Take daughter to piano lesson. Check. Walk the dog. Check. Pick up produce for dinner and run by dry cleaner. Check.
Find perfect birthday gift for colleague. Check.
Have sex. Well … too tired. Maybe next week.
Sound familiar? By the time women reach their mid-30s, life may be so busy that trying to “get busy” in the bedroom slips off the to-do list. “This is an intense period of your life, so it’s easy to back-burner anything you think can wait,” explains Pepper Schwartz, PhD, professor of sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle and author of The Great Sex Weekend (Perigee, 2000) and Finding Your Perfect Match (Perigee, 2006).
But finding the time for a healthy sex life should be a priority: It’s not only crucial to maintaining a strong relationship with your significant other, but it can be good for your health, too. Sex may boost the immune system; alleviate pain from headaches, arthritis, and menstrual cramps (thanks to the surge of oxytocin, a hormone associated with uterine contractions, as well as bonding after sex); and improve bladder control. Sex is also an effective form of exercise—a vigorous romp may burn up to 200 calories. If you’re ready to take a little action to get more action, read on for expert tips and natural strategies to boost your libido.
Kick up your energy
Decreased libido has many causes, especially as we age. “Ovaries start to slow down once women hit 35,” says Kimberly Windstar, ND, an assistant professor at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon, and a physician specializing in women’s health. “It’s also around this time that some women enter perimenopause, which causes the adrenal glands to not work as well.” Properly functioning adrenal glands supply the body with cortisol, essential for energy, and DHEA, a hormonal precursor to testosterone and estrogen. Stress, too, can tax the adrenals. Herbs and supplements, such as ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea), and B vitamins, help support adrenal function in both men and women (see “Sexy Supplements,” below, for more natural options).
But simply living well may be all you need to liven your libido. “In our culture we all want a pill to make us better,” says Windstar, “but it’s often our lifestyle that’s the issue. Put the kids to bed early and spend quality time with each other. Eat a healthy diet, exercise, and get a good night’s sleep. Strive for a balanced life, and you’ll be less exhausted by 8 p.m.”
Communicate with your partner
Defining intimacy as something other than strictly intercourse is essential to healthy lovemaking, says Schwartz. “If intimacy is defined only as sex, women will tend to see it as a chore, and this may lead to resentment.” Take time to connect in other ways to foster feelings of romance. “A husband can’t just say ‘let’s have sex’ and expect his wife to be in the mood,” she says. “He must create those feelings and lay the foundation.” So, for example, on Thursday, spend time e-mailing little love notes to each other throughout the day or just cuddling at night. Then if your partner initiates sex on Friday, you may feel like participating.
A healthy sex life is also about the two of you working together, especially on day-to-day chores. “Husbands have to pitch in around the house so that women aren’t exhausted,” says Hilda Hutcherson, MD, a gynecologist in Manhattan and author of Pleasure: A Woman’s Guide to Getting the Sex You Want, Need, and Deserve (Putnam, 2005). You may have to explain that when you say you’re exhausted, it’s because you are, in fact, exhausted, not necessarily that you don’t want to have sex.
“You must also let your partner know—both verbally and nonverbally—what you want and need,” says Hutcherson. For example, say “I like it when you do this,” or “Will you try doing this instead of that?” “Women are afraid because they think they’re going to hurt the man’s feelings, or he’s going to think she’s a ‘bad girl,'” Hutcherson says. “Get over it. Feel good about yourself and then you won’t feel bad conveying what you want.”
Improve your self-image
Healthy self-esteem is essential to a robust sex life. Schwartz recommends exercising regularly, not necessarily to lose weight, but to feel stronger, toned, and ultimately good about yourself. “Exercise increases circulation and endorphins, it helps your mood, supports the nervous system, and normalizes stress hormones,” Windstar says. “Feeling sexy starts with you,” adds Hutcherson, “so do nice things for yourself.” Schedule a massage or pedicure, buy yourself a little gift, or write in a journal, she suggests. “Spend time concentrating on just you, even if it’s just an hour a week.”
Plan creatively for romance
Do whatever you can—even at home—to spark those romantic feelings. “Transform your bedroom into a special place,” says Schwartz. “Make it seductive and sexy.” She recommends adding a dimmer to the lights and buying luxurious sheets for the bed, and moving the kids’ toys, computer, and television to another room. “Keep things out that may turn your attention elsewhere,” she says. And, says Hutcherson, “don’t get caught up in believing you can only have sex at night in the bedroom before you go to sleep. Do it at various times of the day in different places. Meet each other for lunch. Do it in the shower.”
Schwartz suggests going away for a weekend of passion, or even just overnight. “Take your kids to their grandparents’ house, then have fun—play with each other,” she says. “You don’t even need to travel far; rent a room at a nearby hotel, away from ringing phones and neighbors knocking at the door. It’s about getting into a space that allows you to focus on each other.”
Kelli Rosen lives in Monkton, Maryland. Although she has written professionally for nearly ten years, this is the first story her husband, Dave, can’t wait to read.