Over the past week, I have summarized information on sexual health and functioning in Part I: Sexual Desire: What You Need To Know and Part II: A Healthy Sex Life. What You Need to Know and finally in this post completing the series, Part III: Strategies to Improve Your Sex Life.
Before you decide you intimate life needs improvement, ask yourself:
On a scale of one to ten, one being the lowest number of satisfaction and ten being the highest number, choose a number anywhere on the scale and answer the following questions:
- How satisfied are you with your sex life?
- How satisfied is your partner is with your sex life? (Either ask your partner directly or estimate their answer if you are not ready to talk).
Sexual health is complex and varied for individuals and couples. If your answer to any of the questions is five and under, it could be beneficial to have a conversation with your partner about sexual desire and ways to improve sexual intimacy. It’s important to note, not every couple needs to work towards a number 10. And, depending on circumstances and life situations, the number will change and go up or down, which is completely normal. Also consider, couples who have numbers similar or closer together, may not need as much work to improve intimacy. For example, couples who report both report a 5 or another couple with a 6 and 7, may be completely satisfied in their sexual intimacy. Alternatively, a larger gap for couples, for example, a 2 and a 6, will need a conversation for sure followed by behaviors to improve the number together.
If you are interested in improving your sexual health and functioning, please consider some of the following suggestions:
Communicate. Couples often assume they know what their partner needs, wants or desires with sex. Patterns often develop without much change or variation. Talk with one another about what is working sexually and what you would like to change. Many people are apprehensive to provide feedback or share interests with their partner. One aspect of a healthy sex life is communicating with your partner about your needs, desires and wants as well as hearing those mentioned above from your partner. When you do have a conversation with your partner, make sure to have enough time for a complete conversation. For example, talking about sex requires undivided time, energy, and with no distractions. Make sure children are occupied, and no one has to run out to work or another obligation. Please don’t multitask, e.g., folding laundry, doing dishes, checking your phone, rather, talk and focus on one another. I have heard too often how conversations can erupt into arguments when couples don’t give enough time and omit multitasking with important conversations. While talking about sex can feel awkward at first, but over time, it can be helpful to share preferences, interests, and fantasies.
Couples Need Non-Sexual Touch. Couples have busy lives, especially when raising children. Many couples reserve all touch for foreplay or sex. So an embrace or a neck massage from a partner is often a non-verbal way of communicating a desire for sex. Many times couples will avoid any physical contact, even for affection because one person is assuming the touch will lead to sex. Make sure to touch your partner, for example, massage, hug, embrace, and cuddle, and let it be a way to build affection, comfort and emotional intimacy separate from sexual activity.
Understand Your Brain. The largest sexual organ is the brain. Central to all functioning, our brain is responsible for our thoughts, feelings, and biochemistry. For women, sexual desire starts in the brain. How a woman feels about herself, her partner, as well as current stress levels related to work, children and home will all influence sexual desire. Many women find themselves not in the mood for sexual activity because of stress or feeling disconnected emotionally from her partner. By taking care of yourself through activities that promote well-being, you can improve the way you manage stress.
Sexual Intimacy Must Be Consensual for Both Partners. In a healthy relationship, this sounds obvious, but this premise shows up in subtle ways. For example, if one person wants to try something new, for example, a new sexual position, act or explore a fetish, and the other person is not comfortable doing so, then it’s not consensual. Using coercion, shame, or guilt to make one’s partner engage in a sexual act they are not comfortable is unhealthy, destructive and damages emotional safety and sexual intimacy.
Take Out Criticism. If your goal is to have loving, frequent and enjoyable sex life with your partner, please omit criticizing your partner. Being critical only breaks trusts and reduces emotional safety. It is not uncommon to feel uncomfortable or nervous talking to your partner about sex. For some people, sharing with their partner fantasies, preferences and how they would like to change things sexually can be uncomfortable. So if you fall into the category of feeling apprehensive talking with your partner, I would encourage you to spend some time thinking about what you want to say. This doesn’t mean you have to spend an enormous time scripting yourself, rather, spend time getting comfortable understanding what you want to convey. While this may sound obvious, refrain speaking to your partner with “You” statements.
For example, if you want to spend more time kissing your partner during sex, instead of saying,
“You never kiss me during sex, and it’s annoying, you seem only to be interested in your pleasure.”
Instead, a more supportive statement comment would, be,
“ I miss kissing you. Lately, we’ve taken kissing out of our intimacy, and I would love if next time we were together if we kissed more.”
As you can see, the latter statement has a dramatically different tone, without criticizing or putting down your partner.
Don’t Let Resentments Build. Too often, when a person is not communicating honestly and openly within a relationship, resentments will build. Overtime, resentments lead to significant disconnection in a relationship. If something is upsetting you, talk about it with your partner. Often when a person don’t say what is bothering them, it tends to show up through behavior. Being overly negative about anything in life is not the way to approach problem-solving.
Spend Time as a Couple. At the center of a healthy sex life is being emotionally connected to your partner. The demands of raising a family can make it challenging for a couple to spend meaningful time together. For anything in life, you need to invest time and energy into something if you want to see it grow. The same goes for a relationship. Schedule time to talk, go on dates, and have sexual intimacy can be one way to prioritize your marriage and relationship.
The first step to understanding any issue or concern is to assess the problem and then gather information from reliable sources and experts. I would highly recommend the following resources on sexual health: Dr. Barry McCarthy’s books: Rekindling Desire (2013), Sexual Awareness: Your Guide to Healthy Couple Sexuality (2012), and Discovering Your Couple Sexual Style ( (2009). Dr. Ruth Westheimer’s book: Sexually Speaking: What Every Woman Needs to Know About Sexual Health. I hope this three-part series on sexual health has been helpful to you.
© Copyright Dr. Claire Nicogossian 2015