Sex is hardly as taboo as it once was, but for many couples, talking about their wants and needs can still be awkward or uncomfortable. "If you can't talk about sex with your partner, then your sex life probably isn't going to last very long," admits Ava Cadell, Ph.D., a clinical sexologist and a certified sex counselor. "Couples will come to me having not even discussed basic issues like when they like to have sex, turn-ons and turnoffs, their fantasies and sexual boundaries, or deal breakers."
Curious about what it's like to meet with a sex therapist? Cadell asks clients to fill out a questionnaire about their sexual well-being and habits, as well as a "love list" of the things they like about each other, would improve, and consider deal breakers, to read aloud in the session. "There is a myth that a sex therapist or counselor will take sides or be judgmental about sexual behavior that is different," she says. "Nothing could be further from the truth. Many people come simply to get permission to do certain sexual activities that turn them on."
Ahead we asked Cadell to reveal the most common questions she gets asked and the answers. Keep scrolling in case you were wondering.
How often should I be having sex? What's normal?
"The quality of sex is much more important than the quantity of sex, and intimacy is more important than sexual intercourse. As long as couples are kissing, hugging, and being kind to each other, sex will follow in a healthy amount. Couples who make dates to have dinner, give each other massages, and create intimacy and romance on a regular basis are the sexiest and happiest.
"However, on average, married couples (or couples who've been together over 10 years) have sex about twice a month. I personally think that a couple should have at least one 'big production' session a week where they have quality time together, and then at least one quickie a week to keep the relationship vibrant and sexually satisfying.
"A healthy sexual relationship is where both partners get their sexual needs met by communicating their wants, needs, desires, fantasies, and fears. I know what you're thinking. Easier said than done, so here's a tip to help you get your needs met. Ask your partner to write down three wishes that they think will heighten a sexual experience for them, and you do the same. Then exchange wishes and make at least one out of three come true for your partner. Do this at least once a month, and you will have a healthy sexual relationship."
I can't climax during sex—is there something wrong with me?
"If you're talking about climaxing during intercourse, only about 15% of women can have orgasms that way. Most women need clitoral stimulation to get all those 8000 nerve endings working their magic. There is certainly nothing wrong with a woman who needs clitoral stimulation to achieve orgasm, and there are lots of ways to make it happen during intercourse if that's important to you.
"Find a vibrating sex toy like a bullet or a penis ring to provide the stimulation or using his pubic bone if you can find the right angle can work. But fantasizing and surrendering to pleasure is the best way for a woman to take responsibility for her own orgasm. Women who have never had an orgasm often feel broken, so I teach them how to love themselves mentally, physically, and sexually. Then I share sexual anatomy and arousal techniques, such as Kegels and clitoral stimulation, to get the blood flowing to their genitals. Often, they experience orgasms for the first time after masturbating, and then they teach their lover how to enable them to climax. So it's usually a happy ending."
What are the best ways to boost libido naturally?
"Eating healthy and exercising regularly keep your body's natural libido high, keeping dopamine and endorphins flowing in your brain. And then there's visual and aural stimulation like watching an erotic film or reading a sexy book—they get you into a fantasy frame of mind quickly and effectively, boosting your sex drive almost immediately.
Cadell also believes in and suggests aphrodisiacs like:
- Licorice: Contains plant estrogens and stimulates the sex glands, bringing oxygen to the female genitals 40% faster.
- Pumpkin pie or pumpkin seeds: The top contender to increase penile blood flow an average of 40% faster.
- Oysters: Contain zinc, an essential mineral for men needed for sperm production. Also releases testosterone in women.
- Shrimp: High in iodine, which is needed by the thyroid gland that regulates energy, including sexual energy.
- Chocolate: Includes caffeine and a plant substance called phytosterol that mimics human sex hormones."
How do I tell my partner what I want in bed?
"You can teach your partner what you want in bed by being direct and telling them what you love about your sexual relationship, and follow up with what would make it even better. So praise first, and request second. For example, 'I love the way you kiss me, and I would get even more turned on if you kissed me while you were inside me.' I have a feeling that he will be kissing you more often during intercourse after hearing a simple statement like that.
"Once you say the first word, it gets easier. The most important thing is to make 'I' statements. 'I love it when you stroke my breasts' or 'I love it when you make eye contact with me during oral sex.' Try to avoid being critical because that results in hurt feelings and an ineffective outcome. You want to gently steer your partner in the direction of your desires through positive reinforcement. Let's face it: Nobody teaches you how to talk erotically, and it is one of the most powerful ways to communicate intimately."
We're stuck in a rut. What are the best ways to get excited about sex again?
"I suggest a Passion Wheel to couples who are stuck in a rut. This is an extremely effective tool I created for couples to get to know each other's desires. The couple creates a Passion Wheel of romantic, sensual, and sexual activities together that can become integrated into their relationship by drawing a circle and then dividing it up into eight to 12 parts just like a pie. Each person gets to write what activities they want to do to enhance the relationship equally. For example erotic talking, cuddling, kissing, caressing, oral sex, intercourse, etc. Then each partner takes turns choosing one activity from their Passion Wheel each day, of course alternating between your and your partner's desires.
"I also recommend creating an Intimacy Menu. This is where you write your fantasy menu and show it to your partner. Think of appetizers, such as kissing or undressing each other, and then the main course can include anything from oral, anal, or BDSM pleasure to your favorite sex position, while for dessert, you may desire bathing together or just snuggling. The idea is to look at each other's menu and make a memorable meal plan."
My S.O. tends to get performance anxiety. Is there an easy fix?
"Performance anxiety is a biggie for my clients, and there's no one answer to solve it. I always tell my male clients to have their testosterone levels checked first and to make sure there are no medical issues. But if all that checks out, then we work on psychological issues, like any ways they might be feeling stressed or emasculated by their partner. Sexuality is complex, so I like to look at all sides of a client's life to find out what's going on in their head."
What's the best way to deal with erectile dysfunction?
"Virtually every man experiences erectile dysfunction at some point in his life. Get a medical checkup to find out if it's caused by a physical ailment such as high blood pressure or diabetes or an emotional factor such as stress. The dysfunction is often temporary, and most women are understanding of the occasional failures a man may experience and do not make a big deal out of it. The good news is that there are help and solutions for erectile dysfunction, so don't be afraid to ask for help from a medical professional. If it's emotional, masturbating in a relaxed environment as a means of gaining self-control and using a clock to monitor staying power can work wonders."
How do sex toys affect relationships?
"I've been getting a lot of questions about whether using sex toys is good for a relationship or if it can hinder sexual intimacy. Sex toys are perfectly healthy and can enhance intimacy because they can add variety to a relationship, take the pressure off performance, and add an element of fantasy and fun that result in some great orgasms."
For more, learn about issues women face when it comes to sexual health.