You’d have to take quite a few supplements to get even half the health benefits of one specific type of sweat session: sex. “Sexual health is general health,” says Michael Krychman, MD, a gynecologist at the Southern California Center for Sexual Health. “It has far-reaching implications, from improved sleep to improved cardiovascular function to a decrease in stress.”
Here’s how it works: Sex releases dopamine in the brain, which increases your ambition; oxytocin, which makes you more loving; testosterone, which improves your performance at work; and endorphins, which reduce your stress level. Even your favorite $45 boutique fitness class can’t compete with that power list of (totally free) benefits.
These health gains aren’t limited to sex within a committed relationship—your vibrator will do nicely, in fact—but sex does have specific benefits for couples, too. According to sex therapist Laura Berman, PhD, time spent between the sheets is a critical component of connection.
With this in mind, it might make sense to add “more sex” to your list of health resolutions for the new year. Below, experts weigh in with tips on how to improve every element of your sex life for better quality and quantity that will, ultimately, lead to improved health and happiness in 2018.
Keep reading for expert tips on how to live your best (sex) life in the new year.
If you can imagine how much more difficult it is to run a 10k after a prolonged period of inactivity, you can imagine what you’re asking of your body when you attempt to activate it, sexually, in a 0-to-60 way. Sex expert and Well+Good Council member Lila Darville invites you to not only engage in foreplay before sex but to rethink foreplay’s definition altogether.
Darville advises expanding the concept to include sexting, unexpected physical contact (e.g. hugging your partner from behind), and finding small ways to invoke pleasure in your own body throughout the day. “Foreplay is the arousal of sexual energy, and it doesn’t have to be relegated to the moments before sex play with your partner,” she says. “It can start as soon as you wake up in the morning and last all day long, whether between two people or on your own.” In other words, she suggests keeping the fire stoked in yourself and in your partner so that it never goes out completely. This way, it’ll be easier to ignite back into a full flame with a moment’s notice.
Coupled millennials are having nine times less sex with their partners than the previous generation. Nine. Times. This can’t be good. While experts seem to agree that there is no “magic frequency” when it comes to how often a couple should get down to business, a 2004 study from researchers at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania suggests that having sex once or twice per week leads to a stronger immune system. This is information worth bearing in mind as cold and flu season hits full tilt—sex is a lot more fun than a shot.
Dr. Berman recommends that couples prioritize sex at least once a week. “More than a month without sex can become a slippery slope for couples, especially if you’re trying to rebuild a connection,” she says. Setting sex dates may sound, well, unsexy, but they don’t have to be. Refer to the first slide to spice things up with your partner in a more organic manner.
Lackluster feelings about sex can be difficult to discuss because shame and blame both tend to get involved. Still, research shows that open communication about sex is linked to a reduced likelihood of low libido. So, if you’re experiencing a diminished sex drive and don’t know why, engaging your partner in a conversation around sex can help you get you back in the game.
Period sex is divisive—some people love it while others are decidedly less enthusiastic. According to sex educator Sarah D’Andrea, however, there are compelling reasons to be sexually active while you menstruate.
For starters, an orgasm releases pleasure hormones that can help to ease cramps, headaches, insomnia, and mood swings. These can, of course, be accomplished without a partner for those who still feel squeamish or (real talk) too bloated to strip for sex.
Orgasms can also result in shorter periods, though evidence of this is anecdotal rather than clinical. Finally, menstrual blood acts as a lubricant and can therefore improve sexual pleasure for both partners (without relying on chemical-laded lubes).
If you feel like all of your friends are having “better” sex than you, it’s important to keep in mind that every single woman experiences sex differently. “We’re each our own sexual snowflake,” says Darville. Many factors play into this experience, and a good proportion of them are in the mind. “What turns a woman on might depend on how safe she feels with a partner, how she feels about them, and—stay with me—how she feels about herself when she’s with them,” Darville says.
As just about any (every?) woman knows, body image plays a role in the enjoyment of sex as well. This isn’t, Darville says, limited to her perception of her own abs, bootie, or breasts, either. “Consider that one woman might live to receive oral sex but another can barely stand the thought of it,” she says. “The woman who’s turned off by oral sex might be less comfortable with her vagina and the way it looks or smells.” Trauma can also affect the experience of pleasure—some women are triggered by the types of physical touch that stoke excitement in others.
6. Get limber
“Yoga [is] amazing for enhancing sex life,” says yoga teacher Jordan Younger, AKA The Balanced Blonde. The practice improves body confidence while also working muscles that specifically benefit sex. Bridge pose, for example, strengthens muscles in the pelvic region, while cat/cow stretches them. Meanwhile, happy baby and Prasarita (wide-leg forward fold) are both hip openers that increase blood flow to the pelvic region to supercharge your orgasms.
The gut is sort of the modern day hero of health—all things begin and end with it, including your sex life. After all, few things inhibit a good romp quite like bloat or, worse, major digestive issues. Sakara Life founders Whitney Tingle and Danielle DuBois have made it their mission to help women feel sexier through diet, and have, through their work, accumulated some great tips for what to eat and what not to eat at various stages of a relationship.
In the beginning, Tingle and DuBois advise an uptick in fiber. “It’s not the sexiest thing to talk about, but having regular bowel movements will help with bloat and feelings of heaviness,” Tingle says. The duo also suggests avoiding experimental fare whenever possible and adding magnesium-rich foods like spinach, almonds, or avocados to your meals to help with nerves.
Once a solid relationship has been formed, Tingle and DuBois suggest eating greens for an unexpected reason: “The heart chakra is symbolized by the color green,” Tingle says. “Eating your greens is a great way to send energy to it.”
If you’re in it for the long haul, the two Sakara Life founders suggest focusing on foods that will help you feel sexy because everyday life can sometimes interfere with sex. “Certain nutrients are key to the production of sex hormones,” DuBoise says. “Go for zinc-rich foods like beans, legumes, nuts, oats, and chia seeds.” They also recommend healthy fats, spicy foods, and (if they insist!) dark chocolate to keep things lit in the bedroom.
So, with this last piece of advice in mind, here’s the two-second takeaway from everything you just read above: Follow your weekly yoga session with a shared shower during which you talk about your sex life. After, have the kind of sex or orgasm that specifically turns you on (period or not) and then eat chocolate and boom! Sexiest. Year. Ever.
Now that you’ve added all of the above to your list of resolutions, it’s time to think about the happiness-busting behaviors you want to banish in the new year. (Anti-resolutions, of sorts.) Then, check out this list of personality traits that will help you live to 100—it’s high time you got started on cultivating them, too.