Surprise! Even celebrities don't have the kind of hot movie sex that seems to set our standard for passion these days. In real life, "there is no normal barometer for sexual activity," says Jan Shifren, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School in Boston. "It's only when you feel distressed about it that you have a problem." If your sex life is troubling you, the following solutions could help.
1. Get your Z's.
Snoring away and having passionate sex may seem like exact opposites, but experts insist that getting enough sleep is the number-one aphrodisiac. "It's important to feel rested, even if that means changing your schedule to include intimacy and fun at other times of the day," says Suki Hanfling, certified sex therapist and founder and director of the Institute for Sexuality and Intimacy in Belmont, Massachusetts.
2. Check your medicine cabinet.
Common antidepressants like Prozac and Paxil may lift your mood, but they can kill your sex drive. Certain prescription painkillers, anti-anxiety medications, and even laxatives can also zap your libido. Someday, that will change, says Sandra Leiblum, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and obstetrics and gynecology and director of the Center for Sexual and Relationship Health at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey. Leiblum predicts that in the next decade, we will have "clean drugs" that don't interfere with one's sex drive. Until then, take heart: Even if your doctor recommends that you continue your current medication, you can still enjoy sex. You'll just need more time and stimulation to become aroused and achieve orgasm, Hanfling says.
A good workout pumps up dopamine and, through a domino effect, may boost levels of testosterone, a hormone that can enhance libido, says Helen Fisher, Ph.D., an anthropologist at Rutgers University and author of the book Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love. Hitting the gym can also make you feel sexier and more confident in bed, adds Sallie Foley, a senior clinical social worker in the Sexual Health Counseling Services at the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor, as well as co-author of the book Sex Matters for Women: A Complete Guide to Taking Care of Your Sexual Self.
4. Go shopping.
Spend a little "mad" money on yourself, recommends Leiblum, who is also the author of Getting the Sex You Want: A Woman's Guide to Becoming Pleased, Proud, and Passionate in Bed. "Take the time to discover what turns you on, from silky-smooth satin pajamas to a Victorian bustier," she says. If you're into it, women-friendly erotica can help get you in the mood. Vibrators are a solid choice, too, Leiblum says, because they allow you to explore your sexuality in private. They also help maintain the elasticity of the vaginal walls, which becomes important as women age.
5. See your doctor.
She can help determine the origin of your problem. If you're experiencing pain during intercourse, for instance, this could indicate a medical condition or a drop in estrogen levels, which naturally decline with aging, Shifren says. Your doctor may also recommend a qualified relationship counselor or sex therapist for you to talk to. (Or you can visit the Web site of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists to find a therapist yourself).
6. Take your time.
You've heard it before, but it's worth saying again: Be patient with your partner and yourself as you work to make things better. "Sex is like cooking," Hanfling says. "The end result can be delicious, but it's important to savor the steps along the way."