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Couples that play together, stay together?

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The following is adapted from sexual health expert Debby Herbenick's new book, "Because it Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction," published by Rodale. Herbenick is associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at Indiana University Bloomington. This excerpt discusses cuing and expressing desire.

Most people, at some point in their lives, will experience a decrease in -- or even a total loss of -- sexual desire or interest. Perhaps you used to readily hop into bed with your partner or vibrator in the middle of the day, and you no longer do. Or maybe you're easily excited about sex these days, but you recall a stretch of time when you would have rather read a book, cooked a good meal, taken a walk, or gone directly and soundly to sleep. It is common to experience ups and downs in your level of desire over time -- and it makes sense, too. After all, if everyone stayed in bed and had sex multiple times a day, what would we ever accomplish as a society? Who would raise our children, care for aging parents, go to work, or clean the house?

Not only is it common and healthy to experience occasional ups and downs in your level of desire, but it can feel reinvigorating when you find -- after either a short or prolonged dry spell -- that your capacity for pleasurable, satisfying, inspiring sex didn't completely go away, though it may temporarily have gone into hiding.

Cuing Desire

These simple activities are designed to jump-start your desire and are based on the idea that sexual stimuli can cause your body to become physically aroused, which can, in turn, encourage desire. Try any of the following to see if they enhance your experience or expression of desire.

  • Read sexy stories, such as romance novels or erotica
  • Read suggestive or romantic poetry to your partner while lying in bed
  • Watch sexually explicit films together or privately
  • Take turns drawing pictures of things you would like to do with each other
  • Allow your mind to indulge in sexual fantasies during the day, or as you drift into sleep
  • Remember why you fell in love with your partner, what initially attracted you to each other, and situations in which you have felt highly aroused by him or her
  • Stimulate your genitals with your hand or vibrator (on a low intensity)
  • Display affection for your partner with kisses, hugs, touches and massage
  • Write out a fantasy that feels exciting to you -- it doesn't have to be anything you would ever do in real life
  • Exercise in a way that puts you in touch with your body or helps you feel sexy, such as salsa dancing, running, pole dancing, belly dancing or yoga
  • Schedule a sexual or sensual activity (such as a massage or bathing together) with your partner and build up excitement and desire throughout the day by calling each other or by sending affectionate Facebook messages or racy text messages.

Expressing Desire

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Because desire is largely a psychological experience, many women find that it is critical for them to first face issues of their own or their partner's expectations, ideas about sex, communication styles and varying abilities to relax. Attending to the mind-body connection in this way can help to make sex feel more pleasurable. And if you can figure out how to make sex feel good more often, then you are probably going to want it more often!

Consider the ideas below, and think about which ones might be helpful to you.

  • Set realistic expectations. Consider that even sexually satisfied couples only have sex that they would call "very good" about one out of every four or five times, is it fair to expect that every sex act should be "mind-blowing?" Of course not!
  • Be fair about your bodies. Similarly, work on developing fair and realistic expectations about your body and your partner's body. A 50-year-old man is unlikely to have an erection that is as rigid, or as easy to come by, as a man half his age would; likewise, a woman is unlikely to have breasts that are as perky at age 40 as they were at age 20, particularly if she has breastfed. Expectations about bodies and sexual function that are appropriate to one's age and life experiences are key to feeling good about sex and enhancing one's desire.
  • Examine your stereotypes. In order to fit in with society's version of a "good girl," many women feel pressured to avoid sex, to shy away from initiating it even when they want to, to not masturbate (or at least to never admit to it), and to suppress expressions of their sexual feelings. It takes time -- sometimes years -- for some women to feel sexually comfortable in their own skin. Giving yourself permission to enjoy your sexuality, and to create your own definitions of what is means to be a sexually confident and experienced woman, may help to enhance your desire and your experience of sex.
  • Talk to each other. Just as women and men may have unfair stereotypes about their own gender, many have unfair stereotypes about the opposite sex, too. When individuals operate on assumptions without checking in with their partner, they run the risk of doing something that neither one of them enjoys.
  • Relax. You'll find me saying this multiple times throughout this book, and for good reason: It. Is. Critical. Mental and physical relaxation cultivate a supportive environment in which sexual intimacy can flourish. Relaxation makes it easier for men to have erections, for women to lubricate (and orgasm) and for members of both genders to feel open to sexual pleasure, intimacy and desire.
  • Play. Couples who play together, stay together -- or at least they often have satisfying sex. Couples dealing with sexual problems tend to exhibit less playfulness. You can change that! If it's been a while since you've had sex, try playing together first in nonsexual ways: Bring out a board game, toss a Frisbee together in the backyard, or play hopscotch as a family. As intimacy grows, turn up the heat on your play: Chase each other around the house, expose your breasts or genitals to your partner during an unexpected moment at home, tickle each other silly and include a few erotic touches, snuggle together on the couch while watching a comedy, wear lingerie, beg dramatically for sex or sneak off to a beautiful bed-and-breakfast and lock yourself in your bedroom for an indulgent amount of time.
  • Seek help. Sometimes sexual or relationship problems have gone on for so long or feel so huge or painful that people don't know where to begin. Rather than wait and hope that it all works out in the end, seek help sooner rather than later. A sex, couples or marital therapist might be helpful.

To read more Active for Life blogs by Debby Herbenick visit She also blogs at, More information about her book, Because it Feels Good, can be found at