Are you ready to get sexperimental? Tips from the experts on making your sex life a little less grey...
As a nation we're not exactly infamous for our adventurous and experimental attitudes to sex.
And, if you're one of the lucky ones who feels everything in that department is ticking over nicely, you might be tempted to stick with your tried and tested formula. But could you be missing out by not being a little bit more 'sexperimental'? Why settle for good, when it could be great?
Beth Wallace, founder of Bliss Festival, Ireland's first sex festival, has been championing sexual freedom, health and pleasure in mind, body and spirit, in her work for over 30 years. She's a strong proponent for not waiting until there's a problem with your sex life to try something new.
"It's definitely better to take action before there's something wrong," says Wallace, originally from Dublin and whose background is in applied psychology and cognitive behavioural therapy. "It's much more difficult to bring a relationship back from challenge or difficulty than it is to maintain a level of good and satisfying connection - which doesn't necessarily mean lots of sex swinging from the rafters, it just means open, honest, loving and respectful communication and intimacy at a depth where both people are comfortable, fulfilled and happy."
But whether your sex life is flying or flagging, it still can be a difficult subject to broach. "I think the awkwardness here might be because if I say to my partner that I'd like to try something new, then my partner might take it to mean that I'm unhappy or unsatisfied with what we have been doing, with how things have been happening. They might take it to mean I think they're a 'bad' lover, when that's not necessarily the case," explains Wallace.
"What's important here is that we don't take what our partner wants personally, it doesn't necessarily mean they're unhappy with us or the relationship, all it definitely means it that they want to try something new."
She adds: "I work with quite a lot of couples on a private basis either supporting them to come back from challenging times, or to enhance an already good relationship and sex life - things can always be better."
Wallace's recommendation is to start by going back to the basics. "Prioritise sensuality and sexuality - notice I didn't say 'sex'," she reveals. "Touch each other, deliberately and consciously every day, and remind the body that you are intimately connected to each other."
Her top tip is to commit to exploring something new once each month. "It doesn't need to cost money or lots of time," she says. "It can be as simple as experimenting with reading erotic literature to each other, writing some, having sex in front of a mirror, trying a new position, using a blindfold and feeding each other, kissing without using any hands - get as crazy, silly, erotic as you both (consensually) agree to. The point is to reignite or keep a sense of playfulness."
She adds: "I think it was Einstein who said that the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results, so if people want a more exciting sex life or want something to change, then they need to put the work into that. Talk to your partner about what you want and make it happen, it's not going to happen on its own."
Interestingly, studies show that couples who expect to have to work at their sex life, end up feeling more sexually content. Researchers at the University of Toronto found that sexual satisfaction in long-term relationships was greatest when those involved believed in 'sexual growth', that great sex only came with hard work and effort. But it's important to communicate, and work together at broadening your sexual horizons.
A less intimidating way that Wallace urges couples to suggest new things is to do a little internet searching together, or buy a sex game online, where sex dice or cards determine what seduction move your partner makes on which part of your body.
"Toys are a great and often very inexpensive way to play, to experiment and to have fun," grins Wallace.
Sex and relationship expert Tracey Cox has her own line of pleasure products with lovehoney.eu, one of Ireland's biggest online sex toy retailers. She says mixing it up in the bedroom is essential to staving off sexual boredom down the line. "It's vital that couples break out of a normal sexual routine and try things to keep things exciting, even if you have a good sex life," she reveals. "This is the key to maintaining great sex in a long-term relationship."
This means tapping back into the primitive, wild, edgy sensation of lust that you'll have felt in the early days of the relationship. Interestingly Cox reckons this doesn't necessarily mean upping the ante in the bedroom to get the heart beating faster.
"Any type of adrenalin-boosting drives up the dopamine level in your brain, making you feel lustier and more in love," she explains. "Do anything that slightly freaks you out - sky dive, book a day driving on a race track, kick-box, jump on a roller coaster - anything that shakes you both up a bit."
She's also a proponent for prioritising sex, recommending 10-minute quickies a few times a week, one longer session once a fortnight, and a weekend away every six weeks. And of course she's a big fan of toys to help you out of a sex rut.
"Eighty per cent of my customers are couples in happy settled relationships who want to inject a bit of extra excitement into their sex lives," she says. Her top recommendations? Tracey Cox Edge Vibrating Stamina Ring, worn around the penis during intercourse and voted one of the world's most popular couple's toys; Desire Vibrator by Lovehoney (voted best sex toy by Good Housekeeping magazine), and Lovehoney Desire Sex and Chocolate Gift Box. "Sex toys are so much more fun when you use them together," she asserts.
But it's worth remembering that experimentation comes with a word of warning. In particular, sex and relationships advisor Louise Van der Velde urges caution against inviting another person into your sexual liaisons. "Beware of threesomes," she warns. "Great in a fantasy world and sometimes best left there."
Cox agrees that sex with someone outside the relationship comes fraught with emotional issues. "Granting your partner permission to have sex with someone else isn't like waving them off to do something else you'd rather not - like go for an Indian, an adventure holiday or golf weekend," she says. "Sex is intimate. It's flesh on flesh. First up there's a chance of them catching something because not all STDs are avoided by using condoms and, if they see this person more than once, there's something else you can't control - feelings. It's unlikely to be the emotionless, purely physical act you're imagining. It won't be just 'scratching an itch', they're likely to be highly excited - and humans like excitement, it's addictive."
Cox also has an educational (non-graphic) YouTube video worth a watch for anyone considering expanding their sexual repertoire to include anything bottom related - something she says can require significantly more time and effort than many assume.
Wallace has a mantra for how best to navigate straying into new erotic territory. "Within the BDSM (bondage, domination/discipline, sadism/submission, masochism) world, for example, the phrase often used in relation to sexual experimentation is 'safe, sane and consensual'." She explains: "'Safe' is what's physically safe, not doing anything that puts the physical body, of anyone involved, in danger. 'Sane' means not putting the emotional self in danger - so, for example, if someone wants to try swinging but has a pattern of becoming jealous easily, then swinging probably isn't the best place to start experimenting. 'Consensual' is down to the people involved." She recommends having a safe word or phrase, that can be used by either party to slow down or stop the activity should they want to.
It's also important to remember that trying something new and expanding your sexual horizons isn't something you need a partner for. And even if you are in a relationship, you shouldn't be reliant on that person to satisfy you.
Wallace advocates taking responsibility for our own pleasure. "This taking of responsibility might involve developing a self-pleasure practice," says Wallace, who teaches an online women's self-pleasure course. "No, there's no self-pleasuring while online," she laughs. "It's an instruction course with 'homework' completed in privacy and it's really well received.
"I'd encourage women to check it out on my website, as many women in the past have found it really beneficial and helpful - not only in their relationships with themselves, and their self-esteem, but also in their relationships with lovers and partners."
How to make sure your sex is always sensational
Without realising it, it can be easy to fall into lazy sex habits. "People like to think they are doing it okay in the area of love and sex, if they are in a relationship they don't like to admit they need help," says sex and relationships advisor Louise Van Der Velde, who'll be visiting Dublin with her Make Relationships Great Again live tour on February 25 (louisevandervelde.com). "Resting on your sexual laurels usually leads to a quick wham bam here and there - often late at night - this might give a momentary release but often proves unfulfilling emotionally." Van Der Velde recommends a few tweaks to get more out of your sexual routine:
● Try having sex earlier in the day, instead of at night when energy is low
● Shake your body vigorously pre-sex, activate your energy system and be present in your body
● Stop rushing to get over the finish line, teasing is great to increase the power of orgasm when it finally comes
● Pay attention to stimulating all the senses. "Use a blindfold and start with sense of smell, using essential oils, play music for the sense of hearing," she explains. "For taste, feed them strawberries dipped in melted chocolate, even feed them off a body part. For touch, use feathers or soft silk and a teasing massage, and finally the gift of vision by removing the blindfold. The whole process may take around 30 minutes but it's well worth that little bit of prep and planning. Sex can happen after that and your partner's senses will be awakened and they will be fully there."
WHY NOT TRY…
4 tips to make you go phwoar
1 …Making a sex noticeboard
Buy a large pinboard, blank card and pins and make a list of your 'sex favourites' (place, time of day, kissing, where you like being kissed, fave position for giving and receiving oral sex, things I'd like to try but haven't etc). Not only will it turn you both on doing it, it'll also offer a good insight into your secret sexual psyches.
2 …Sex outdoors
Tracey Cox says: "It's perfectly legal to have sex outdoors as long as no one sees you and it's not in a public place, such as a park or toilets. Taking sex outside turns tired, routine sex acts into ultra-charged erotic thrills." For a half-way option try sex in a tent with just a thin sheet of canvas between you and the outside world.
3 …Male sex toys
LoveHoney's Edge range was developed by Tracey after sales of male products increased by 500pc. "Men can feel intimidated by the idea of introducing sex toys into a relationships," warns Tracey. "They shouldn't, they are to enhance what you are already enjoying together."
Soft bondage activities can be a great way of adding excitement to a relationship - tying each other up, gentle spanking, blindfolds and forms of submission. The key to introducing them into a relationship is having both partners onside. Why not go see Fifty Shades Darker together and suggest some of the moves afterwards? You'll quickly be able to gauge if your partner's willing.
WHY NOT TRY…
Cork-based tantra instructor Vesco Bondov works with female clients to achieve full-body orgasm, and also runs couples sessions and classes for those seeking higher realms of sexual ecstasy. "Sometimes the couple just want to loosen the boundaries of the relationship a little and experience other people's energy in the safe situation of 'just a massage'," he explains. "Other times it may be more specific in asking for emotional de-armouring or yoni [intimate] massage." He lists the main benefits of tantric massage as: release of toxic emotions, learning and practising clear, loving respectful communication, addressing body image issues, and unblocking emotional and energetic pathways.
Learning about tantra, and the thought process behind different 'sexuality schools', can bring increased pleasure. One area Bondov says he finds couples are particularly interested in is his information on the differences in arousal cycle between men and women.
"Basically women must be aroused in a top-down fashion - chest area, neck, lips, breasts (but not nipples) and move downwards," he explains. "Men are aroused in the opposite direction - first genitals, then moving up towards the heart. They both need to be physically aroused, emotionally activated and energetically active for the really, really good sex to happen." To find out more, or book a class, visit tantraireland.com