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And Now for Something Completely Different

Know what you want.

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Their bedroom was made for love, but not much love was being made. The satin comforter failed to inspire seduction, and the gleaming Jacuzzi was used strictly for soaking. This long-married pair had decorated their boudoir as a love-nest but rarely had sex.

Frustrated, they turned to Ruth Morehouse of the Marriage and Family Health Center in Evergreen, Colo., who found their story of sexual "blahness" not at all unusual. "Often, people don't like the sex they're having," says Morehouse, "and yet they do very little to explore what it would look like if they could have whatever they wanted. They have no idea what turns them on."

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With Morehouse's encouragement, the couple brainstormed about erotically charged places or situations. Off they went with a blanket to an alpine meadow. There, they discovered that the risk of being seen by a passing hiker gave their sex a passion they hadn't felt in years.

By deliberately setting out to discover what turns them on, this couple took a step that experts say is key to a vibrant sex life: They charted their own map of erotic pleasures. Sexologists have found that each person's emotional and physical requirements for sexual arousal are extremely individual. People have quite specific styles of behavior during sexual activity.

A process that is both fun and informational, erotic "map-making" is especially important for women, Morehouse says, because some still believe that their role in bed is to follow a man's lead. In fact, if a woman becomes an expert on what she needs for her own sexual satisfaction, the relationship will benefit from the increase in energy and desire. "Think of yourself as an adventurer," she says. "You're exploring your erotic self."

If the numbers are accurate, sexual dissatisfaction is widespread in America, and many people could benefit from Morehouse's advice. According to a study published in the Feb. 10, 1999, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, 43% of women and 31% of men studied reported sexual dysfunction, including lack of interest or pleasure in sex.

"It's hard to believe when you're hot to trot early in a relationship that it's not always going to be this way," says Bernie Zilbergeld, author of Better Than Ever: Sexuality at Mid-Life and Beyond. But often, he says, sex fades in frequency, intensity, or pleasure. "At some point you have to make a stand and say, 'OK, this is important to us, and here's what we're going to do about it,'" he says.

One Woman's Sexual Success Story

Cathy Williams (not her real name), a 50-something mother of three who lives in California, hasn't experienced a drop-off in her sex life, probably because she has long been a student of what interests her sexually. If she didn't like the way one boyfriend made love to her in college during the late 1960s, she found another. With experience, she began to define her sexual style. One important piece of information came in the 1970s when she dated a "fabulous, sensual man," she says. "He felt comfortable enough in his body to dance naked in the big living room," she says. While "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" blasted from the stereo, he lifted her into the air. Then they made love.

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