Then it comes to knowing what makes your partner tick in the bedroom, Googling “mind-blowing sex positions” only get you so far. Stimulating and gratifying sex is all in the timing, the communication, and the spontaneity, according to Dr. Bea Jaffrey—a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist based in Switzerland—and Mary Jo Rapini, a Houston-based psychiatrist and sex therapist. But what does that mean you should do, exactly? Fortunately, Rapini shared tips with Marie Claire about what actually works in the bedroom (lots of her tips are backed up by research, to boot!), and Jaffrey gave us some pointers from her book on overcoming common sex issues (159 Mistakes Couples Make in the Bedroom).
1. Tell Them What Turns You On
Research suggests that better communication is key to better sex—and no, we don’t necessarily mean dirty talk. Communicating what you like and don’t like can be instructional and informative, no matter how much you think you already know each other’s bodies. If they’re doing something you like, say so rather than relying on ambiguous gestures or noises. And if it’s something you’re not into, communicate that or guide them in a new direction. Want to try a different angle? Suggest one. If simultaneous orgasm is your goal and you’re close to climaxing, don’t be mum about it.
2. Give Them a Confidence Boost
In a 2016 study published in the Journal of Sex Research, researchers analyzed answers from 39,000 heterosexual couples that were married or cohabiting for over three years. Sexual satisfaction reported to be higher among the couples who revealed that they gave each other positive affirmation during sex and were open enough about embarrassing moments during sex to joke about them and move on. Dr. Jaffrey notes that this lighthearted approach to sex is key, saying, “Don’t take life too seriously. Happy couples laugh together.”
3. Keep Things Spontaneous
Even great sex can start to feel monotonous over time if it’s more or less the same old routine. To mix things up, Marie Claire’s guy expert Lodro Rinzler suggests: “If you’re in bed with someone and have a sense of something new you or your partner might enjoy, be it some teasing, a change in position, anything…go for it.”
Dr. Jaffrey also recommends switching up the time and place to avoid falling into a rut of once-a-week “duty sex.” “Try new places to have sex, maybe on the sofa, in the car or on the kitchen countertops? Or how about the back row of a movie theater? Be careful though, because sex is illegal in public places. Try role-playing…take a bath together. Be inventive, have fun.”
Long-term desire is built on a foundation of novelty. Otherwise erotic energy will naturally dissipate for most couples. Trying new things is the key to keeping the fire going.
4. Foreplay Should Start Days Beforehand
Jaffrey notes that setting the mood for sex is vital, for women especially, and that foreplay should start long before sex even begins: “I am talking here about the mental foreplay that happens days in advance, not the one that you have just before sex. Make sure to be attentive to your partner. Small gestures and nice comments are significant to setting the right mood for sex.” She also suggests keeping up communication during the day through texts or emails.
5. Spend Time With Yourself, Too
Having good sex requires knowing what you like in bed. The only way to fully understand your pleasure potential is to masturbate and explore your body. Masturbation is a healthy form of self-exploration and should be encouraged for all people, even those in relationships. Studies show that masturbation doesn’t make you want sex less, it actually has the opposite effect.
Try to spend at least two days a week enjoying your own body. This will improve your sex life, because your partner is not a mind reader. When you know exactly how you like to be touched, you can better communicate your desires to your partner.
6. Have an Orgasm Before Penetration
Before you put anything inside a vagina, it’s important that you’re fully, properly aroused. When you’re aroused, the vagina expands and gets wet while the genital tissue becomes engorged with blood. This helps intercourse and penetration feel good rather than painful or uncomfortable. Be sure you’re giving adequate time and attention to the clitoris. If possible, have an orgasm before penetration. Women and female-bodied people have orgasms most reliably through oral sex or with a sex toy. Make your pleasure a priority.
7. Expand Your Vocabulary
The power of sexy banter in the bedroom gets underplayed, but it can be a serious mood-enhancer when you’re trying to liven things up together. Going about that, however, isn’t the easiest for people who aren’t used to actually vocalizing 50 Shades-esque fantasies. “What my [clients] benefit the most from is when they go to a bookstore or they go online and they find an erotic book,” says Rapini.
She suggests that couples read from erotic books together, especially if they want to work on developing a “dirty talk” vocabulary that gives them the language cues without feeling self-conscious. Reading off scripts, she says, never works as well as if couples find a book they really like together and can build off of that jargon.
8. Experiment with Toys and Props
One way that Rapini counsels long-term couples on how to explore the unknown to enhance their sexual experience is to try shopping for products and toys together. That could mean anything from couples’ vibrators (she recommends the remote-controlled Fiera) to massage oils to body paint to blindfolds, though Rapini says another way to set the scene is to try adding music as sexy background noise. “Make massage part of your routine and start touching each other. Many couples will start feeling their libido rise after they do that,” she says.
9. Focus on Quality Rather Than Quantity
There is no “right amount” of sex you should be having. This is a myth. As long as both people are satisfied, you’re doing great. There isn’t one golden rule, but a recent study suggested that more sex doesn’t mean better sex and that the happiest couples have sex only once a week.
So if you’re anxious about you and your partner not screwing like rabbits, there’s proof that the more energy you put into making regular weekly sex *better* will pay off in the long run. Focus on how much pleasure you and your partner are experiencing during any one session, not how often you’re physically hopping in bed.
10. Have empathy for one another.
It’s often underestimated how important empathy is when it comes to sex. Empathy is the care and understanding of a another person’s feelings, and this is incredibly important in sex because when you feel that your partner actually cares about your pleasure, you’re going to be more into having sex with them. We often come to sex with too much ego, and that’s a real shame. We should be understanding and loving towards one another. Sex can be confusing, awkward, weird, and very hot. Make room for your many, many feelings in order to co-create an amazing erotic experience.
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