Whether you’ve lost that loving feeling, wish you and your partner had more (or less… or better) sex, or want to experiment (with positions, toys, or another gender), there’s no sexual question that’s too awkward or uncomfortable for sexologists to address and answer.
But not everyone is equally comfortable talking about intimate matters, especially when it involves tastes or preferences after being together for so long. Sometimes, what’s been working doesn’t work anymore! There’s no shame in expressing that.
To get help on how to communicate or liven up the relationship, we reached out to eight sexologists and asked them to share their best tips.
Think about sex beyond the P-and-V
A 2014 study published in Cortex (a journal dedicated to the brain and mental processes) identified the most sensitive spots on your body.
It’s not surprising that the clitoris and penis topped the list — but they’re not the only places that, when stimulated, can drive you crazy.
The other erotic zones for touch include the:
- mouth and lips
- neck nape
- inner thigh
- lower back
The data also suggests that men and women can get turned on from the intimate touch on any of these erogenous zones too, so experimenting with touch wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Make a game of exploringTo make a game out of it, Liz Powell, PsyD, an LGBTQ-friendly sex educator, coach, and licensed psychologist suggests: “Take genitals out of the equation for a night, week, or month. How can you and your partner explore and experience sexual pleasure when what’s between the legs isn’t on the table? Find out!”
Turn off autopilot
When you’ve been with the same partner for a while, it’s easy to go into sexual-autopilot — which if you’ve been there, you know is about as unsexy as it sounds.
“If every sexual encounter you have with your partner involves the exact same two or three positions, you might be missing out on sex you didn’t know you could enjoy... and limiting how much pleasure you and your partner get to experience together,” says sex educator, Haylin Belay, program coordinator at Girls Inc. NYC.
Making a sex position bucket list:
- getting busy in every room in your house (hello, kitchen island)
- having sex at a different time of day
- adding in a toy
- dressing up for roleplay
“Some couples spend years having ‘okay’ sex only to discover that their partner secretly wanted all the same things they did, but didn’t feel comfortable talking about any of them,” she adds.
Talk about the sex after the sex
Subtly switching up your post-pomp ritual can help keep the two of you close, and in terms of PGA (post-game analysis), it can even help make your next romp even better, says clinical sexologist Megan Stubbs, EdD.
“Instead of rolling over to fall asleep after sex, next time have a chat about how your encounter went. Take this time to revel in your afterglow and discuss the things you liked and the things that you will skip (if any) for next time,” she says.
Of course, Stubbs says, it’s best to start with paying your partner-in-crime a compliment about the sex you just had — but being honest about what you didn’t totally love is important, too.
Suggestions and questions to use when requesting a change:
- “Can I show you how much pressure I like on…”
- “X feels so good, do you think you can do more of that next time?”
- “I feel vulnerable saying this, but…”
- “Can you try this motion instead?”
- “Let me show you how deep I like it.”
- “Give me your hand, I’ll show you.”
- “Watch how I touch myself.”
“I recommend five loving observations to every one request for change,” adds Sari Cooper, founder and director of the Center for Love and Sex in NYC.
Read sex “self-help” books together
We read self-help books for our finances, weight loss, pregnancy, and even break-ups. So why not use them to help with our sex lives?
Whether your focus is revitalizing your sex life, learning more about the female orgasm, learning where the heck the G-spot is, getting turned on by page-porn, or learning new positions — there’s a book for it.
And guess what?
According to a 2016 study from the journal Sexual and Relationship Therapy, women who read self-help books and read erotic fiction both made statistically significant gains over the course of six weeks when it came to:
- sexual desire
- sexual arousal
- pain reduction
- overall sexual functioning
Need some suggestions? These books will help you get started building your erotica library.
Powell also recommends starting with "Come as You Are" by Emily Nagoski, which tackles juicy subjects like how each woman has her own unique type of sexuality, and how a woman’s most powerful sex organ is actually her brain.
"She Comes First" by Ian Kerner is also nothing short of a modern sex classic.
But Powell says that most sex-positive sex stores will have a few bookshelves of potential turn-on material as well.
One way Stubbs helps couples explore the unknown is suggesting them to shop for and try new products together.
“Sex toys are great accessories to add to your sexual bag of tricks, and with the wide variety available, you’re sure to find something that works with you and your partner,” says Stubbs. That could mean anything from a vibrator or a butt plug, massage oils, or body paint.
“Don’t go by what’s popular, go by what’s intuitively exciting to you. Reviews can be helpful, but listen to you,” reminds Molly Adler, LCSW, ACS, director of Sex Therapy NM and co-founder of Self Serve, a sexuality resource center.
Talk about it (but not in the bedroom)
“When a relationship is sexually ‘dead,’ there could be multiple simultaneous factors at play. But one of the most surprising actually has to do lack of communication,” says Baley.
“For example, someone might assume their partner is perfectly satisfied with the sex they have. But in reality, their partner leaves each sexual encounter feeling dissatisfied and frustrated.”
“Regardless of a person’s sex drive or libido, they probably aren’t going to be wanting sex that doesn’t bring them pleasure. Opening up the lines about the communication can help address the root cause of a ‘dead bedroom,’ whether it’s a lack of excitement, high relationship stress, a craving for other forms of intimacy, or lack of libido.”
Advice from Shadeen Francis, MFT, a sex, marriage, and family therapist:
- To get the conversation going, start with the positives, if you can find it.
- What about the relationship still has life in it?
- How can you grow and build on what works?
- If you’re stuck, make an appointment with a sex therapist who can help you find your relationship’s lifeline.
Talking about the fact that you’re not having sex in the bedroom can add a layer of unnecessary pressure to both partners, which is why Baley suggests having the conversation outside of the bedroom.
Masturbate on your own
“Masturbation is great for both your physical and mental health and is one of the best ways to learn about your own sexuality,” says Cooper. “I also encourage those who complain of lower libido to experiment with self-pleasure, which keeps sex on their mind and helps them strengthen their connection to their sexual self.”
Cooper adds that there’s no right or wrong way to masturbate. Whether you use your hands, pillows, running water, vibrators, or other toys, you’re doing it right.
But even if you have your favorite tried-and-true masturbation method, spicing up your solo time can lead to enhanced partnered sex.
Sari Cooper’s masturbation tips:
- If you always use your hands, try a toy.
- If you always masturbate at night, try a morning session.
- If you’re always on your back, try flipping over.
“I joke that you can measure sex life as pre- and post-lube, but I mean it. Lube can be a serious game changer for a lot of couples,” says Adler.
There are many reasons that a woman may experience vaginal dryness. The truth is that even if you’re insanely turned on and can only think about sex with this person forever and ever (or even just one night) lube can make the encounter more enjoyable.
In fact, one study looked at 2,451 women and their perceptions around lubricant. The women concluded that lube made it easier for them to orgasm, and preferred sex when it was more wet.
Reasons for vaginal drynessAdler lists birth control pills, stress, age, and dehydration as possible causes. Vaginal dryness can also occur as you age or enter menopause.
If you’re a first-time lube buyer, Adler suggests the following:
- Stay away from oil-based lubes. Unless you’re in a monogamous and trying-to-get-pregnant or otherwise-protected relationship, avoid oil-based lubes as the oil can break down the latex in condoms.
- Remember that silicone-based lubes may not be compatible with silicone-based toys. So save the silicone lube for non-silicone toys, or use a silicone-water hybrid lube.
- Look for products that are glycerin and sugar-free. Both of these ingredients can alter the pH of your vagina and lead to things like yeast infections.
- Remember that most household products aren’t great lube substitutes. Avoid shampoo, conditioner, butter, olive oil, petroleum jelly, and coconut oil, even if they are slippery.
Put it in your calendar
Sure, scheduling sex usually earns a resounding ugh. But hear Stubbs out:
“I know that many people think that it’s late or ruins the mood, but chances are that if you are always the instigator and your partner always shuts you down... there could be some resentment brewing.”
“Save yourself from rejection and your partner for feeling bad for always saying no by making a schedule,” says Stubbs. “Agree on a frequency that will work for both of you and go from there. With the schedule in place, you’ll take the worry of an impending rejection off the table. This is a win-win situation.”
Plus, knowing you’re going to have sex later will put you in the sex-mindset all day long.
But have more spontaneous sex, too
“While scheduling and making time for sex is healthy, some couples don’t give themselves the freedom to have sex when the mood strikes due to things like incomplete to-do lists, or the mindset that they’re too busy to do things they enjoy,” says Adler.
That’s why psychologist and relationship expert Danielle Forshee, PsyD, also recommends to be spontaneous with when, how, and where you have sex.
“Spontaneous sex generates a newness to the relationship that structured sex will not,” explains Forshee. “Start by engaging in regular nonsexual touch to naturally help create that spur-of-the-moment spark. And maybe on-the-whim sex will follow.”
Don’t let a label keep you from exploring
“Cisgender women display more sexual orientation over their lifetime,” says Powell. In fact, findings published in 2016, in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggest that all women, to varying degrees, are aroused by other women in erotic videos.
Of course, not every woman who’s aroused will have a desire to act on those responses in real life.
But if you do, Powell says, “Be open to exploring those sexual urges. Don’t feel a need to take on and embrace a new sexual orientation or identity, if that doesn’t feel empowering to you.”
Worth mentioning is recent reports indicating that bisexuality is on the rise among everyone, including men. Researchers concluded that there are likely more bisexual men out there then was initially thought, but that they don’t talk about it due to fear of being rejected.
Jessica O’Reilly PhD, host of the @SexWithDrJess podcast, adds, “All people have a right to identify (or not identify) and experiment according to their own understandings of sexual orientation.”
Surround yourself with people who support your exploration
“Sexuality is fluid in terms of attraction, desire, libido, gender, interest, boundaries, fantasies, and more. It changes over the course of a lifetime and fluctuates according to life circumstances. Whatever you’re experiencing, you deserve to feel confident in your desires and be supported by friends, family, and other loved ones,” says O’Reilly.
That’s why she recommends seeking out community-based groups for support if your group of friends or family doesn’t know how to support your exploration.
Resources for finding support:
- Human Rights Campaign (HRC)
- Bisexual Resource Center
- LGBTQ Student Resources & Support
- The Trevor Project
- Transgender American Veterans Association
- Veterans for Human Rights
- National Resource Center on LGBT Aging
- SAGE Advocacy & Services for LGBT Elders
- Matthew Shepard Foundation
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Gabrielle Kassel is a rugby-playing, mud-running, protein-smoothie-blending, meal-prepping, CrossFitting, New York-based wellness writer. She’s become a morning person, tried the Whole30 challenge, and eaten, drank, brushed with, scrubbed with, and bathed with charcoal, all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books, bench-pressing, or practicing hygge. Follow her on Instagram.