Much like anything else you do throughout most of your life, learning how to have better sex is a process. The way you have sex or want to have sex now is going to be different from what you did and what you wanted a few decades ago. That's totally normal - as is needing a little advice on how to change things up for the better.
As we age, our sexuality changes. Years into a long-term relationship, there could be issues hampering your enjoyment in the bedroom. Whether it's a confidence thing, a lack of arousal, feeling disconnected from your partner, or just plain old boredom though, the good news is there are many different ways to reignite your sex life.
With the help of leading relationship therapists, we explore how to have better sex and spice up your relationship, starting from today, regardless of whether you're in a situationship, a new relationship, or a long-term partnership.
How to have better sex
1. Give yourself permission to feel pleasure
So many women were raised to not advocate for their own pleasure and this can be a real barrier in the bedroom, explains Courtney Boyer, a certified relationship and sexuality coach. "A lot of this was due to the belief that pleasure was wrong or a distraction from more important things," she explains. "But, thankfully, many women in midlife are rejecting this idea."
If you want to know how to have better sex, almost immediately, remind yourself that you deserve to feel pleasure and have your sexual needs understood and met - either by yourself or by a partner. "You are designed for pleasure, what with the clitoris' only biological function being pleasure" the coach says. "You are 100% worthy of the most mind-blowing, toe-curling pleasure as well. Step into the power that pleasure can unleash within you."
2. Masturbate curiously
Whether you're single or in a relationship, masturbation is an excellent way to learn more about what really makes you tick these days, says Kate Moyle, psychosexual therapist and sexologist. "Self-pleasure really is the perfect way to get to know your body, explore different types of touch and stimulation," she tells us.
You can choose to focus on manual pleasure or try using your pick of the best sex toys, either way, it's a marvellous opportunity to just completely focus on yourself.
"One of the things I love about working with women in midlife is that they are so much more confident about their bodies than when they were in their twenties," says Boyer. "So, harness that confidence and use it to explore how your body works. How does it (yep, I absolutely mean your genital region) respond to certain pressure? Fast or slow touch? Vibration? Connect with your body. Befriend her. Explore all parts of her and see how she responds."
When it comes to actually having sex with a partner, communication will always be the route to making things better both physically and emotionally. Expressing your needs and sexual fantasies is an essential part of building a healthy and pleasurable sexual relationship.
"You can have all the knowledge about how your body responds sexually, but if you don’t communicate it, then it’s wasted information for your relationship," says Boyer. "Telling your partner what feels good accomplishes two things. One, it empowers you by advocating for your pleasure. Two, it connects you with your partner because most people want to please their partners. And if they are armed with that knowledge of what pushes you over the edge…girl, get ready."
That's not to say that these conversations will be easy though. "Often, I say that for many of us, talking about sex is like trying to hold a conversation in a language we have never been taught," says Moyle. "For many, it feels uncomfortable, when in fact talking about our sex lives is the best thing that we can do for them."
If you're not sure how to start talking to your partner about sex, start by asking questions, such as: 'What are your sexual desires?', 'What do you want to do more of?', 'Is it important to have sex for you in the first place?'. You may be surprised by the answers. Of course, you can always consider speaking to a sex therapist, independently or as a couple, if you're finding it difficult to get started.
4. Trigger your desire
If you haven't had sex in a long time, you may feel nervous about doing so again. That's totally normal. Deciding that you want to rediscover your sex life is the first step, communicating that with your partner is the second, and actually getting back into it is the third.
Triggering your desire is one way to do that, according to a study by Dr Rosemary Basson, who explains there are two types of sexual desire: spontaneous and responsive. "Responsive desire is the type of desire that emerges once we have started something," explains Moyle.
If you are someone who feels that you struggle to get in the mood for sex, then you can give yourself a head start by firing up your erotic imagination and triggering responsive desire, she says. "Take your attention to a sexual space using something like audio erotica, listening to it either on your own as a couple, or by trying one of the best sex games." This could also help you communicate with your partner better, offering you the chance to get your needs across and understand theirs.
5. Create context shift
With many of us working from home for a few years now, there has been a blending of our contexts: working in the bedroom, living room, or other spaces where we'd otherwise normally relax. Even if we're not at work, the bedroom and other intimate spaces in the home are often the spaces utilised for other things as well as sleeping and relaxing, such as housework, hosting guests, or other chores.
This can be unhelpful for our sex lives as it makes it harder to differentiate work from play, explains Moyle, and it can even contribute to other interpersonal issues at home like relationship burnout.
"As a psychosexual therapist, I often talk about it as 'switching off to turn on' which is hard to do when we are looking around at all of the things that are on our to-do list. Try and work with your environment to create a context shift. You can do this using lighting, music, or scent like the functional fragrance for couples Love Sleep from This Works," she says.
6. Put your screens away
Sexual arousal isn't a light switch, it takes time and space to build up. As useful as technology can be in the bedroom sometimes - hello, remote vibrators and sex apps - when it comes to having better sex, it can be both help and hindrance.
Starting at the basics, turn off your phone. Even the slightest buzz from the corner of the room or the idea you might miss a call, text, or email from someone could pull you out of that all-important romantic moment and kill the vibe.
Plus, Moyle says, "It's going to be hard to start feeling desire if you're focusing on your work emails or scrolling through Instagram. Put your phone to one side or on Do Not Disturb half an hour before bed, or if you are planning on spending some time together."
7. Practice mindful sex
When we put distractions to the side, we can start to have more mindful sex. "Mindful sex is all about directing your attention in the present moment, importantly with non-judgemental awareness," Moyle explains. "Many of us are easily distracted from the sex we are having by productivity-focused behaviour and the need to be 'always-on' in a social environment."
A study by the University of British Columbia suggests that a mindfulness-based approach to sex therapy may improve sexual function and arousal among women. If you're wondering how to be more confident and present in the bedroom and boost your sex drive, perhaps sexual mindfulness is something you should try.
A good way to get started is by using classic mindful techniques in the bedroom, says Moyle. "They are particularly good for helping us to notice our own arousal and encouraging desire," she says. "As distraction can lead to a lack of awareness of what's going on in our body. This can help us to enjoy sex more, which then acts as a motivator for desire."
8. Eye contact
"When two people are emotionally connected, they love to look into each other’s eyes," reads a passage from Columbia University's article titled Connecting in Times of Crisis: Eye Contact. If the eyes truly are windows to the soul, then locking eyes with your lover is a no-brainer. The article also explains that fixed eye contact stimulates the release of oxytocin, which is a bonding hormone often nicknamed the 'cuddle hormone.'
"Eye contact is a way of showing interest and attraction and can help to deepen intimacy, which can lead to you feeling more connected to your partner during sex," says Moyle, who also emphasizes that it can help us to feel emotionally seen, which can contribute to our relationship positively.
9. Understand suggestions aren't rejections
Audio erotica, using apps and technology, mindful sex - these all might be totally new ideas for you and your partner. Not only can new ideas (especially those involving bedroom activities) be a little intimidating but they might not appeal to you both, given that everyone likes and enjoys different things.
"Not being perfectly matched on our desires, curiosities or sexual behaviours is fine," says Moyle. "But when it comes to having better sex than what you've been having before, it's important to be open. Start with an understanding and awareness of this diversity and try not to personalise suggestions, but rather focus on the act or the suggestion itself."
For example, if you want to start using a particular vibrator in the bedroom but are unsure of whether your partner will like the idea, consider bringing up the idea of using sex toys together more generally. Open up the conversation and research all the different types of sex toys out there - there may be one that you both like the look of.
Simply shutting a suggestion down and making assumptions is the quickest way to end the conversation entirely but by staying open to the conversation, you may end up down an interesting path you hadn't considered before, which could be a great thing.
10. Know your own turn-offs
That being said, says Boyer, it's also important to know what really turns you off - both in and out of the bedroom. To feel turned on and relaxed enough to have sex, we all need certain criteria to be met.
"This is where we often get it wrong," she explains. "We're so focused on adding all the good stuff that we forget about the things that pump our brakes. If a sink full of dishes, cold feet in the bed, or a pile of laundry prevents you from getting in the mood, talk to your partner about that. Find a way to tackle those tasks together so that you’re able to be more present."
11. Consider when you're having sex
Convention says that sex is something couples just do before going to sleep, and considering how insanely busy life can be, who could blame you for seeing it as the only time that suits?
However, changing the time you have sex could be the way to learn how to have better sex - and more of it. "Just before you go to sleep is the time when you're most likely to be tired and starting to wind down from the day, which is why it doesn't always work for us sexually," says Moyle.
The expert suggests setting your alarm slightly earlier in the morning to make time for your sex life before the start of your day or having sex in the afternoon when you still have plenty of energy. You can also keep things fresh by changing your plan or routine occasionally, like trying the butterfly sex position, one of the best sex positions to take you out of the bedroom.
12. Take responsibility for your own orgasm
There's nothing wrong with being a generous lover, but remember that it's your sex life and your responsibility. "When it comes to our sex lives, we should all be responsible for our own orgasms, rather than placing the expectation on the other person to deliver," says Moyle. "Better sex and body education for everyone can help us to feel more in charge of our own pleasure, and to close the orgasm gap."
The orgasm gap is a term that describes the disparity in orgasms between mixed-sex couples, which is also known as orgasm inequality. According to Grace Wetzel's study on mixed-sex couples, published in the Sex Roles journal, the fewer orgasms women have, the fewer they expect. The Rutgers social psychology doctoral student said of her study, “If women do lower their expectations in this way, the more orgasm inequality may perpetuate in relationships.”
Moyle adds, "The prioritizing of our partners' pleasure over our own can also act as a distraction and take us out of our own experience of what's going on in our body, ironically pulling us away from the potential for our own orgasm."
This goes for how you have sex too. Need to find the best sex position with lower back pain? Opt for missionary or spooning and don't be concerned about switching things up if you experience any discomfort.
13. Stop focusing on the big 'o' and consider the other parts of sex
Being able to have an orgasm is great, and we'd all like to experience the benefits of transcendental sex, but what about all of the other wonderful parts of sex? The building up and even the pulling back at certain moments is all a part of the experience.
Pressure on orgasms, agrees Moyle, can be a bit of a vibe killer. "Focusing on chasing an orgasm can create a goal-orientated nature to sex which sets up a pass or fail expectation and gets in the way of us enjoying the rest of the experience," she says.
Also, the expert explains, the irony is that worrying about having an orgasm is one of the things that can stop one from happening. "This is because the thoughts take us out of the moment and interrupt our focus on physical sensations and pleasure, which are the things that will most likely take us to peak pleasure."
If you see this pattern in yourself, mindfulness techniques can help to bring you back into the moment. While they're more generalized, utilizing one of the best meditation apps can certainly help with this.
14. Educate yourself - read more, listen to podcasts, and watch series
It's vital to remember that you don't have to be 'doing' sex to be developing yourself sexually. "Listening to podcasts, Ted Talks, series, and reading helps to open up perspectives and normalize sex," says the sexologist.
"Most of us have never questioned what we know about sex, and that can give us quite a tunnel-vision view," she explains. "Opening our views up to other voices, perspectives and thinking about sex can be of real benefit to our sex lives, helping us to think about sex differently and break away from shame."
Self-sex education can happen in so many formats, both formal and informal, and across the lifetime. Modern technology means that you could be on your morning commute improving your sexual wellness by listening to a podcast or checking out one of the top sex trends 2023. Moyle's own podcast, The Sexual Wellness Sessions Podcast, is a fantastic example. Another, The Better in Bed podcast, from Sara Tang, a sex coach, and educator, is a must-listen for those seeking to expand their knowledge.
Investing in the best sex books, which have been carefully chosen by a team of sexual wellness experts, is another ideal way to enhance your knowledge and learn more.
Above all, it's vital to know that pleasure has no limit and no expiration date. As long as you're a happy and consenting adult engaging in healthy behaviours, no boundaries.
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Aoife is an Irish journalist and writer with a background in creative writing, comedy, and TV production.
Formerly woman&home's junior news editor and a contributing writer at Bustle, her words can be found in the Metro, Huffpost, Delicious, Imperica and EVOKE.
Her poetry features in the Queer Life, Queer Love anthology.
Outside of work you might bump into her at a garden center, charity shop, yoga studio, lifting heavy weights, or (most likely) supping/eating some sort of delicious drink/meal.
- Grace WalshHealth Editor
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