Lovehoney Sex Expert Interview: Dr. Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D
Pepper Schwartz is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Washington and received her Ph.D. in Sociology from Yale University.
She is a co-author of The Normal Bar, plus 21 other books, is Past President of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, and wrote the "Sex and Health" column for Glamour magazine for seven years.
She serves as AARP’s first Love & Relationship Expert and Ambassador and lectures nationally and internationally on intimate relationships, sexuality, and women's wellbeing.
She has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Today Show, Dateline, Dr. Phil, and Lifetime, and stars in the hit A&E docuseries, Married at First Sight.
Here, she discusses her work in helping couples to reignite that sexual spark.
What do you find most couples need the most help with in their sex lives and what are the best ways for them to work on it together?
Couples need help with eroticism.
Most people get stuck in a mechanical or – at the very best – unimaginative rut and they think that's the best they can do.
What they need is to shake things up – usually with counseling, a getaway erotic weekend guided by experts, a guided trip to the toy store (online or in person), or some way to think of each other as erotic playmates again.
How can incorporating toys into the bedroom help strengthen and increase the level of play in a couple's sex life?
They invite imagination, role playing, and make people feel edgier and braver.
Most importantly, they can heighten pleasure and help guide the couple to broaden the spectrum of what turns them on.
It also becomes both a trust and bonding experience (sometimes literally!).
Tell us more about your work and research surrounding aging and sexuality. What sparked your interest in this demographic, what have been some of your favorite findings, and how do you want them to impact the lives of America's post-50 population?
I don't think eroticism should have an expiration on it. But as you get older, you have to work on that.
Some people are eager not to have sexual demands placed on them anymore and they take refuge in myths and misconceptions about aging and sex and think they can just pack it in.
But they don't realize what a disservice they are doing to themselves and their partner. They deny themselves the full range of health and body functions that need to be exercised lest they atrophy and they deaden the emotional connection they could have with each other.
As I aged, I noticed how many people lost that spark. I felt it was sad, unnecessary, and certainly something I wasn't buying into.
People sometimes tell me I look young for my age and I jokingly say, “That's what sex does for you!” But actually, it’s not a joke. You are more vibrant when all the parts of your body and mind are working.
I love the idea that about 20% of people in their sixties and seventies say that sex is extremely good – this is from at least one study done by AARP.
My study with Chrisanna Northrup and James Witte in The Normal Bar: The Surprising Secrets of Happy Couples found that more than half of people in their fifties and sixties like their sex life.
The percentages do fall off in the seventies, I assume because of erectile dysfunction, vaginal atrophy, and other non-sexual ailments, but I think many of these problems can be dealt with successfully if people just hold onto their sexual pleasure.
What are some of your very best practical tips to help couples fully express themselves to each other sexually?
Communication is the key – and the permission to seduce each other.
The easiest way to make sure conversation, body language, and flirtation occur is to have date nights.
Real dates nights include going to a candlelit place, one of those new kind of movie theaters that serves food and wine to your plush seat, or perhaps an overnight getaway to a wonderful bed and breakfast.
I believe that the setting determines a lot of what happens between two people and it needs to feel special in order to up your game. That's why Janet Lever and I wrote Frommer’s Places for Passion: The 75 Most Romantic Destinations in the World – and why I’m working on a sequel!
Once the setting and the mood is in place, it’s really great to have prepared to delight one another.
One way is to pick out a new toy to bring along (that builds anticipation!), or buy a sexy movie (making sure it is not offensive to either person), and if it’s sexy enough, the couple probably won't be watching it long!
I sometimes also think adding a bit of champagne is a good idea. It loosens inhibitions and gets everyone in a great mood.
If people don't drink, another way to loosen up is to take a shower together. Soaping each other up creates some extra sensual tension too.
What I wouldn't do is do a hot tub, unless you do it for a short time or have some sexual play in it right away. Really hot water can relax you too much, leaving one or both people feeling warm and cuddly – and sleepy!
One last thing: Sometimes taking a book like The Great Sex Weekend (a book Janet Lever and I wrote a million years ago), can also help you decide what you might want to do.
You can read it and mark up the suggestions that appeal to you. Sometimes that’s easier than verbalizing your thoughts right away.
What's your very favorite bedroom advice to give couples?
Pretty simple: Don't watch TV in your bedroom. Make the bedroom a place for just the two of you - not you, your honey, and the tube.
I think it’s important not to get too casual when you’re in the bedroom. Don't be rude in front of each other (passing gas, for example), because while frat boys can get away with that kind of stuff, it’s a turn off – even if it causes a laugh.
Sometimes it’s nice for a woman to wear a special nightgown or lingerie as a surprise. And it always prepares the mood if there are a number of lit candles, even if it’s not going to be a special night.
I also think nights should be varied with ways to touch each other to suggest there might be more after that – a shoulder rub, a foot massage, a neck or head rub, washing each other's hair, or a full-fledged body massage with oil.
Bottom line: Only sexy, intimate, loving things should happen in the bedroom. If you just can’t bear not watching TV in the bedroom, then make some mutually agreed upon rules about keeping it to a minimum, only for special programs, or certain night when you need to unwind.
Just remember, an orgasm is very relaxing too!
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