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The hottest couples don't just have great sex — they have embarrassing sex, and make-up sex, and wild, can't-walk-the-next-day sex, and more. And the thing is, every kind of sex is crucial for your bond — yes, even couldn't-quite-stay-awake- to-finish sex. Here's how.
Sure, you and your guy have good sex. Ideally, you have fantastic sex, as often as possible. But there's more to a solid sex life than just straight-up great sex. A truly amazing sexual connection encompasses lots of different kinds of sex — maybe even ones you wouldn't expect. After all, your relationship isn't one-note, so why should your sex life be? "You change, you age, and you grow as a couple in an emotional and an intellectual way," says Laura Meers, Ph.D., a psychologist in family practice in Columbus, OH. "Hopefully you're growing and changing sexually too. And the more dimensions there are in a relationship in general, the more you will see those dimensions reflected in your sex life." See which kinds of sex you and your other half have hit so far. As for the ones you haven't, well ... you know what to do.
There's nothing like the moment when you're lying naked with the man you've known and loved for a long time, panting and puffing, thinking, Wow, we've never done that before.
"People in long-term relationships sometimes crave excitement and stimulation, but don't know how to get it with their partner," explains Meers, who adds that this is one of the reasons people stray outside the marriage. "But you can get that in your current relationship by pushing your regular comfort zone." If you're used to missionary, that may mean trying a new position or a new room in the house; if you're used to stimulation by body parts alone, it may be a sex toy thrown in the mix. And if you feel a little anxious about experimenting, says Meers, all the better: "The anxiety you feel about trying something new mimics what happens when you're with somebody new. So if you can create that feeling within the confines of an intimate, close, trusting relationship, you will keep reenergizing what you have."
And there's another important benefit: Pushing your boundaries helps build trust between you. "When you communicate a desire to your partner — and, ultimately, try it — you're taking a big risk together," says Anita Clayton, M.D., a professor at the University of Virginia's Department of Psychiatric Medicine and author of the book Satisfaction. Taking that risk, she says, is a bonding activity in and of itself.
Let's face it — sex just isn't going to be an eye-gazing spiritual encounter every time. "Some couples think everything has to feel perfect, or you both have to be in a sexual mood to have sex, but if everyone waited for that, sex wouldn't happen very often at all," says Clayton. That's where maintenance sex comes in — when you just do it, even if your engine isn't necessarily raring for a ride.
Just-for-the-sake-of-it sex is vital to a long-term relationship, because no matter how much you love your family, your friends, or your kids, and no matter how much time you spend with them, you won't spend time like this with anyone else. "Sex is the one activity a couple has that excludes other people," says Clayton. "It keeps your bond unique and strong." By making a habit of it, you're building regular opportunities for connection into your lives.
Take it from Olivia, 33, a stay-at-home mom in New Jersey who relies on occasional maintenance sex to keep her relationship energized. "My husband always wants to do it, but as a new mom, I'm tired all the time," says Olivia. "But when I make the effort, I always feel closer to him afterward. Even if the sex is mediocre, it feels like we've come together and nothing can get in the way of our relationship."
And let's not forget how good regular sex is for you: It relieves stress, it burns calories, and it elevates your mood, says Meers. According to Olivia, it also keeps her sex drive steady: "Doing it sometimes when I'm not in the mood keeps me geared up for something much hotter other times."
It's bound to happen eventually: One of you emits an awkward grunt, your sweat-soaked skin slaps together in a cringe-inducing fashion, or your partner pulls or pushes in such a way as to create a schluup sound that both of you would like to forget. As mortifying as a moment like this may be — even with someone you've been with for a long time — it is a good reminder that sex is a raw, Discovery Channel kind of act. It's not supposed to be flawless. "Sex is full of smells and sights and sounds; it's natural," says Debra Herbenick, Ph.D., a researcher for the Kinsey Institute and associate director for the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University. "You're having sex with human bodies, and they do funny things sometimes, and that's okay."
And your ability to deal with a red-in-the-face moment — whether you laugh it off or give each other a sympathetic squeeze — says a lot about the strength of your bond. "True intimacy is about being able to feel comfortable and real with each other in awkward, embarrassing situations," says Ruth Morehouse, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and marriage and family therapist in Evergreen, CO.
Noelle, a 32-year-old grad student in Washington, D.C., remembers her last embarrassing sex moment: "When my boyfriend pulled out, I had my first 'queef' moment, if I can use that word," says Noelle. "We'd been together two years by then, but we were both stunned and didn't know what to say. Finally I said, 'Whoops!' and we just carried on. I was almost relieved, like it was this big hurdle we finally got out of the way. And because, hey, it's normal."
"My husband and I had the best vacation sex recently in Hawaii," says Francine, a 36-year-old mother of two from New York City. "We were on the top floor of the resort, so we knew no one was above us to see or hear us. And the room had these huge floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the ocean. It felt like we were having sex outdoors, but without the nuisance of the sand going up our butts!"
Ah, yes, the turn-on effect of the tropics. And thank goodness for it, because vacation sex is a vital part of a good sex life. "On vacation, you're at your most carefree, which means you can try new things you won't have to be accountable for at home," says Meers. In other words, you can have sex on the beach or in a car, or flirt madly in a restaurant, or, like Francine, have what feels like sex in public — all of which you might not do at home, for fear someone you know would see you or find out. "Taking risks like this adds to the excitement," says Meers. And ideally, you can bring that burst of excitement back home with you.
The point is, if life in the bedroom is feeling blah, it's often your surroundings that are getting stale, not your partner. So, if you haven't had vacation sex lately, do it! You don't need a plane ticket to get started: "Head to a hotel downtown and call it a vacation," says Meers, who often recommends vacation sex to her clients. "You can look forward to it and build it up beforehand for even better sex."
We all know by now that it's the journey that really matters in life, not the destination. In sex, that means not every sexual experience should be focused on getting to the orgasm(s). But the truth is, not every sexual experience leads anywhere at all. Some nights, you start out on the journey and you'd like to keep going, but, boy, sleep sounds so darn good too ... and that's when things peter out.
Luckily, the experts say this kind of sex is still good for your bond. "Even acknowledging that you want your partner is important, whether or not you follow through," says Meers. If you feel sleep coming on, Meers suggests you say to your partner, "'I love you so much and I want you.' Just saying it out loud, that counts for a lot too." In the meantime, you're just two warm bodies who love each other and appreciate that a sweet, simple touch can be enough for the night.
It's been said you shouldn't go to bed angry. And sometimes, you can take that to a different extreme, ensuring that after a fight you go to bed happy — very, very happy. Yes, we're talking about the wild and intense world of make-up sex, when one minute you're reeling from anger, and the next you're rolling around making passionate love. Make-up sex works because after a fight, you're raw, exposed, and vulnerable — perfect conditions for intense, soul-to-soul physical bonding. "In many ways, make-up sex restores a level of closeness that you may feel was fractured by the argument," says Clayton. "Sex can repair that fracture."
One commonsense caveat: "Some people pick fights in order to be able to make up," says Clayton. Other couples ignore their real problems and have sex instead. If the only time you're getting along is when you're in the sack, maybe you should take a break from the make-ups and face your issues with your clothes on first.
If you're feeling sad, depressed, grieving, alone, or hurt, sex can be the perfect antidote. Why? Because it's the opposite of all those things — it's about being close, warm, loving, and together. And because sometimes talking about your troubles or sadness isn't what you want, while sex can be.
"My husband's mom had Parkinson's and a stroke, my dad had major heart surgery, and my mom had Alzheimer's, so my husband and I have spent a lot of time in bed comforting each other," explains Beth, 57, a former teacher and stay-at-home mom in Chicago. "In those times, sometimes it's full-penetration sex, sometimes it's just snuggling, sometimes it's manually stimulating each other, but for us it's important. It makes you remember why you're living. If you focus on the bad stuff to the end, it's not worth it. You have to focus on what makes you want to get up every morning, what makes you want to go through every day. And part of that, for us, is the sex."
That desire for a connection is not only common, says Morehouse, it's important as a life-affirming act in the face of grief. "Sex is a way of declaring your aliveness," says Morehouse. "It's a way of defending yourself against the inevitability of death or loss." Usually, she says, comfort sex is "more poignant, more sweet, and perhaps more emotional than usual" because the desire to connect to life is so great.
And that thriving, healing act can also help people who feel torn apart from each other during a difficult period. "Grief tends to drive a wedge between couples," says Clayton, noting that partners sometimes blame themselves, or each other, during a loss. "I've seen couples break up because something bad happens, but sex can help restore the intimate relationship you have. Instead of letting grief pull you apart, you can use it to pull each other close again."
Crazy hang-from-the-chandelier sex
You know what we're talking about: wild, sweaty, so-good-it-makes-you-dizzy sex. No matter how long you've been together, you need to have earthshaking sex like this once in a while — even if it's once in a very long while. For long-term couples, having an extra-hot sexual experience is "like a flashback," says Morehouse. "It can stimulate those early feelings you had toward someone in the beginning, and it reminds you what you're capable of as a couple."
"People think the steamy stuff only happens before you are married or pre-kids, but we are going on 25 years of marriage and still have passionate, hot sex!" says Maureen, a self-employed New Jersey mother of three in her mid-40s. She remembers one recent night that felt as hot as the old flames. "I'd just finished cooking dinner, and no kids were home. When my husband came in, he said he was going upstairs to change. But as he kissed me, it evolved from just talking about the day to sex on the kitchen counter. It was totally spontaneous and unexpected!"
This kind of sex is also important on a deeper level. "It requires a lot of intimacy to let your partner see you in the throes of sexual abandon," explains Morehouse. "When you display that side of yourself, you have to deal with questions like, What if my face gets purple or my eyes go back in my head? To express a higher level of sensuality like this is another way of being intimate." And let's not forget how much a toe-curling orgasm does to keep your eyes bright and your soul smiling!
Illustration from Clyde Mendes column at MetroSexual LA