Hotter, Healthier Sex
Women with strong sex drives are happier in mind, body and spirit. But stress, work and family can bust your lust. Recapture it with these seven ideas.
By Nancy Wartik and Courtney Meghan Smith, Fitness Magazine, February 2000
Here’s a sex shocker. Despite Hollywood movies that suggest otherwise, younger women are actually more likely to report lack of desire and other sexual problems than females in their forties and fifties, according to a 1999 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The report also suggests that sexual malaise is common: More than one-third of women aged 18 to 39 report a lack of interest in sex, and nearly another quarter say they rarely or never have orgasms. That doesn’t mean that young women are doomed to have a sex drive stuck in low gear. Other research shows one-quarter of women under age 40 say they think about sex every day, according to Edward O. Laumann, Ph. D., a professor in the department of sociology at the University of Chicago and lead author of the JAMA study. While the experts sort out what’s a “normal” level of interest for women, here’s the bottom line for your health: Trust your gut. Are you happy with the amount of sex you want-and the amount you’re getting. Here’s why you need to ask: Sex is essential to our emotional wen-being, says Ursula Ofman, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist specializing in sex therapy in NewYork City. Women who are comfortable with their sexual side tend to be happier-probably because sex is an important part of our self-identity and makes us feel closer to our partner. Unfortunately, modern-day life often closes us down to this feel-good route. “For women, sex has a strong psychological component. And women who have a lot on their minds or who have to rush from one activity to the next don’t think about sex as much as women who have a more leisurely life,” says Ofman. Sound familiar? Here, seven ways to rediscover your lustful side. Happy snuggling!
1. See an action flick. You probably think watching Julia Roberts cuddle onscreen with her latest hunk of the hour will put you in the mood, but you might be better off renting Die Hard. The point-to kick your bodies sympathetic nervous system into higher gear. “For a long time, people thought you had to relax in order to be sexually aroused,” says Eileen Palace, Ph.D., director of the Tulane Center for Sexual Health in New Orleans. Now we know that raising heart rate, breathing and muscle activity just before sex enhances your body’s ability to get turned on. So do something active: hike, go bowling, start a tickling fight, laugh together. As your body revs up and becomes aroused, stay aware of what you’re feeling – it keeps desire spiraling upward, says Palace.
2. Read erotica. Women tend to think about sex less often than men. “But the more you think about sex, the more attractive it becomes,” says Ofinan. “So I ask women to try reading sexual fantasy material. It’s a simple technique, but very powerful.” Racy mega authors like Danielle Steel or Jackie Collins might do the trick. If you prefer to browse in private, go on line and search for ‘erotica’ on wwwbarnesandnoble.com or www.amazon.com.
3. Keep working out. Research suggests that people who get regular aerobic exercise have more sex, better orgasms and richer fantasy lives than nonaerobic exercisers, says James White, Ph.D., author of “The Best Sex of Your Life” (Barricade Books, 1997). Possible reasons: Vigorous exercise may increase natural testosterone levels (which might fuel desire in women as well as men), and it helps pump blood down to erogenous zones, like the vagina, increasing sensation. Regular workouts also boost your energy (remember, good sex can be hard work!), improve your confidence in your appearance and confer a sense of general well-being, all of which can give your libido a lift.
4. Don’t overdo it! Training too hard can cause persistent fatigue. Obviously, that has a negative impact on sex drive, says Mona Shangold, M.D., director of the Center for Women’s Health and Sports Gynecology in Philadelphia. While competitive athletes are often at risk, other women who like to work out are vulnerable too. “Anyone who exercises heavily enough to be tired may experience a decrease in sex drive,” says Dr. Shangold.
5. Believe in your sex appeal.”You can’t have decent sex when all you are thinking about is how horrible you look,” says Ofman. Stand in front of a full-length mirror naked for five minutes a day – or however long it takes to find something about your body that you like, Ofman recommends. Eventually you’ll see something you appreciate -your smooth skin, the shape of your breasts. Whenever you walk by a mirror, practice seeing those sexy parts (instead of focusing on what you don’t like). You’ll wind up reinforcing a more positive, sexier body image.
6. Just say no. It’s a technique pulled from the sex therapists’ bag of tricks: They’ll ask a couple to deliberately hold off from intercourse or orgasm for days or even weeks while exploring more subtle erogenous zones on each others bodies. “Putting off the pressure to achieve orgasm can be wonderfully freeing and erotica,” says Howard Ruppel Jr., Ph.D., Ed.D., executive director of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists. Block out times when you and your partner take turns touching and fondling each other, with no other goal in mind. Over the course of a few days or weeks, you’ll build to increasingly more erotic caressing and eventually to sex. In the meantime, Ruppel says, you’re accumulating a series of positive, intimate sexual experiences that will make you want to go back for more.
7. Check with a doctor or therapist You’re working out and reading sexy books, but your drive is still in low gear. Now what? It’s possible that your dampened desire has deep emotional roots (like stress or ongoing conflicts with your partner). Talking it out with a professional counselor can help. You might also want to ask your physician or gynecologist if a medical condition could be the hidden cause behind your lack of lust. Possible culprits include depression, thyroid ailments or diabetes, hormonal fluctuations after pregnancy or around menopause, and drug side effects (including some anti-depressants, antianxiety drugs like Valium, ulcer or heartburn meds like Tagamet HB or Pepcid AC, diuretics and beta-blockers to treat high blood pressure). Birth-control pills may also affect sex drive in some women-ask your doctor if switching types might help.