Was it last week, last month? Last…year? We get it: Sometimes it’s easier to give into your excuses—I’m too tired, let’s just do it this weekend, it doesn’t even feel that great to begin with. But we don’t need to tell you that sex is essential for a healthy marriage—and also a healthy you. Research shows that a happy sex life can stamp out stress, reduce heart disease risk, and even improve immunity. But enough of the nonsexy talk. Try just one of these tricks today. You can thank us later.
1. Smell your way sexy.
Cucumber, licorice, and baby powder have been shown to turn women on, increasing vaginal blood flow by 13%. Pumpkin pie and lavender increase blood flow by 11%. Try this: To cap a romantic dinner, serve pumpkin pie and keep a cucumber-scented sachet next to your pillow. (Check out 8 more smells that boost your health.)
2. Take a lunchtime stroll.
In a study of women ages 45 to 55, sexual satisfaction correlated directly to fitness. “The less exercise they got, the lower their desire and sexual satisfaction,” says study author Judith R. Gerber, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. (No time to work out? Check out these 25 ways to squeeze in 10 minutes of exercise.)
3. Read something hot.
Erotic literature can quickly jump-start arousal, says Carol Queen, PhD, a sexologist who works at Good Vibrations, a female-owned sex shop in San Francisco. She recommends the Herotica series, written by women, and The Diary of Anais Nin. “Perfect for anyone who’s not ready to get into bold four-letter words,” says Queen. (For more steamy picks, check out 8 Sexy Reads For Your Bedroom.)
4. Get really relaxed.
Researchers at Canada’s University of British Columbia and Israel’s Hadassah University Hospital measured reactions among 24 women watching an erotic film, then again after the subjects had attended three mindfulness meditation courses. Watching the same movie, the women were markedly more turned on than during the first viewing. “Mindfulness can directly change brain processing and allow women to experience arousal more acutely,” says study coauthor Lori Brotto, PhD.
5. Book a rubdown.
“The skin-on-skin contact stimulates the sex hormone oxytocin,” says Ian Kerner, PhD, author of She Comes First. “The more oxytocin released, the more desire a woman will feel.” If you don’t want to spring for a full hour-plus session, tack on a 10-minute session at the nail salon after a manicure.
6. Break a sweat beforehand.
For some people, exercising too close to bedtime makes it hard for them to sleep. Take advantage of that found energy. “After 35 to 40 minutes of moderate exercise, everything in your body is going right,” says Janet Hyde, PhD, a professor of psychology and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Your blood is circulating, your nervous system is firing, so scheduling sex right after you exercise makes for good sex.” (Try these 9 yoga poses for better sex.)
7. Ask about Viagra.
Pills like Viagra increase blood flow to the genital area—something women need for arousal just as much as men do. Though the FDA hasn’t approved the pill for women, doctors can prescribe it off-label. Ask your healthcare provider if these meds might help you, too. So if your sex drive stinks because your whoopee lacks whoop or your hormones are running amok, a physical boost may reignite interest, says Laura Berman, PhD, founder of the Berman Center. However, if you’re slumped because you hate your thighs, resent your husband, or are simply more overworked than worked up, no pill will put you in the mood. It may just give you another headache—a common side effect. Your best bet is to work through those issues. Read these 12 common marriage issues and expert advice on how to fix them.
8. Keep it simple.
Apparently, just 7 to 13 minutes of lovemaking is considered “desirable” by both men and women, shows research from Pennsylvania State University. To arrive at that number, researchers interviewed 34 of the country’s top sex experts, who have collectively counseled many thousands of Americans on the topic—and it turns out that few gender differences exist on expectations of how long intercourse should ideally last. In fact, most adults deem even shorter romps of 3 to 7 minutes “adequate,” the researchers found.
9. Pop a multi.
Two overlooked nutrients may be to blame for sex-derailing exhaustion. “Low folate levels can make you feel tired, with no energy for sex,” says Martha Morris, PhD, a Tufts University researcher; national surveys show that many women aren’t getting enough of this B vitamin. And low iron can deplete brain neurotransmitters, which can lead to lethargy, says Swiss researcher Bernard Favrat, MD. The fix for both problems: a daily multivitamin with 100% of the DV for iron (18 mg) and folate (400 mcg). Search the best vitamins and supplements for women to find the ones that are right for you.
10. Check your meds.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a class of drugs that includes Prozac and Zoloft, “are probably the number one cause of anorgasmia [inability to have an orgasm],” says Andrew Goldstein, MD, of the Sexual Wellness Center in Annapolis, MD. They short-circuit your pleasure center by decreasing levels of the brain chemical dopamine (one of the sexual triumvirate, along with estrogen and testosterone). “People on SSRIs can lack that full range of emotion. They don’t get very depressed about anything, but they don’t get very excited about anything, either,” says Goldstein. If that zombielike feeling is torpedoing your love life, ask your doctor whether you could switch to Wellbutrin, a drug that raises dopamine levels (preliminary studies show it may improve sexual desire in nondepressed women). One con: Wellbutrin can cause anxiety, which is common in depressed people. If you’re taking a shorter-acting SSRI, such as Zoloft or the serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor Effexor, you may be able—with your doc’s okay—to take a short drug holiday. “If you don’t take it Friday morning, on Friday night and Saturday you can have intercourse and have an orgasm,” says Goldstein.
11. Patch it up.
Over half of the 64 women who tried it in a University Hospitals of Cleveland study reported a big boost—nearly twice those with a placebo patch—resulting in four or five additional “satisfying” sexual episodes per month. Keep in mind: The patches are approved only for men, though about 20% are prescribed for women off-label.
12. Put a stop to distraction.
According to brain scan research, women’s brains are naturally more active than men’s, even during sex. The reason: lower levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine. “Dopamine creates the desire to go after a reward—in this case, an orgasm,” explains Anita Clayton, MD, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Virginia and author of Satisfaction: Women, Sex, and the Quest for Intimacy. Dopamine also increases the flow of sensory impulses to the genitals, essential for arousal. But low levels of dopamine caused by chronic stress or medical conditions can distract you during sex. Ask your doctor about a supplement that contains the hormone DHEA, which normally spikes right before orgasm to enhance desire and focus, and may increase dopamine production. Taking 300 mg of DHEA an hour before sex significantly increased both mental and physical arousal in postmenopausal women, according to a study published in the Journal of Women’s Health & Gender-Based Medicine. Clayton only recommends 25 to 50 mg and warns that DHEA can affect some people’s cholesterol levels, however. So be sure to check with your doctor before taking it.
13. Just do it!
Studies show that many women who report a lack of interest in sex respond just fine once they’re in the midst. “Women assume that mental desire must precede physical arousal, and that if the desire isn’t there, well, they must not like sex,” says marital therapist Michele Weiner-Davis, author of The Sex Starved Marriage. “But for many women, that’s not true. The next time your husband approaches you, just do it, she says. See if the light bulb turns on. One common libido dampener for women who are years into a relationship: comparing their desire with the drive they felt in the early days of the union. “Don’t wait for fireworks,” Weiner-Davis says. “Work with the embers. You have to find out what you need to feel sexier. Go out and buy new underwear—not for him, but for you.”