With the new year in full swing, many of us have resolved to improve some aspect of lives. If you’ve modified your resolutions to include sexuality, read on!
I asked top researchers in Canada and the US for their advice for those of us looking to commit to our sex lives and relationships in 2019.
Their science-based tips aren’t meant to be prescriptive but hopefully, they widen the possibilities and opportunities for pleasure.
Throw Away The Script
Dr. Karen Blair, Assistant Professor of Psychology at St. Francis Xavier University, encourages couples to “throw away the script and start from scratch in building a sexual repertoire based on what each person in the relationship actually enjoys the most.”
Scripts are culturally shared social norms that guide relationships and sexual behaviours. Some are highly gendered—for example: the idea that men control sexual activity, while women are coy, passive, and not as interested in sex.
In heterosexual relationships, these scripts often “dictate who initiates, who does what, and what’s most important,” says Blair, rendering penetration and orgasm the pinnacle of sexual activity. This can leave people feeling like there’s a right way and wrong way to experience sex.
She advises heterosexuals take a page from same-sex couples’ playbook and discuss their unique desires and preferences more openly. “In general, same-sex couples tend to be better at this than their mixed-sex counterparts,” says Blair. “Often because there simply are no pop culture or media representations of same-sex sexual scripts.”
Take Time To Reflect On Your Personal Context
Most of us experience low desire at some point in our lives.
Though people often think this must be related to problems with low testosterone and some researchers see medical treatment as the solution, others say changes in libido are nothing to worry about and external stressors are often the culprit.
“As a hormone researcher, I say this with my heart: in 2019, if you find yourself with sexual issues like low desire, take a look at your stress, sleep, relationship, energy, eating, health, self-esteem, etc. before you think of testosterone,” says Dr. Sari van Anders, a Professor of Psychology, Gender Studies, and Neuroscience at Queen’s University and Canada 150 Research Chair in Social Neuroendocrinology, Sexuality, and Gender/Sex.
Focus on enjoying a sexuality (or none) that is right for you and your situation!
“In most cases, from what research tells us, low sexual desire isn’t a hormone problem; it reflects something going on in your life or your relationship (if you’re partnered),” van Anders adds. “Or, low desire may not even be a problem; it may be a life phase or situation where sexual desire isn’t a priority.”
Like most things in our lives, sexual desire isn’t one-size-fits-all. So, as we consider aspirations for the new year, van Anders has this important reminder: “focus on enjoying a sexuality (or none) that is right for you and your situation!”
For New Parents: Be Flexible & Communicate
Dr. Natalie Rosen at Dalhousie University’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience also studies people going through a change, looking specifically at how pregnancy can affect your sexual life. She offers this piece of advice for new parents:
“To remember that sexual preferences and needs may be different during the transition to parenthood because of the many physical, psychological, and relationship changes that parents are facing (and these changes are not necessarily permanent!).”
Examples of sexual preferences and needs that may be different, according to Rosen’s research, include nipple sensitivity, pain during intercourse, greater discrepancies in sexual interest, less time and energy for sex, and body image concerns.
One of the best things first-time parents can do, says Rosen, is “to be flexible and talk to your partner about how to adjust so you both feel satisfied.”
Be Open To New Takes On Pleasure & Sex
As kids arrive or relationships mature, sexual satisfaction typically declines.
But recent studies suggest this decline is not inevitable and variety is the one of the single best predictors of sexual happiness over the long term for both men and women.
Dr. Debby Herbenick is an Associate Research Scientist at the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University, a sexual health educator for the Kinsey Institute, and an author of six books on sex and love.
“Just because you or a partner didn’t like a certain style of touching or a certain sex act 5 years ago doesn’t mean you or they feel that way now.”
Her suggested resolution for those of us wanting to nurture lasting passion is this: “To be open to the possibility of being surprised, by yourself and your partner(s).”
She recommends couples mix it up and stay open to change, possibility, and new takes on pleasure and sex.
“The idea being that just because we know one way to be pleasured or to experience orgasm doesn’t mean we have to do it the same way every time,” she says. “And just because you or a partner didn’t like a certain style of touching or a certain sex act 5 years ago doesn’t mean you or they feel that way now.”
Masturbate! Masurbate! Masturbate!
For women struggling with lack of orgasm or wanting to intensify your orgasms during partner sex, “Masturbate! Masurbate! Masturbate!”, says Dr. Laurie Mintz, Professor at the University of Florida and author of Becoming Cliterate and A Tired Woman’s Guide to Passionate Sex.
The key to more pleasure is knowing your body, including what feels good and what doesn’t.
Research consistently shows an orgasm gap between heterosexual men and women. Couples can try a variety of things to help close this gap such oral sex, new positions, or acting out fantasies. But the key to more pleasure is knowing your body, including what feels good and what doesn’t.
“Pleasure yourself to learn what you enjoy, including with your hands and a clitoral vibrator,” says Mintz. “And then get this same type of stimulation during sex with a partner.” This is essential to achieving orgasm, she says. And if you’re single, enjoy the solo time!
No More Service Sex
Wednesday Martin has been a writer and social researcher of sexuality in New York City for two decades. She is also the author of seven books including UNTRUE: Why Nearly Everything We Believe About Women, Lust, and Adultery is Wrong and How the New Science Can Set Us Free.
She says that for women especially, taking responsibility for our own pleasure, and making it a priority in our sexual encounters, is more urgent than ever.
“Ladies, your mantra for 2019: female pleasure yes, no more service sex.”
“Too often, women in heterosexual partnerships are having ‘service sex’ with their male partner. Doing it to keep the peace, check it off the to do list, or because he wants it,” Martin says. “No More Service Sex!!”
We know from research that long term relationships and partner familiarity are harder on female desire than on male desire, advises Martin, revealing this insight about female sexuality: “Women who seem to have gone off sex have often just gone off sex with the same person over and over.”
She wants women and men to understand women’s need for variety and novelty and find a way to meet it. Her book UNTRUE has many recommendations based on data. “Ladies, your mantra for 2019: female pleasure yes, no more service sex.”
Talk More About Your Sexual Fantasies
If you’re open to experimenting with something new, sexual fantasies may be the place to start.
Dr. Justin Lehmiller, a Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute and author of the book Tell Me What You Want, says resolving to talk more about your sexual fantasies in the new year has the potential to improve both your sex life and relationship.
People who share and act on their sexual fantasies report being the most sexually satisfied…
“What I have found in my own research is that the people who share and act on their sexual fantasies report being the most sexually satisfied, they have the fewest sexual problems, and they are the happiest in their relationships and marriages,” says Lehmiller.
He studied more than 4,000 Americans and discovered several common sexual fantasies such as experimenting with sex toys or trying sex in a new place or position. Bondage, group sex, and other interpersonal dynamics also turned people on.
“Sharing your fantasies is easier said than done, though,” he advises. He offers practical tips and guidelines in his new book for talking about your desires with your partner—and maybe even bringing them to life in 2019.
This article was originally published in Find Your Pleasure.