In “The Drought” episode from the first season of Sex and the City, the very promiscuous Samantha decides to take a break from sex after an enlightening cup of coffee with her handsome yoga instructor who practices tantric celibacy.

The exercise in abstinence doesn’t last long. Rabid with desire by her next yoga class, a frustrated Sam propositions the men stretching and breathing within earshot until she gets a taker for an afternoon romp.

It makes for good cable, but can celibacy really put the va-voom back in your bedroom?

Oh, yeah, say relationship experts who believe that taking a breather from all sex, or from just intercourse, can rev up desire, promote greater intimacy (if you spend the time doing other things), and lead to new avenues of mutual pleasure.

“For long-term partners, sex becomes convenient — like going to the refrigerator and grabbing something to eat,” says Carol Kaplan, a marriage and family counselor in Monterey, Calif. “Sometimes by going straight for the dessert, we forget about the meal.”

If sex is the dessert, the meal is everything else that deepens your relationship and strengthens your bond.

Sex and marriage counselors have long used the sex moratorium as a way to see what’s going on in a relationship. Is he pressuring himself to perform? Is she getting the hugs and kisses she wants? Are they having sex because they think it’s something they should do?

Kevin Gogin, a marriage and family counselor practicing in San Francisco, says the bedroom is a “microcosm” of the relationship as a whole. Change the dynamic there, and you learn a lot about patterns of relating and communicating.

Even a couple that feels they have a fun and fulfilling sex life unburdened by large problems can benefit from a break.

A moratorium, writes Jack Morin, Ph.D., inThe Erotic Mind: Unlocking the Inner Sources of Passion and Fulfillment, allows you to gain “fresh perspective” and detach yourself from “well-worn habits” that prevent experimentation.

You are voluntarily creating an environment of uncertainty that is usually the framework for discovery, he writes.

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Men should be less manly in the bedroom.

So advises Bernie Zilbergeld, author of The New SexualityThe Truth About Men, Sexand Pleasure, which combines common sense on how to improve your sex life with uncommon knowledge — such as the fact that a soft penis can provide nearly as much pleasure as an erect one.

He won’t argue that men and women are fundamentally the same, but he says many differences are learned. As boys and girls, we were more alike than different, he says. As we grew up, we developed social roles that discouraged men from displaying softer virtues. By matching yin for yang, men will give themselves a much-needed break. And women won’t mind the change.

He suggests adopting the softer skills of listening, opening up and communicating. The big payoff is relaxation and comfort.

“It’s too bad we think of the qualities of sensitivity and concern for your partner as feminine,” he says. “All qualities can be cultivated by both sexes.”

Cast aside the macho ethic of performance-on-demand, of always being in the mood, of pretending you know what to do even when you haven’t a clue.

Zilbergeld suggests you:

  • Relate more non-sexually as a path to closeness and trust.
  • Find numerous expressions of affection, including holding hands, cuddling, hugging and kissing.
  • Change your mind if you believe all physical contact must lead to sex.
  • Practice being attentive.
  • Legitimize crying.
  • Take your partner’s feelings, ideas and opinions seriously.

All said, Zilbergeld believes men need to balance sensitivity with assertiveness.

Since the 1970s, some men — perhaps internalizing the Alan Alda male ideal over the Burt Reynolds image — have become too timid, too careful, he says. Balance is key.

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Compatibility of values and goals reduces conflict, which may cut down the urge to part, says David Buss, author of The Evolution of Desire.

But there’s something more compelling than compatibility that has kept couples together throughout history and just might offer a kind of staying power to modern-day marriages.

Picture the husband felling trees and moving rocks while the wife sows and weeds. This is the economics of a bonding. Interdependence is a prescription for a successful relationship, according to Fisher, author of Anatomy of Love.

If interdependence worked to keep things friendly on the farm, perhaps collaboration keeps couples together in modern society – collaboration other than children, that is. Studies have shown that couples who have one or two children are no likelier to soothe the seven-year itch than those with no children.

We’re talking about raising plants in a greenhouse together, working as a team to campaign for your favorite candidate or playing the piano while your spouse sings. More than sharing common interests, you share a common goal.

A little lovin’ doesn’t hurt

Of course, romance is another invaluable component to a successful relationship. Why not live like it’s your first year together? For guys, that means gifts, winning her love. Remember how hard you used to work for her attentions? For women this means stroking his ego, listening with interest and responding to his loving gestures. In short, stop taking each other for granted and break the stagnant pattern.

The later the marriage, the less scratchy the itch

The peak age range for divorce and remarriage is from the late 20s to the early 30s. Couples who hook up in their 40s and 50s are more likely to stay together than their younger counterparts, says Fisher.

Today’s baby boomers, she writes, “seem to be entering this final state, searching for a soul mate. Most will marry or remarry and remain together. It’s in their genes.”

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