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Relationships

A sex therapist shares her top tips on how to boost your sex life

If it’s been a bit lacklustre between the sheets lately,
it may be time to talk to your partner. Here’s how
to start the conversation.

By Erin Fisher
Conversations around health and happiness have expanded at a rate of knots, to include not only blood pressure, what you put on your plate and how you move your body, but also how high your cortisol levels are, what your gut bacteria profile is like, and what your grand life purpose is.
However, there is something that is often left out of the discussion – sex.
Matty Silver has been a sex therapist for almost a decade and has seen first-hand how issues in the bedroom are so often at the core of unhappy relationships, heartbreak and even unhappiness in general.
Problems in this realm are incredibly common, but because bringing up your body shame, inability to climax, poor performance or total lack of sex isn't exactly casual conversation, people tend to draw the conclusion that everyone else's sex lives are just dandy.
In Matty's new book, Sex Down Under, she demystifies many of the common misconceptions about sex in 40 eye-opening chapters.
From mismatched libidos, affairs and anxiety, to bisexuality, threesomes, menopause and toys, no rock has been left unturned. Ultimately, she hopes the book will encourage people to feel more comfortable talking about the 'S' word.
Living in the Netherlands in her younger years showed Matty how much better off society is when attitudes towards sex are more relaxed.
"Things are different in the Netherlands. It's the law there that all primary and high school students receive sex and relationship education. The Dutch believe that young people are curious about sexuality and have a right to adequate sex education so that they can make well-informed choices about sexuality and relationships.
"I believe society would benefit greatly and would be happier if people were more comfortable talking about sex, but for most people sex is a topic that they are too embarrassed to talk about," she says.
"Some people even have difficulties naming their genitals! I have women sitting in front of me who refer to their genitals as 'down there.'"
Sex is a healthy part of being human, and in her experience, a good sex life strongly correlates to a good relationship, and good relationships make us happy.
Healthy sex has the power to release several hormones that increase intimacy and bonding, as well as improve mood, immunity and overall health, decrease feelings of loneliness and depression, boost confidence and enhance life quality.
The calorie burn can even make it a great form of exercise!
Given these vast benefits and the racy sex scenes we see in movies, it can be easy to believe that everyone else has a thriving and healthy sex life, but Matty explains that for a lot of people, the opposite is true.
"Couples fight about sex quite a lot," she says.
"When couples don't sort out their problems, sooner or later resentment will surface and intimacy and sex will go on the back-burner. Problems should always be discussed; otherwise couples grow apart or become frustrated, resentful and angry, which often leads to divorce.
"Yes, sex can be private, but other couples can't even talk about sex together when they are in private. People are embarrassed or worried they might say or ask for something that the other person won't like."
She sees a range of people through her door dealing with a variety of issues, but says that it's not uncommon for couples to tell her that they haven't had sex for months, or even years.
"About 40 per cent of all my clients are couples who have relationship issues because of their lack of sex and lack of intimacy, infidelities, jealousies or lack of enjoyment of sex."
In the early stages of a relationship, couples tend to have spontaneous sex frequently, but after a couple of years, moving in together or having children, she says that it's natural for the maintenance of a good sex life to require more effort and planning.
Amidst busy work schedules, chores and family commitments, sex can end up being the last thing on the priority list, left until late at night when both parties are simply too tired, or go to bed at different times.
Despite what you see in movies, sex isn't always spontaneous. Life is busy, so there is no shame in scheduling it in the exact same way that you would for a vacation or dinner date. Matty suggests trying out new times for intimacy – perhaps in the morning, before dinner, or after dinner.

Dealing with sexual dysfunction

Another 40 per cent of people Matty sees are males under the age of 45 dealing with sexual dysfunction and impaired confidence.
Indeed, there is a place for medications, and being at a healthy weight can be a factor too, but for most men, she says it usually turns out to be more of a mental or emotional issue than a physical one.
A one-off incident of erectile dysfunction (ED) can be enough to leave a man with performance anxiety, and this anxiety is enough to cause a repeat of the situation.
Without the aid of any medication, Matty says that she has helped plenty of men to resolve their performance issues just by providing some simple tips for overcoming the anxiety. Feelings of shame can also be deeply damaging.
"Sex is an area of life that historically has been directly associated with shame – one of the most devastating emotional experiences in humans," she explains.
Shame can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, low confidence, prevent partners from getting close, inhibit a healthy sex life and attitude towards sex, and can even cause conflict or break-ups.
Tip: If ED affects your sex life, good communication is essential, from discussing treatment to exploring alternate ways of receiving sexual pleasure.
Unfortunately, anxiety and shame can be exacerbated by the media.
For many people, aside from a few sex education classes in high school, Hollywood movies, advertising and pornography are the most accessible references for what sex looks like.
None of these are particularly healthy learning tools and can leave an imprint of unrealistic and even harmful sexual expectations.
British sex educator Cindy Gallop has summarised this wide gulf between real sex and pornography in particular.
"Real sex is messy, funny, impulsive and intimate; porn is none of the above. Sex is, or should be, preceded by enthusiastic consent and discussion about STI protection and contraceptives; porn has none of that. Sex is about people – porn tends to be about bodies."
Common misconceptions generated by porn are around body shapes and sizes, performance time, sexual acts, and the ability for the female to climax during sexual intercourse.
"That is actually the biggest myth that so many people believe. In reality, only one in five women can have an orgasm by intercourse alone," Matty explains.
"Men also believe they have to last for a long time, but the average time is only 5.4 minutes. Some men, especially young men – believe they should last at least 15 to 20 minutes!"
In Matty's view, if sex were to become a more open topic of discussion and common myths were cleared up, many relationships could be improved or even saved, and teenagers would be much safer too.
As embarrassing as it might be to have 'the talk' with kids, it's necessary.
Young people are naturally curious, and without adequate sex education from school or parents, movies and pornography can easily become the primary educators when their questions are left unanswered.
With so much easy access to computers, tablets and smartphones, it's important that parents equip them with the understanding that what they might see online isn't real.
Even if a teenager is not sexually active, proper education will set them up for healthier relationships and sexual relations for the rest of their life.
Whether you're talking to your children or talking to your partner, Matty says that communication is paramount.
If sex is an uncomfortable topic in your romantic relationship or things are flat-lining, seeing an accredited sex therapist sooner rather than later can be a game-changer.
"Sex is a normal part of life. It shouldn't be embarrassing or difficult. I would love to see people reading the book on the train or the bus!" Matty laughs.
"We need to shift our attitude – sex needs to become a natural and healthy part of everyday life. I feel this is essential to our wellbeing, happiness and positive relationships."

Easy ways to boost your sex life:

  • Make time for it! Sex isn't always spontaneous. Just like you would plan a date night that works for you both, you can also plan time for intimacy.
  • There is more to a good sex life than intercourse alone. Text or call each other during the day, send sexy messages, give loving compliments, and hug or touch your partner more. Little gestures can go a long way to show affection and interest.
  • Try to have a more playful attitude in your everyday life. It will enhance the quality of your relationship, encourage adventure and set you up for better sex – after all, it's meant to be fun!
  • Try something new – whether it's a location, position or even role-play. There are so many ways to change things up.
  • Learn to laugh during intimacy. Laughter helps to create closer connections, while also triggering a wonderful release of endorphins.
  • Prioritise! The health of your relationship should be more important than things like the cleanliness of your house or answering emails. If the mood is right, the pile of dishes can wait.

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