Have Better Sex

Seven natural ways to boost libido, heighten enjoyment, and improve the overall health of your sex life.
by Kate Hanley

You know sex is a vital part of lifeit can relax you, release a flood of feel-good hormones, and make you feel connected to another person like few other pursuits can. Studies have found that sex produces less stress and better moods, and can even help prolong your life. A study that followed North Carolinians for 25 years found that women who reported enjoying their sexual encounters lived longer than women who didn’t.
 
And yet, multiple worldwide surveys show that 30 percent of women, from teens to seniors, report having little interest in sex. The results of a survey published in 2010 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found the three most common culprits of women’s reduced interest in sex: stress and fatigue (cited by 60 percent of respondents), dissatisfaction with personal appearance (41 percent), and sexual difficulties, such as pain during intercourse or elusive orgasms (34 percent). To help you get more of the health benefits—and plain old pleasure—that sex can provide, here are six ways to address these most common roadblocks and give your sex life a kick in the (under) pants.
 
Lift Your Libido With Cordyceps
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, libido is a reflection of overall qi (energy) in the body—both yin (passive, relaxing) and yang (active and energizing). “One of the best tonics to boost a woman’s libido is cordyceps, a Chinese herb that builds both yin and yang energies,” says Laurie Steelesmith, N.D., a naturopathic doctor and author of Natural Choices for Women’s Health. She advises taking 500 mg two to three times per day on a long-term basis to rebuild your internal source of sexual energy.
 
Stop Giving All Your Energy to Stress
Although there are those who swear by the power of a quickie to nip stress in the bud, for most women, stress kills sex drive. “Think of it from an evolutionary perspective— sex for Stone Age women meant babies, and stress meant imminent physical danger. Mother Nature didn’t want women to be reproducing during stressful times,” says Rick Hanson, Ph.D., a neuroscientist and author of Buddha’s Brain. According to Hanson, stress throws reproductive hormones out of whack and reduces the release of oxytocin, known as the “love hormone” that promotes bonding and helps women want to get physically close to someone.
    
To relieve some of the physical impact of stress, Steelsmith recommends supplementing with Chinese Ginseng, which supports the adrenal glands and helps the body handle stress more effectively. “Chinese Ginseng increases your tolerance for stress, which means you’ll have more energy for love making,” she says. As an added bonus, it can also increase vaginal moisture. Steelsmith suggests taking 200 mg three times a day.
 
Give Up Your Goals
The desire to have good sex can backfire. “Many of my clients have big expectations for having more sex and better orgasms,” says Dr. Kat Van Kirk, a clinical sexologist and host of the Sex Chat with Dr. Kat podcast. The problem is that arousal requires relaxation—a goal-oriented approach is only going to kink up the works. To take the pressure off, Van Kirk suggests what she calls “non-orgasm-focused sex play.”
    
“It can be anything you want, from making out to a massage. Anything to get you out of your head and in to your body,” she says. When you stop focusing on the end result, your sensations and enjoyment will increase naturally. One exercise she recommends is body-to-body breathwork— lying in a spooning position, shift your attention to your breath, then take turns matching your inhales and exhales with your partner’s. The physical contact will promote the release of oxytocin, and the breathwork “creates more consciousness about the physical bonds you share with your partner, which can then manifest sexually.” Other ideas include giving each other a foot massage, taking a partner yoga class, or slow dancing.
 
Try a Toy
If you’ve fallen in to a sexual rut, “using a sex toy is great way to open up new vistas and infuse new energy into a sexual relationship,” says Anne Semans, author of The Good Vibrations Guide to Sex and blogger for MomsinBabeland.com. “You never know what you’ll learn about your own sexuality. Maybe you’ll find your g-spot, or an erogenous zone you didn’t know you had.”’
    
Experimenting with a new vibrator can also lend a sense of humor and adventure to your exploits. A good starting point, Semans says, is the Rabbit Habit—the vibrator popularized by "Sex and the City" that is now available in elastomer, a version of rubber made flexible without the use of phthalates (a compound often used to make plastic pliable that has been linked to hormonal disruptions). “It stimulates the clitoris and the g-spot, and it’s cute and non-threatening,” Semans says.
    
If you still need convincing, researchers at Indiana University’s Center for Sexual Health Promotion found that women who reported using vibrators regularly also reported fewer sexual problems (such as low desire and lack of lubrication) and more orgasms, and were more proactive about their health (they were more likely to have had gynecological exams and to have performed genital self-exams). Men who reported vibrator use were also more likely to be proactive about their sexual health.
 
Focus on the Positive
If worries and other negative thinking are derailing your enjoyment, Hanson suggests rewiring your brain to associate lovemaking with positive emotions. “Unfortunately, the brain is like Velcro for negative experience but Teflon for positive ones. If you had even one experience where a lover made a negative observation about your body, or you were consumed with worries about your appearance, your brain can associate sex with those negative feelings.”
    
To replace those unpleasant associations, Hanson suggests recalling a time when sex felt great, either during the lovemaking itself or in the afterglow. “Allow yourself to relive those pleasant feelings, and feel them sinking into you like water going into a sponge.” The more you do this, the more you’ll create connections in your brain that will help you focus on what’s good about sex. “If you do this routinely, you’ll build new neural pathways that connect lovemaking and feeling great.”
 
Love Your Lube
Sometimes the obstacle to good sex is purely physical: a lack of vaginal moisture can make sex uncomfortable, or even painful. If a lack of lubrication is impeding your pleasure, Steelsmith suggests using Vitamin E oil topically. “Open up a 400 IU capsule of Vitamin E oil and apply most of it to the labia and a bit inside the vagina itself,” she counsels. There are also a number of organic lubes on the market, including Good Clean Love Almost Naked Organic Personal Lube ($14, 4 oz., goodcleanlove.com) and Babeland Naturals Naked Organic Lube ($12, 4 oz., babeland.com).
 
Ditch the Viagra
If you or your partner is dealing with erectile dysfunction, Viagra isn’t your only option. On a more natural front, Steelsmith says that the amino acid L-arginine, taken with pycnogenol (an extract taken from the bark of French maritime pine), improves blood vessels’ ability to dilate—which paves the way for an erection. “A study reported in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy found that L-arginine, when combined with pycnogenol, improved the ability to have and maintain erections in 92.5 percent of the men who used it.” She recommends a daily dose of 1.7 grams of L-arginine and 80 milligrams of pycnogenol.
    
And if you’d rather foreswear pills altogether, Van Kirk suggests getting more mindful in the sack. “When you use meditation techniques— such as focusing on your breath, eye gazing, or repeating mantras, it helps you become more present minded and sensation driven.” The end result is increased enjoyment; many of her male clients who have tried, also report that they last longer and even have multiple orgasms. And if that doesn’t inspire you to gaze deep in to your lover’s eyes, nothing will!