that aren’t sexy – from your kitchen that reminds you of all of the dishes that need to be done to your bathroom where you might find those pesky beard trimmings you’ve been complaining about. “Getting out of the house, out of town or out of the country if you can afford to do so, is a great way to spice things up,” she says. “If it works (and it will), make it a regular thing, switching up the getaway.”
Find out what’s holding you back
Masini suggests working backwards from what may be stopping you from having the sex life you want. “If it’s stress, break it down and name your top three stressors, and then knock them out,” she says. “If it’s feeling that you’re a little overweight, join a gym and get rid of that extra weight by working out and then eating well.” The gym itself can be a libido stimulator. If it’s kids, she recommends getting a regular babysitter or get your kids a regular sleepover date at a relative’s house.
Masturbation is a mainstay of both modern sexuality – and modern sex therapy. Not only does it help you understand what you like and what feels good for you sexually, but research also suggests that it’s good for your health. Studies have found that masturbation can stave off depression, reduce the risk of cervical cancer in women and lower the risk of prostate cancer in men. “Masturbation is a means to kindle our eroticism, explore our erogenous zones and enhance our libido,” says Kolbe. “The better we love ourselves, the better we can love others.”
Make sure you know your letters “G”, “A” and “O”
No, we’re not talking about the basic alphabet, but rather the lesser known “hot” spots similar to the G-spot. “There is another spot named the A-spot past the G-spot, just above where the cervix is located in the vagina, and another on the opposite side below the cervix, known as the O-spot,” says Steve McGough, DHS, director of Research & Development at Women and Couples Wellness, LLC and associate professor of Clinical Sexology at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco. “If your partner learns how to properly stimulate these areas both with their fingers and through intercourse, it will take you to a completely new level of experience.”
It might sound unsexy, but putting sex on the calendar is one realistic and approachable way to ensure that it actually happens. “Frequency of sex is one of the major issues articulated between couples as a problem,” says Masini. “If one partner is a ‘numbers person’ and the other isn’t, this can make the discrepancy between how much sex one person wants and how much they’re getting, more complicated.” She recommends coming to an agreement on a range of time in which you both are willing to try and have sex – it can be once a day, once a week, once a month, but try and stick to it!
Talk about what turns you on
Sex and sexual desires are some of the top issues Martinez’s clients struggle with. “They are embarrassed and uncomfortable talking about their personal needs and desires, however, failure to discuss this often leaves one or both partners unfulfilled,” she says. “To be a partner is to be able to be open with each other, so you both should be able to express your wants and desires.” She recommends getting over the awkwardness hurdle by having a discussion with your partner about what works for you and what doesn’t. “You will both be happier and more satisfied if you know how to fulfil each other.”
Avoid criticising your partner’s sexual performance
Martinez points out that sex is a vulnerable act. “Many people carry with it a series of concerns and anxieties about their performance and ability to please you.” To tell your partner you are unfulfilled, to criticise their performance or to take it personally when they are struggling to perform, only worsens the situation. “The majority of male sexual issues is based in anxiety, so these types of comments only add to these anxieties and insecurities,” she says. “If there is a need that you want met, there are far better ways to express them.”
Incorporate a little fantasy
If you or your partner is hesitant to try some of the moves you might have seen in 50 Shades of Grey, you might want to reconsider. “The mind is the foremost erogenous zone, so a stimulated imagination can powerfully stir the body through the sense organs,” explains Kolbe. For this reason, among many others, sexual fantasy can be beneficial for couples in relationships. “Sexual fantasies can entail mental scenarios involving persons other than one’s regular partner and include sexual activities considered exploratory and exhilarating.”
Touch each other in non-sexual ways
Physical touch – that does not involve sexual activity – is just as important, if not more important, than having sex with your partner. “Multiple studies have shown that levels of oxytocin – aka the ‘love hormone’ – profoundly affect how you feel about your partner,” says McGough. “It not only makes you feel good, but it counteracts the effects of cortisol, aka the ‘stress hormone.’”
Leave your to-do list at the (bedroom) door
You know that seemingly endless list of things you’ve been meaning to do? There’s no place for them in the bedroom. “You shouldn’t thinking about your responsibilities during sex,” says Leah S. Millheiser, MD and ob-gyn. In fact, she points out that one of the biggest killers of arousal is responsibility. “The more you can disassociate from your tasks and responsibilities the more you will enjoy sex with your partner.” Jotting things down on paper, or in your smartphone can help get them out of your head.
Use reliable contraception
“Feeling confident about protection from pregnancy is important for those who don’t desire such,” explains Dr Dweck. “Remember, libido for women starts in the brain, so if you’re concerned about pregnancy you may have less desire.” While some women on the pill will complain of lower libido, others do not, so she notes that this issue remains controversial. There are also many other terrific options, like an IUD or an implant, for those who don’t want the pill.
Do your Kegels
If you’ve ever been pregnant, chances are your ob-gyn told you to practise these exercises that help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. “Kegels are extremely important for genito-urinary health,” says Dr Millheiser. “In fact, research has found Kegels to be helpful in improving orgasmic response (intensity), as well as addressing stress urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.” Unfortunately, even though this simple exercise doesn’t require a gym membership, it’s either infrequently performed or not done correctly. Dr Millheiser recommends patients work up to three sets of 15 reps, three times a day, holding each Kegel squeeze for about five seconds. “The best way to ID which are your Kegel muscles is to stop the stream of urine mid-pee,” she adds. Though, she notes that Kegels should not be done consistently while urinating – only to ID the correct muscles.
Oestrogen is one of the female sex hormones that are important for sexual and reproductive development. Lacking in this hormone may lead to symptoms such as vaginal dryness, mood swings, pain during sex, irregular periods and hot flashes. “Oestrogen, either used directly on the vaginal skin or systemically by pill or patch, is the most effective treatment for vaginal dryness of menopause (officially known as genito-urinary syndrome),” says Diana Bitner, MD, OB/GYN and certified menopause practitioner. “Topical or systemic testosterone, or a newly approved medication Interosa (intravaginal DHEA) are also effective.”
Chronic stress is a serious libido killer, says McGough, and stress levels are reportedly on the increase. “While relieving stress isn’t always easy, especially when you have young children and busy schedules, it’s something to be aware of to help improve things sexually.”
Exercise is important to sexual health: it increases stamina, which is important when it comes to sex, says Dr Millheiser. One study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, found that exercise also improves body image and mood, which therefore improves sexual functioning. “The more confident a woman feels about her body and the better her mood is, the more likely she will be able to derive sexual satisfaction during the act,” Dr Millheiser adds.
Maintain a healthy diet
As the saying goes, you are what you eat – meaning, if you’re eating fattening, fried foods, you will feel lethargic and will most likely gain weight (which probably won’t put you in the best mood for sex). “There is some evidence that diet, especially the Mediterranean diet, can positively impact sexual function in women with metabolic syndrome or type 2 diabetes,” says Dr Millheiser. “When it comes to diet, loss of weight improves body image which, in turn, improves sexual function.”
Season with saffron
“One really exciting possibility for dealing with reduced libido from antidepressants comes from an unexpected source, the spice saffron,” says McGough. “Saffron has historically been considered an aphrodisiac, but only recently has it gotten attention for helping with depression and helping women recover from low libido caused by antidepressants.” In fact, one study published in the Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental Journal found that saffron significantly helped women who had lost their libido from taking an antidepressant.
Fill up on aphrodisiac foods
Who knew you could eat your way to a better sex life – quite literally? One of the most famous aphrodisiac food is oysters, which are high in zinc and long known to be sexually stimulating. In fact, one study found that the amino acids found in oysters boost production of the sex hormones, testosterone and progesterone. Other sex-boosting foods to add to your grocery list include chilli peppers, avocado, chocolate, bananas and watermelon.
While this fruit might not be considered an aphrodisiac, it’s loaded with good-for-you nutrients like antioxidants, flavonoids and dietary fibre. It also may help boost your sex drive. One study published in the journal Archives of Gynaecology and Obstetrics, linked apple consumption to better sexual satisfaction in younger women.
Dr Dweck points out that smoking can be a huge buzzkill for your sex drive. “It not only causes bad breath, stained teeth, worsened hot flashes for those in perimenopause or menopause, but mostly it can affect the vagina!” she explains. “Smoking causes vasoconstriction (constricted blood vessels) which can diminish the natural lubrication the vagina produces during arousal.”
Cut back on alcohol
As most people know, alcohol is a depressant, so it makes people tired and sluggish. “It’s hard to be motivated to do anything when you’ve had a few too many drinks, let alone have sex,” says Dr Bitner. She recommends reserving alcohol for special occasions, rather than a nightly habit, and do something better for your health: have sex.
Seek out career advancements
You might be thinking, “What on earth does my job have to do with my sex life?” Well, to your surprise, it very well may be causing you lack of enjoyment in the bedroom. “Poor self-image or lack of personal satisfaction from your job, especially if it’s causing you stress or you’re in a bad work situation, can affect more than budge – it can affect sex drive, too,” explains Dr Bitner. “Take control of your life and you will feel like having more sex.”
Treat mood disorders
“Address the underlying mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety, which can interfere with home life, work life and self-image,” says Dr Bitner. “Some medications to treat mood disorders also reduce sexual desire, response and ability to orgasm, but even short term treatment together with counselling can be effective for both.”
Seek help for sleep apnoea
One of the main symptoms of sleep apnoea is snoring, which is unappealing and mood-killing all on its own. If wanting to clobber the person sleeping next to you who’s snoring isn’t enough to tame your sexual appetite, worrying that he or she might be suffering from a condition that could be serious, like sleep apnoea, very well might. Several studies have backed the effects of sleep apnoea on sexual health, so encourage your partner to seek treatment, stat.
Sip more H2O
In case you didn’t know, your body is made up of nearly 75 percent water, meaning you should be drinking your fair share of it daily if you want to stay healthy – and the same goes for sexually healthy too. One study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, found that being dehydrated can impact testosterone levels, which has a direct effect on your sexual desire.
Check the medications you’re taking
Medications, whether they’re prescription or over the counter, can sometimes be “show stoppers” for couples’ sex lives, warns McGough. “Numerous medications can lower sex drive, including antidepressants, birth control pills, antihistamines, opioids and related pain medications, blood pressure medications such as Beta blockers, etc.” Even anti-seizure medications, such as Tegretol, can cause some degree of reduced sensation and come with a variety of sexual side effects in men and women. “Other ‘drugs’ that aren’t as commonly mentioned, but we’ve seen having negative impacts on libido are chronic overuse of caffeine and alcohol,” he adds. “Both can lead to reduced sleep and generally elevated stress levels (including elevated cortisol, etc.).”
Getting the right amount of sleep you need to feel wakeful and rested is so important for your sexual health as well as your overall health. “While it seems obvious if you’re so tired that you are about to fall asleep, many people don’t realise that chronically not getting enough sleep can reduce their interest in sex,” explains McGough. One study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that longer sleep duration increased sexual activity for women. Even women getting more sleep than the average individual reported more sexual pleasure. However, women who slept significantly longer reported less sensation, so McGough notes that balance is key.
This is an important tool when it comes to sexual function, especially for women struggling with issues related to sexual arousal and orgasm, explains Dr Millheiser. “Women, especially, are multitaskers, so their minds are often in three different places at once. This becomes problematic in the bedroom when focus on the sexual act is important for intimacy and sexual satisfaction.” Women also have more difficulty than their male counterparts when it comes to reaching orgasm, which Dr Millheiser points out may be partially due to the fact that their mind often wanders to other things – sometimes it can be simple things like grocery lists or what to make for dinner, while other times, it can be more detrimental thinking such as, “Am I going to have an orgasm or not?”, “Do I look okay?”, “Does my partner think I look okay?” Adopting a mindfulness practice, like yoga or meditation, can help you focus on your level of awareness.
Sexual lubricants aren’t only useful for those experiencing vaginal dryness – they’re also invaluable to your sex life regardless of your status “down there.” Dr Dweck recommends applying lube liberally at the opening of the vagina and on a male partner to experience less fiction and heightened enjoyment. You can purchase most brands at your local drugstore or convenience store and try different brands to find out what works best for you.
Make a lusty playlist
Having great sex to good music can enhance your experience in the moment and hearing the music again later can actually trigger your arousal centres, says Dr Millheiser. In fact, one study found that music and sex trigger the same areas of the brain. Create a playlist on your iPhone and reserve those songs for sexy time only. “Set a 15 to 20 minute playlist on repeat and make a pact not to go all the way until you hear the first song again,” adds Dr Millheiser. “This ensures you spend enough time in foreplay for both partners to get fully aroused.”
Keep electronics out of the bedroom
More and more of us own multiple electronic devices and spend many hours a week on them. Factor in a 40-hour work week and there’s hardly room for intimacy of any kind, let alone sex. “Getting updates and knowing the status of your partner should trump all other forms of social media each night,” says Dr Millheiser. “Start a habit of plugging in your phone and other devices outside of the bedroom so you can focus on your partner.”
Build anticipation with sexy texts
Believe it or not, sexting is not only for the young and impressionable. It’s a great way to communicate with your significant other throughout the day and can serve as a form of foreplay. “If you know that you and your partner are going to make some time for sex on Thursday night, start building anticipation Thursday morning with a sexy text for them to read right when they get to work,” says Dr Millheiser. “Because the brain is the largest sex organ, it is important to get the mind thinking about sex far before sex actually begins.”
Refresh your lingerie and loungewear wardrobe
“Lingerie and loungewear tends to be neglected, but it’s one of the easiest and most effective ways to spark your intimate and romantic life,” says Masini. “Lace and linen can be super sexy in summer, while velvet and satin in wintery jewel tones can give you a new lease on a personal winter wonderland.” If your lingerie drawer is looking dreary, head to the store. “You’ll be surprised how much sexier you feel when you take action towards making yourself feel ready for action.”
Wear high heels
Little did you know that a pair of kicks had the potential to work wonders on your sex life. A 2013 study, published the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, found that high heels are not only physically sexy, but they also may work a woman’s pelvic-floor muscles – the area that helps keep the vagina toned! Who knew! Carrie Bradshaw was certainly onto something…
Drink more coffee
Your daily cup of coffee is surprisingly healthy, and it might do more than wake you up and help you stay on track with your to-do list. It might also help increase your libido. In fact, one study published in the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior, found that caffeine stimulates the area of the brain responsible for regulating arousal. Time to fill up your cup!
Try a blindfolded surprise
Sometimes just the anticipation and excitement of not knowing what will happen can really amp things up, says McGough. “First, do a little homework: Each partner thinks of things that might be exciting to do to the other partner if he or she were blindfolded. Do searches online for exciting ideas – just don’t tell each other what your plans are,” he says. “Then, the morning you’re planning to have your new ‘game,’ you flip a coin to decide who will wear it.” Apply a soft cloth (or go all out and get a blindfold) to the partner who agrees to be blindfolded and have the other partner proceed with their planned “homework.”
Learn and practice ‘edging orgasms’
“Edging orgasms involve stimulating one’s self to the threshold of spasm, and then releasing, but not getting to the point of full body orgasm,” explains Kolbe. “By edging orgasms, we can sustain the sexual act for as long as we like and cultivate the many associated physical, mental and spiritual benefits.” Edging orgasms is also known as having ‘valley’ orgasms – waves of neuromuscular euphoria occupying the genital area and spreading sexual energy into the core and extremities of the body.
Turn off the TV
While it might soothe you and your partner to sleep, Italian researchers found that it may lower your chances of having sex. More specifically, the study found that couples who had television sets in their bedroom had half as much sex as those who didn’t – or kept their TV to the living room only. We suppose it makes sense that if there’s no television in the room, you’ll have to be each other’s entertainment!
Try maca powder
Research suggests that this Peru-sourced plant picked from the ground may lead to improved sexual function. One study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (eCAM) supports other perks of the plant, including its ability to balance hormone levels, boost fertility in both men and women and improve memory and focus.
Take turns meeting each other’s needs
Share with each other your sexual desires and fantasies. “Take turns fulfilling each other’s personal needs, and you have created an openness and balance in the relationship that was not there before,” says Martinez. “Doing this demonstrates your willingness to try things in order to please your partner, and it makes them want to do the same for you in return.” Knowing that you are making your partner so fulfilled can be satisfying in and of itself, and knowing that a need and desire of your own is going to be fulfilled, can be arousing to you in general, she adds.
Seek expert guidance
“Sometimes, even exercise and stress reduction many not be enough to put the spark back in a man’s sex drive,” explains S. Adam Ramin, MD, urologic surgeon. “When this is the case, an underlying medical condition could be to blame.” He recommends seeking out the help of an experienced and highly-trained urologist who can work with your partner to treat whatever is affecting a man’s sexual function. “Plenty of men experience conditions that can affect their libido and there is no shame in seeking treatment so that you can get back to the sex life you want.”
Smile more often
It might sound simple, but simply flashing a grin can add some spark back into your sex life. “Smiles communicate physical health, mental wellbeing, love of life, being present in the moment and being happy inside our bodies,” says Kolbe. “Smiling is sexy, smiling is beautiful, smiling makes us attractive.” So go ahead, and greet your significant other with an ear-to-ear grin.
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