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Debra Herbenick
The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction

Gregory Demas
Department of Biology

Marjorie DeBruyne
Adult Fitness Program

Living Well

Health and fitness tips from Indiana University

EDITORS: This monthly tip sheet is based on Indiana University faculty research, teaching and service. "Living Well Through Healthy Lifestyles" is the guiding philosophy of IU Bloomington's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. In keeping with that philosophy, this tip sheet offers information related to both physical and mental well-being. Faculty in other IU schools and departments also contribute their expertise in this area.

Looking ahead to Valentine's Day, this month's tips discuss how couples can restore their sex life, love-handle hormones, giving intimate gifts for Valentine's Day, and sugar's impact beyond calories and cavities.

Simple ways for couples to restore their sex life. "Many couples of all ages have not had sex in weeks, months or years," said Debra Herbenick, a researcher at The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University Bloomington. "It's not unusual for sexual energy to fade in a relationship. But restoring it is often just a matter of trying on a new perspective." Below, Herbenick shares some simple -- and surprising -- ways to bring passion back to your relationship.

  • "Put a ban on intercourse." An unexpected tool for re-awakening desire is also one of the most successful, Herbenick said. "What often happens in relationships is that people start skipping over the fun parts and the foreplay. By agreeing not to have sex, or not to do anything that leads to orgasm, you take away the routine and might end up restoring the excitement of what it felt like when your relationship was new. This is one of the best techniques for rediscovering your sexual partner. Using this strategy, some couples who haven't had sex in 15 years have rekindled the romance in a matter of weeks."
  • Return to the scene of romance. "Try going back to things you did or places you visited at the beginning of your relationship -- movies you watched or favorite restaurants. The early days are associated with so many positive things. Show your partner that you remember how that felt and that you want to bring it back."
  • Men need romance too. "Men absolutely deserve to be romanced. Not everyone wants something sappy, but thoughtful acts that show attention to his needs can also fuel passionate feelings. Giving him a chance to watch a favorite program or compromising on schedules can show him that you want to make him happy."
  • Low-budget love. Romantic gestures don't have to be expensive. "Drawing a picture of a bouquet on a post-it can be as meaningful as the actual flowers. One Hershey's Kiss can be as good as a box of chocolates when you say, 'You really deserve this.' Or make toast and draw a heart on it with peanut butter or jelly." Kissing and touching are also easy on the wallet, she said.

Herbenick can be reached at 812-855-0364 and

Love handles carry more than just dead weight. Hormones produced in excess fat tissue could cause problems with the immune system and reproduction as well as further weight gain, according to Gregory Demas, an assistant professor of biology at Indiana University. "Most people think of body fat as dead weight, but in fact it is a hormone-secreting organ like the liver or kidneys," Demas said. "Having too much body fat, just like having too little body fat, can contribute to hormonal imbalances that compromise the immune system and impair reproduction." Fat cells produce a number of hormones, including the appetite suppressant leptin. Although the right amount of leptin shuts off hunger signals, too much of the hormone may have the opposite effect. "Hormones carry messages for the body, but high amounts of any hormone will cause the body to stop responding to the message," Demas said. "For example, men who take anabolic steroids to build muscle often develop feminine characteristics because the body stops responding to testosterone. Type II diabetes is an example of the body becoming desensitized to the hormone insulin." Despite high amounts of leptin in the system, a person could feel hungry all the time if they fail to respond to the hormone. "Ironically, the brain gets the message that the body lacks energy reserves. This not only sends the signal to eat, but also tells the body to shut down or limit some of the processes that are costing energy. In this way, the immune system and the reproductive system may become affected," he said. Researchers are unsure of the amount of weight gain needed to cause "down-regulation" or shutting off of hormone receptors, but it is clear that maintaining a healthy weight through proper diet and exercise is the best way to control fat-produced hormones. Demas cautions that removing fat through liposuction may be a dangerous practice. "When you recognize that fat is an organ, it becomes clear that surgically removing fat mass is a health risk because you are taking out vital cellular machinery. Weight loss through a healthy diet and exercise allows fat cells to shrink and hormone production to adjust gradually, but liposuction takes away the cells for good, like cutting out part of your liver," he said.

Demas can be reached at 812-856-0158 or

Intimate gift-giving. Valentine's Day could be a great time to introduce something new and fun in the bedroom. But before you wrap up a love toy for your partner, ask him or her for feedback on your idea, said Debra Herbenick, a researcher at The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University Bloomington. "Don't just go out and buy something unless you know for certain what your partner likes," Herbenick said. "Your partner may feel pressured or uncomfortable if you choose something that doesn't appeal to him or her." Herbenick suggests looking through catalogs or Web sites together to spark conversation about likes and dislikes. "Doing this together can give both of you a chance to say what looks fun as well as what feels intimidating or uncomfortable," she said. If you are set on wrapping up a surprise, "Start with something small and unlikely to be intimidating. Try massage cream, scented bubble bath or a sex-themed board game to play together," she said. How you present the gift is just as important as what you buy. "Be sure to communicate that this is something you are interested in and you would like to know how your partner feels about it -- not that you are trying to pressure him or her into something uncomfortable," Herbenick said. If you are nervous about the topic, say so. "People usually respond well to hearing, 'I'm nervous about bringing this up, but I am interested in this idea. What do you think?'" Be prepared to compromise, and show appreciation for what your partner offers, Herbenick said. "Let your partner know that you appreciate the willingness to try something new, even if it's not exactly what you had in mind."

Herbenick can be reached at 812-855-0364 and

Sugar, sugar. Candy may be a sweet gift for your valentine, but too much sugar in the diet can lead to headaches, fatigue and nutritional deficiencies, said Marjorie DeBruyne, a nutritionist with Indiana University's Adult Fitness Program. Calories and cavities aside, sugar's high and crash can wreak havoc on your system, DeBruyne said. "From the perspective of performance, a high-sugar diet is going to have negative effects on your mental capabilities. You may have a rush when your blood sugar level peaks after eating sugar, but a quick drop will make you feel tired and hungry and affect concentration." DeBruyne suggests adding fiber and protein to each meal and snack to stabilize blood sugar levels and sustain a feeling of fullness. "The other reason to add fibrous foods to your diet is to supply nutrients. Sugar has energy, but it does not have vitamins or minerals. Filling up on sugar can lead to skipping other, more nutritious choices. I suggest that you have small portions of the sugary foods you like, but add something wholesome like fruit, whole-wheat toast or a glass of milk." DeBruyne does not recommend using artificial sweeteners. "Some evidence suggests that using artificial sweeteners can de-sensitize you to sweet tastes and lead to higher calorie consumption, so you don't save any calories in the end. I advise my clients to stick with the real thing, even soda, but to be aware of portion size and choose the smallest serving available."

The Adult Fitness Program is part of the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at Indiana University, Bloomington. DeBruyne can be reached at 812-855-7556 or

For assistance with these tips, contact Elisabeth Andrews, 812-856-3717 and, or Tracy James, 812-855-0084 and