Everything you ever wanted to know about sex ...
Oonagh Montague raids the book shelves to bring you the ultimate lovers' guide for Valentine's Day
Most of us assume that we are good at sex. We are proud of having caused more than a few gasps of delight in the past.
But, have we brushed up since then? The average long-term relationship needs help to retain the piquancy of previous years. So, where to start?
Right here. This a snapshot of just a few of the most interesting sex manuals available today -- each one filled with tips on how to revitalise your sex life.
Any sex guide with photos of beautiful cavorting people was binned. If you're reading a sex manual you want genuine tips, guidance and encouragement -- not photos of stunning young things lying around attempting to look frustrated.
But for now, let's take a step back.
"Where one drop of blood drains a castle of life, so one kiss can bring it alive again." Sleeping Beauty.
Where best to start rejuvenating your love life than with that most romantic and wonderful of first encounters -- the kiss?
However, any attempt to find genuine information on revamping your jaded kissing technique yielded only teenage websites on Frenching and an authoritative manual on scuba diving.
I did find 'The Art of Kissing' by William Cane, but this has little to offer in the way of tips for the average middle-aged, long-term couple.
I was about to give up, and then I read this: "It was a fairly standard date -- that is, until he gave me a good-night kiss that make my knees buckle and my stomach flip... sparks were sent flying all over my body, and an electrical current seemed to be running through my veins.
"Before long, we were inside my hotel room and ... " Well, I'll leave it at that.
This was one hell of a kiss. This was a kiss a person could learn something from.
This was a kiss that came from a book entitled 'Blow Him Away', which should give you a fair idea of how transferable the skills of a good kisser can be.
Utilising her training as a speech therapist, author Marcy Michaels has developed a manual that offers the reader practical methods to enhance their ability to give their partner pleasure.
This no-nonsense book outlines easy-to-follow, step-by-step tongue and lip exercises.
For example, Marcy's first tip is to check where your tongue is habitually placed within your mouth. It seems most of us have it resting in the wrong spot. The tip of your tongue should be resting on the hard palate just where the slope occurs, but not touching the top teeth.
Marcy also maintains tongues needs exercise. And by exercise, she does not mean eating, drinking and blathering.
In fact, by following her exercise schedule, Marcy says you will not only learn to be a consummate lover but, in the process, you may eradicate other unpleasant bedtime issues such as snoring or tooth grinding.
Not only that, but your voice will gain resonance -- become "richer and rounder than you've probably ever heard it".
Marcy's promise is that by the time you have completed the exercises in the book, you will be able to tell at one glance if a prospective partner is up to scratch.
A "quick tongue reading, an assessment of face, mouth and voice will tell you all that you need to know about a potential oral sex partner".
If it happens that this partner is your long-term other half and your educated reading of them leads to 'average', then with this manual in hand you have the power to change that.
And should you need further evidence that this book will revamp your skills, then let me tell you that the spine-tingling, knee-trembling kiss was delivered by a speech therapist.
'She Comes First' is another practical, easy-to-read guide to enhancing your love life, this time focusing entirely on the woman.
"It's time to close the sex gap and create a level playing field in the exchange of pleasure," says Ian Kerner.
Ian believes that one of the main reasons that modern sex has become so focused on the male orgasm as the end goal is down to the lack of education of the younger male generation when it comes to exploring their own bodies.
"How boys are taught, or rather not taught, to do it quickly, furtively, shrouded in taboo in secrecy. It doesn't take long for a young man to programme himself to seek his pleasure quickly, and, as we all know, bad habits are difficult to break."
Kerner stresses the need for men to stop viewing oral sex as foreplay. It is "a complete process that takes the woman through the gamut of sexual response".
Invoking American studies, he refers to oral sex as "coreplay" and asks: "Is 20 minutes of focused attention, applied appropriately, really too much to ask, especially if it can save your sex life?"
This illustrated manual an-swers every possible question on how to enhance pleasure for a woman. It really should be delivered door to door with the census forms.
'A Tired Woman's Guide to Passionate Sex' is written by sex therapist Dr Laurie Mintz for all women and their partners "who have ever been too tired for sex, and who struggle with guilt, shame and resentment, and the loss of sexual desire".
Using the experiences of her clients in this manual, Dr Mintz recognises and tackles the difficulties of keeping things spicy in a long-term monogamous relationship, especially one to include children.
In a recent survey she cites, "26pc of mothers were too exhausted for sex". Only 26pc?
As far as Dr Mintz is concerned, "Sex is the glue that holds marriage together".
She believes that healthy sex creates intimacy, trust, shared memories and shared secrets, stronger commitment, a deeper appreciation for one another, and an opportunity for playfulness.
However, some of the best reasons to bolster your sex life are that sex in itself creates an opportunity to cuddle, and the more sex you have, the more sex you'll want.
"Sex itself is the best medicine for your diminished desire!"
Practical advice offered includes to take a mental five-minute "sex break" once daily.
"Relive a previous sexual encounter or break out a fantasy, even one about someone you have just met."
For those of us reluctant to indulge in fantasising, Dr Mintz issues a word of reassurance. "There is no need to censor or judge your images, even if they aren't of your husband or seem bizarre or unusual...
"In allowing your mind total freedom, you can recall any exciting past sexual encounter or create sexually stimulating fantasy images. You can then take the energy derived and use it in bed with your husband. Enjoy your thoughts without guilt!"
Another practical tip for those who are no longer in the mood is to find a mantra you repeat every day, one designed to replace the negative thoughts.
Dr Mintz gives examples of negative thoughts -- such as "I'm too tired for sex"; "I have no interest in sex"; "I would much rather read or watch television than have sex" -- and tells you replace them with something like: "I love sex"; "sex revitalises me"; "sex is my end-of- the-day treat".
The book encourages you to develop a mantra to suit you, something that reflects how you would like to feel.
One of the biggest impediments to spicing up your sex life is time. Dr Mintz acknowledges that finding time to spend on yourself and each other is more than difficult.
One tip she gives is to send yourselves to bed early. One of Dr Mintz's clients "realised she was spending about 30 minutes each night tired and engaged in household chores that weren't really necessary. Her husband was doing the same thing.
"So, now, at 10pm each night, she and her husband both call it quits and get in bed together."
Sometimes they read or chatted or cuddled, and sometimes they had sex. Whatever they did, they were spending better time together.
For the men (and, by extension, their partners) there is 'Male Multiple Orgasm' by Somraj Pokras.
Somraj is a retired corporate trainer turned sex researcher who looks to strengthen sexual muscles and develop sexual skills using a combination of modern techniques and Tantra -- also called sacred sexuality.
This manual teaches the reader "how to become an Orgasm Master, about how to enjoy lots more sexual pleasure for an extended period of time".
Of course, you may not be in the mood at all.
"The grind of daily life may have drained the 'sexy mama' right out of you, but Kristen Chase is there to tell you how to find it, reclaim it, and thoroughly enjoy it."
Kristen Chase's 'The Mominatrix's Guide to Sex' is designed to entice and motivate tired mothers back to their inner vamp.
With chapters on sex and pregnancy, sex post-birth and how to stay sexy when you're up to your oxters in laundry and drool, this manual is both a practical and funny read for exhausted mothers.
The good news is that once the search for the best sex manual begins, one could keep reading for years.
Once you have picked up and cast aside the gimmicky, the silly and the ridiculous, there are a myriad of well-researched and sympathetically written guides to improving your long-term sex life.
Some manuals have tastefully erotic visuals, some have excellent tips, but one thing is for sure -- there is no longer any excuse not to brush up on technique.
This Valentine's Day, forget the over-priced chocolates and flowers -- read up on how to really please your other half and give them a gift they'll really appreciate!