Q: "When we've been fighting, I don't feel like having sex, but he's as hot to trot whether we've just had a nice dinner out in a restaurant or spent all evening arguing about our kitchen renovation."
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A: Some stereotypes about men and women are true, and this is one of them. "Men seek sex as a way to feel close, but women need to feel close in order to have sex," Dr. Orbuch says. After an argument, women often get trapped in their heads, replaying the details of the disagreement and dwelling on the negative emotions. In fact, according to a recent study in the Journal Of Family Psychology, women actually derive relationship satisfaction if their partners know they're upset, because women take it as a sign that their husbands are trying to empathize with them and really do want to be attentive (even though it may be just perceived effort). Contrast that with men, who see sex as completely separate from whatever else is going on in the marriage, and it's clear to see how friction emerges — and remains.
So how do you find common ground? First, put a lid on the verbal zingers and change your script. "Research shows that healthy relationships have five positive interactions for every negative one," Syrtash says. With that ratio in mind, she recommends committing to 10 minutes a day of quality communication to counteract the bedroom buzzkill of daily disputes and distractions. Each day, incorporate as little as 5 to 10 minutes during which certain topics, such as in-laws, children, and housework, are off the table. This may feel a little forced at first, but stick with it and you'll find that you'll fill up your bank of affection — which will not only help you navigate through disagreements but also enhance your emotional and physical intimacy.
Q: "Since I've gained weight, I feel self-conscious. Plus, I haven't been working out as much as I should. Short of a makeover, how can I recapture my confidence in bed?"
A: It's not how you look that matters. It's how you feel about how you look. "Studies have shown that body image has nothing to do with actual appearance," Dr. Herbenick says. "No matter how 'lumpy' you're feeling, it's the ability to manage your anxieties about your body that makes the difference."
Think outside the Sofia Vergara box. Plenty about your body is sexy: It's not always a wasp-thin waistline or Barbie-doll breasts. "Take a good look at your sculpted shoulders or graceful neck," Syrtash says. According to studies conducted at the UCLA School of Medicine, redirecting your thoughts toward something more positive — a process called neuroplasticity — actually rewires the neural connections in your brain that relay messages. That sort of self-talk can help reinforce sexual thoughts, and then it's a matter of nature taking its course.
Q: After 13 years of marriage, I still very much love my husband. But I don't feel as much desire as I'd like to.
A: Low libido is both a common and complex issue," says Prevention advisor Tieraona Low Dog, MD, of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and the author of Life Is Your Best Medicine. "Hormones can wreak havoc in lots of ways. Birth control pills are known for decreasing testosterone and therefore diminishing sex drive at any age — even well into your 40s — as do low thyroid function and the hormone swings that are hallmarks of perimenopause and full-blown menopause." If these aren't issues for you, then it's probably those old standby passion derailers when there's no particular problem: stress and worry.
But there are terrific natural aphrodisiacs that can help. Dr. Low Dog recommends three in particular, starting with shatavari, derived from wild asparagus. "Its Sanskrit name means 'she who possesses 100 husbands,' and while its primary use is for hot flashes, it also aids libido and fertility," Dr. Low Dog says. (These sexy meals for two also fit the bill.) Another example is maca, considered a passion plant in its native Peru. "Damiana is also worth trying, either as a capsule or liqueur," she says. "Drink 1 ounce after dinner and give your husband a shot."
You'll be saying yes in no time.