Love and Lust

Marriage, we often hear, grows less sexual with every passing year. Yet research shows that long-term couples often have vibrant sex lives, even more than their single counterparts. Here's how to keep the lust alive. 

Baby Come and Light My Fire...

For women, exercise is to sex what sparks are to fire.
Debby Herbenick, Ph.D., M.P.H.
This post is a response to The Little Explored Secret of Women's Orgasms While They Exercise by Debby Herbenick, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Striking a match is necessary to light a candle.  Initial sparks can yield a warm blaze.  So too with lighting sexual fires.  What actions can couples take to light their fire?  Sparking sexual arousal is vital in a marriage because shared sexual pleasure enhances the warm glow of marital love.

For younger couples, romance and ready sexual arousal create sparks aplenty.  As folks age, though the eventual fire can be aroused as strongly as ever, more sparks may be needed for the initial ignition.  So how do successful couples, and especially women, sitr the pot, prime the pump, or strike the match so that once they start to connect physically they will succeed in lighting the fire? 

Women sometimes have trouble turning on their internal engines enough to launch a sexualized feeling state.  Yet foreplay, the husband's attempt to light his wife's fire, may feel uncomfortable rather than stimulating to the woman unless she is already internally fired up enough sexually to be responsive.

How can exercise help?

A recent PT blog post on women's experiences of orgasm during exercise reported statistics on the seemingly common phenomenon of exercise-induced sexual arousal.  

  • Diverse types of physical exercise were associated with orgasm experiences. 51.4 percent of women in the study reported experiencing an orgasm in connection with abdominal exercises. Others reported experiencing orgasm in connection to such exercises as weight lifting (26.5 percent), yoga (20 percent), bicycling (15.8), running (13.2 percent) and walking/hiking (9.6 percent).
  • In response to open-ended questions, ab exercises that produced orgasm were particularly associated with the "captain's chair," which consists of a rack with padded arm rests and back support that allows the legs to hang free. The goal is to repeatedly lift the knees toward the chest or toward a 90-degree angle with the body.

While the experience of orgasm during exercise may be an added boon for some and a source of embarrassment to others, perhaps the most important conclusion that can be drawn from this study is the effectiveness of exercise in promoting sexual arousal.

Sexual arousal is dependent on increases in blood flow.

It makes sense that exercise boosts arousal because sexual functioning is largely dependent on increased blood flow, particularly to sexual organs.  Any activity that increases vasocongestion therefore is likely to increase arousal.  

What is the moral of the story?  Before bedtime, in addition to washing and toothbrushing, add a few minutes of body stretching, running in place, and a brief abdominal workout.  

That doesn't mean you need an hour of heavy workout.  While more is fine, less than five minutes can make a significant difference in sexual responsivity.  A brief warmup gets your body ready for serious exercise.  A similar brief warmup puts a body, and particularly women's bodies, in a state of readiness for sexual arousal.

Continue then to incorporate movements that stretch, contract, and relax muscles throughout your body also during sexual activity.  Muscle contraction and muscle release, especially in the abdomen and pelvic floor area, intensify sexual feelings. The kegel exercises women are encouraged to practice prior to childbirth enhance sexual activity as well.

Sexual arousal is influenced by what goes on in your mind.

What's going on in your cognitive system matters as much as what your muscles are doing for lighting sparks that can ignite a fire.  If you are thinking about your To Do list for tomorrow, sexual feelings are unlikely to arise.  If you are focused by contrast on your body, your partner's body, or sexual fantasies, the odds go up that sexual feelings will increasingly intensify.

The operant word here is focused.  States of flow, including flow of sexual feelings, depend upon focused attention.  If you think of attention as being like a beam of light, the more pinpoint the focus, the more intense the state of flow.  A magnifying glass can intensify sunlight to the point that a beam of light can cause the paper on which it is focused to burn into flame.  Focusing attention on your sexual organs, or on what you are doing to stimulate your partner's, lights sparks for you both.

Music compounds sexual intensity.

Music in the background during sexual activity further facilitates mental focus during sexual activity. Whether your preference is music with an arousing beat or with soothing tones, music also can organize physical movement so that your body moves in dance-like rather than uncoordinated movement.  Think dance and trance.

A woman's arousal stimulates her male partner's arousal.

Some women are wary or self-conscious about becoming sexual.  The good news is that the more sexual pleasure a woman is experiencing, the more enjoyable the activity becomes for her partner.

In other words, one way a woman can generously stimulate her partner is by lighting her own spark factors before she begins to engage sexually with him.  It's kind of like the rich get richer. The more sexualized the woman feels, the more both partners enjoy their sexual time together.

The best things in life really are free.

How amazing that ultimate joys such as sexual activty and love have no price tags. That is, they have no monetary price tags.  Yet when a woman invests time and energy in five or so minutes of pre-sexual physical preparation, and both spouses engage their full power of cognitive focus, perhaps also enhanced by music, together they can augment the satisfaction both partners enjoy from sexual sharing, which in turn leads to more positive feelings toward each other and toward life.  

So women, warm up that body first.  Get the kindling ready so you can send the message to your partner, as the Doors used to sing, "Baby come and light my fire...."

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Susan Heitler, Ph.D. is a Denver clinical psychologist and author of a book on therapy, From Conflict to Resolution, a book on marriage communication, The Power of Two, and the interactive online marriage skills program PowerOfTwoMarriage.com.

Love and Lust