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Understand each other: Tips from ‘The Big Book of Sex’

“The Men’s Health and Women’s Health Big Book of Sex” provides straightforward answers to couples’ concerns in an honest, mature and informed manner in order to maximize the pleasures of intimacy. Read an excerpt.
/ Source: TODAY books

More than simply a regimen of physical exercises, “The Men’s Health and Women’s Health Big Book of Sex” provides a straightforward approach to addressing every couple’s concerns in an honest, mature and informed manner. To achieve maximum results, the book emphasizes the importance of being fit in body and mind. Here’s an excerpt.
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If your sometimes smooth relationship has been hitting more potholes than a backcountry road, it’s probably because the very thing that brought you two together — your he-and-she, your differences and similarities — are sometimes tearing you apart. Your partner is terrific — it’s just that sometimes he just drives you nuts! But the real source of the problem isn’t him, it isn’t her, and it isn’t you .... It’s your brains!

Even the happiest couples argue — a lot. And that’s because we’re wired differently. Thanks to the influence of higher testosterone levels in the womb, the male brain developed into “a lean, mean, problem-solving machine,” says Louann Brizendine, MD, a professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of California. The female brain, on the other hand, is less solution-oriented, and more adept at interpersonal sensitivity. That distinction is at the crux of the differences that so frustrate women about men and men about women and continues to fuel the conflict between the sexes.

Let’s pick a problem to illustrate what we mean: Let’s say our heroine has just had an argument with her mom, and she goes to her husband with her hurt feelings. The female brain, which is more adept at interpersonal sensitivity than a man’s, is looking for signals of understanding, commiseration, and support from him. Essentially, she wants him to choose her side. His emotional brain, by contrast, is hard-wired to search and destroy the problem at hand. He’s looking to act, to find a solution to the conflict fast and move on. That’s a worthy goal, but it’s not what she really needs, which is simply a sympathetic ear.

Do you see the difference? The female brain is wired for social communication, the male brain for pursuit and targeted action. The distinction is even clearer when it comes to courtship and sex. Scientists know that male brains contain two and a half times more real estate devoted to sexual pursuit than female brains do. On the other hand, the area of a woman’s brain that analyzes risk, the anterior cingulate cortex, or ACC, is much larger than it is in a man’s brain. She uses it to determine whether or not a man is good mate potential. And it’s why typically women need to feel safe, comfortable and intimately connected with a man in order to want to have sex with him. Men, on the other hand, often need sex in order to feel that intimate connection.

Recognizing these cerebral differences can go along way toward bridging the chasm of differences between the sexes. It also helps to realize that, while differences exist, men and women really do want many of the same things in love: understanding, affection, and enthusiasm. Here are some things you both can try to find common ground:

For Her:
Talk like a man.
We don’t mean to clear your throat, speak in deeper tones, and scratch your privates between declaratives. Just get to the point quicker because, as much as men love the sound of your voice and really love to help you out, their attention spans are short. Remember, he’s not hearing the story for story’s sake. He’s looking for a problem to fix for you. So, if there isn’t one or you’re not really looking for solutions, broadcast that to him in black and white: “I’m not looking for you to fix anything; it helps just having you understand how I’m feeling.” Suddenly, you will have given him the reward he was looking for — the satisfaction of having provided something of value to you, the woman he cares about.

For Him:
Talk like a woman. Plan a night for just the two of you. Light candles, cue up some Diana Krall, hold hands across the table while gazing deeply into each other’s eyes, and discuss the merits of Berber versus plush carpet. Talk about anything. Just converse, you know, take turns talking. Be careful to avoid making statements and dominating the air space. In other words, talk less, listen more. And talk more like women talk. Women use language to bond, while men use it like a hammer drill. “Men are literal communicators,” says Audrey Nelson, PhD, a gender communications expert. “It serves them well in the business world but often causes them trouble with women.” If you can learn to share your feelings, spend do-nothing time together, and use talk as a social exercise rather than a means to a specific goal, you will automatically connect with your partner in ways she understands

For Her:
Grab hold of his hand.
Many women think that men don’t like cuddling, handholding, and other non-sexual forms of closeness; they’re wrong. Men enjoy it as much as you do, but they are conditioned to hide these deep desires to avoid the appearance of weakness — “non-maleness” — in front of other men and even in front of you. When you display your love in public by grabbing his hand, planting a brief but passionate kiss, touching his high thigh with your hand or grazing his arm with your breasts on purpose, you spark his intimacy reflex, and you demonstrate confidence in your sexuality, which men find irresistible.

For Him:
Touch her in non-sexual ways.
In other words, be intimate without an erection. Women begin to feel sexual as a result of intimacy that begins outside of the bedroom. This is the greatest lesson you can learn about how to satisfy a woman emotionally, physically, and sexually. Great sex takes all day long communication, sending frequent signals that say, “I’m thinking about you,” and “I want to get close to you.” Little things you can do to and for your partner will encourage her to think of you in a positive, romantic way that can trigger desire on a hormonal level. And most of them require very little effort and have nothing to do with sex and everything to do with sex at the same time. The big, important ones are talking, touching, listening, paying attention to her needs, and making her feel that you appreciate and value her very much.

For Her:
Laugh with and at him
. Men who responded to "The Big Book of Sex" survey say that after her body, her sense of humor is the most attractive thing about the woman they love. But that doesn’t mean you have to be quick with jokes and witty one-liners. Simply being able to laugh with him, at him and at yourself is a sign of intellectual compatibility, says Billy Goldberg, MD, coauthor of "Why Do Men Fall Asleep After Sex?" "Men want a woman who is as comfortable relating her own ridiculous anecdote as she is listening to ours."

For Him:
Laugh at yourself.
To most women, a guy who takes himself too seriously is about as interesting as tofu. Women are attracted to men who smile, laugh, joke, tease, and know how to have a good time. In "The Big Book of Sex" survey, the vast majority of the 3,000 women respondents said a sense of humor was the most important personality trait they look for in a man. Being able to make women laugh — and being able to laugh at yourself — tells them that you are confident and that you can handle life’s many difficulties with the right attitude. What’s more, laughter is healthy, both physically and emotionally. Couples who share a love of laughter and tell kind, light-hearted jokes to defuse tension tend to have stronger, happier marriages, according to psychologist John Gottman, PhD, of the Gottman Institute, a relationship counseling center in Seattle.

For Her:
He wants more foreplay
. You think we’re kidding. Well, most of the men responding to "The Big Book of Sex" survey said they expect foreplay to last 15 minutes or longer, on par with what the women respondents think. Slow-burning sex isn’t better only for you. “Longer foreplay helps men synchronize with their partners, giving them confidence and, as a result, better control over ejaculation,” says San Francisco sex therapist, Seth Prosterman, PhD. Men know that it takes women longer to become aroused. So, relax and take your time, and put some of your own effort into getting in a sexual mood.

For Him
She wants more foreplay.
Okay, so that’s not surprising. But what may be enlightening is that spending more time on foreplay will help her focus on sexual sensations, which is something women naturally have more difficulty doing than men do. Only 30 percent of women can reach orgasm through penis-vagina penetration alone. “The main reason women can have orgasms while masturbating instead of during sex is that they stop worrying about what they think of themselves,” says University of Texas sex researcher Cindy Meston, Ph.D., and co-author of Why Women Have Sex. So, slow things down and trade your goal-oriented approach to sex for a more pleasure-centric one. “Think of sexual activity as a circle rather than a staircase,” says Rutgers University sex researcher Beverly Whipple, PhD.

For Her:
Be more assertive.
The biggest secret sexual turn on for men is not oral sex or a challenging new position. It’s your unbridled enthusiasm in bed. So ask for what you want in bed. Eighty-seven percent of men say “just lying there” is a serious turnoff, and 57 percent say that silence is a sexual downer. That doesn’t mean that you need to have an “orgasm” to make him feel whole. But you’ll satisfy him by letting him know what feels good to you and what he’s doing right. “All great sexual encounters deliver a sense of validation that you really have something special,” says Prosterman. Your passion can help a man feel closer to you emotionally — something guys say is one of the most important elements of unforgettable sex.

For Him:
She wants you to be more dominant in bed.
Women desire sexual assertiveness in men because it’s masculine and sexy. And surveys show that they want more of it. But men tend to subconsciously check their natural impulses and inhibit their dominance out of concern for her feelings, according to a study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Surveys show that women want more assertiveness and creativity from men in bed. So, take charge. Ambush her in the shower or when she walks in the door after work. In bed, move her around and be more assertive. Hold her tighter, run your nails up her legs, pin her arms down (if she’s comfortable with that). Talk dirty. Tell her what you’d like to do to her. There are lots of things you can do to gain her attention and bring excitement to routine sex. But remember that physical aggressiveness can cross the line, so find out what she’d like before you whip out the leather and duct tape. And that takes — you guessed it — communicating. Always comes back to talking, see?

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Excerpted from "The Men’s Health and Women’s Health Big Book of Sex." Copyright © 2011. Reprinted by permission of Rodale Inc.