Salt ’N’ Pepa were on to something when they sang their 1991 song, Let’s talk about sex.

Let’s talk about sex, baby
Let’s talk about you and me
Let’s talk about all the good things
And the bad things that may be
Let’s talk about sex

The song was edgy for the time, but the lyrics (full lyrics) really are so right. Like the chorus listed above, the whole song is encouraging thought and dialogue between people about their sex lives. Though the culture overall has become highly sexualized, couples still seem to struggle with talking openly about sex, and a lot goes unspoken. So, in the interest of “spicing” up your sex life, let’s talk about sex.

Now, if you’re reading this article hoping for tantalizing fantasy or what looks like a quick fix, you’ll want to pick up the latest Cosmopolitan magazine. I recently had someone write to me asking how to be noticed by their partner who would lay in bed, fixated on video games. There’s no shortage of tips and advice that may briefly stoke sexual energy in a relationship.  But the focus tends to be on the surface aspects, missing the deeper dynamics that usually lead to a more deeply satisfying and lasting sexual relationship.

A large percentage of a great sex life happens in a person’s mind, emotions and relational connection. You can get a new haircut, wear some enticing lingerie, provide candles and ambiance, but none of that is ultimately enough for a really great sex life. So, let’s look at a few ingredients that are guaranteed to “spice” up a couple’s sexual relationship in a lasting way.  Let’s get cooking!

Talk about sex

“If my partner really loves and understands me, I should not have to ask for what I want,” is the phrase I hear often while doing couples counseling.  Orange County is a wonderful fantasy land, home to Disneyland and other magical escapes, but this mind reading assumption in a marriage has been utterly unproven with my wife. I’m just as terrible a mind reader as my wife. Now, I know that over time you’re going to understand and know one another better and anticipate or make better guesses, but it’s really still up to the both of you to ask for what you want or need. This may sound unromantic, but if you have a partner who listens and responds, then I would say that’s a great relationship. You’re different people, so for your partner to do something for you that they may not automatically know or do for themselves is something of a selfless gift. That translates as doubly loving in my book.

Ever watch “Dancing with the Stars”? It’s really evident as they show the back story and how the partners learn and grow together that communications and understanding each other is a vital ingredient in making great dance partners. There is a chemistry that comes from knowing each other, but it is the small, subtle cues and clues they give to one another that coordinate the actual dance. The same is true for sex. There must be clear signals and directions from each of you for a winning experience.

So when it comes to your sex life, if your communication as a couple is poor outside the bedroom, it’s going to struggle just as much in the bedroom. I know it sounds basic but think about this. Since sex, like a relationship is a process of partnering with another person, the better you communicate with each other, the better the sex will be. This is so crucial because of the sexual dance changes. Think of it like going to your favorite restaurant with your usual server. You learn what your favorites are and will normally order those. The server also gets to know what you usually like and can even offer ideas from what they learn about you. But some days you want something different and out of the ordinary, for whatever the reason. You don’t expect them to “just know.” It’s up to you to say what you want so they can respond with what appeals to you that day.

If it feels good, do it (but what feels good?)

It’s helpful to know what feels good to you sexually. Often couples engage in sex with the belief that their role is to please the other partner. Unfortunately, this takes a person outside of their own experience and greatly hinders their ability to know what they themselves need for pleasure. It may sound selfish, but if you have two partners who are tuned into themselves and what brings pleasure, and they are listening and responding to their partner’s requests and desire, it turns into a beautiful blend or pleasure for both.

If you’re going to be good at communicating what you want and need sexually, it helps if you know what you desire. Someone who is passionate about life and living, and pursuing their ideas and dreams, is much better prepared to pursue a partner with desire and communicate what they themselves desire. The better you know yourself and what brings pleasure, the better you will be able to communicate and be satisfied. Just because you are equipped for sexual experience and pleasure does not yet make you an expert on yourself in that area. It’s going to take trial and experience to know yourself. Certain environments or cues can either add or take away from sexual pleasure for a person, so experiment and pay attention to yourself.

This is also going to take some experimenting and noticing for yourself. I find something like sensate focus to be a wonderful tool for tuning in and sorting out just what feels good to a person sexually.

Get married

Despite what you see on TV, most singles are not generally living a wild and crazy-sex-filled life. In reality, the majority of married people have it better. I know people say a marriage certificate is just a piece of paper and an old-fashioned or religious idea, but research says otherwise. Essentially, people who are married usually have better and more frequent sex. An online article from Psychology Today reported:

One of the most comprehensive studies on the subject, released in 2010 by the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University, compiled statistics on the sexual attitudes and habits of 5,865 people between ages 14 and 94. Their study revealed that less than five percent of singles between the ages of 25 and 59 have sex two-to-three times a week, while a quarter of married people do—five times the rate. Also, while 61 percent of singles reported that they hadn’t had sex within the past year, only 18 percent of married people said the same.

So why are the marrieds having so much more sex than the singles?
Convenience. If you’re married, of course, you don’t have to spend a lot of time and energy looking for, finding, and doing the groundwork for a relationship (although you do need to maintain a healthy and happy relationship).
Cues. Married couples have usually worked out an elaborate set of verbal and non-verbal cues that are easily read. A single wink while sharing dinner can speak volumes. Sometimes a gesture as simple as a touch or a smile can be enough to extend an invitation. Fro many couples, a single word or sentence can be sufficient.
Safety. When you’re single, STDs are a persistent concern. What a relief it is to get past the stage of awkward conversations—there’s great peace of mind in knowing that there’s much less to worry about.
Freedom from fear of rejection. Being married doesn’t guarantee that one’s sexual overtures will never be rejected, naturally, but the anxiety that generally accompanies new relationships in the sexual arena is very different and more complex than the feelings that arise when a spouse isn’t “in the mood.”
Greater freedom to risk and experiment. Nearly everyone has sexual fantasies, and sharing the details can be intensely erotic and pleasurable. When trust has been established and deepened through experience together, there is a much greater inclination to share some of the more intimate aspects of our secret desires.
Emotional intimacy as great foreplay. If married couples have built trust and become adept at the fine art of emotional intimacy, that combination is a winning jackpot for a strong and healthy sex life.

Check your assumptions

The topic of sexuality is polarizing for many. Your experience growing up will have a tremendous impact on your assumptions and attitude toward sexuality. Stop and consider what was taught or demonstrated in your home growing up, and whether this fits with what you now believe and want for yourself. Talk with your partner about this history so that you come to your own agreement moving forward. Here are just a few questions to open the thought and conversations:

Were there religious guidelines toward sexuality? How were they enforced or where they? Did your parents/caretakers live by the same set of sexual standards they taught you? Was physical affection or sexually charged touch visible between caretakers? Was there sexual abuse? What was the message you received about sex and sexuality? Where you free to talk about sex or sexuality with your parents? Did they seem comfortable with the topic or was there shame or embarrassment about the topic.  There may be many areas to understand and explore if you didn’t have others along the way to talk with openly.  This is why getting help from others, like an Orange County psychologist, can help you see your blind spots and assumptions about sexuality.

Know what sex means to you

As said before, a great sexual relationship is usually a confirmation of an overall healthy relationship, not a substitute. So, what does sex mean to you? Is it one of the ways you confirm the connection with your partner and affirm your already known desire for one another? Or, is it used for a secret ulterior need. Some use sex to measure whether they are desirable. Others use it to soothe sadness or anxiety that is not being shared and comforted in the relationship. Still, others use it as a way of asserting control in the relationship. Good sex will never make up for an inadequate relationship or insecurities. Back to a verse from Salt ’N’ Pepa:

She had it all in the bag so she should have been glad
But she was mad and sad and feelin’ bad
Thinkin’ about the things that she never had
No love, just sex, followed next with a check and a note
That last night was dope

When sex is used for hidden motives, it usually leads to relationally destructive twists on sexual behaviors, like addiction and infidelity. Research has shown that even in an open relationship, where outside sexual relationships are acceptable, couples still have secretive affairs. Clearly, sex can hold powerful meaning and purpose that needs to be understood in the individual and talked about in the relationship.

I’ve seen consistently that these ingredients, when added and left to “simmer” over time, will add zest and sizzle to your sex life in a way that quick tips and cheap seasonings can’t.  Apply liberally and Bon appetite!

P.S. It’s still okay to get that saucy lingerie and Barry White album for added fun.