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A hot sex life is like a hot body: You gotta work for it. "In the first six months to two years of a relationship, the newness creates all the passion for you," says Sheryl Kingsberg, PhD, a professor of reproductive biology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland. After that, you need to keep the sizzle from fizzling. "A lot of couples think, If we have to work at it, there's something wrong with us. Smart couples, though, know that long-term relationships require effort to keep the energy alive," Kingsberg says. We talked to top experts and tracked down the latest research to find out what the happiest and most sexually satisfied couples do. Read on to make their habits your own -- and to sexify your life.Secret 1: They never stop dating.
Couples who play together, stay together. In a recent relationship survey of nearly 100,000 people, 88 percent of "extremely happy" couples said they go on regular dates. "Dating is a chance to keep falling in love with each other, something that can get dulled by everyday life," says Pepper Schwartz, PhD, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle and a coauthor of The Normal Bar, a new book based on the survey. Going on dates is so crucial, in fact, that mates who still do it report feeling more connected to their partner and having better sex, other research shows.
Sex Rx: Take turns planning a weekly date night so it plays out as a butterflies-in-the-stomach surprise. Make it all about the F-word: fun. A brain-imaging study shows that when you and your partner do something new and exhilarating together, the parts of your brain that are activated are the same as those that produced the heart-thumping giddiness of your first few dates. "It's a way to rekindle those feelings of falling in love," says Arthur Aron, PhD, a professor of psychology at Stony Brook University in New York who pioneered research on this phenomenon. You don't need to skydive with each other to get the rush; it could be building a snowman, going to an art class, or barhopping for the first time together since college -- whatever is different and interesting to the two of you.Secret 2: They take care of their bodies...
Research shows that health boosts sex and vice versa: One study of men found that those who orgasm two times a week live longer. Most of the sex health-enhancing work can be done outside the bedroom. The Mediterranean diet -- rich in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, and fish -- has actually been associated with less sexual dysfunction in women with type 2 diabetes. And regular exercise improves cardiovascular health, releases endorphins, lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and increases testosterone, all of which adds up to a livelier libido.
Sex Rx: Eat healthfully, move daily, and don't smoke or drink, both of which can dampen desire. "If you're active and fit, you'll feel better about your body and have more energy for sex," says Cindy Meston, PhD, the director of the Sexual Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of Texas. To kick-start a stalled fitness routine -- and dulled desire -- make like a yogi. Getting your om on may lead to getting your O on. A recent study found that women who practiced yoga for three months reported improved desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, and satisfaction. Take an intro class at your local yoga studio (find one at yogaalliance.org), then be ready to get bendy with your guy when you get home!Secret 3: ...and they're not shy about showing 'em off.
Body blues kill the mood in the bedroom. "If you're busy worrying about what your partner thinks of your body, you're not enjoying the moment," Meston says. By shunning self-consciousness, sexy couples liberate their minds to luxuriate in all the oohs and ahs of sex. And we're not just talking about coming to terms with breast size or belly bulge. You also have to be at peace with your lady bits. A new study found that women with "positive genital self-image" (um, really) were more likely to achieve orgasm. The women who felt the best about their business were 61 times more likely to be sexually satisfied than the women who felt the worst.
Sex Rx: Intimate grooming is a stimulus package for sex. "I have so many clients who tell me that getting a Brazilian bikini wax for the first time changed their sex life," says Kara Mize, the owner of the Body Bar in Tampa. "They think about sex every time they see their bare down-there, and men appreciate the effort." In fact, a study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that women who took it all off had a more positive image of their privates and better sexual function. If you're not interested in going Brazilian, thank you very much, a prehookup shower or shave -- whatever makes you feel particularly romp-ready -- will do the trick. And if you're uncomfortable being completely naked, figure out what makes you feel your sexiest -- wearing his boxers and a bra, going commando under your baby doll -- then rock the bedroom look so you feel like a superstar in your own skin.
Admitting that you can't remember the last time you did the deed or getting up the guts to ask if you still rule his world can be scary stuff. But super-honest talk -- for instance, troubleshooting technical difficulties or showing him a vibrator you want to try -- is what brings you closer. "The ears can be the most important sexual organ," says Kyle Stephenson, a researcher in Meston's lab. So important, in fact, that just talking about sex can take your sex life from doom to va-va-voom. During counseling sessions, sex therapists zero in on the basics: Where do you want to be touched? How long should foreplay last? "The more people talk, the more they lay the groundwork for play," says Sallie Foley, a certified sex therapist and sex educator at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and a coauthor of Sex Matters for Women.
Sex Rx: Your own tête-à-tête can happen whether you're sharing a Keurig or a cocktail. Keep it flirty; you're not figuring out finances here. "Sex is about arousal and fun," says Ian Kerner, PhD, a sexuality counselor in New York City and the founder of Goodinbed.com. "So even when you talk about problems, you should be thinking about turning each other on." Instead of starting with "I hate when you...," try "I fantasize about us doing...." Ready? Start with the ideal-world versus real-world negotiation that Susan Kellogg-Spadt, PhD, the director of sexual medicine at the Pelvic and Sexual Health Institute in Philadelphia, mediates for her patients. Ask how many times a week your partner would have sex in fantasyland, and then repeat the question, taking daily-grind realities into account. Meet in the middle of your real-world answers and his and stick to the number: It will keep you from feeling pressured and him from feeling rejected (or the other way around).Secret 5: They make flings happen.
Not in the mood? Who cares! The most sexually satisfied couples don't rely on spontaneity for their spark. "If you wait for an eruption of desire, then frankly, between work, the laundry and the kids, it's not going to happen," Kellogg-Spadt says. The smartest couples schedule sex, specifically or vaguely ("By the end of this weekend we will have sex"). They also take time throughout the day to compliment, kiss, hug, rear-end pinch, and provocatively text ("I can't wait to see you tonight!" instead of "What time are you coming home?"). All of this adds up to making their partner feel desired, so it's not such a leap to jump from folding laundry to folding yourself into a new sex position.
Sex Rx: Lock in lovemaking sessions as regular calendar appointments; send him a suggestive meeting request if necessary. When it's go time, initiate sex, even if -- especially if -- you have had a bad day or are annoyed with your guy. Just like those moments when you force yourself onto the elliptical and wind up with a post-workout high, you'll be happy you did. "Get undressed and start kissing and touching; your brain stem will take over and arousal will kick in," Foley says. The chemical cascade of post-coital neurotransmitters will make you crave a repeat performance, so you may even find you do it more. "Sex begets sex," Kerner says. On fling-free days, be sure to spoon in bed. Skin-to-skin contact releases oxytocin, the bonding hormone, so you'll feel connected.Secret 6: They're not O-sessed.
In-the-know twosomes approach sex with relationship goals in mind, not pleasure prereqs. Stephenson's new research found that aiming to feel connected with your partner leads to better sex than when the objective is mind-blowing multiple orgasms. "That way, you can deal with the inevitable deviations from the sexual script you had in mind," he says. It's a smart view, considering that if you've been with your partner for 10 years, you've probably had sex together 1,000 to 2,000 times. Not every roll in the hay is going to be yeehaw! -- and that's okay. "From an emotional-intimacy perspective, anytime you're intimate, it's a win," Kellogg-Spadt says.
Sex Rx: Enjoy vanilla sex without overanalyzing whether it's hot enough, but build on your bedroom basics, too. Just as there are different types of exercises you do at the gym on different days of the week, there are different types of sex to pump up your mojo muscle, Kerner says. Mix it up from a playlist that includes but is not limited to sex that's purely about connection, sex that's a quick release, sex that explores fantasies, and sex that's familiar and formulaic. "I recommend to couples that they engage each other in a new, fun way before they get into the positions that definitively lead to orgasm," Kerner says. So change things up -- the place, the position, the props -- and skip the "Oh no!" if there's no O. Next time, sista!Secret 7: They get better with age.
Dynamic duos know that their sexiest days are still ahead of them. They see getting older as a good thing for their sex life; it gives them time to grow up so they can figure out what works ("Why didn't we discover the magic powers of nipple stimulation 15 years ago?") and they have the confidence to go for it. The perks are partly logistic. Nearly 84 percent of couples are interested in trying something new in the bedroom and, thanks to the familiarity, trust, and communication they've built together, long-term pairs are more likely to take action, according to a recent Goodinbed.com online survey of more than 3,000 people. The poll found that the longer a couple had been together, the more likely they were to engage in a sexually adventurous act. And the more such acts they tried, the more they were sexually satisfied.
Sex Rx: Adventure doesn't have to be Fifty Shades of Grey kinky. Simply try a new setting (a different room? the floor?) or time of day (first thing in the a.m. instead of before bed?), keep the lights on, or get a little slippery. A recent study found that couples who used a lubricant reported greater sexual pleasure. It may be all you need to take things from blah to ahh!
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, March 2013.