The sexual prescription? First, go back to first, second, and third base—touching for physical pleasure, not necessarily orgasm or intercourse. And get past old-fashioned man/woman sex roles that stand in the way of an emotionally close and erotic sex life. "Men are often socialized to value performance more than intimacy or pleasuring," says Dr. McCarthy. "Women are taught to value relating and to see eroticism as the realm of wild, crazy women—not wives.
"Not all pleasurable touching can or should lead to intercourse," he notes. "When a couple becomes comfortable touching inside and outside the bedroom, they're building a closer, more solid sensual and sexual bond that will make them feel happier, closer, and even sexier now—and help protect against sexual problems in the future."
Emphasize pleasure, not just the big O. "Exploration and touch without the expectation of intercourse or orgasm helps couples get to know each other's bodies and needs—you learn what kinds of touch are pleasurable as a giver and as a recipient," Dr. McCarthy says. Pleasure and affection keep you close even when you don't want sex.
Nurture emotional intimacy too. Feeling understood, supported, and valued will make you both feel closer and therefore more receptive to physical closeness.
Plan ahead. Sex-drive discrepancy? Busy schedule? Put s-e-x on the calendar. It's a fact of life: Most of us married someone who wants sex more often or less often than we do. If you wait to feel turned on before you have sex, you'll miss out on lots of great moments together. Let touching turn you on rather than expecting to feel aroused first. This may seem totally unnecessary during the hot-and-heavy exchanges of the Passion stage, but experts say it's the best way to ensure you'll still be enjoying great sex when your life is complicated by kids, a house, stress, reduced sex drive, and times of conflict.
Low sex drive? Consider saying yes anyway. "People freak out when I say this," Dr. Love confides. "But if you make time for love and romance and try to say yes when your partner wants to make love—provided you're not dealing with a compulsive or sex-addicted spouse—you will have a better sex life. Let your partner's drive get you both into bed, or wherever you'll make love, so that you can be touched and turned on. Why get into the habit of not doing it?"
Think of life as foreplay. "I found out early on that relational issues that seem to have nothing to do with the act of sex itself make a huge difference to my wife and to her interest in intimacy," Greg Hunt says. "I learned to pay attention to things I wasn't naturally good at. If I'm ignoring her and also not paying attention to things like chores around the house, she's not going to feel cozy and intimate at bedtime."
Don't use sex as a bargaining chip. Angry? Say something —don't grunt or "hmph" and roll over. Withholding lovemaking when you're upset turns this deep, vulnerable connection into a nuclear weapon for power struggles. Adding layers of resentment to your feelings about physical intimacy is a surefire way to make sure neither of you will be in the mood.
Have realistic expectations. And in particular, dial back on multi-orgasmic, transcendental expectations. Even for the most happily married couples, more than 10 percent of sexual encounters aren't even pleasurable for one or both spouses, Dr. McCarthy says. An off night—maybe the sex is hurried, you're tired or distracted, or simply uncomfortable—doesn't mean you've got a big problem. It's life. Don't expect perfect sex every time—or wait for the perfect moment to pounce on your mate. Just connect!