By Ashley Kowalewski-Pizzi
How much sex should you really be having?
A recent study found that 64 percent of people slept better after sex (no surprise there)—and it’s certainly a good reason to put your phone down and let Netflix wonder if you’re really there. Nicole McCance, registered psychologist and relationship expert, explains, “When we have sex with our partner, our bodies release two relaxing and calming hormones—one is endorphins and the other is oxytocin—and these hormones not only leave you feeling calmer, but more connected to your partner.” Since endorphins are the “feel-good” hormone, it’s going to make you feel more relaxed and content, which leads to a better night’s sleep, free of that pre-sleep stress spiral that so many of us experience. Read on for expert advice to improve your sex life – and your sleep.
Don’t get too hung up on the frequency
While sex every night would be amazing (you know, if that’s something that you actually want every night), McCance says that you don’t have to get it every night to reap the benefits: “Research does show most people are having sex about once a week and, if you’re having sex once a week, you are happier. It elevates your mood and also increases marital satisfaction. The research shows that if you increase that to twice a week, your marital satisfaction just goes up.” With that being said, a lot of couples can get hung up on how much sex they’re having and what a “normal” sex life looks like. By making it something you feel you have to do every night, you are effectively adding another box to check or chore to cross off the list. What’s more important, says Robin Milhausen, professor and sexuality researcher at the University of Guelph is to do it when you feel like it, even if that’s less frequently. Quantity over quality, in this case.
Change your perception about what scheduling sex means
For some couples, scheduling sex is the only way to make it happen. But that doesn’t mean it has to be boring sex, says Milhausen. “I think people are not motivated to have sex because the kind of sex they are having is not exciting. If you plan for sex, and consciously determine how much sex and the kind of sex you want to have (whether it’s more romantic, more exciting, more adventurous), you will look forward to it, appreciate it and then be more apt to want it again, and soon,” she says. Think about it this way: Just because you book a dinner with your girlfriends or a workout in your calendar, doesn’t mean it’s not going to be fun.
Schedule sex (in a fun way)
Get creative, suggests Milhuasen. “One way to do this is to have members of a couple each take a turn planning a sexual encounter. That way, they are almost certain to have an encounter they enjoy, and they are having regular sexual activity.” McCance echoes this tip, and suggests one partner plans ahead while the other enjoys some spontaneity. She also suggests a visual cue, such as “Putting a little Post-it note on the kitchen counter that’s just a big letter ‘S’. No one else is going to know what it means, but when you see it—and it’s not always going to be on the same day—you’ll know what’s going down.” By taking turns it doesn’t have to become another aspect of emotional labour that the woman might take on.
But also get it when you can
This is particularly important if you have kids, but as McCance warns, “don’t wait for the perfect time, because it never comes.” If you have some time alone, away from the family, whether your kids are with their grandparents or you’re away at a wedding together, do your best to make sex a priority. “I find when couples do have those moments [alone], they are so tired that they end up watching Netflix the whole time, but you really have to seize the moment,” says McCance, adding that even a romp in the shower can be a good way to get it in (pun intended) when you don’t have a lot of time.
Think outside the (bedroom) box
While the bedroom may be the ideal scene for some pre-snooze sex, it’s a good idea to mix things up. Milhausen recommends thinking outside the box. “If you’re unable to have sex at your usual time, is there a way you can go to bed earlier or come home for lunch? If your bedroom is too close to the kids’ room or they tend to fall asleep in your bed, retreat to the living room, basement, den or even the bathroom and then return to your bed for sleep.” McCance also reminds couples that a quality date night should involve something that allows for a connection, like dinner where you’re sitting and facing one another. Save the movie theatre or Netflix for another time.
Go to bed early
Just like you might get up 20 minutes early to have sex in the shower, going to bed earlier will make sex even more of a possibility. “By lying in bed together and chatting about your day, it’s way more likely to happen than if you’re catching up on your shows and passing out on the couch,” says McCance.
Ditch the devices
We’ve all heard that having a TV in the bedroom is a no-go, but both McCance and Milhausen agree that this rule should extend to all devices. McCance says, “What happens is that as soon as you bring your device into the bedroom, your partner feels less important because your device has your eye contact and your energy.” Milhausen reminds us that screen time before bed can be detrimental to unwinding, even if sex isn’t in the cards for the night.
Make your bedroom a sacred space
There’s plenty of research to support the theory that a clean, clutter-free bedroom leads to a more restful and fulfilling sleep, and the same goes for sex. Milhausen says, “My own research suggests that women, in particular, have difficulty becoming aroused in a messy place, so, create an environment in your bedroom that contributes to a relaxing experience, like limiting piles of paper and laundry.” Another way to make your bedroom a more sex-friendly space is to have only photographs of yourself and your partner, eliminating any that include friends, family and even your kids. These photos serve as a reminder that you do really like spending time with each other – even when it may not feel like it, says McCance.
Do you really care about how much sex you have?
Let’s face it: We all lead busy lives and sometimes you’re just not feeling it, but if that’s a recurring feeling, you might need to dig a little deeper. McCance says, “It’s very important to connect with your body. People are so busy, they don’t even know if they desire sex because they are so wound up.” A number of factors can lead to a lower libido (which we’ll get to in a few slides), but McCance recommends doing what you can to actually identify your desire first. “If you know you’re the one with the lower libido, take a warm bath before bed and wind down, then you’re much more likely to be present and notice your partner’s cues and to notice your own body, and even be aware if you actually want to have sex.”
Ignite all of your senses in the bedroom
This doesn’t necessarily have to involve anything kinky (though, if you’re feeling frisky, roll with it), but McCance recommends involving all of your senses when it comes to the bedroom in order to help increase a connection before sex. “Dim the lights, play some soft music and lay in bed with your partner either naked or almost naked and let all of your senses be present,” she says, adding that even a scented candle can help create the moment. If you’re thinking that’s too much, add a diffuser with essential oils to your space that you can turn on earlier in the night to help set the mood (or at least help you relax).
Understand your low libido
Is it stress-related? Are you too tired? Is it physiological or does it have more to do with something going on in the relationship? McCance says, “If there is resentment in the relationship, or something that you haven’t communicated that makes you not want to be around [your partner] physically or intimately, my best advice would be to see a therapist. You can ‘function’ really well as a family with the whole ‘I do this, you do that’ aspect of the relationship that you can almost not notice the symptoms when you’re too busy and not connected to one another.” So, if you feel like you’re just going through the motions of a relationship, it may be time to check in and see what’s missing and why.
Take care of yourself beyond the bedroom
We’d be remiss to talk about sexual health in a relationship without mentioning diet, exercise and stress management, but all of those can contribute to a decreased libido. “The number one thing to do is to start working out in a way that gets your blood pumping. This is the fastest way to increase testosterone, besides supplements,” says McCance. She further explains that if you’re having a hard time leaving work at work, stress management may be a good thing to tackle first and then the sex will follow.