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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You can pretend you are immune. You may go around singing I Only Have Eyes for You. Even if you’re on key, you’re probably lying.

The Seven-Year Itch is reality, folks — for men and women.

“The cross-cultural data are pretty clear we are designed for serial monogamy,” says Dean Hamer, a biochemist with the National Institutes of Health.

The urge to merge is at some point replaced by the urge to split, and studies worldwide confirm this.

Evolutionarily speaking, men seek sexual variety and ample mating opportunities to “spread the seed.” Women seek to secure the best provider possible for themselves and their children.

This “pattern of decay” in sexual relationships is particularly strong for men and women in their prime reproductive years, according to researcher Helen Fisher.

But while some would say we’re biologically and historically destined to experience the seven-year itch, there are enough success stories out there to convince us straying is not mapped out in our DNA.

Wake up and smell the post-paleolithic world

Most men don’t want to fulfill their erstwhile biological mandate. “Social commitment is as important as any rush of testosterone,” says Jim McKenna, professor of biological anthropology at the University of Notre Dame. You may find women other than your wife attractive, but that doesn’t mean you’ll act on it.

Hollywood and some anthropologists would have us believe that women would trade in their husbands for a wealthier model if given the chance Demi Moore’s character had in the movie Indecent Proposal. But the reality is most women have more invested in their relationships with their husbands than a bank account. Not to mention the fact that many women also earn their own living.

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