SPECIAL FROM Next Avenue
I met Georgia last year at a relationship workshop I was leading in California. She wanted to learn some new ways to reinvigorate her sex life. At the beginning of her marriage, sex was, not surprisingly, frequent and satisfying. Over the years, however, she and her husband had slipped into what she described as a sexual snoozefest.
While her girlfriends marvel that she and Zack, her husband of 22 years, still have sex once a week, Georgia said there was more to the story. “We make a date every Saturday afternoon to just ‘do it’: same foreplay, same position,” she said. “Sometimes we procede with the date, but other times, we postpone it until the next day. I love my husband very much, but we really need to add some excitement and passion to our sex life.”
Georgia is a fit 55, exercises regularly and is active with volunteer activities in the community. She has a full-time job as a high school teacher, and although it's stressful at times, she said she still enjoys teaching. Zack, 59, is the principal at her school, and administrative duties and school politics keep him very busy. Their twin girls are attending an out-of-state college.
Although she missed her daughters terribly when they first left for college, Georgia was looking forward to spending more quality time with Zack and even imagined the two of them making wild, passionate love all over the house. But that's not things have turned out. “We aren’t exactly swinging from the chandelier,” she said
(MORE: What to Do About Loss of Libido)
Is Sexual Slowdown Normal?
Georgia first consulted her doctor, who did a complete workup, including bloodwork, to rule out any underlying medical conditions. When she didn’t find any, she encouraged Georgia to attend one of my relationship workshops, in which I coach people on infusing their love life with novelty and excitement.
So it was a highly motivated Georgia who showed up at the workshop. The first thing we talked about was how a diminished sex life was actually a very common occurrence with couples who’ve been together many years. In my study of long-married couples, 75 percent reported a decline in sexual frequency over time. And the second thing I said was that it’s not necessarily something people need to accept and live with.
I shared with Georgia, and all the participants, my top five strategies to re-ignite sexuality and rekindle the passion in longtime relationships.
5 Tips for a Better Sex Life
1. Talk the talk. It’s important for couples to discuss their sex life--it can help resolve issues and be a huge turn-on. I asked Georgia to recall what she found most exciting during their “honeymoon phase.” She told us that Zack used to surprise her by getting into the shower with her. “That never happens now,” she said. “I think he’s afraid I'd roll my eyes and say, ‘Really? Here?!’”
When you do discuss sex, always focus on the positive. Instead of talking about what your partner doesn’t do to excite you, say what he or she can do. For example, you might mention that you would find it extremely erotic if your partner initiated lovemaking or you tried a little role-playing.
2. Develop “sex signals.” Some couples have secret ways of communicating that they’re in the mood. It could be a look, dressing up in a certain sexy outfit or uttering a private code word or phrase, like, “Honey, I’m cold, can you turn up the heat?” or “Let’s have some spicy food tonight.”
This signal isn’t evident to others; it’s intended for your partner only. Having a secret language lends mystery and suspense to your relationship. I suggested that Georgia pick some sexy signal to give Zack when she was feeling frisky, so she decided that telling him she’d had a “great workout at the gym” would be their special phrase, especially since she often felt amorous after exercising.
3. Add something new -- anything. Getting innovative with sex is fundamental to keeping it exciting. It doesn't have to be dramatic. I encouraged Georgia to feel confident initiating some of these changes. We talked about her buying some scented oils and a book on couples massage and the two of them practicing on each other. Other ideas included playing a romantic board game, experimenting with sex toys and dressing up in something that would turn Zack (and her!) on.
She could also take the lead and change the venue for their lovemaking. If they always have sex in the bedroom, for example, they could try the kitchen -- or a motel room -- to stir things up.
4. Test-drive your fantasies. These are a natural and healthy component of a sexual relationship. As long as they don’t lead to emotional or physical discomfort or conflict, they’re perfectly acceptable.
Because such revelations can make us feel vulnerable, however, both partners need to agree to be respectful of the other's fantasy. It is crucial to set ground rules and limitations before sharing: e.g., “The scenarios won't involve people we know.” Instead, be creative and have fun with it -- and always give your partner the starring role.
5. Plan it and do it. One technique that can boost excitement is scheduling frequent sex, especially when you're trying to get things "back on track." Many couples mistakenly assume that talking and planning ahead takes the fun and romance out of the experience. This is a myth. What it can do is take the pressure off one of you to initiate and give you both something to look forward to. But you have to commit to going through with it, even if you're tired or not in the mood.
Additionally, having regular sex creates a positive feedback loop: Cranking the hormones leads to more desire, which leads to more sex, and more sex can have dramatic positive effects on a marriage. Couples who have done this report having more emotional intimacy and tolerance toward each other.
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The Best Part of a Sex Workshop: The Homework!
I follow up with participants to see if and how they’ve applied what they've learned. Georgia said that when she and Zack sat down to talk about their love life, she was pleased to discover that he was open to discussing it and that he shared many of her concerns. He wanted to have sex more often and liked the idea of trying new things. He didn't mind the “planned” aspect of their dates, but was a little crushed to learn that his wife found their lovemaking “boring.”
Georgia described their first foray into more adventuresome sex as “tame” (they made love in the guest room, in the morning), but they agreed that it was a good start. “Zack has started humming ‘Afternoon Delight’ to signal that he's in the mood,” she said, “which cracks us up.” She went on to say that both of them are now more aware of how they're relating to each other on an intimate level, and that when it comes to their love life, she feels that things are definitely on an upswing.
It's Not Over
Everything in our culture makes people, and women in particular, feel that after the age of 40, they're no longer sexually attractive, and this belief gets internalized. But researcher Gina Ogden, in conducting her famed Isis study (a national survey of sexuality and spirituality), found that women in their 60s and 70s were having the best sex of their lives -- people need to understand that the brain is the most important sex organ in the body!
Hardware vs. Software
Men and women get into sexual patterns in their teens, 20s and 30s that never change. So in recognizing this, we need to say, "the hardware is going to stay the same, but we can update the software." And you can update the software by trying different things, but mostly by getting to know yourself.
Practice, Practice, Practice
If your body is an instrument, then you're only going to get better by practicing. And quite frankly, from a health standpoint, there isn't a better use of your time. Men take erection-enhancing drugs to increase nitric oxide in the penile blood vessels, but they can increase nitric oxide themselves by improving their sex lives either on their own or with a partner. Orgasms trigger a huge burst of nitric oxide, which balances the neurotransmitters in your body -- the same neurotransmitters that people take drugs to balance. It's a shame because antidepressants lower one's ability for full sexual expression, so the one thing that could really decrease depression is the one thing that the drugs quiet down. People don't realize that you can turn on chemicals in your own body without importing unnatural drugs to do it for you.
If you're fit, you're much more likely to have a satisfying sex life. Being and feeling healthy and being and feeling sexy are synonymous. I just spoke to a 70-year-old friend of mine -- a total fox -- who's trying his luck on eHarmony. So we talked about what people in his demographic are looking for, and we both agreed -- health! When you're healthy and your hardware is working the best it can, you can focus on downloading new software.
Take Your Time
Women need to understand that they are far more complicated sexually than men are. For men, the focus is in the genitals. But with women, sex is like a martial art, and women need to master that art and have the ability to move sexual energy around, manipulate sounds and focus on certain areas. The beauty of being over 50 is that you have more time to practice this. Women need 45 minutes to get fully turned-on. Do you know how long the average couple spends making love? 15 minutes. Slow down! Take time!