The benefits of sex extend beyond the bedroom. Studies have found that a roll in the hay can improve heart health and even boost your immunity. Plus, regular romps with your partner create an intimate connection that’s crucial for a healthy relationship.
But if you’re not always in the mood to have sex, you’re not alone. Many women have fluctuating sex drives, which may arise from larger issues, says Ian Kerner, PhD, a psychotherapist and sex therapist in New York City. "In some ways, sexual desire is a barometer of your overall health," he explains. "If someone comes in with a low libido, it can often be an indication that something else is going on emotionally or physically.”
So how can you break through these bedroom barriers and create more heat between the sheets? Read on to find out what women really need to feel happy and healthy in their sex lives.
1. To Know What You Like and Dislike in the Bedroom
The first thing you need to enjoy yourself in bed is to know what you like, says Dr. Kerner. “Knowing what feels good, what turns you on, what turns you off, the stimulation you need to move through the process of arousal, the positions you like, and a partner who can dance with you in that way and knows the dance, is helpful,” he explains.
It’s also important to be able to communicate these desires to your partner, he adds. “If you feel uncomfortable sharing, frame what you want in the form of a fantasy," suggests Kerner. For example, you could tell your partner you had a daydream about how the two of you used to make out like teenagers. "Try to use arousing, stimulating language,” he says. “Doing so will help lead you to the kind of sex you'd like to have." Masturbation may also help women learn what they like in bed and feel more sexually empowered.
2. The Ability to Focus on the Moment and Tune Out the Noise
With our high-stress lifestyles, it’s normal to get distracted, even when we’d prefer to focus on romance. But especially for women, it’s important to focus on staying in the moment. "You want to be in a relaxed place where your brain really deactivates, so you can experience full arousal and orgasm," explains Kerner.
Science supports the idea that tuning out the noise can help women improve their sex lives. A study published in September 2017 in the Journal of Sexual Research found that women reported significant improvements in sexual desire, overall sexual function, and a reduction in sex-related distress after an eight-session mindfulness program. Another study, published in 2018 in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, found that women who meditated scored higher on measures of sexual function and desire.
If you still find yourself thinking more about your to-do list and less about what’s happening in the bedroom, fantasizing may help you focus. “I think fantasy is a really powerful way of shutting off your anxious brain,” says Kerner. “In talking to female patients over the years, many do fantasize during sex naturally or consciously exactly for that reason, to get into a deeper state of arousal.”
3. Positive Body Image and Sexual Self-Confidence
If a woman doesn't feel good about her body, it may be more challenging for her to enjoy sex. A study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that body image, including weight concern, physical condition, sexual attractiveness, and thoughts about the body during sexual activity, predict sexual satisfaction in women. The findings suggest that women who experience low sexual satisfaction may benefit from treatments that target these specific aspects of body image.
Another study, published in the Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, found that exercise frequency and physical fitness enhance attractiveness and increase energy levels, both of which make people feel better about themselves. As a bonus, those who feel better about themselves may perceive they are more sexually desirable and may perform better sexually. “For both men and women, negative body image can get in the way and be an inhibiting factor,” says Kerner. “Positive body image can increase confidence — I’ve had patients who lost a pound or two or started exercising and found that their sexual self-esteem rose.”
In any case, it’s important to realize that your partner is not focusing on a few extra pounds or your stretch marks or C-section scar when you’re in bed together. “You don’t have to have a perfect body to be able to enjoy your sexuality,” says Kerner. And your partner likely thinks you look perfect just the way you are. “A lot of men’s personal tastes don’t conform to what the media says is the perfect body," he adds. "And certainly during sex and deep states of arousal, men are generally more focused on the details and experience of sex than on somebody’s body.”
4. Trust and Emotional Security in Your Relationship
It's hard to have a carefree romp if you feel disconnected from your significant other or worried about your partner's fidelity. If you think your partner may be having an affair, it’s important to address it. To start the conversation in a nonconfrontational way, Kerner suggests saying something like, "I feel like we haven't been connecting lately, and you're always on your phone or texting. It just makes me feel a little unsafe in the relationship.” Then explain that you want your relationship and sex life to be a priority because you value them.
5. To Know Your Partner’s Sexual Health Status
No one likes the uncomfortable question, "When was the last time you were tested for STDs?" or a discussion about previous partners or birth control, but don’t be afraid to ask questions about your partner’s sexual history. You can even put a positive spin on the discussion, suggests Kerner, by saying something like, "I find you really sexy, and I'm interested in a relationship with you. But for me to fully enjoy myself, I want to talk about our sexual histories and get on the same page about safety." If your partner isn’t open to the discussion, he or she may not be the right person for you.
6. The Right Products to Make Sex More Comfortable
While it's widely known that women of a certain age tend to experience vaginal dryness, even younger women can struggle with it. To make things more comfortable, try using a lubricant; but be choosy about the kind you purchase, because there are key differences among them. Kerner, who recommends the natural, water-based lubricant Sliquid, also stresses the importance of foreplay so you can lubricate naturally. "You could be aroused physically but not mentally, or vice versa, so you may just need to give yourself more time to warm up," he explains.