4 tips for improving your sexual wellness
Written by Dr. Justin Lehmiller
When you hear the term “sexual wellness,” what comes to mind? In my experience, people have a tendency to think about this largely in terms of genital health and functioning, such as taking steps to prevent or manage sexually transmitted infections, using contraception and dealing with sexual difficulties or performance issues.
While all of that is certainly an important part of sexual wellness, it’s not the whole story. Sexual wellness is biopsychosocial in nature, meaning it has biological, psychological and social elements to it. Thus, sexual wellness isn’t just about what you physically do to take care of your genitals, it’s also about having a healthy outlook on sex, being comfortable with your own sexuality, feeling empowered to ask for what you want and having healthy and respectful sexual interactions with partners.
In this post, I’ll be exploring what you need to know about sexual wellness and practical tips on how to maintain it.
Pay attention to your lifestyle
Sexual health is something that is often seen as separate from physical health, but the two are deeply interconnected. If your overall health isn’t very good, your sexual health is likely to suffer. And if your sexual health isn’t very good, it can harm your overall health.
Thus, if you want to improve your sexual health, part of the answer involves looking at steps you can take to improve your lifestyle outside of the bedroom. Many sexual problems are rooted in diet, physical activity levels, sleep patterns, substance and medication use, and work-life balance. All of these factors can negatively influence desire, arousal, and other aspects of sex.
Research has shown that lifestyle changes alone can both prevent and resolve a number of sexual problems. For instance, among people with erectile dysfunction, studies show that just a couple of hours per week of exercise can substantially improve their sexual performance without the need for therapy or medication.
Bottom line: having a healthy body is crucial for a healthy sex life.
Build up your sexual self-esteem
If you don’t love yourself, it can be very difficult to enjoy sex. For example, if you have poor body image, are uncomfortable with your genital appearance, feel ashamed of your sexuality or your sexual fantasies and/or can’t forgive yourself for something that happened in your sexual past, the prospect of sex is likely to be an anxiety-inducing experience. It may be hard to feel desire or become aroused, and when you do have sex, you may find that you become easily distracted, making it harder to maintain arousal and reach orgasm.
Building up your sexual self-esteem and self-confidence is much easier said than done, of course, but it's essential to sexual wellness.
The path to achieving this will look different for different people. For some, it might involve spending more time naked, avoiding social comparisons, or practicing positive self-talk. For others, the answer might be psychotherapy, lifestyle change or changing your beliefs about what’s “normal.”
To be sure, this can be hard work, but it’s worth the effort and your sex life stands to benefit.
Take responsibility for your own sexual pleasure
You deserve pleasurable sexual experiences. But to experience pleasure, you have to take matters into your own hands, so to speak.
First: you have to know what it is that brings you pleasure. This is where masturbation can help you to enhance your sex life because it provides a natural opportunity to explore your body and experiment with different techniques and sensations. What really gets you going?
Second: you have to make what brings you pleasure known to your partner. Your partner isn’t a mind reader, and even if they are invested in your pleasure, they might not explicitly ask or they might make incorrect assumptions based on previous experiences. Find ways to communicate your wants and needs that feel comfortable to you.
You might have a conversation about pleasure, or turn it into a sexy game where you share your fantasies and desires. Maybe you’ll moan and groan more during sex when your partner does what you really like to provide positive reinforcement. Maybe you’ll masturbate in front of each other to show your partner some new techniques.
Any way you look at it, part of sexual wellness is acknowledging your right to pleasure and taking responsibility for ensuring that you get the pleasure you deserve by finding a way to communicate your desires.
Finally, another key part of maintaining sexual wellness is embracing change. Over the course of our lives, what we’re physically capable of, what feels comfortable and good during sex, what turns us on, and what we want out of sex can change in very significant ways. And, as you’re changing, so is your partner.
What this means is that you can’t just follow the same sexual script in a relationship for your entire life; at some point, it’s going to stop working. And if you don’t flip the script, sex is likely to become unsatisfying rather quickly, which can lead to a steep drop-off in desire and activity.
Be open to adapting your definition of sex and your idea of what it means to have good sex. These things aren’t written in stone.
This is why I often like to say that a healthy sex life isn’t about establishing sexual compatibility with a partner, rather, it’s about maintaining compatibility. We need to have ongoing communication with our partners about how our bodies, wants and needs are changing so that we can make the most of sex no matter where we are in our lives.