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5 Tips to Improve Sex (from a Sex Therapist)

Improving sexual intimacy requires developing emotional and sexual intelligence. It also requires planning (even if that doesn’t sound sexy!)

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Improve your sex life by increasing you emotional intelligence and creating a plan for sex!

Couples, like Dave and Tina, seek out sex therapy because both partners are frustrated with their sexual dynamics. Dave complains about the little sexual connection they have, and Tina fires back that she’s too exhausted. Dave gets frustrated, and Tina shuts down.

Like Groundhog Day, the same conversation happens again a few weeks later.

Sexual conflicts in relationships might appear to be about an orgasm or frequency, but when I ask my clients what they yearn for when it comes to having sex with their partner, I hear:

– I want my partner to want to be there with me.

– Connection and closeness

– Sensations of pleasure and witnessing pleasure in my partner

– Erotic immersion: An escape from day-to-day life

As an AASECT Certified Sex Therapist, I have found 5 strategies romantic partners can try to enhance their sexual relationship.

1. A Couple’s Friendship is The Real Foreplay

As Gottman’s research shows, the strength of a couple’s friendship influences the positive nature of a couple’s conflict. The same is true for sex.

Having a strong friendship, including admiring the person you have sex with, turning towards them, and updating your love maps—including sexual maps—cultivates the collaboration needed to foster a sexual connection.

The reality is: we need to like the person we are having sex with. If we don’t, we won’t like the sex we are having.

After seven years of marriage and two kids later, Dave and Tina report feeling more like co-workers who are managing their household rather than intimate friends. When asked if they tell their partner what they appreciate or admire about the other, they both responded with a resounding no.

I encouraged the couple to create an admiration journal and write one small thing they noticed about their partner and connect it to a characteristic about who they are. Read 6 Hours a Week to a Better Relationship to learn more about the admiration journal. This intentional effort to highlight what they loved about each other thawed the emotional coldness between them.

2. Develop Sexual and Emotional Intelligence

Pleasurable intimacy occurs when we are able to be emotionally present and sexually connected within our own bodies.

By understanding your accelerators, what fosters arousal and pleasure, as well as your brakes, what inhibits arousal and pleasure, you can gain clarity on how to co-create pleasure together.

How it works: Your brain scans your environment—such as sounds, smells, sights, touch—as well as your internal environment—such as thoughts about yourself and the relationship, beliefs, and physical sensations—to determine whether to turn you on or off.

“Your level of sexual arousal at any given moment is a balance of how much the accelerator is activated and how much the brakes are being hit.” – Dr. Emily Nagoski

Sometimes there’s not enough stimulation of the gas pedal, and other times the brake is still being pressed. Everyone’s accelerator and brakes operate differently, and that’s healthy and normal. Someone’s brakes can hit someone else’s accelerator. This is true for Dave and Tina.

Dave discovered that stress and anxiety were significant brakes for Tina. Yet, for Dave, stress was an accelerator. Dave was looking for connection and erotic immersion to get relief from stress, but Tina’s overwhelm was a brake, leading her to turn away from intimacy.

Dave learned to talk about his stress as well as work with Tina to reduce her brakes. Tina made an effort to increase her self-care so she’d have more capacity to turn on her accelerator. Dave loved learning what was pleasurable to Tina, and Tina enjoyed expanding their erotic playground.

“The best sex advice… will come from the way you use your knowledge of the accelerator and brakes and of what you each want and like about sex, and from the way you communicate with each other about all of that.” – Dr. Emily Nagoski

3. Context: The Third Party in the Room

When it comes to sex, there’s always an elephant in the room. Rather, the elephant is the room.

The environment we are in either sets us up for a pleasurable connection or interferes.

“Pleasure is sensation in context.” – Dr. Emily Nagoski

Distractions, such as dogs walking around on hardwood floors, can disrupt intimacy. Having to get up and fumble through the closet to find lube and sex toys can be distracting.

Creating an environment that feels safe, comfortable, and easy to access what you find pleasurable can enhance sexual pleasure. For Dave and Tina, they had the grandparents take the kids for the night, turned off their cell phones for an hour, turned on the A/C, and snuggled under a heavy blanket together to start connecting.

4. Create an Erotic Playground

The sexual scenes portrayed in movies are often set up in a context that is tense, high-risk, and dramatic. High-stakes intimacy often creates more pressure and anxiety, rather than safety and security.

When we are playful, it is often low-stakes, and we are immersed in the here and now. There are thousands of ways to be playful during intimacy. It can be joking, wrestling, or even role-playing.

It’s also important to create an erotic playground where you get to collaborate on what part of the intimacy you want to connect. Do you want to wrestle under the sheets together? Have an intense make-out session? Offer a sensual massage? Make love slowly? 

Dave and Tina explored what was playful, erotic, and connecting. They found that incorporating fun ways of being sexual and humor allowed them to relax and enjoy the experience more fully together.

5. Plan for Pleasure

“Center pleasure, because great sex over the long term is not about how much you want sex; it’s about how much you like the sex you’re having.” – Dr. Emily Nagoski

Planning for pleasure, though it might feel like work, can significantly enhance sexual satisfaction. Just as people plan vacations or even the food they cook for dinner, planning intimate time can create anticipation and excitement.

Dave and Tina scheduled regular intimacy nights, during which they prioritized connection and pleasure. They didn’t have sex every planned intimacy night, but they did connect and feel close, which made it easier to be sexually intimate, playful, and create pleasure together when both partners felt like it.

By incorporating these 5 strategies, couples like Dave and Tina can enhance their sexual connection, leading to a more fulfilling and intimate relationship.

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Kyle is a couples therapist and AASECT Certified Sex Therapist.  He loves nerding out on the science of relationships. When not highlighting research on a Sunday morning in his bathrobe, Kyle enjoys writing for his blog where he takes the research on successful relationships and transforms them into practical tools for romantic partners.

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