1. A Dating Hiatus
One word that describes knocking boots with a new dude? Clumsy. No matter how strong the attraction and connection, most couples don't sync up sexually the very first go-round. Luckily, that unfamiliarity also works in your favor: The anticipation of hopping in the sack with someone new causes dopamine, the "reward" neurochemical, to flood your noggin, making you acutely aware of incoming information, says Melissa Farmer, Ph.D., who studies the psychophysiology of pain and sex at Northwestern University. In this state, every unpredictable touch has the power to ignite your arousal and send you writhing toward O Town. (Get out of that dry spell with the help of these sexy toys from the Women's Health Boutique)
That said, if your hookup is having more than a few misfires with his technique, there's nothing wrong with giving him a sexy little lesson. "Mutual masturbation is a great game of show-and-tell that allows you to teach your partner the types of touch that turn you on, while you watch the strokes that bring him pleasure," says sex therapist Marissa Nelson, founder of IntimacyMoons couples retreats. Appropriate words that come to mind now? Hot. Fun. Did we mention hot?
2. A Dry Spell
If it's been months since you and your long-term love got horizontal, there are so many things to blame: medications, like some antidepressants; stress, which releases a hormone that inhibits pleasure receptors and deflates arousal; or trust issues (resentment over lies can leave you cold to your partner's touch). Rather than point the finger and linger there too long, make better use of your time by getting erotically reacquainted.
However, don't expect a crowd-pleaser on opening night. Pent-up sexual tension can cause your guy to ejaculate quickly, and nerves may prevent you from having an orgasm as easily as you used to, says Nelson. "There are many ways to achieve sexual pleasure outside of penetration, though. Oral sex, for one, can help you ease your way back into intimacy."
To keep fostering that connection so that each session gets even better, try this verbal fill-in-the-blank exercise. Tell each other, "I get turned on when_____. I get turned off when _____." You can relay how you prefer your guy to initiate sex (a caress of your butt instead of a slap, perhaps?), and he can reveal what position gets him every time (reverse cowgirl—yee-haw!).
3. An Epic Argument
Hooking up after a fiery feud can feel primal because, scientifically speaking, it is: "Strong emotions, like anger, activate the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the fight-or-flight response," explains Farmer. "And moderate levels of sympathetic arousal can enhance vaginal blood flow." In other words, you can be mad as hell at him, but your nether regions are getting the signal to lube up and prepare for some seriously intense, feel-good action.
Aside from being excitingly passionate, make-up sex can also be a healthy way to heal and reconnect after an argument. "It often reinforces that while you may disagree with each other on some things, you are still connected and care about each other," says Nelson. And if your anger hasn't totally subsided afterward, don't worry: It's normal. Getting naked isn't the shortcut to resolving a problem, which involves communicating with words, not just your bodies.
4. Having a Baby
You made a human (Yes! Go team!), but the physical toll it took on you may leave you all, Caution: Do Not Enter—Ever! "A woman's body undergoes enormous stress during pregnancy and childbirth," explains Farmer. "Vaginal nerve damage, muscle tension, and alterations in hormones that maintain healthy genital tissue can be disastrous for sexual function, causing painful penetration." And that's even after the prescribed six-week no-sex ban is lifted.
A water-based lubricant can help with the discomfort, as can focusing on foreplay until the pain subsides, says Kat Van Kirk, Ph.D., a marriage and family therapist and resident sex expert at adult retailer Adam & Eve. "Masturbating can also help you learn what your body looks and feels like in its new form, which will help you feel less anxious when you're with your partner," she says.
Now, about that "baby brain." It's not just a silly term for becoming forgetful: A recent study in the journal Hormones and Behavior suggests that oxytocin—a powerful hormone released during labor, breast-feeding, and sexual arousal—may cause the reward areas of your brain to respond equally to intimate and infant-related interactions in the months post-birth. As a result, you may be more interested in snuggling with your newborn than your man. To prevent infant infatuation from driving a wedge between you and your guy, try to touch each other—a hug, a little back rub—often. "Consistent physical connection will help your partner feel included and loved," says Van Kirk.
5. Ditching Booze
Amazing what a few glasses of rosÃƒÂ© can do: Lowered inhibitions! Busting out new moves! You sex goddess, you! The reality? Alcohol alters the neurochemicals in your brain, essentially blocking out mood-killing thoughts and some sensory information (via physical touch), says Farmer. That means wine can drown out your worries, yes, but it also has the power to stunt your body's natural arousal processes, like vaginal blood flow and lubrication, which make sex feel more pleasurable, says Farmer.
So, here are some truths: Losing the liquid blanket can make intercourse, well, sobering. "Booze tends to numb an underlying fear, like being uncomfortable with intimacy or afraid to ask for what you want in bed," says Nelson. With a clear head, you're thinking about everything (Oh, ouch, he's on my hair. Well, that transition was less than smooth. Oh help, did I just queef ?!). But that awkwardness can pay off, since you're now also truly feeling everything, and your chances of orgasming have increased.
The best thing you can do? Give in to all that realness. If you're feeling uneasy, share that with your partner before you hit the sheets, and ask for support—whether you want him to hold you or go slowly. Then simply focus on enjoying your new, Spidey-like senses and the climax they can potentially bring you.
6. Only Being with Men
Whether you consider yourself gay, straight, bi, or elsewhere on the sexuality spectrum, your first encounter with a woman can leave you with a heap of questions: One, what does this mean? Two, why was that so sensual? Three, why was I so nervous? And so on. Take comfort in the fact that the scientific community has been asking similar questions. What they've found: "Rather than traditional definitions of sexual orientation, what really guides female sexual desire is wanting to be loved, attended to, and valued," explains Farmer. In other words, your brain isn't one to distinguish between male and female attention. If you and another woman find each other attractive, and she's made you feel lusted after and safe enough to lose and/or take control with her, then the stage has been set for the possibility of you two getting it on. And it doesn't have to "mean" anything. "A lot more goes into sexual orientation than behavior," says Nelson. "It's okay to have an experience, or a few experiences, with another woman, without it defining your sexual orientation."
As for your nerves? Well, you're entering new territory, after all. "You may feel pretty confident that you know what to do with a man, so with a woman, you can experience some timidity or hesitation," says Nelson. "But this can prevent you from losing yourself in the moment and experiencing pleasure." One way to shake off the shyness is to decide what your boundaries are beforehand (maybe you'd just like to be the receiver this time) and tell your bedmate. Another solution is to ask if she would be down with watching an erotic girl-on-girl video for some pointers. Case in point: A study from the University of Essex in England suggests that, even if you're straight, these X-rated scenes can turn you on.
Once you're raring to go, expect the action to feel refreshingly different. "Women tend to be slower in their pace since they may need longer foreplay in order to climax, which can make for intense pleasure," says Madeleine Castellanos, M.D., a psychiatrist and sex therapist in New York City. A welcome switch-up if you ask us!
This article was originally published in the July/August 2016 issue of Women's Health, on newsstands now.