How to Turn Up the Heat in the Bedroom

Is your love life in the doldrums? Is the hottest moment you've had in bed lately the sharing of a nice cup of tea?

You're not alone. Many of us, at some stage, have to face up to a dwindling, disappointing or disappearing sex life, and it's no wonder. Our love lives have to compete with the veritable obstacle course that is everyday life - be it the demands of children, the stress of long working hours or a mile long to-do list...

Then there's the hormone fluctuations, the samey boredom after many years together, a changing body from the extra years and probably extra pounds, and possibly the biggest libido squelcher of all - those unsorted niggles, hurts and resentments which can easily turn a hot bed cold.

But all need not be lost. We ask the experts for ways to tap into your sexual energy and give your libido a new lease of life.

Love Life In The Doldrums?Pencil him in

Putting sex on your 'to-do' list may sound unromantic - but in a long-term relationship, it can be one of the keys to never-ending sex, according to Susan Jeffers, a psychologist and author of The Feel the Fear Guide To Lasting Love. (Vermillion). Pencilling it in may take spontaneity out the equation, but the anticipation leading up to it and the extra bonus time you'll get will more than make up for it. So what happens if the time in the diary arrives and you're not in the mood? "If you think about it, a mood can be changed very easily when it comes to sex. Start with a gentle kiss, a gentle touch, the words 'I love you'. It helps to say to yourself, 'I want to give my mate pleasure,' suggests Susan Jeffers.

If your sex life has dwindled down to little or nothing, take some 'baby steps' first and start out with 'intimacy dates' suggests Barry Mcarthy, a sex therapist and author of Rekindling Desire. These dates, with time to be together just the two of you, can be simple or elaborate - from a half-hour walk, to going out dinner and dancing, or a weekend escape. What matters is not the activities or places - but the time you give yourself to feel intimate and involved with your partner. Think sensual, rather than sexual, if you're just starting to reconstruct a lost love life. "Closeness builds desire as long as there is not a spoken or unspoken expectation that it must lead to sex," says Barry McCarthy.

Show and Tell

After years together, we may think we know our partner's bodies and preferences inside and out - and they may assume the same thing about us. But that can be a recipe for boredom. A good way to jump-start your libido is to get curious again, and open a friendly door to feedback, suggests Dr. Andrew Stanway, a physician specialising in sexual medicine, and author of Intimate Solutions: A Twenty-first Century Guide to Managing Relationships. He suggests you very slowly explore each other's bodies as you 'show and tell' what turns you on and what doesn't. Try it blindfolded for extra interest, then swap. "The key is to be very specific, and to use your ears for this - by really listening to what your partner is telling you. Our preferences and turn-ons can change, so make it a regular process of discovery," he says.

Another wonderful idea for improving communication - and self esteem - is to cuddle up together, and tell each other what you find attractive about each other. Think about every part of the body - hands, faces and feet are often neglected areas for praise. This is one of the exercises in How To Have Great Sex for the Rest Of Your Life, by Val Sampson and Julia Cole and the authors suggest spending at least half an hour doing this, while you kiss and cuddle - and find at least ten complimentary things to say about each other before you make love.

Banish The Body Image Demons!

Many of us imagine that if we had a flatter tum, a smaller bum or the smoothest of thighs, we would have a far better sex life. And that may well be true - if losing weight also helped you to lose your negative attitude towards your body. Because body confidence is one of the keys to being a great lover. But why wait? The truth is, it's not really the size or shape of your body that is going to make you feel attractive, sexy or lovable - but what's in your head. Astrid Longhurst, a psychotherapist and author of Body Confidence (Penguin) says that feeling sexy comes down to 'internal representations' - those mental pictures that can be positive, helpful and motivating, or which can pull us down and hold us back. "Instead of assuming that the way you look will determine what goes on in the bedroom, think about the way you want to feel - physically and emotionally - and also the way you can make your partner feel," she suggests. "Throw away those old mental pictures which defeat you, and choose to replace them with new, exciting, positive images. Picture yourself to be passionate, tender and wild. See your partner longing for you, and wanting you as much as you want him. Don't let those body image demons which destroy your sexual confidence get into bed with you!" Of course, this is easier said than done, and will take some practice. If you have spent the last 20 or 30 years telling yourself you are flawed and unattractive, it's going to take a lot of doing to counter those toxic thoughts. But keep at it. Whenever one of those confidence-leaching negative thoughts intrudes, redress the balance with something positive, such as "my skin smells lovely," or "I love the feel of my breasts."

Develop a better love life - with yourself

Research shows that most women masturbate - and the good news is that those who feel comfortable with it, often report better sex with their partners, as it can help you to explore just how you want to be touched during lovemaking. If your libido has been napping lately, psychosexual therapist Julia Cole, says that masturbation is a good way to re-awaken it gently, at your own pace. If you have trouble reaching orgasm, she suggests tensing and relaxing the muscles in your legs and at the entrance to the vagina in fast succession. "This can improve sensation and mimics what happens naturally during orgasm. You should notice a sense of warmth and gentle arousal," she says.

Another one of Julia's recommended moves is the 'pause technique'. To try it, pleasure yourself with a vibrator or by hand, and then stop once you begin to feel very aroused. Pause for a while, and then resume. Do this several times until you are highly sexually excited. "This will intensify erotic sensation, allowing you to reach a thrilling climax, and with the greater likelihood of having multiple orgasms," she says.

Fantasy Without Guilt

Fantasy is a geat way of keeping the love juices flowing, and it can be an important tool for those who find it difficult to reach orgasm. "Lots of women have trouble with fantasy as they feel it might somehow be disrespectful to their partner," says Julia Cole, "but it can help you to respond more effectively to your partner," she says. For some ideas, take a look at Nancy Friday's My Secret Garden or Women on Top (Quartet books), or to create a perfect hot fantasy for yourself, imagine yourself in a venue you find attractive - a beach, say, or a forest or a cosy fireside. Then build images that arouse you. Be playful with your thoughts as you build up the picture in your head. Use your senses - imagine the smells, the sounds, the feel on your skin. Try not to hold yourself back or worry about whether you would want this scenario in real life or not. This is a fantasy just for you, which you can pull out of your mental toolbox whenever you need a little sexual re-charge, with a partner or not.

Go Back To School

Most of us have enrolled in classes to broaden our skills in areas like languages, cooking, or line dancing - but have you ever thought about signing up for love class? Different courses have different names and approaches, but what most of them have in common is that they offer new ways to build intimacy with your partner, and can help you to shed whatever fear, guilt or shame you are holding about your body. Priya Samuel, a counsellor specialising in relating and intimacy issues and who runs the Intimacy Works workshops, says, "Couples sometimes need a helping hand to slow down, to get back in touch with their bodies, and to learn to connect more with their hearts. Workshops which offer exercises where you share feelings, look into each others eyes and explore sensual touch can open you up again to the beautiful feelings that were there between you, before life got in the way."

Foods for Love

Oysters. Chocolate. Champagne. Figs. Some foods have a reputation for putting us in the mood for love. Scientific proof for aphrodisiacs is rather thin on the ground, but there is some evidence which suggests that oysters may well deserve their reputation. A recent study has shown that oysters, as well as clams and mussels, contains two compounds that can trigger a surge of sex hormones, including testosterone and oestrogen, which are involved in sexual arousal. Plus the mollusks are high in zinc, which may help male potency.

Wash down the oysters with a bit of bubbly or some wine, and that may well add to the effect. A small amount of alcohol relaxes you, lowers inhibitions, increasing not only your confidence in the sack, but also the size of your blood vessels, making you feel flushed and warm.

To finish off a meal, strawberries & raspberries are perfect for hand-feeding your lover. Both are not only high in vitamin C, but are noted aphrodisiacs, described in erotic literature as "fruit nipples". Then there's the seductive spices. The scents of vanilla, nutmeg, clove, ginger and cinnamon have all been shown to be stimulating to both male and female libido.

A romantic meal for two can leave lovers feeling cherished and in the mood to carry on spoiling each other. Over the long term, one sure way foods can spice up your love life is by embracing them as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Plenty of fish, fresh fruit and vegetables will have a genuine effect on your health and well-being, and that has a knock-on effect on your libido, energy, and sexual confidence. Whether you decide to feed them to each other across the table or not.