Christine Hyde, Ph.D, a sex therapist at the New Jersey Center for Sex Therapy in Chester, N.J., wants more women to realize that sex is a quality-of-life issue. “It’s not a ‘nice to have’ aspect of your relationship, it’s a ‘need to have’ situation,” she says. As with anything so crucial—and complicated—it’s understandable why so many couples experience some setbacks between the sheets. “Sex is complex, with many variables affecting how you connect with your partner,” says Dr. Hyde. “But the good news is that when it comes to sex, practice makes perfect, which means a few simple tweaks can totally transform your sex life.” Here, Dr. Hyde fills us in on the best ways to get started.
Put sex on your brain | Men think about sex in advance of the act. Women often need to be in it to get their brain around it. This is a huge difference, says Dr. Hyde, and a major theme in the work that she does. “A guy will see someone who he’s attracted to and immediately start thinking about sex,” says Dr. Hyde. “Women, on the other hand, often need to be in the throes of sex to really get into it. This leads many women to wonder, ‘Why don’t I really want it?’” The fix: Start thinking about sex the same way men do. (Read: About 50 more times a day than you currently do.) Use your imagination, visualize how you’ll seduce your partner later, and watch what happens after the kids are asleep.
Make your partner your priority | Yes, your kids, parents, and friends are important people in your life. But when they start to trump your partner, sex will take a nosedive. “All of a sudden your kids are sleeping in your bed, and you’re too spent from taking care of everyone else in your life to take care of your partner,” says Dr. Hyde. If this happens, it’s time to reassess: Kick the kids out of your bed, and carve out some quality time.
Stop seeing your partner as your best friend | Sounds crazy, right? Most of us have been told to marry our best friend. But Dr. Hyde thinks that’s a mistake. “When you become overly comfortable with your husband or wife, it can be a libido killer,” she says. “If I’ve seen you on the toilet 100 times, there’s a good chance I won’t be able to get that picture out of my mind. Once you overstep the bounds, it can be hard to re-spark romance.” If your husband has gotten too cozy with the bodily functions when you’re watching TV on the couch, ask him to rein it in a little. Keeping things fresh and exciting translates to better sex, says Dr. Hyde.
Prep yourself for your sex life slowing during big life transitions | Knowing the times in your life when your sex life will inevitably slow down or stop altogether can help you prepare for it—and find other ways to connect with each other. While kids qualify as a big transition, buying a home can be a jolt. “All of a sudden you find yourselves going from having all of this free time and extra cash to spending your weekends at Home Depot and stressing about finances,” says Dr. Hyde. An empty nest, sick parent or child, and job loss are other biggies to watch out for.
Practice | “People think sex is natural—sex isn’t natural, it’s a skill,” says Dr. Hyde. The good news is that like all skills, sex can be learned—and practice is the best way to get better.
Learn to disagree | When things feel like they’re starting to disintegrate, most of us become self-absorbed and start losing sight of our partner’s perspective. However, instead of trying to convince your partner you’re right, try to respect his perspective, even if you disagree “About 80 percent of arguments have no compromise, which means at some point you’re going to disagree,” says Dr. Hyde. “If you dig your heels in and have to be right all the time, you’re going to lose a lot. Learning to disagree is key to maintaining a long-term sex relationship.”
Remind yourself that you do have time for sex | Reality check: It probably takes you about 15 minutes to prep for bed—a little quicker than the average sexual experience, which lasts around 15 to 20 minutes, says Dr. Hyde. “We tend to build sex up as a larger-than-life activity, but it actually takes very little time,” she says. “When you think of it that way, the ‘I’m so tired’ excuse is a crappy one.”
Stop comparing | You’re sharing a bottle of wine with your girlfriends and can’t stop measuring your sex life up to what’s happening between their sheets. Listening to outside influences is normal, but needs to stop, warns Dr. Hyde. “Not enough of us realize that one sex life does not fit all,” she says. “What matters the most is what works, or doesn’t, in your relationship.”
Find new ways to laugh | There are few things as instantaneously stress relieving and joy inducing as a big belly laugh. And when your partner is the one you’re sharing that with, it’s going to help you feel closer. “When you go out on a date with your partner, try not to slip into the same-old habit of doing dinner and a movie, which sets you up for barely talking,” says Dr. Hyde. “Choose a date that’s going to make you laugh and connect.” Dr. Hyde says she can always tell when she’s meeting a couple whose relationship is going south: It happens when the couple stops laughing together. “Laughing is like giving your relationship a booster shot,” says Dr. Hyde.
Create your own desire | When it comes to a sex life that feels same-old, same-old, it’s really easy to point the finger at your partner for not doing something different. “We’re socialized to believe men are the ones who need to get us in the mood. But that’s a big mistake, because guys will understandably get tired of having to wine and dine us to connect with us sexually.” So, start thinking about what you want in the bedroom. Don’t know where to start? Dr. Hyde says that if all of her hundreds of books on sex were about to go up in flames, she’d save The Guide to Getting It On by Paul Joannides. “It’s an amazing book if you want to know what’s on the menu,” she explains.