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You're not quite sure how -- or when -- it happened. You used to have so much fun in bed, but suddenly your sex life just isn't what it used to be. By 11 p.m. you're more interested in The Daily Show than in a steamy session with your guy. Even when you do work up the energy, sex feels so...predictable. The excitement, even the passion, are MIA.
The thing is, you like sex -- a lot. And you love your partner. So what gives? "There are all kinds of emotional barriers to having good sex, from poor body image to boredom," says sex therapist Laura Berman, PhD, director of the Berman Center in Chicago and author of The Passion Prescription. "The good news is that you can get beyond them and reconnect with your sensuality."
Ready to light your fire? These moves will make sex hotter, happier, and just plain sexier.1. Like yourself naked.
Women who have the best sex lives feel good about their bodies, says Joy Davidson, PhD, a sex therapist in New York City and the author of Fearless Sex. "They see themselves as strong and sexy." Unfortunately, according to Berman, up to 80 percent of women in the United States suffer from a negative body image. "Typically, when a woman looks at herself, her eyes go straight to her problem areas," says Berman. "She carries that feeling into the bedroom, and when her partner's kissing her thighs, she's busy thinking, 'God, I'm so fat!'" To boost your body confidence, give yourself a reality check. The next time you're at the store or in the gym, take a look around you at all the attractive women who are a variety of shapes and sizes. Remind yourself: There is no one ideal. Then ask your partner what he loves about your body, and write it down. Read the list every morning. Finally, compliment yourself. At least once a week, stand in front of the mirror naked and focus on your favorite features -- your toned arms, your firm butt, your gorgeous breasts. Touch each part and say aloud what you like about it -- this will help to reinforce your feelings, says Berman.2. Make the mind-body connection.
Think about those moments in your life when you feel completely in tune with your body. Maybe it's after you finish a long run -- your blood is pumping and you're relaxed and exhilarated. Or perhaps it's when you do yoga and achieve a mind-body meld. Chances are, this doesn't happen often enough. "When a woman has a negative self-image, she tends to disconnect from how her body feels," says Berman. To reestablish the bond, do something that makes you feel good in your skin at least once a day -- treat yourself to a massage, go apple picking with your kids, wear the jeans that give you an ego boost the minute you slide them on. "Whenever you're tuned in to your body and what it's capable of, you're naturally more sensual," says Davidson.3. Swear off sex.
It's extreme, yes, but highly effective. That's because when you tell yourself you can't have something, you want it even more. The same is true in the bedroom -- especially if you and your partner have been together for a while and sex has become automatic. Instead of focusing on the end game, learn to enjoy the sensuality of sex. Tease yourself -- and him. Get undressed, dim the lights and take turns exploring each other's bodies. "When you're the one doing the touching, concentrate on communicating love and sensuality to your partner," says Berman. "When you're on the receiving end, let yourself feel the sensations of each and every stroke. This will help you reconnect with each other on a whole new level." Not only that but by the time you're done, you'll be so excited you'll barely be able to stand it. Hold off (if you can!) for a night or two, to let the anticipation build.
After a few years together, it's easy to get lazy in bed. But you both deserve better. "If you don't put energy into your relationship, you won't get energy out of it," says Davidson.
Research shows that new and adventurous activities may stimulate the brain to produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in sexual desire. Do something daring outside the bedroom and dopamine levels may skyrocket -- along with your sex drive. Challenge your guy to a heart-pounding activity like rock climbing or white-water rafting. "Experiencing something new and exhilarating together helps replicate that feeling you had in the beginning of your relationship when you couldn't get enough of each other," says Berman.5. Tell him how to turn you on.
"Men want to be your knight in shining armor when it comes to sex -- they're eager for you to tell them what feels good," says Berman. "The problem is, so many women are out of touch with their bodies they have no idea what to say." Help him, and yourself, by showing him what turns you on. Put your hand on top of his and guide him in how you want to be touched -- including how much pressure to use. When you're ready to move on to oral sex, or to bring in a few sex toys, speak up. "This is the only way he's going to know what works for you," says Berman.6. Change your routine.
When you're stressed out, it's impossible to feel sexy. That's because when a woman experiences chronic tension, her body produces higher levels of oxytocin, a chemical that cancels out the effects of the sex hormone testosterone. As a result, your libido takes a nosedive. Recharge your sexual batteries by doing things that let you break free from your hectic everyday life, says Berman. Play a CD that reminds you of your college days and sing along. Splurge on something you'd normally never buy -- like platform pumps -- and wear them for a girls' night out. When you're relaxed and feeling good about yourself, sex will start to seem within the realm of possibility again.
A recent study at the University of Virginia found that the leading predictor of a woman's marital happiness was the level of her husband's emotional engagement. If you two are spending quality time together, you're happy. But when you're feeling disconnected, your relationship and your sex life suffer. Here's why: You need to feel close to him to be inspired to make love, and he often needs sex to feel close to you, explains Berman. How to break the stalemate? Make the first move, says Berman. "Do something simple like thanking him for taking out the trash. When you give him a little gratitude, it's a huge bonding moment for him." In response, he'll start tuning back in to what you need, and you'll be much more likely to want him in return.8. Turn chores into foreplay.
Even in this enlightened age, women still spend about an hour more each day than men on household chores and childcare. No wonder we're not in the mood -- we're tired! Research at the University of Washington shows that when men pitch in around the house, their wives are much more likely to be satisfied with the relationship and to want more sex. "All he needs to hear is that helping out is a form of foreplay," says Berman. The next thing you know, he'll be pushing past you to wipe the counter, change the kitty litter, and unload the dishwasher.9. Leave your house.
You know it's good to escape -- from work, the kids, the dust bunnies -- and concentrate on each other. If you can't head off for the weekend, go out to dinner instead. But mix it up a little: Pick a place you've never been and order a dish you've never had. Better yet, visit him at work. Seeing him in a place that doesn't have anything to do with you will reveal a different side of him and reconnect you with the person you fell in love with. "You might see or learn something surprising that makes you view him in a sexier way," says Berman.10. The secret to the best sex ever...
If you need another reason to exercise, consider this: Working out is a great way to boost your sex life. "It stimulates not only the body but the nervous system and the brain," says Davidson. "So you're more physiologically excited and more receptive to sex." Exercise strengthens your cardiovascular system, improves circulation, and gets blood flowing to all the right places. It also gets you in the mood by reducing stress and boosting your self-esteem. Working out gives you a sense of pride and accomplishment, says Berman. "When you do it consistently, it makes you feel good about yourself."
Just as important, exercise helps you tune in to your body -- and tune out the world. Weight training and Pilates, which force you to focus on your muscles and your form, are especially good for this. "Your attention is fully on you," says Davidson. "You really feel every move, and that puts you in a more sensual state."
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, September 2006.