Troubleshooting Your Sex Life

How can I increase the passion in my relationship?

To bring, and keep, the spark of passion in your relationship, remember Dr Gabrielle's 5 P's: priorities, playfulness, pleasure, pampering and partner connection.
  1. Priorities: Make sure your intimate time, just the two of you alone, is a priority, not just an activity at the bottom of your list, to resort to when you can squeeze in the time. Intimacy is a necessity in a successful, satisfying relationship.
  2. Playfulness: Sex for procreation is the minority expression of our sexuality. Couples, over a lifetime, will have far more sex for recreation. Make sex your adult playtime, so have fun with it! Sex doesn’t always have to be a soap opera seduction. Laugh, giggle, play games, tease and please.
  3. Pleasure: Sex and intimacy is about pleasure, not necessarily about orgasm. Focus on the giving and receiving of pleasure, rather than the goal of orgasm for a total experience of physical and emotional pleasure.
  4. Pampering: We’re more in the mood for sex when we feel good, and have the energy for sex. Sex takes time, concentration and some effort, so to be primed for pleasure, take time out for yourself. De-stress, exercise, do things to make yourself feel sexy and sensual: beauty care, massages, cologne, fashion, sport and hobbies. Investing in yourself and your sexiness will pay off in your sex life.
  5. Partner connection: Research has revealed that good sex is about feeling connected to your partner. Sex is a shared activity, so make sure you feel connected with your partner outside the bedroom as well as between the sheets. The more you feel like a couple in life, the more you’ll feel connected and satisfied in passionate coupling.
And then practice, practice, practice!

How often is "normal"?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions, and there is no true answer, because everyone is different. In sexology, we don’t talk about what is "normal" because who defines that? What might be normal to one person, might not feel right for another. Instead, we refer to healthy sex. If you are happy with your sex life, not harming yourself or others, and satisfied with the amount of sex you’re having, then you have a healthy sex life. Research indicates that the average statistic for sex is between once and twice a week, but this is variable for couples and singles, life stages and lifestyles. A lot of men (60%) and women (70%) say they would prefer more sex, though!

I’m young and I want to know more about sex, but don’t know who to ask, or even what to ask.

Firstly, good for you for wanting to learn more about sex, intimacy and relationships - that’s a great start! Learning about sex is a lifelong process, and there are always new discoveries we can make about our partner, relationship and ourselves. There are four golden guidelines to consider before you think about engaging in sexual play, and sexual intercourse.
  1. You should be able to talk about sex with an adult - whether that is a parent, adult family member, doctor, or adult friend
  2. You should be able to talk about sex with your partner
  3. You should be prepared for safer sex, which includes using condoms
  4. You should know about pleasure - your own, and your partner’s
If you can say yes to all four of those things,and engaging in sex fits with your values, and you feel ready, mature and confident for the intimacy and the responsibilities of sex, then you can start thinking about having healthy, satisfying, great sex. Sex, especially the first time, can be daunting, nerve wracking, exhilarating, exciting, awkward and wonderful. Research shows that the best sex occurs when you feel a true connection with your partner, so strive for that, rather than technique.

Does size matter?

This has to be one of the most common questions about sex. And while more men than women ask it, both are curious about the scientific answer to this question. Based on sexual physiological knowledge, the answer is no, size does not matter. Whether engaging in anal or vaginal penetration, a finger can be just as pleasurable as a penis. When it comes to anal penetration, often a finger is more pleasurable because of the dexterity a finger can provide, especially for a man that likes a stimulating prostate massage. Many women will also say that a finger is better able to tickle her fancy vaginally, especially for those women who feel they have a G-spot. The most sexually stimulating spot on a woman is her clitoris - the glans has over 8000 nerve endings alone! There is also a network of sensitive nerve endings in the outer one third of the vagina, but hardly any in the inner two-thirds. Think about if women did have lots of pleasurable nerve endings deep in her vagina, up to her cervix: going for a Pap Test would be an orgasmic treat and childbirth would be pleasurable bliss. So length of the penis doesn’t matter physically, and girth, while it can feel pleasant for many women, feels good because the vagina will wrap snugly around the width of what ever is put in it: a finger, tampon, toy or penis of any girth. The pleasure comes from the penetration and technique, not the size. It really is about the motion of the ocean, not the size of the wave. However, for those that do say size matters, this is, like with anything in sex, a personal preference, not a biological fact.

What is the best position for his and her pleasure?

The four most common positions for heterosexual intercourse are Man on Top, Woman on Top, Cheeky (often referred to as Doggy style) and Side by Side. Many couples enjoy the intimate face-to-face contact of the man on top position, and the physical pleasure of the cheeky position. The woman on top position is an excellent position for both his and her pleasure. The woman retains control over her pleasure and ability to reach orgasm, there is access to her clitoris during intercourse through her or his hand, or a toy, and the man, in the more passive role, is able to relax his muscles, which enables him to delay orgasm and prolong pleasure for himself and his partner. The side by side position is also good for clitoral access and stimulation. Many surveys reveal that both men and women prefer the woman on top position. For those who prefer the man on top position, but would like to increase clitoral stimulation for the woman during intercourse, you can try experimenting with the Coital Alignment Technique.

What are some tips for trying anal sex for the first time?

Experimenting with anal sex is something more and more couples are considering. Be sure both partners are equally willing and excited by the idea of trying it, and make sure you have plenty of lubricant, and condoms, handy. Safe anal sex should incorporate the use of condoms, and it's not recommended that penetration of the vagina occur after penetration of the anus without changing condoms, or cleaning the penis, finger or toy, to prevent the transmission of potential bacteria. As with vaginal penetration, foreplay is important when it comes to anal sex. Eroticise the area through finger play, massaging the perineum (the skin area in front of the anus, behind the scrotum, or vaginal entrance) and the anal area. Those who are interested in rimming (licking, kissing or sucking of the anal area) might use this technique as anal foreplay prior to penetration. When first trying anal sex, a good position is one that allows the partner receiving penetration to have control over depth and speed. Try the sitting position, in which the receiving partner lowers themselves onto their sitting partner. This allows for total control, slowly and gently. If it hurts, stop. And remember, you don't have to go 'all the way' the first time.

We’re thinking of trying a threesome. Is there anything we need to know?

Proceed with caution! Threesomes are a common fantasy, for both men and women, but it’s important to be aware that fantasy is very different from reality. Both partners should be excited by the idea of trying a threesome. Participating in a threesome to please your partner is not a good idea. Before engaging in a threesome, make sure you and your partner have discussed it thoroughly. It’s very difficult to anticipate how a threesome might affect your relationship. Do you both genuinely feel you won’t be jealous, of each other, or the third person? Be very sure about this, because as much as you say you won’t be jealous, it can very easily be ignited when you share your bed and intimacy with an extra person. Once you have a threesome, you don't go back; those images are burned on your brain. Threesomes can be wildly exciting, but can also just as easily be wickedly erosive to a relationship. You should discuss boundaries and negotiate agreements with your partner, and the third person, before starting. Who can kiss whom? Who can watch whom? Who can penetrate whom? It’s really important to be clear with each other before you experiment. Choosing the third partner is also important. Both of you should be happy with not only the gender choice, but also who the person is. It can be very confusing if you choose to engage in sex with a friend. It’s usually recommended that the first time, you choose a professional to experiment with. A sex worker can recognise both your boundaries, and can remain detached from a friendship or relationship, because it is purely a sexual experience. Above all, the most important thing is to talk with each other in detail before trying a threesome, and go into the experience connected, consenting, and with a clear mind, not under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

How can I increase my libido?

It’s natural for libido to fluctuate across the lifespan. After all, we’re human, not machines. If you’re experiencing low libido (low sex drive, low sexual desire) and this is distressing to you and/or your partner, the first step is to work out the cause of the drop in your libido. There can be many reasons for this, including lifestyle, stress, fatigue, illness, emotional upset, financial worry, relationship problems, low testosterone (in both women and men), painful sex, previous negative sexual experiences, and the list goes on. Our sexual response system is a very fragile one. Think of it like a circuit system in the body: the slightest negative thing can flip the switch from on to off, and when you experience repeated or ongoing sexual circuit flip switches to the off position it can eventually fizzle the sex drive so that the sexual arousal circuits in the body no longer spark at all, or do so only rarely. To bring the spark back to your libido, and increase your energy and desire for sex, you need to address the cause for your low libido. This might be changing your lifestyle, learning more about your sexual response, getting more sleep, communicating with your partner, investing in a nanny from time to time, or might require a more committed investment, such as sex consultancy, therapy, relationship counselling, a visit to a naturopath who specialises in natural libido therapies such as Tribulus, Dong Quai, Ginseng and Gingko Boloba, etc, or a visit to a sexual health GP for a medical check up and/or testosterone replacement therapy (available for both women and men). For more information, stay tuned to this website for Dr Gabrielle’s "Living Libido Loca" and "WILD" (Women for Increased Libido and Desire) workshops.

Sex in Simple Steps: Talking to Your Children About Sex

Most parents are concerned and confused about how to talk to their children about sexual matters. What to say when? Who to say it? Will talking about sex encourage kids to experiment? Many parents assume that school sex education will cover all necessary information for their children about sexuality, but often this is not the case. As the parent(s), your voice and messages are strongest. Schools may provide the basic information about sexual health, but when it comes to sexual values and decision-making, the parental role is paramount. This interactive one-hour workshop will present principles of ‘teachable moments’, age appropriate topics, and how to handle the tough questions. Whether you are a parent of a 5 year old or a 15 year old, this workshop will increase your knowledge, skill and confidence to discuss sex within your value system, with your children, to prepare them for their own blossoming sexuality, in a healthy way.

How can we make sex last longer?

Many couples are curious about how to make sex last longer. Given the statistic that the average experience of sexual intercourse is 10 minutes, the goal of making sex last longer usually lies in making foreplay last longer. So, as a couple, engaged in physical and/or emotional sexual intimacy, try to spend at least 30 minutes on foreplay: spend time talking, bonding, kissing and emphasising sensual and sexual touch on the whole body. You might try lighting a little aromatherapy or tea light candle, and challenging yourselves to sensually stimulate each other the whole time the candle is lit, and when it goes out, and only then, lead your sexual play to intercourse. This drawn out structure of foreplay encourages and emphasises you, as a couple, to create new sensual touch before engaging in intercourse. Making sex last longer isn’t just about increasing stamina; it's all about stimulation, variety and connection.

Can a relationship survive infidelity?

Absolutely. Honesty, and a sincere desire to place the relationship first and foremost are the two most important ingredients to surviving infidelity in a relationship. If both partners are committed to rebuilding their relationship, then a relationship can not only survive, but potentially flourish, under new committed vows to each other. It’s important to talk through the triggers and issues that led to the problem(s), and counselling is a primary avenue to help you rebuild your relationship. For more specific information on making a relationship work, consider attending a workshop or read more about relationships and sexuality in the Resources section, which also has helpful links to various clinics, therapists and counselling and informational outlets.

What is cybersex and is it safe?

The Internet is now considered the super highway of love. Increasingly, people are finding their match via online dating, computer match making and electronic or digital texting and clicking. There is a difference between cyber-dating and cyber-sex. Cyber-sex entails engaging another person in an implicit and/or explicit chat or web cam sexual flirt, tease, titillating or arousing experience. Cyber-sex can be a terrific avenue for exploring fantasies, but if you are in a real life relationship, cyber-sex can have negative consequences. Partners often consider cyber-sex as cheating - what I call e-dultery. Partners complain about the amount of time their partner spends on the internet, and feel cheated of that time that could be spent together. Make sure if you indulge in cyber-sex that you are either single, engaging in it as a couple, or that you make sure your partner knows what you're doing, and why this fantasy outlet is stimulating and exciting for you.

Cyber-flirting is simply flirting via email, messenger or chat rooms, and can be done with e-friends you've never met, or as a way to sizzle a new relationship with someone who you have met in real life. Cyber-dating, or internet dating is gaining more widespread popularity among single men and women, of all age groups and sexual orientations as a way of meeting potential mates outside the pub and club scene. It's important to be cautious when internet dating, and not give out your personal details, including mobile number, until you've met, and most internet and dating experts agree that before your first meeting you should let a friend know where you are so that you remain safe, and also have an ‘out’ if the date isn’t going well, or you are uncomfortable meeting your blind date. Be aware that while a majority of people are truthful about themselves in online dating these days, some are not, so use your common safety sense and good judgement.

I’m not able to have an orgasm. What can I do about it?

The inability to have an orgasm is more common among women than men, although at anytime during life, both men and women can experience anorgasmia (inability to have an orgasm). The first step to finding a cure, is to determine the cause of the problem. It could be physical, psychological or lifestyle. There might be a medical treatment, or side effect of a medication (such as an anti-depressant) that could be contributing to your inability to orgasm; there may be a lack of education or understanding about your sexual stimulation and response, anxiety, stress, relationship difficulty, or perhaps fear of intimacy. There are many causes, and each requires a specifically tailored solution for each individual or couple. You can read more about this problem, and its treatments in the Resources section which links to helpful books, clinics and resources for further information and help.

I have erectile dysfunction. Is Viagra my only option?

Viagra, while one of the most popular and effective treatments for erectile dysfunction today, is not the only treatment. There are a range of medical treatments that have been developed since Viagra, in varying strengths and rates of effectiveness. There are also herbal treatments, and other medical interventions for treatment of erectile dysfunction, depending on the cause and nature of the problem. For more information, please read the "Little Boy Blue Lost His Wood" chapter in URGE, or read about further options for help in the Resources section. Please be aware all effective and researched treatments will be available and recommended by reputable sexologists and sexual health doctors. Be wary of random advertisements in papers and on the internet promising miraculous, too easy and expensive treatments.

I have premature ejaculation. How can I learn to last longer?

There is a medical treatment for rapid ejaculation in development, but is not yet available on the market. At present, the most comprehensive treatment for rapid ejaculation is a series of exercises, called the "stop-start" or "squeeze tease" method. This treatment is outlined in URGE, and other helpful resources, including clinics, for treating this problem are available in the Resources section. Be wary of the many bogus treatments that claim to cure this problem, such as sprays, creams and pills: many are not researched, have little to no effect, can cause harm, and are at best, a "band aid" solution that will not fix the problem in the long term.

Are men really from Mars and women from Venus, and never the twain shall meet?

While it’s true that men and women are indeed different - our bodies, brains and social norms and expectations are different, depending on culture - men and women are not opposite, but rather complementary. Men and women often have different ways of communicating, making relationships both challenging and engaging, but when it comes to sex, most people don't realise that men and women are more similar than they are different. Yes, sexual needs and desires can be different, often uniquely different, but are not simply a function of gender. Both men and women can have low or high libidos. Men and women also have incredibly similar turn ons, sexual interests and desire for variety. Physically, male and female sexual responses are amazingly similar, even experiencing near to identical sensations at orgasm, with both men and women experiencing the pleasure pulses at the exact same rate of one pulse every 0.8 seconds! In general, it’s good to recognise the wonderful differences between men and women, but better for connection to each other, in relationships and also friendships, to operate from the paradigm that you are more similar than alien to each other.

I fantasise about people of the same sex. Does this mean I’m gay?

First of all, fantasies are very different to reality. Many fantasies are most erotic left as fantasies, and people can have a variety of fantasies that they would never wish to act out in real life. Our brain is our most important sexual organ - it tells us we're turned on, and processes all our stimulation into sensation and erotic awareness and arousal. Many people have a rich fantasy life, and love it because it is so different from the reality of their sexual experiences (which can be equally good, while being different). Fantasies can be an indication of an unrealised sexual desire, or can simply be an outlet of a sexual wish, never wanting to be fulfilled. Sexual orientation is very different from sexual fantasy. Sexual orientation is that inner knowing, that sure feeling, of who you are attracted to. It may be members of the opposite gender (heterosexual), same gender (homosexual), or both genders (bisexual). There is much debate around the origin of sexual orientation: are we born with our sexual orientation (nature), or do we develop it (nurture)? If we develop it, when do we develop it? When did you ‘decide’, well, yes, you were definitely going to choose to be heterosexual? Was it a conscious choice? Many sexual scientists and experts believe it’s not a conscious choice, but an innate part of our identity. If you are feeling confused about your sexual orientation, and want to learn more about the spectrum of sexual orientation, for your own knowledge or to support someone you know, please visit the Resources section for more information.

How can I suggest something new to try to my partner?

Use positive reinforcement! It’s usually not a good idea to start this kind of conversation with "I’ve been a bit bored in bed with you lately, so I thought we’d try xyz." Avoid putting your partner down, or on the defensive. Whether you want to try something new to refresh a sex life gone a bit stale, or enhance an excellent sex life with a bit of experimentation, use the ‘good to great’ approach. Make sure your partner feels that you want to try something new as an added value to your sex life, so that they don’t feel upset or insecure about your relationship, intimacy and boudoir behaviour. Make your suggestions subtle, positive and thrilling - be excited by your suggestion. It’s hard to say no to an eager, flirty, smiling face, with twinkling eyes, full of sexy anticipation. Be aware, though, that your partner might not be eager to try your suggestions, so be willing to compromise, and be open to trying something new that they suggest, too. Be careful with surprising your partner with a new technique or sexual scenario out of the blue, also. They might not be as turned on by the idea as you, and they might question the sudden change of sexual pace. When you do try something new, then praise, praise, praise the experience (if you liked it). This will reinforce the positive aspect of trying something new, and negate any insecurity your partner might have about why you are suggesting something new. If you’re a bit shy about initiating something new in your sexual relationship, introduce it as a third person idea. Consider getting a book or video, and armed with a new outlet of novel knowledge, say "I’ve been reading that... is supposed to be great! How do you feel about trying it?" Or you can show the book chapter or video directly to your partner as a way of suggesting something to try. Better yet, wrap it as a gift, with highlighted sections of what you might like to try, with a cheeky or romantic card for them to delight in.

The best tip for a spiced up sex life?

Spicing up your sex life isn’t about buying leather chaps and whips. You don’t have to be sexually radical to revolutionise your sex life. Research shows one small change has a great effect, so the best tip for a spiced up sex life is to initiate one small change at a time. This might be trying a new toy, or a new position or location, or more pillow talk. Focus on all that works in your relationship, and all that you love to do together sexually, rather than focusing your energy on the problem, or what’s dissatisfying. Remember that good sex is about connection - not about a formulaic single-minded goal-oriented technique-only approach to orgasm. Try suggesting that once a month, you try something new, and alternate turns. With six ideas from you, and six from your partner, you'll develop 12 months of exciting anticipation around a rejuvenated sex life. You can truly spark your sex life from sedentary to spicy with small changes.


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Dr Gabrielle has written three books, Spicy Sex, Urge, and Sex in the Time of Generation X. Spicy Sex and Urge are available in good bookshops and online. Spicy Sex and Urge have been translated into various languages and continue to be in high demand around the world. (Sex in the Time of Generation X is now out of print).
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