Get the Sex You Need

Experts disclose the truth about sex, menopause, and aging.

By Kristyn Kusek Lewis

Why Sex MattersHere’s an anti-aging treatment that’s more fun than Botox: sex! Some healthy recreation between the sheets can actually help you look and feel younger. It’s good for your heart; it aids sleep; it can even ease menopause symptoms. Well, that’s great, you say — but what if you can’t get no satisfaction? Hormonal changes, relationship difficulties, and the constant specter of stress can make good sex more elusive in midlife than ever before. Here, five top experts on women’s health talk candidly about the bedroom issues we most often face and what you can do to heat up your sex life.The expert: Marianne Brandon, PhD, sex therapist and coauthor of Reclaiming Desire: 4 Keys to Finding Your Lost LibidoWhy is it important to maintain a healthy sex life? Brandon: It’s about much more than the physical experience of sex; it’s about living fully. When we allow ourselves to completely experience pleasure, it helps us feel awake and alive. So sex is an incredibly important anti-aging technique.If a woman feels that she’s not as sexual as she used to be, what’s the first thing she should do?Brandon: Use it as an opportunity to further her own sexual evolution. Women develop a certain understanding of who they are sexually when they’re in their 20s and then go wrong by believing they have to be just like that throughout life. It’s so not true! We don’t expect ourselves to like the same types of food or music at 45 that we did at 25, and it’s the same with sex. Ask yourself questions such as, "I used to like being touched this way, but how do I like to be touched now?"How can a woman learn to feel more sensual?Brandon: Most of us operate solely on intellect these days, but the more you think, the less you’re feeling in your body, which is essential for sensuality. I give clients mini workshops in which they explore the five senses, to pull themselves out of their brains and into their bodies. For one week, focus on one sense fully throughout each day. During the taste week, really examine the texture and taste of food. During the scent week, light incense or candles and wear perfume. Another idea is to think of a woman who manifests sensuality — like Ellen Barkin. Imagine what it feels like to be her, and then practice at it. You can practice while you’re washing the dishes or getting dressed for work, and the more you do it, the more natural it will feel. Remember, sensuality doesn’t just happen; you have to cultivate it, just like intelligence, athleticism, or any other aspect of yourself.How do you access your sensual side if you have a houseful of kids or you’re working overtime to run a business?Brandon: You can do it in a way that your kids or your employees will never pick up on. Buy a cashmere blanket and curl up in it while you watch television. Buy yourself wonderful chocolates and eat a piece slowly for dessert. Pay attention to your body every day by exercising: dance, yoga, even just stretching helps you get more in tune with your physical self. Sensuality should be a general part of life, not something you save for Friday night.What’s a good way to spice up a stale sexual relationship?Brandon: Try slowing everything down. Think of enjoying it like a meal during which you notice every aspect of the experience. Or do what I call taking your partner to sex school. Make love to your partner exactly the way you want him to make love to you — approach him, look at him, and touch him the way you want him to approach, look at, and touch you. If that’s outside your comfort zone, find a sex scene in a movie where the woman is treated a certain way and ask your partner to watch it with you. He’ll get the point.Why a Woman’s Sex Drive Is ComplicatedThe expert: Joann Pinkerton, MD, president-elect of the North American Menopause Society and director of the Midlife Health Center at the University of Virginia in CharlottesvilleWhat is it about being over 40 that can make sex go less smoothly?Pinkerton: Perimenopause causes a host of hormonal fluctuations that can contribute to libido problems. This time of life is sometimes worse than menopause because hormone levels can be all over the place: Your levels of estrogen and progesterone can fluctuate widely — sometimes going much higher or lower than before perimenopause.

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