Quick question: How much do you know about your sexual health? If you’re like most people, the subject of your sexual health pretty much starts and ends with STDs (and possibly pregnancy prevention, if you ever engage in cishetero sex). Realistically, though, your sexual health is deeply tied to the rest of your health, too – it’s unlikely that you’ll have a healthy sex life if you don’t live a healthy life overall. (Don’t just take my word for it, either – clinical sexologist Eric Garrison, MSc, has been a human sexuality expert since 1994, and he says that our sexual health is “linked intrinsically to our general health.”)
Of course, you don’t need to be a marathon runner, a yoga instructor, or a devout vegan to have a good sex life. (But it definitely doesn’t hurt.)
If you want to start making some small changes that will lead to a better sex life, try cutting back (or cutting out entirely) the following 9 habits. Then, let us know in the comments whether our tricks worked for you or not!
1. Your bedroom isn’t sexy.
I’m sure you’ve heard that your bedroom needs to help you feel calm, relaxed, and sleepy to fall asleep – and a similar idea is true for your sex life. If your bedroom is full of things that take you out of the mood, you’re not going to have a satisfying sexual experience. Your goal is to create a stimulating sexual environment – not one that’s full of distractions.
Clutter, pictures of people you’re not sexually attracted to (i.e. your mother, the leader of your nation, your little brother), and other distractions have a negative effect on your sexual desire and satisfaction. Additionally, doing work in your bedroom – even if not during sexy time – can trick your brain into thinking you don’t need to be sexy in there. But you totally should.
Quick, easy solution: Clean your damn room and make sure that you have a separate space for stressful activities. It seems like such a small change, but it really makes a difference. (And this is coming from someone who spent 6 months writing articles on my side of the bed, before I got my own office. Trust me. It makes a huge difference.)
2. You’re not in good shape.
Aerobic activity increases your stamina and your heart rate, both of which are essential for sexual satisfaction. Increased blood flow will make your heart healthier and increase the blood flow to your genitals, which increases your responsiveness to sexual activity. Not to mention, if you’re not satisfied with your appearance, you’re going to be self-conscious during your sexcapades, and that’s definitely not a sexy feeling. Aerobic activity helps you reach (or maintain) a healthy weight, and it makes you feel better about yourself.
Stretching activities, on the other hand, give you a leg-up (pun definitely intended) by helping increase your flexibility. If you’ve never had stretchy, flexible sex, you don’t even know what you’re missing out on. Plus, it’s a good idea to stretch before sex, anyway, because you can actually get seriously hurt if you try to get too kinky without warming your muscles up ahead of time. A few minutes of yoga and a good sensual massage can do wonders.
Quick, easy solution: Exercise more! Even a small increase every day, such as a ten-minute jog, a twenty-minute walk, or a five-minute stretch, will increase your sexual responsiveness and satisfaction. Just be sure you’re not pushing yourself too hard – it’s hard to get off when you’re exhausted.
3. You’re not getting enough sleep.
In the past few years, I’ve seen a huge surge in the amount of productivity tips out there. Maybe it’s because I never really cared before I started working from home, or maybe it’s because millennials are trying like hell to break out of the feelings of entitlement our parents placed on us. No matter what it is, one thing’s for sure: Most people aren’t getting enough sleep. In fact, the CDC says that sleep deprivation is a public health epidemic, with up to 70 million Americans suffering from chronic sleep problems. Yikes!
A lack of good sleep, no matter what the cause, can lead to a whole host of other health problems. It increases your stress and fatigue levels, and puts you at a higher risk for certain illnesses. It also decreases your libido and makes it harder to get in the mood in the first place – let alone stay in the mood long enough to have an orgasm.
Quick, easy solution: Make sure your bedroom is set up right for good sleep (and good sex), and make sure you’re leaving work at work. Having solid barriers between your personal and work lives helps to maintain work-life balance, and allows you to focus more of your attention on the task at hand – whether it’s your partner or your pillow.
4. You eat gassy foods.
It’s not fun to talk about gas and bloating when you’re trying to feel sexy, but in many ways, that’s exactly why you need to think about it then. There isn’t any scientific evidence that broccoli, beans, or other bloat-inducing foods are actually to blame for your lack of sex drive, but let’s think about it: How can you enjoy anything if you’re worried about gas… Especially if your partner has her hands or face right in the “blast zone?”
Okay, all jokes aside, being bloated isn’t fun or sexy, and it has the potential to be downright embarrassing – for both of you. Thankfully, you don’t have to let your diet dictate your sex life – just let your sex life dictate your diet. If that seems ridiculously simple, it’s because it is. Just avoid the unsexy foods (such as the ones that give you gas or bad breath) if you want to have sex. Simple.
Quick, easy solution: Relegate your “unsexy food days” to the days when you already won’t be having sex. Why risk the embarrassment when it’s literally that easy to prevent it?
5. You’re on medication.
Here’s one of the obvious ways that your sexual health ties into your general health: The medications you’re taking. Certain medications may cause a drop in libido, or other problems that make sexual activity a bit more difficult. In fact, an estimated 70% of inorgasmia (or the inability to have an orgasm) is caused by medications. However, current testing standards don’t require that drug manufacturers list the sexual side effects of their products, or even that they check for sexual side effects… So many companies don’t.
Antidepressants, especially those which contain SSIs (or selective serotonin inhibitors), are well-known for their connection with decreased sexual desire, but they’re not the only ones that can cause problems. For example, did you know that your vagina produces mucus, and any medicines that are designed to dry up the sniffles are also going to dry you up down there? If you’re noticing these types of reactions, you might need to change the medication you’re on.
Quick, easy solution: Talk to your doctor about any side effects you notice, even if you think they’re irrelevant. They’re probably not. There may be other treatment options that don’t destroy your sex life, and your doctor may be able to prescribe one of these other options. Just make sure that you’re not stopping your medication without speaking to your doctor first – withdrawal can affect your sex life, too.
6. You’re malnourished.
When we think of nutrition and nourishment, we usually think about whether we’re eating enough, too much, or just the right amount. But, believe it or not, what you eat is just as important, if not more important, than how frequently or how much you eat. Foods high in zinc and B-vitamins can increase your sexual wellness and make the overall experience more enjoyable (aside from their other health benefits).
Which foods should you eat more of? Healthy meats, such as salmon, chicken, or tuna, are all high in B-vitamins. These vitamins help with energy production and blood flow. Not only does this help your heart, your brain, and your sustainable energy levels, but that increased blood flow is going to help, no matter how you get it. (And besides – it’s totally an excuse to eat more sushi, and I for one am 100% okay with that.)
Quick, easy solution: If you’re not able to change the way you eat, for whatever reason, a multivitamin that contains B-vitamins may be a good place to start. Just keep in mind that your body can’t absorb nutrients from vitamins as easily as it can from your food, so whenever possible, it’s better to let them enter your body naturally.
7. You smoke cigarettes.
If you’re a cigarette smoker, you probably already know all about how bad it is for you – but you might not have made the connection with your sex life. Nicotine messes with your blood flow, which isn’t just bad for your heart – it’s bad for your sexual organs, too. Quitting smoking can be really hard, but it’s definitely worth it if you want to fix your health issues. Really… A lot of health issues come either directly or indirectly from cigarette smoking (plus that ashtray smell is really only sexy when you’re drunk at the bar).
Although it’ll take some time for your blood flow to regulate as well as it did before you started smoking, the sooner you quit, the better you’ll be. The same is true for the rest of the health problems caused by smoking, and within 20 years your body will be completely free of all the negative effects that the smoking caused. Of course, that’s a long time to wait for things to go back to normal, but at least there’s hope that you can go back to normal.
Quick, easy solution: If possible, quit smoking completely, as soon as you’re able to. If it’s not possible to quit “cold turkey”, try keeping track of how many cigarettes you have each day, and try to get that number a little lower every day, until you’re down to zero. This progressive-quit strategy works well for some people, while others are better off going all-in, so make sure you’re comfortable with the changes you’ve made.
8. You drink too much.
Unfortunately, chronic alcoholism is a real problem, and especially for those whose primary social gathering spots happen to be at a bar (such as most local LGBT communities). I’m not sure which is the cause and which is the effect, but chronic alcoholism can cause long-term damage to your sexual performance, even for years after you sober up. It’s sad and just a little scary, but the numerous other health concerns that go along with chronic alcoholism make it worth quitting, even if you don’t get your sex life back.
It’s not just long-term drinkers that have an issue, either. In fact, once your BAC goes over 0.1, your sexual responsiveness goes way down. It’s almost cruel, though, because a BAC of 0.03-0.1 can actually increase your libido and sexual desire, as well as lowering your sexual inhibitions enough to try something new. This level corresponds with 1-3 glasses of wine within an hour, or the equivalent amount of alcohol within that time period.
Quick, easy solution: Try to stop yourself when you’re feeling buzzed, but not smashed. If you find it hard to know (and respect) your limits, you may need to speak with your doctor about an alcohol treatment program that works for you. Just remember: This is about so much more than just your sex life.
9. You don’t touch yourself.
Masturbating isn’t just for teenagers, no matter what silly things you may have heard. Self-love is an integral part of your sexual health and satisfaction. In fact, it’s one of the most prescribed treatments for sexual disorders, as it lets the person discover themselves in a no-pressure environment, without the fear of judgment.
Self-pleasure helps you become more comfortable with the things that turn you on, which can make it easier to discuss them with your partner. It may even help with your sexual desire, according to research, because it’s easier to get yourself warmed up than it is to tell your partner how to do it. (Of course, the goal is that your partner will know, but you’ve got to be comfortable talking about it first.)
Quick, easy solution: Try to bring in mutual masturbation as a foreplay activity, or even the main event in your sex life occasionally. Giving your partner the chance to see exactly what gets your motor running will let her know exactly what she needs to do to make it happen again. (And besides, it’s really sexy to watch your girlfriend pleasure herself in front of you, trust me.)