When a relationship is new, lovemaking feels as natural and spontaneous as sunrise. Séx just seems to happen—at midnight, between the main course and dessert, just before going out for the evening. But after years of marriage, mortgages, and maternity leave, it can fall off the Things I’m Dying to Do list and join the Things I Really Ought to Do list—right under “start diet” and “flood-proof kids’ rooms.” You know you’re always purring with happiness when you do have a romantic romp with your partner, but finding the time, energy, and even the desire can become elusive.
According to an Australian study, 27% of wives and 54% of husbands say they would like to have more séx. But 22% of married women in their 50s and 37.9% of married women in their 60s haven’t had séx during the past year. To bridge this desire gap, we consulted top psychologists and séx experts to share their insights for bringing back that loving feeling. Not surprisingly, it starts with what you think and what you say to each other. Here are five fire-starting words to help boost your séxual mood.
Q: “I like to fool around in the evening, but my husband’s a morning man. When we didn’t have kids or demanding jobs, it was easier. Is there any way to synchronize our séxual watches?”
A: First, make sure you understand the reasons you each prefer a different time of day. Is it because he’s too exhausted and agitated after a day at work? Are you distracted in the morning about getting the kids off to school? “After you’ve identified your concerns, it’s up to the other person to come up with a practical solution,” says Terri Orbuch, PhD, a psychologist and the author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great. Maybe you can arrange for the kids to have a sleepover with Grandma once a week if she lives nearby. Maybe your husband can work on putting his office politics obsession on ice for one night.
If the logistics still can’t be managed, make like preschoolers and take turns. “If you each compromise on timing, you’ll see that it makes you appreciate your partner’s consideration more,” Dr. Orbuch says. “Once you get your body started on a sexual course, your brain and mood will soon catch up.”
Q: “Although I reach orgasm most easily through oral sex, my husband seems to oblige me only grudgingly. How can I get him to be more into it?”
A: You have more wind at your back here than you realize, says Debby Herbenick, PhD, a research scientist in the Applied Health Science department at Indiana University. A recent Kinsey Institute study of middle-age couples found that one of the most important predictors of a man’s happiness in a relationship was his ability to make his partner climax. So if you make it clear that this particular technique is your ticket to the top, he’s likely to cooperate.
“Try saying, ‘I get really turned on when you do this, and I’d love you to do it more often,’ ” says Andrea Syrtash, the author of Cheat on Your Husband (with Your Husband). Also, don’t assume he’s begrudging you; maybe he’s a little insecure about his performance, Dr. Orbuch says. Again, he’ll probably appreciate specific feedback, and few things are more of a turn-on for a man than watching a woman become turned on. Finally, suggest any changes that might make oral séx more appealing to him, like trimming your pubic hair or trying a new position that’s more comfortable for him. “A give-and-take is the best way to remove any defensiveness and get him to open up,”
Q: “When we’ve been fighting, I don’t feel like having sex, but he’s as hot to trot whether we’ve just had a nice dinner out in a restaurant or spent all evening arguing about our kitchen renovation.”
A: Some stereotypes about men and women are true, and this is one of them. “Men seek séx as a way to feel close, but women need to feel close in order to have séx,” Dr. Orbuch says. After an argument, women often get trapped in their heads, replaying the details of the disagreement and dwelling on the negative emotions. In fact, according to a recent study in the Journal of Family Psychology, women actually derive relationship satisfaction if their partners know they’re upset, because women take it as a sign that their husbands are trying to empathize with them and really do want to be attentive (even though it may be just perceived effort). Contrast that with men, who see séx as completely separate from whatever else is going on in the marriage, and it’s clear to see how friction emerges—and remains.
So how do you find common ground? First, put a lid on the verbal zingers and change your script. “Research shows that healthy relationships have five positive interactions for every negative one,” Syrtash says. With that ratio in mind, she recommends committing to 10 minutes a day of quality communication to counteract the bedroom buzzkill of daily disputes and distractions. Each day, incorporate as little as 5 to 10 minutes during which certain topics, such as in-laws, children, and housework, are off the table. This may feel a little forced at first, but stick with it and you’ll find that you’ll fill up your bank of affection—which will not only help you navigate through disagreements but also enhance your emotional and physical intimacy.
Q: “Since I’ve gained weight, I feel self-conscious. Plus, I haven’t been working out as much as I should. Short of a makeover, how can I recapture my confidence in bed?”
A: It’s not how you look that matters. It’s how you feel about how you look. “Studies have shown that body image has nothing to do with actual appearance,” Dr. Herbenick says. “No matter how ‘lumpy’ you’re feeling, it’s the ability to manage your anxieties about your body that makes the difference.”
Think outside the Sofia Vergara box. Plenty about your body is sexy: It’s not always a wasp-thin waistline or Barbie-doll bréasts. “Take a good look at your sculpted shoulders or graceful neck,” Syrtash says. According to studies conducted at the UCLA School of Medicine, redirecting your thoughts toward something more positive—a process called neuroplasticity—actually rewires the neural connections in your brain that relay messages. That sort of self-talk can help reinforce séxual thoughts, and then it’s a matter of nature taking its course
Q: After 13 years of marriage, I still very much love my husband. But I don’t feel as much desire as I’d like to.
A: Low l¡bido is both a common and complex issue,” says Prevention advisor Tieraona Low Dog, MD, of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and the author of Life Is Your Best Medicine. “Hormones can wreak havoc in lots of ways. Birth control pills are known for decreasing testosterone and therefore diminishing séx drive at any age—even well into your 40s—as do low thyroid function and the hormone swings that are hallmarks of periménopause and full-blown ménopause.” If these aren’t issues for you, then it’s probably those old standby passion derailers when there’s no particular problem: stress and worry.
But there are terrific natural aphrodisiacs that can help. Dr. Low Dog recommends three in particular, starting with shatavari, derived from wild asparagus. “Its Sanskrit name means ‘she who possesses 100 husbands,’ and while its primary use is for hot flashes, it also aids libido and fertility,”