Instead of thinking about how to improve sex, let’s talk about how to ruin it.

Sex killers undermine desire, arousal and satisfaction. We sometimes invite them around without knowing it; let’s look at some common ones.

  • Food: The traditional big romantic meal (complete with dessert) may feel luxurious, give you a chance to dress up and show you care. But it also slows your metabolism, diverts your energy and can make you sleepy. As food writer Gael Greene once said, “You can have your orgasm at the table or in bed — but not both.”
  • Alcohol: Drinking may look and feel sexy, but after just one glass, it simply isn’t. Alcohol depresses our reflexes, including erection, lubrication and orgasm. It reduces our control over our body; decreases our ability to feel, smell and taste; and makes it harder to sense our partner’s emotional states.
  • Bad breath or dirty hands: Our hands and mouth are what we use to approach and connect with our partner. When they aren’t fresh and appealing, we convey a lack of respect for him/her, eroticism and ourselves. We make it harder for both ourselves and our partner to feel like sex is a special adventure.
  • TV: TV is a black hole, absorbing our time and attention, giving back nothing. Ever notice that people on TV are never shown watching TV? We’d be bored watching them! Millions of people watch TV instead of making love, especially at night. Unplug the set so you have to make a conscious decision when you feel like watching. You’ll cuddle more, talk more and maybe even make love more.
  • Self-criticism: Disliking your body, criticizing your sexual technique, doubting your partner’s affection and thinking you don’t deserve better anyway is extremely unattractive. When your partner says he/she likes your body and you point out all its flaws, you’re insulting his/her taste and character.

There are many more sex killers on the loose. Talk with your partner about the ones roaming your house, and see if you can get rid of a few. When that frees up some of your energy, sex will probably get better — and you may have more energy for other projects, too.

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While an erection isn’t necessary for sexual satisfaction, most men and their partners do like having one around during sex. Not surprisingly, then, erection problems and rapid ejaculation are two of the most common problems in my practice.

One or more of the following common dynamics usually causes such problems:

Conditions: Do you have the conditions you need to get or keep erections? For various men, these include a sense of safety, trust, privacy, affection, relaxation and a partner’s enthusiasm.

Performance anxiety: Do you feel pressured to get erect quickly, or to maintain an erection until your partner climaxes? Do you (or your partner) feel that the dependability of your erection reflects your level of masculinity, or of how much you desire your partner?

The relationship: Does your relationship offer peace of mind, emotional satisfaction, a sense of belonging? Or is it a place of periodic turmoil, in which you feel misunderstood, powerless, resentful?

Internal psychology: How do you feel about yourself, women (men if you’re gay), sex? Do you have unfinished business from a previous relationship, from childhood or adolescence?

When men want my help in getting or keeping erections, I start at the top of this list and work downward until the problem is resolved. And it usually is — erection difficulties and rapid ejaculation are among the most easily resolved sexual complaints.

I accomplish this by de-emphasizing intercourse and other sources of performance anxiety; encouraging communication before, during and after sex to demystify the erotic relationship; supporting self-knowledge and the entitlement to ask for what one wants; and helping clients develop insight into their psychological processes and character dynamics.

If you or a loved one is struggling with getting or keeping it up, see a professional before the month’s out. No man (or couple) should suffer unnecessarily.

Sex therapists, psychologists and physicians are the professionals best trained to diagnose and treat erection and rapid ejaculation problems. Herbs, creams, “aphrodisiacs” and gadgets are worthless for getting it up or lasting longer. Viagra doesn’t work for everyone, and it doesn’t solve psychological or relationship problems for anyone.

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Foreplay begins not when you start caressing each other, but earlier — as soon as you begin thinking about each other. The brain is the body’s biggest sexual organ. Use it to arouse your whole day.

Call your partner during the day of your “date” and tell her how much you like her body. Talk dirty a little.

For women, self-esteem is crucial, Blank says. If you’re confident enough to not have any negative feelings about your body, you’re one of a tiny minority. Women need to know that they’re sexy.

Some men like to know that their mate is wearing sexy underwear all day; it heightens their anticipation.

Ask her one day over dinner what turns her on. It could be as simple as candlelight, or as involved as her pretending to be the sea captain and you her galley slave. Whatever. Then, another day, make her fantasy come true. Women enjoy sex much more when you properly set the mood.

Personally, I feel more comfortable making love if I’ve had a shower. I feel better about my body if I know it doesn’t smell of sweat, and I prefer my partner to be clean too. Any time we travel, we look for a place with a hot tub.

But this is (ba-da-dum) personal taste. The French believe that body odor is crucial to sex, as evidenced by the famous telegraph from Napoleon to Josephine: “I will be arriving in Paris tomorrow evening. Don’t wash.”

Ah, those French, they’ll eat anything. One last point about scheduling: don’t limit yourself to the evening. Men are more easily aroused, and have more energy, in the morning. Consider breakfast in bed next weekend; food is optional.


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