The 9 Keys to Great Sex in a Relationship
Enjoying great sex isn’t all that complicated. Just embrace these nine elements.
Posted November 15, 2017 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
Each of us is sexually unique. We all have complicated personalities and highly individual preferences. Put two unique individuals together, and the sexual differences may be as wide as the Grand Canyon. But with all due respect to individuality, it’s not terribly difficult to enjoy great sex. All you need is a reasonably functional relationship and these nine fundamental ingredients.
1. Get in shape.
Mention getting it on, and you probably don’t imagine meditating, yoga, hiking, eating salads, or getting extra sleep. But boring, old, standard health advice significantly boosts libido and enhances sexual function and pleasure:
- Get regular moderate exercise—the equivalent of a brisk 30- to 60-minute walk a day. (Regularity is more important than intensity.)
- Eat mostly plant foods — at least five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, preferably more. Cut down on meat. Consume fewer whole-milk dairy products. And eliminate junk foods.
- Maintain recommended weight.
- Incorporate a stress-management program into your life—exercise, meditation, gardening, yoga, or quality time with family and friends.
- Don’t use tobacco.
- Don’t have more than two alcoholic drinks a day, and don’t make love drunk.
- Finally, sleep at least seven hours a night.
Physiologically, great sex requires a robust cardiovascular system (heart and blood vessels), which brings extra blood to the genitals, and a healthy nervous system so you can enjoy erotic sensations. Traditional health recommendations deliver both—plus longer life, so you have more years to enjoy sex.
2. Self-pleasure regularly.
If you have trouble making love with yourself, it will be difficult to do it happily with anyone else. Solo sex is everyone’s original sexuality. It introduces children to erotic pleasure. It provides free, convenient joy and comfort throughout life. Assuming it doesn’t interfere with school, work, relationships, and other responsibilities, masturbation causes no harm, except possibly genital chafing. (Use a lubricant.) Solo sex is also fundamental to recovery from child sexual abuse. It’s key to sex-therapy programs for resolving premature ejaculation in men and orgasm difficulties in both genders. And showing a lover how you pleasure yourself is one of the most intimacy-deepening activities you can share. If you’d rather not masturbate, you’re free not to. But if you’re less than thrilled with your sexual responsiveness and pleasure, solo sex can’t hurt and usually helps.
3. Value genuine consent.
The bedrock foundation of great sex is genuine, mutual consent offered freely, without pressure, coercion, alcohol, or other impairment, and without fear of shaming or retaliation for refusing. Great sex requires deep relaxation, which necessitates authentic consent. Sex with anything less than genuine consent is unlikely to produce sexual satisfaction. If you want great sex, you need to hear some variation of, “Yes, I want to make love with you.”
4. Touch all over—gently.
In a great deal of porn, men treat women roughly. Big mistake. Unless rough play is part of an explicit BDSM contact, always err on the side of gentleness. The skin contains two kinds of touch-sensitive nerves: One detects pain, the other pleasure. Trigger the pain nerves, and the stress hormones, cortisol, and adrenaline, flood the bloodstream and interfere with sexual desire and function. But the pleasure nerves boost sexual enjoyment and satisfaction. What triggers them? Slow, gentle, loving touch from head to toe, not just the genitals.
5. Coach one another.
Many people embrace the romantic notion that the moment lips lock, lovers somehow become clairvoyant, with each intuitively understanding what the other wants, needs, and enjoys. That’s naïve: Neither momentary infatuation nor falling deeply into lifelong love bestows magical powers that turn partners into mind-readers. Unless you clearly state your likes and dislikes, your lover doesn’t know and can’t know which erotic moves excite—or repulse —you. At every step up the ladder of erotic escalation, sexual initiators should ask, “Is this OK? Or would you prefer something different?” This invites coaching—and learning what your other half enjoys. Meanwhile, sexual recipients need only one or two words, like “Yes” and “Ohh!” Invoke one or both when you like what’s happening, and remain silent when you’re less than thrilled.
6. Tackle dryness.
The myth is that vaginal dryness is the sole province of menopausal women. Actually, many women of all ages don’t produce sufficient natural vaginal lubrication. Lubricants can come to the rescue. Use saliva, vegetable oil, or a commercial lube available at pharmacies near the condoms. Apply a thimble-full and voila! Better sex almost instantly.
7. Give and receive.
Way too many people believe that sex equals vaginal intercourse. Actually, many people enjoy oral play just as much, or even more. Only 25 percent of women are reliably orgasmic during intercourse, no matter how long it lasts or the size of the man’s penis. Women’s pleasure organ, the clitoris, sits outside the vagina, an inch or two above it beneath the top junction of the vaginal lips, and so the path to most women’s orgasms involves direct, gentle clitoral caressing by hand, mouth, or toys—but for many women, oral is at the top of the list. Indiana University researchers tracked who gives and receives oral sex. Men received considerably more than women. How unfair.
8. Cultivate novelty.
Compared with sex at home, sex in hotel rooms usually feels more exciting. Why? In hotels, you step out of your daily routine. Hotels represent something new and different—and novelty is a potent, reliable turn-on. The reason is the neurotransmitter dopamine. When people fall in love, dopamine levels soar and remain high during the initial hot-and-heavy period of the relationship. But after six months to a year or so, dopamine levels fall, and sex typically loses a good deal of zing. Boosting dopamine can coax cooling embers back to hot flames. What raises dopamine? Novelty. Anything new—sex at different times, in new places, and in different ways. Surprise your partner with something new regularly.
9. Enjoy fantasies.
Novelty boosts dopamine by doing new things. But dopamine also increases when lovers think new thoughts, such as when they have new, exciting fantasies. The most common fantasy is doing it with someone else. This is not mental unfaithfulness; it’s erotic meditation. During meditation, all sorts of thoughts cross the mind, some of them strange and unwelcome. Meditation teachers reassure meditators that they’re not responsible for their thoughts. They advise you to notice them, accept them, then gently slide them out of your mind. Lovemaking is similar. As lovers shed their clothing, fantasies bubble up that may be welcome or unnerving. Either way, accept them, enjoy them, and ride them to greater excitement. Their newness tweaks your dopamine and makes sex more enjoyable.
Have I ignored any key elements of great sex? If so, please comment and add your thoughts.
Brotto, L.A. et al. “A Mindfulness-Based Group Psychoeducational Intervention Targeting Sexual Arousal Disorder in Women,” Journal of Sexual Medicine (2008) 5:1646.
Brotto, L.A. et al. “A Brief Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioral Intervention Improves Sexual Functioning Vs. Wait-List Controls in Women Treated for Gynecologic Cancer,” Gynecologic Oncology (2012) 125:320.
Budweiser, S. et al. “Sleep Apnea is an Independent Correlate of Erectile and Sexual Dysfunction,” Journal of Sexual Medicine (2009) 6:3147.
Cohen, S. et al. “Does Hugging Provide Stress-Buffering Social Support? A Study of Susceptibility to Upper Respiratory Tract Infection and Illness,” Psychological Science (2015) 26:135.
Das, A. “Masturbation in the United States,” Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy (2007) 33:301.
Dekker, A. and G Schmidt. “Patterns of Masturbatory Behavior: Changes from the 1960s to the 1990s,” Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality (2002) 14:35.
DellaCamera, P.A. et al. “Sexual Health, Adherence to Mediterranean Diet, Body Weight, Physical Activity and Mental State: Factors Correlated to Each Other,” Urologia (2017) epub ahead of print.
DiFrancesco, S. and R.L. Teneglia. “Mediterranean Diet and Erectile Dysfunction: A Current Perspective,” Central European Journal of Urology (2017) 70:185.
Esposito, K. et al. “Mediterranean Diet Improves Sexual Function in Women with Metabolic Syndrome,” International Journal of Impotence Research (2007) 19:486.
Follingstad, D.R. and C.D. Kimbrell. “Sex Fantasies Revisited: An Expansion and Further Clarification of Variables Affecting Sex Fantasy Production,” Archives of Sexual Behavior (1986) 15:475.
Giuliano F. and J. Allard. “Dopamine and Sexual Function,” International Journal of Impotence Research (2001) 13(Suppl 3):S18.
Herbenick, D. et al. “Association of Lubricant Use With Women’s Sexual Pleasure, Sexual Satisfaction, and Genital Symptoms: A Prospective Diary Study,” Journal of Sexual Medicine (2011) 8:202.
Hicks, T.V. and H. Leitenberg. “Sexual Fantasies About One’s Partner Versus Someone Else: Gender Differences and Incidence in Frequency,” Journal of Sex Research (2001) 38:43.
Hurlbert, D.F. and K.E. Whittaker. “The Role of Masturbation in Marital and Sexual Satisfaction: A Comparative Study of Female Masturbators and Non-Masturbators,” Journal of Sex Research (2009) 46:558.
Joyal, C.C. et al. “What Exactly Is an Unusual Sexual Fantasy?” Journal of Sexual Medicine (2015) 12:328.
Kruger, T.H.C. et al. “Prolactinergic and Dopaminergic Mechanisms Underlying Sexual Arousal and Orgasm In Humans,” World Journal of Urology (2005) 23:130.
Martin, C.K. et al. “Effect of Calorie Restriction on Mood, Quality of Life, Sleep, and Sexual Function in Healthy Non-obese Adults: The CALERIE 2 Randomized Clinical Trial,” JAMA Internal Medicine (2016) 176:743.
Melis, M.R. and A. Argiolas. “Dopamine and Sexual Behavior,” Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews (1995) 19:19.
Muise, A. et al. “Post-Sex Affectionate Exchanges Promote Sexual and Relationship Satisfaction,” Archives of Sexual Behavior (2014) 43:1391.
Verze, P. et al. “The Link Between Cigarette Smoking and Erectile Dysfunction: A Systematic Review,” European Urology Focus (2015) 1:39.
White, JR. et al. “Enhanced Sexual Behavior in Exercising Men,” Archives of Sexual Behavior (1990) 19:193.
Wuh, H. Sexual Fitness. Putnam, NY, 2001.