I’ve been writing about sex almost as long as I’ve been having it. I’ve interviewed thousands of women and men about the subject, along with hundreds of experts. As the author of five considerably steamy novels, including Babes in Captivity and Younger, I’ve crafted dozens of hot sex scenes. And as a wife and mother of three, I’ve had occasion to do quite a bit of personal research.
What I’ve learned about sex over the years can be distilled down to the 12 major points outlined here. They’re not things that everybody knows; they are things that everybody should know. Consider this your master class in Sexual Intelligence.
(1) Sex and Love Are Not the Same Thing.
Sorry, mom, but it’s true: the person you love and the person whose bones you want to jump are often not one and the same. The fact is we’re hardwired to experience love and sexual desire differently, according to a team of Rutgers University neuroscientists, anthropologists, and social psychologists who are mapping the brain circuitry of romantic love vs. sex drive. But that can be good news for long-term couples, says Patricia Waldeck, a Scarsdale sex and relationship therapist. “When the passion subsides, it’s not a sign that love has dissipated,” she says.
(2) The People With the Best All-Around Sex Lives Might Be the Boring Married Monogamous Ones.
That people in monogamous marriages have the best sex lives is not just theory but quantifiable fact. According to a recent National Bureau of Economic Research study, “The happiness-maximizing number of sexual partners in the previous year is calculated to be one.” What can make married sex so good? Answers Bat Sheva Marcus, the clinical director of the Medical Center for Female Sexuality in Purchase: “There is a great deal to be said for really knowing your partner’s hot spots.”
(3) Getting Pregnant May Be Sexy. Being Pregnant May Even Be Sexy. But Having Little Kids, Not So Much.
The new romanticization and sexualization of pregnancy and new motherhood—Check out Nicole’s beautiful baby bump! Gaze at Heidi’s hot after-baby body!—may be giving some new parents the wrong idea. Sure, getting pregnant may be a turn-on. Yes, being pregnant can enhance your sexuality. But it can also make you feel tired and physically uncomfortable. And having babies and small children? When it comes to sex, fuhgeddaboutit.
Rather than feeling like there’s something wrong with your relationship because it doesn’t feel as sexy as Brad and Angelina’s, find ways to stay connected to your couplehood, says Waldeck. She advises: “Putting yourselves on the calendar is one way to ensure it will happen.”
(4) Sometimes Girls Just Wanna Have Fun and Guys Just Want a Hug.
The genders don’t always divide over stereotypical desire lines. Women these days are more comfortable taking the sexual initiative and men sometimes retreat from the need to sexually perform. “Women are finding their voice, sexually speaking,” says Marcus. “They’re more comfortable asking for sex and they’re realizing they have a right to a fulfilling sex life.” But, while women are building what one expert calls their “sex esteem,” this phenomenon sometimes intimidates men. On the other hand, guys may feel freer to say they want to just cuddle.
(5) You’re Not the Only One Who’s Really Embarrassed to Talk About Sex.
Despite what you see on television, a lot of people squirm when talking about sex, even (sometimes especially) with their closest friends and their lovers. “Most people I see describe growing up in a family devoid of any talk about sex,” says Waldeck. “Is it any wonder with talk of sex comes embarrassment? And what a shame, because open communication is one of the fundamental ingredients of a satisfying sexual relationship.”
(6) Women May Not Be Statistically As Likely As Men to Have Affairs, But They’re Just As Likely to Think About It.
A recent study found that 28 percent of men and 18 percent of women have had an extramarital affair, numbers that have stayed surprisingly consistent over time. But based on people I’ve interviewed, women today are as likely as men to think about cheating.
(7) Some People Are Naturally More Sexual Than Others.
Blame it on testosterone, the hormone of desire for both men and women. Its effect on sexual expression can trump other factors, says Marcus. “I can have two patients with identical religious backgrounds, and one will say, ‘I did what any good girl in my situation would do, I took matters into my own hands every day.’ And the other will say, ‘I did what any good girl in my situation would do, I didn’t think about boys until I was twenty-one.’”
(8) The Older Women Get, the Hotter They Feel.
Younger women may look hotter, they may act hotter, but in my experience it’s the older babes who have the most sexual confidence. Why? Because with the fear of pregnancy behind them and children growing up, older women feel free to devote their bodies to their own physical pleasure.
(9) The Hottest-Looking People Don’t Necessarily Have the Hottest Sex Lives.
“There is absolutely no correlation between looking sexy and being sexy!” says Marcus. “I can have a woman in my office who any guy would say was ‘hot, hot, hot’ and she can look at me and say, ‘I have no desire. I couldn’t care less if I never had sex again.’ Then I get your average soccer mom who is swinging from the chandeliers with her partner. One of my favorite patients, a sixty-year-old, chubby, single woman, is currently carrying on an affair with a thirty-year-old, a forty-two-year-old, and her lover of thirty-two years, a sixty-five-year-old pianist. You would never know.”
(10) That Meek-Looking Young Mom Might Be a Tigress in Her Fantasies.
For a magazine story on women’s sexual fantasies, I once hosted a dinner for seven women who promised to open up about their fantasy lives. The women were more or less similar: educated, sophisticated, and in their thirties and forties. But their fantasies diverged widely and unpredictably, with the edgiest woman dreaming of soft kisses and the meekest young mom imagining acting out hard-core S&M scenarios.
(11) What You Say (and How You Say It) Can Be As Important As What You Do.
Sex researchers have found that words can have as powerful an influence as actions over the quality of your sex life. Telling your lover a secret right before sex, for instance, creates a feeling of intimacy that can enhance the sexual experience. Want your love messages to have maximum impact? Whisper them in your partner’s left ear, where emotionally charged words connect better, according to research by Teow-Chong Sim of Sam Houston State University.
(12) Sex Is a Need, Not a Luxury.
We’re all busy, occupied with families and jobs, with paying the bills and arranging the next vacation. There’s a tendency to put sex way down on our ever-present list of things to do, somewhere above cleaning out the garage but below taking the poodle to the groomer and deciding what to have for dinner. And that’s a mistake.
Now if you’ll excuse me…
Pamela Redmond Satran’s most recent book is 1000 Ways To Be A Slightly Better Woman (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2008). Visit her on the web at pamelaredmondsatran.com.