How to have great sex
Sex therapist Dr Pamela Stephenson-Connolly has persuaded hundreds to share their bedroom secrets for a new book, writes Anna Coogan
Sex therapist Dr Pamela Stephenson-Connolly's recent appearance on the BBC's reality show Strictly Come Dancing saw her cheered on by her comedian husband Billy Connolly, and most likely also gained her a whole new audience of young readers for her sixth published sex guide, which is titled Sex Life.
Stephenson has talked intimately with hundreds of people about the ebbs and flows of their sexual lives, both in her private practice and on her TV show Shrink Rap. Her latest book is in keeping with her no-nonsense, no-taboo approach to sex, and covers all stages of a woman's sex life from her teens to her 60s. Here's some of her top tips for improving your sex life.
Criticising your man's performance
"Sometimes it's necessary to offer constructive criticism. This is best done by first reassuring your partner about the positive things you enjoy and then asking for change; for example, 'I have so much fun when we make love. You make me feel wonderful . . . although I've been wondering if you'd mind if we spent more time touching each other before you enter me?' Or, 'Would you mind if we leave the light on the next time? I love being able to see you properly.'"
"Just as they did in adolescence, some heterosexual people have same- gender fantasies and question whether or not that might mean they're actually gay. It's really very common to have same-gender fantasies in adulthood, and doesn't indicate anything in particular about sexual orientation, other than that the demarcations between straight, gay and bisexual are sometimes a little blurred, and that from time to time people float in and out of categories to which they thought they belonged -- at least in fantasy.
"People who are actually gay usually understand who they are sexually much earlier in life."
Flirting with a toyboy
"Acquiring a younger 'trophy' wife or girlfriend -- or a toy boy -- is still fairly common practice among men and women in their 40s (and older), but in my clinical experience I have found such unions do not always fulfil the promise of recaptured youth and a lot of ego-stroking.
"There are often imbalances of power, status and culture between partners of dissimilar age, although many couples do manage to transcend those. But no matter what age each partner may be, if the purpose of a relationship is more to do with being reflected by a younger, wealthier, more powerful or more attractive person than it is about love and respect, then that 'use' of another may eventually lead to resentment and other negative emotions."
Sex and drugs
"There is no doubt that alcohol and drugs play a large part in people's sexuality. Many people think this is a good way to get 'in the mood', but that is not necessarily true at all. Many substances dull or alter the senses to the detriment of sexual experience, and some have physiological side-effects that work against one's desired sexual response. Alcohol and drugs can affect sexual choices, willingness to engage in certain behaviours and risk-taking. They tend to lower inhibitions and alter a person's ability to make rational choices. What's more, a person cannot actually give consent to sex if he or she is intoxicated."
Faking the big O
"Some women fake both orgasm and general enjoyment. Some do this because they feel pressured to fulfil their partner's fantasies of being such fabulous lovers they can please a woman without much effort.
"Others do it because they're not in the mood and want to get it over with, or because they simply don't know how to ask for what they want. Some women 'fake it' because they don't know that many -- probably most -- women do not climax during intercourse. In most cases, women need more direct clitoral stimulation."
What turns you on?
"People respond differently to various types of stimuli. Some are more turned on by visual cues -- perhaps the sight of breasts, buttocks, legs or muscular arms -- while others thrill to sexy words whispered in their ears. Another group of people are so tactile in their programming that nothing beats the sensation of touch itself.
Zsa Zsa Gabor said: 'Men love with their eyes; women love with their ears.' This may be true for many people, but it is not always the case, and it's worth learning exactly about one's lover's responses -- whether they be more visual, auditory, kinaesthetic or even olfactory. After all, why waste time dressing for sex if your partner would much rather you mastered the fine art of erotic conversation."
Craving an affair?
"It is difficult to find reliable statistics relating to the proportion of committed men and women who stray (naturally, people do not want to come clean about their secrets). Many people think it is men who are most likely to cheat. However, judging by my clinical experience, a very high proportion of women do, too. Women appear to be more socialised to desire monogamy, but they can also feel conflicted about it. Some people stray because they are bored and can't resist an opportunity for a bit of excitement -- perhaps because they've lost the spark of sex in their primary relationship. Some people just want to feel desired for a change, while others have extra-marital sex because they are angry with their spouses and want revenge. It may be that they feel neglected and require validation as a sexual being, or perhaps they have discovered that their partner is involved with someone else.
For some people, ageing is a factor -- they want some reassurance that they are still vibrant. Others feel trapped in their marriage due to financial restraints -- or not wanting to upset their children -- and having an affair is one way to 'escape.'"
Sex Life, How Our Sexual Experiences Define Who We Are, by Dr Pamela Stephenson-Connolly, published by Vermilion London, €15.99.