The year 2008 turned out to be a time of worry. From the economy to the election, there was always something to fret about. For many of us tensions at home ran high, and our relationships with our significant others were sorely tested. If you found yourself stuck in a sex rut and "suddenly slumping," you're not alone: Anxiety is a major libido-killer. But the year ahead promises to be one of renewal and rejuvenation, and I'm personally resolving to live my love life to the fullest. Here are my personal relationship resolutions for a more "fulfilling" 2009:
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1. Have more sex
Sounds obvious, but easier said than done. Even sex therapists get stuck in ruts, and I’m no exception. According to a recent survey conducted by TODAY in conjunction with iVillage.com, more than 30 percent of responders have been in a sex slump for a few months or more, and many have been in a slump for a few years. By some estimates, more than 50 million Americans are stuck in a rut! There’s truth to the phrase "use it or lose it," and people who go without sex for extended periods of time often develop a "dearth of drive" as natural testosterone levels lower. Sometimes it seems like only yesterday that my wife and I last had sex, but yesterday can quickly become yesteryear, so in the New Year I’m going to resolve to get it on at least once a week.
2. Pitch in more around the house
This resolution is a little sneaky, as it actually ties into No. 1. Researchers in the Netherlands found that "the key to female arousal seems to be deep relaxation and a lack of anxiety." In a study in which the brains of men and women were scanned during the process of sexual response using a technique called positron emission tomography (PET), the results showed that the parts of the female brain responsible for processing fear, anxiety and emotion reduce during sexual activity. Says Dr. Gert Holstege, "What this means is that deactivation, letting go of all fear and anxiety, might be the most important thing, even necessary, to have an orgasm." So if helping with the housework helps reduce my wife’s anxiety, then put me in front of a stack of dirty dishes and let me go to town.
3. Hug more frequently
My wife and I spend lots of time together, but we rarely, if ever, take the time to stop what we’re doing and just give each other a hug. Yet all it takes is a 20-second hug to get the "cuddle hormone" oxytocin flowing in women and facilitate a sense of connection. Men need to be hugged three times as much as women to get to similar levels, so I’m actually going to go for a full minute of hugging once a day.
4. Look in my wife’s eyes when I say ‘I love you'
This one comes straight from my wife. Could it be a guy thing? Anthropologists have long observed that women are "face to face" communicators, while men do so "side by side." This means that women are much more comfortable with direct eye contact, whereas men find direct eye contact extremely confrontational. As Helen Fisher wrote in her remarkable book "Why We Love," "... this response probably stems from men's ancestry. For many millennia men faced their enemies; they sat or walked side by side as they hunted game with their friends." Well, long gone are my days of game hunting, and in 2009 I plan to spend a lot more time staring into my wife’s eyes.
5. Be more positive
Studies show that the difference between those relationships that succeed and those that fail is the ability to have a high ratio of positive to negative interactions. It's actually believed that the ratio should be 5 to 1 — five positive interactions for every negative one. Now obviously, we can't go around counting our interactions, but we can intuit if we're largely in the positive or swinging toward the negative. And in 2009 I want to make sure there’s no doubt as to where I fall on the spectrum.
6. Cuddle more after sex
In this respect, I guess I’m a regular guy: After sex, men return to the prearoused state, and women return to a semi-aroused state. For guys it’s a total system shutdown. We just want to crash, whereas women often want to connect, cuddle, converse and sometimes even have more sex. And postorgasm, prolactin levels spike, which also contributes to a sense of sleepiness. But getting sleepy is no excuse not to cuddle — especially now that our boys are finally out of the bed.
7. Keep it fresh
After you’ve had sex with the same person at least a thousand times, it’s easy to fall into a routine. There are two types of sexual arousal — mental and physical. In the beginning of a relationship, we have no shortage of sexy thoughts and feelings that turn us on and create a sense of sexual anticipation, but after a while the mental component can easily fade and we rely on physical stimulation. We know each other’s bodies and we know how to get where we’re going, but we don’t know how to appreciate the journey anymore. That’s when it becomes time to introduce some new routes and paths to pleasure.
8. Stay healthy
A person’s sexual health and overall health are intimately connected. Diet, stress, nutrition, exercise and medication all play a big role in sexual desire. If either you or your partner isn’t taking care of your health, your sex life could quickly go in the dumps. Eat for your heart and you’re eating for your libido. Don’t just eat to live, eat to love. Exercise also increases metabolism, blood flow and the release of endorphins — all of nature’s natural aphrodisiacs. So in 2009 I’ll be hitting the treadmill.
9. Share a fantasy or two
Sigmund Freud gave fantasy a bad name back in 1908 when he said, "A happy person never fantasizes, only a dissatisfied one." But research shows that people with active fantasy lives are more sexually satisfied, more sexually responsive and more adventurous about sex in general. Not bad. Kaye Wellings, a respected British biologist, puts it best in her book "First Love, First Sex": "Fantasies perform a valuable function. Most of us, most of the time, behave conservatively, sexually and otherwise. Our erotic experiences represent only the tip of the iceberg in terms of possibilities. Many possibilities only see the light of day through fantasies or dreams, seldom as reality."
What’s the point of making all of these resolutions if we don’t actually make the time to have sex? Sure it’s easier said than done, what with careers and kids filling our days and nights; but lately we seem to be winding down on respective laptops, so in 2009 I’m going to resolve to turn off the technology, tune in to my wife … and hopefully turn on.
And just in case my wife is reading, here’s a potential sex-resolution to start off her list: Throw away the chicken-patterned thermal pajamas.
Ian Kerner is a sex therapist, relationship counselor and New York Times best-selling author of numerous books, including "She Comes First" and the soon-to-be-published "Love in the Time of Colic: The New Parents' Guide to Getting It On Again." He was born and raised in New York City, where he lives with his wife and two sons. He can be reached at www.IanKerner.com
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