Do the laundry. Check. Bathe the kids. Check. Pay the bills. Check. Go grocery shopping. Check. Have sex. Check.
Has sex become just another activity on your to-do list? If so, you're not alone. "There seems to be a growing trend in women having sex for obligation, not enjoyment purposes," says Naomi Greenblatt, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist specializing in women's health. "Women say there are only 24 hours in the day, and they simply are not prioritizing sex."
In a new HealthyWomen survey on female sexual health, women expressed a disconnect between what they feel is important for good sexual health and how satisfied they are in those areas. For instance, while 59 percent say their level of enjoyment during sexual activity is extremely or very important, only 41 percent report they are very or extremely satisfied in this area. And it doesn't seem to be a priority for many. Less than half of respondents say that their sex life is very or extremely important to their relationship satisfaction.
The benefits of an active sex life
An active sex life has many benefits—psychologically, relationally and even physically. "While pleasure and intimacy with your partner should be the primary drivers to have sex, the health and wellness benefits are a big bonus," says Dr. Greenblatt. She says a regular sex life can result in decreased stress levels, less chronic pain, improved immune function, a younger appearance and a firmer figure. Sex not only releases beneficial hormones, but it can burn 85 to 250 calories and sculpt muscles in a fairly short amount of time.
However we all know that just because something's good for you, doesn't mean it's necessarily enjoyable. But sex isn't like getting your teeth cleaned, and it can be extremely pleasurable. So, how can you enhance your sexual connection and make sex more … well, fun? Try these three suggestions.
Expand your sexual menu
New York City-based psychotherapist and sex therapist Suzanne Iasenza, PhD, says that couples tend to have a "one-item sexual menu." In her article, "What is Queer About Sex?: Expanding Sexual Frames in Theory and Practice," for Family Process magazine, she compares sex to dining out. "Imagine going to a restaurant and ordering the same meal every time."
Do you and your partner like to eat the same thing every time you go out? Probably not. "One (partner) may prefer fast food (a quickie) one day and a leisurely meal (making love) next time," Dr. Iasenza says. To add variety, she says you need to know what you want, express it clearly and work through differences.
To help her clients get started, Dr. Iasenza encourages them to create a "sexual menu." Each person makes a "menu" of the sexual items or activities they might like to try (including appetizers, entrees, side dishes and desserts), and then each brings the list into therapy to discuss. You can try this at home, too. Take some time to create your menu and encourage your partner to do the same. Think of all five senses—smell, taste, sight, sound and touch. Don't sensor yourself; there are no wrong or right answers. Later, share your menus without any judgment, talk about them and choose items to try from both.
Good sex is not defined by an orgasm
All too often couples get into the trap of sex with the exclusive goal of orgasm. With that goal comes pressure to perform and disappointment if "climax" is not achieved. It's no wonder that women commonly report faking orgasm to please their partners or to end a sexual act. Though reaching orgasm is a pleasurable experience, it's not the defining factor of good sex. What "shoulds" or "should nots" are you putting on your sex life?
Try touching one another without the goal of orgasm. Ask your partner to tell you, very softly, how your body feels as he or she touches you. Be attentive to what you are experiencing in the moment versus what you hope will occur later. This helps put sensations over thoughts, which can distract us from the act at hand.
Decompress for better sex
Detaching from the to-do list running through our heads at every moment can certainly be a challenge. Nearly half of women surveyed are engaging in sexual activity less often than they would like, and more than half of those women blame fatigue and stress. It's no wonder, when it seems many of us are juggling a million tasks each day, from work and tending to our homes to childcare and social responsibilities. Your partner wants to have sex and all you want is to zone out with a glass of wine and a good book. So, what can you do?
Speak up. Let your partner know that if he or she wants to have sex in the evening, you would like some alone time first. Then use the time for a soothing bath, some relaxing reading or even a brief nap to revive yourself and slip into your sensual skin after a day spent as employee/mother/wife.
Ease into it. Start out with some talking, massage and relaxation, instead of jumping into direct genital stimulation. Perhaps you can just kiss passionately for a while or play a game, possibly with foods or oils.
Talk to a pro
Finally, if you're feeling confused about your sexual feelings or at a standstill with your partner, help is available. Sex or couples therapy does not mean something is wrong with you. Each person has their own sexual narrative, including their sexual history, identity, family norms and beliefs. Exploring yours and your partner's with a trained professional can enhance your sexual relationship and allow you to experience more pleasure and satisfaction both in the bedroom and in your relationship.