According to commercials for K-Y Jelly His & Hers lubricant, sex is pleasurable and convenient, with both participants on even playing fields (or equal sides of the bed, at least). If only sex was that simple, right? What the advertisements fail to show are children demanding all of ‘his and her’ attention, finances causing a strain on the relationship, one or both parties gaining weight, hormones running wild, and passion taking a complete and utter nose-dive. When a couple’s sex life becomes virtually nonexistent, infidelity and divorce become a real threat.
Before you expect the worst, take heart: anyone, at any age, can improve his or her sex life. Offering more than just physical perks, sex does a body good emotionally and mentally. From relieving stress, to burning calories, to improving heart health, the benefits of sex and intimacy extend well beyond the bedroom. “A healthy sex life contributes to overall feelings of satisfaction and general happiness for most people,” says Lynley S. Durrett, MD, of McDaniel and Durrett, P.C.
We Used to ‘Do It’ More
In the beginning of a relationship, people often fall in love with the newness itself—you know, the sweaty palms, butterflies in the stomach, endless laughter, stories never heard before, the first kiss. The list goes on and on. When sex is introduced, it is often exciting, pleasurable and frequent; the attraction is powerful and the passion is undeniable.
Unfortunately, sex has a tendency to slow down as a relationship evolves. “Priorities change after awhile—the relationship that was once the central focus begins to take a backseat to other priorities, including work, family, self-care and even friends,” says Gerald S. Drose, Ph.D., of Powers Ferry Psychological Associates.
“The most common complaint I receive from patients is that everyday commitments and stresses leave them too tired for sex,” Durrett says. “Differing schedules, preferences, business travel, and physical changes can alter a person’s interest in sex. Both women and men can experience loss of desire related to aging, as well as side effects of medications or chronic medical conditions,” she adds.
According to Sarah Ghayouri, MD, medical director at Atlanta Wellness and Aesthetics, “Sex improves a person’s quality of life, well-being and longevity. Some causes affecting a healthy sex life include hormonal imbalance or deficiency, feeling exhausted from the constant demands of children, bringing arguments and complaints to bed, allowing oneself to be consumed with work or other stresses, and taking each other for granted.”
Problems on Both Mars and Venus
Contrary to popular belief, women are not the only ones who suffer from a low libido. One in five men has a low sex drive, and 30 percent of women claim to be more interested in sex than their partner. While sexual dysfunction in women is more prominent and publicized, men who experience a low sexual desire are inclined to keep quiet.
Hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) affects 20 percent of women and 10 percent of men. Individuals who are diagnosed with this condition can function sexually, but have little-to-no desire for sexual activity. “Many men may have low testosterone, which is a relatively common condition that starts between ages 35 and 40,” Ghayouri says. Other contributing factors of HSDD in men include androgen insufficiency syndrome, low calculated free testosterone (CFT), hypothyroidism, elevated prolactin, obesity, and psychological issues like low self-esteem.
While men may suffer from a low sex drive, HSDD is more prevalent in women. “There is a saying that men need sex to relax, but women need to relax to have sex. Over exhaustion from daily responsibilities is one of the biggest reasons women lose interest in sex,” notes Durrett. Other causes of a depleted sexual desire in women include medical issues, side effects from medication(s), psychiatric troubles, low testosterone levels and raised prolactin levels.
Forget the Laundry-Let’s Turn Up the Heat
Google the term ‘how to improve your sex life’ and you will be provided with hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of websites. Don’t allow this to overwhelm you. Putting passion back into your relationship does not have to be complicated. Listen to your body, communicate with your partner, be completely honest and, most importantly, work together. “Both men and women need to feel desired. Steer clear of comfort and head into more unfamiliar territory. Comfort, which we all seek at some point, actually interferes with a healthy sex life. Good sex should challenge us,” Drose comments.
“When trying to put passion back into your love life, I encourage people to focus on the relationship. Relationships evolve over time, depending on changes in family environment, work, stress, physical conditions, etc. One couple may be empty nesters while another may have young children that take the focus away. I highly recommend spending more time together outside of the bedroom—dining out, finding new hobbies… anything that deepens the relationship and sets the stage for more intimacy,” says Durrett.
It is common knowledge that women seek greater intimacy than men. Women’s sex drives are influenced by social and cultural factors. Sexual satisfaction is not as direct as their male counterparts: women often require an emotional connection, and they experience orgasms differently. “Women typically want and need more foreplay in order to achieve the level of arousal that men can in a much shorter time,” Durrett comments. “If sex has become routine, both parties may lose interest. Men and women often have different baseline needs for the frequency of desired intercourse, so sexual needs must be communicated in order to keep everyone content,” she adds.
According to Rachel Payne of House of Payne Personal Training, “Exercise definitely improves your sex life. In addition to improved endurance, more energy and a healthy libido, exercise boosts a person’s self-confidence—the key to keeping your sex life hot. There is nothing sexier than a confident man or woman, and the payoff is in the bedroom.” Make an effort to look your best; reserve a little time for the two of you; and flirt like you did in the early stages of your relationship. Payne firmly believes in the many benefits of exercise, including its ability to increase one’s stamina. “Everyone wants to feel an intimate connection with his or her partner. Women want time; men want attentiveness. Try to recreate what you did when you first dated, because when you date, you are always at your best.”
Foreplay, Positions and Toys, Oh My!
Oftentimes, infrequent sex and lack of desire are not the result of exhaustion, hormonal imbalance, anger and resentment, or physical changes. Instead, couples merely find themselves bored in the bedroom. If your sex life is about as exciting as watching paint dry, it’s time to experiment.
Without passion in the bedroom, your relationship is borderline ‘just friends.’ Bring sparks back into your love life with foreplay (and don’t be afraid to get creative). “Foreplay is very important for the sexual satisfaction of women, as it helps to raise oxytocin,” says Ghayouri. “Oxytocin plays an important role in orgasm, which in turn helps with passion and the couple’s overall bond.” As long as the sexual act has been communicated and agreed upon, nothing should be off limits in the bedroom (or kitchen, or dryer, or car).
With sex toys, you will find a whole new world you never knew existed. While they may not be your personal preference, be willing to at least try them out. (Who knows, you may actually enjoy them!) Don’t be timid—ask the sales associate for a few of the store’s hottest items and why they are popular. Couples often use sex toys or watch pornography together to reach a higher climax that could not otherwise be achieved. “Again, this is where communication is key. Both partners must be comfortable with trying new things; otherwise, one partner may feel intimidated or uncomfortable with too much variety. The goal is to find what works and is fun for both of you,” Durrett says.
Finally, if the ‘missionary’ position has become the norm, consider trying new positions. If you’re simply stumped for ideas, check out 101 Sex Positions: Steamy New Positions from Mild to Wild by Samm Taylor. This book reveals various ways to spice up your sex life, from straightforward to downright adventurous. Changing your love-making routine is a surefire way to turn up the heat in your relationship.
Meet Me in the Bedroom
It’s important to conduct a ‘quality check’ on your sex life every so often, because a sex-starved relationship is in grave danger of falling apart. The good news is you and your partner can enjoy incredible, mind-blowing sex at any age. “[Sigmund] Freud referred to the drive to have sex as the life force, or libido. He believed it was a basic instinct that, when suppressed, caused depression and other maladies,” Drose says. “While I'm not a Freudian, I am convinced that he is right about this. Stated more positively, sex invigorates our lives and everything we do, and certainly helps sustain our relationships.”
Source: Cambridge World History of Food
Aphrodisiacs are thought to enhance sexual performance and prowess – Here are some you may want to try:
• Almond – this nut’s aroma is thought to induce passion.
• Aniseed - Sucking on the seeds is said to increases your desire.
• Bananas - bananas are rich in potassium and B vitamins, necessities for sex hormone production.
• Sweet Basil – this herb is said to stimulate the sex drive and boost fertility.
• Carrots – carrots are believed to be a stimulant to the male.
• Garlic - The 'heat' in garlic is said to stir sexual desires.
• Ginger - ginger root cooked or raw is a stimulant to the circulatory system.
• Honey - medicines in Egyptian times were based on honey including cures for sterility and impotence.
• Liquorice - chewing on bits of licorice root is said to enhance love and lust.
• Mustard - believed to stimulate the sexual glands and increase desire.
• Pine Nuts - zinc is a key mineral necessary to maintain male potency and pine nuts are rich in zinc.
• Pineapple - rich in vitamin C and is used in the homeopathic treatment for impotence.
• Vanilla - the scent and flavor of vanilla is believed to increase lust.
Question: My husband just turned 60 and is pretty healthy except for high blood pressure and high cholesterol but he is very good about taking his medications. He is a little overweight but we eat a healthy diet with no red meat and lots of fruits and vegetables. The problem is that he is having a little problem in bed. He has prescriptions for Viagra and Cialis, but I’m worried about all the side effects I’ve heard about. Is there a natural way to fix his problem?
Answer: Erectile dysfunction is a common but complex problem. The most common cause is decreased blood flow into the penis, but this physical problem can lower a man’s self-esteem and lead to emotional problems that further diminish sexual performance. Erectile dysfunction is not a normal sign of aging. It is a sign of clogged inflamed arteries that can be healed with lifestyle changes. To understand this you have to understand some basic male physiology.
• When a man is aroused his brain signals the arteries in his penis to relax and allow blood to flow in.
• As the arteries fill up they squeeze off the veins to keep the blood in and maintain the erection.
• The stronger and faster blood flows in, the firmer the erection will be.
• Anything that slows blood flow into the penis weakens the erection.
• The arteries in the penis are smaller than the arteries that supply the heart so they show signs of clogging earlier.
High blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and erectile dysfunction are actually all early warning sign of heart disease and stroke. In addition, the medications he takes to lower his blood pressure and cholesterol may decrease arousal and prevent arteries in the penis from opening to allow in flow of blood. Drugs like Viagra work by widening arteries to increase blood flow into the penis but your husband can do this without the side effects by simply changing to a plant-based diet. Eating fish is slightly better than chicken which is no better than red meat. The research evidence is abundant and clear, eating a plant based diet is the only way to permanently unclog your arteries.
Along with unclogging your arteries you have to examine your relationship. Interestingly, less than 50% of prescriptions for drugs like Viagra are actually refilled each year because emotional issues such as long-standing unresolved resentment and anger cannot be fixed by a pill or unclogging your arteries.
—Jennifer Rooke, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACOEM is the Medical Director of Atlanta Lifestyle Medicine. She is a board certified Preventive Medicine Specialist.