Is passion on your plate?

By
November 2nd, 2011

It’s been said that the way to a lover’s heart is through his (or her) stomach, and there’s no doubt that the very act of preparing a delicious meal for your partner could score you points. But can certain foods actually increase your sexual desire?

We’ve all heard claims that foods and beverages like oysters, chocolate and red wine can boost libido, but the science behind these isn’t particularly strong.

There may not be much research to support the effects of food on arousal, but it’s true that great nutrition can promote great sex. Some foods and beverages – or, more specifically, the vitamins, minerals and other compounds they contain – may indeed help improve your sex life.

Overall, what benefits your heart also tends to benefit your libido, because our genitals need optimal blood flow to function properly. And other foods may look, feel, or taste sensual – and I think that’s reason enough to add them to your plate.

With this in mind, it might be time to indulge in a little “sex diet” with your partner. The goal here isn’t to lose weight, but to enjoy the bonding process of cooking and eating together as a couple.

In a 2006 survey of 1,500 couples conducted with John Gray, author of “Men Are From Mars, Women Are from Venus,” nearly 83% of those who said they cook together at least three times a week rated their relationship as excellent, compared with just 26% who said they rarely or never do. By getting hotter in the kitchen, you might also get things smoking in the bedroom: 58% of those couples who cooked together also reported having satisfying sex lives, compared with a third of those who don’t.

When you’re planning your next romantic meal, consider putting these foods on the menu:

  • Fruits and veggies. Greens in general are rich in L-arginine, while asparagus is an especially good source of folic acid, which increases the histamine production necessary for the ability to reach orgasm. (Its phallic shape also gives it a reputation as an aphrodisiac.) Avocados, arugula, watermelon, mangoes, and figs all have long histories of use as libido boosters, too.
  • Nuts. Almonds are a traditional aphrodisiac food and are believed to promote fertility and libido. Walnuts, peanuts, and cashews are packed with L-arginine, a compound that appears to promote healthy erectile function in men and clitoral tissue in women.
  • Seafood. Oysters are the stereotypical aphrodisiac dish, possibly because they’re rich in the mineral zinc, which has been linked to male fertility, potency and sex drive. Though it may not seem quite so sexy, a simple salmon filet may be even more important for good sex: Salmon and other fatty fish like mackerel and sardines are great sources of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which can also help improve mood.
  • Spices. Chili peppers are rich in capsaicin, a compound known to stimulate nerve endings and get your pulse racing – not unlike romance. Licorice and anise seed also have long been believed to increase arousal.
  • Chocolate. I’m not suggesting you scarf down a box of sweets every night (even if it’s heart-shaped!), but a piece of good-quality dark chocolate may be just what the sex doctor ordered. It’s been said that the Aztec emperor Montezuma drank up to 50 cups of chocolate daily in the hopes of improving his love life. He may have been on to something: Eating it triggers the release of the chemical phenylethylamine, leading to feelings of excitement that are conducive to sex.
  • Honey. They call it a “honeymoon” for a reason: Newlyweds once drank beer and wine containing honey (believed to be the nectar of the love goddess Aphrodite) in hopes of increasing fertility.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the supposed sexy effects of these and other aphrodisiacs are mainly due to a placebo effect: If you believe they will turn you on, they will. But what does it matter? If you can enjoy a sensual meal with your partner, it may help you turn up the heat: not just in the kitchen, but between the sheets.

What do you think? Do you cook with your spouse? If so, do you find cooking together helps with a sense of connectedness? Are there foods you find sexy?

If you want more sex, be nice!

By
November 2nd, 2011

Earlier this year, eminent marriage therapist John Gottman released a new book titled “The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples.” While you may not recognize Gottman by name, you may be aware of his work via Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink.”

In that bestseller, readers were introduced to Gottman’s knack for “thin-slicing” a couple based upon a few minutes of observation, and determining, with incredible accuracy, whether they would succeed or fail in their marriage.

So what’s the secret of relationship success? Based upon his work with couples, as well as statistical analysis, Gottman has determined that, “It’s the balance between positive and negative emotional interactions in a marriage that determines its well-being – whether the good moments of mutual pleasure, passion, humor, support, kindness, and generosity outweigh the bad moments of complaining, criticism, anger, disgust, contempt, defensiveness, and coldness.”

Those couples that succeed in their marriages enjoy an overriding proportion of positive over negative sentiment.

But how do you ensure that? “All couples, happy and unhappy, have conflict,” writes Gottman, “but the ratio of positive to negative interactions during arguments is a critical factor.” He has proposed that this ratio should, ideally, be 5 to 1.

While it’s impossible to go through life tallying positive versus negative interactions, it is possible to determine intuitively whether your relationship is generally in the positive, or tending more toward the negative. And then you can change it.

I often advise couples to get in the “5 to 1 zone,” and it’s one of those pieces of simple advice that I often remind myself to practice in my own marriage. It isn’t easy to maintain a surplus of positivity, but it is possible.

In his latest book, Gottman encourages couples to cultivate emotional attunement through awareness, tolerance, understanding, non-defensive listening, and empathy.

“Boiling down the richly complex body of work described in the book to one sentence, Gottman’s point is that trust is made of people believing that their partners will be nice, that the partner will make an effort to make life better for you,” writes sex educator Emily Nagoski in her intellectually vivacious blog, Sex Nerd.

So there you have it – it all comes down to the “power of nice.” While many men like to complain that nice guys often finish last, it would seem that couples that are nice to each other tend to last the longest.

So why is it often so darn hard to be nice to our partners? Or why do we often end up being nice to everyone except the ones we hold closest? Why is nice so elusive?

“Maybe you plain old don’t know how to be nice. Maybe in your family of origin, people just weren’t nice to each other, so you never learned that skill. Or maybe you didn’t learn rules of Being Nice that are compatible with the rules your partner learned,” writes Nagoski.

“The hardest possibility is that you are your partner have been sucked into a dynamic of retaliation – you’re like Israel and Palestine, where neither one can be the first NOT to retaliate.”

Gottman argues that it’s hard to be emotionally attuned to your partner when you’re stressed out, which so many of us are today. Stress hijacks our brains and makes it hard for us to feel anything other than anxious or panicked. Stress creates a state of emotional triage, one that pushes nice to the wayside.

I’ve also found that many couples are used to operating in states of highs and lows – a sort of relationship manic-depression – but are unable to carve out a middle ground. But nice requires that in-between state. Nice takes time, patience, and effort.

”When people are angry and hurt, they get into a different physiological state, with heightened awareness of potential threats and diminished capacity for empathy and creative problem solving,” says Nagoski.

“They stop seeing the positive and start attributing negative personality traits to their partner, to explain the problems in the relationship. In their minds, their partner develops a reputation as untrustworthy. Contempt builds. And the whole thing spirals.”

So are you being nice enough to your partner? Are you in the 5 to 1 zone? If not, maybe it is time to start counting interactions. A little “nice” goes a long way.

Happiness linked to longer life…

By
November 2nd, 2011

Being happy doesn’t just improve the quality of your life. According to a new study, it may increase the quantity of your life as well.

Older people were up to 35% less likely to die during the five-year study if they reported feeling happy, excited, and content on a typical day. And this was true even though the researchers took factors such as chronic health problems, depression, and financial security out of the equation.

“We had expected that we might see a link between how happy people felt over the day and their future mortality, but we were struck by how strong the effect was,” says Andrew Steptoe, Ph.D., the lead author of the study and a professor of psychology at University College London, in the United Kingdom.

Previous studies on happiness and longevity have largely relied on the participants’ ability to recall how they felt during a certain period of time in the past. These recollections aren’t always accurate, though, and to get around this problem Steptoe and his colleagues asked more than 3,800 people to record their levels of happiness, anxiety, and other emotions at four specific times over the course of a single day.

The participants, who were between the ages of 52 and 79 when the study began, were divided into three groups according to how happy and positive they felt. Although the groups differed slightly on some measures (such as age, wealth, and smoking), they were comparable in terms of ethnic makeup, education, employment status, and overall health.

Five years later, 7% of people in the least happy group had died, compared with just 4% in the happiest group and 5% in the middle group.

When the researchers controlled for age, depression, chronic diseases, health behaviors (such as exercise and alcohol consumption), and socioeconomic factors, they found that the happiest and medium-happy people were 35% and 20% less likely to have died, respectively, than their gloomier counterparts.

It may seem far-fetched that a person’s feelings on one particular day would be able to predict the likelihood of dying in the near future, but these emotional snapshots have proven to be a good indication of overall temperament in previous studies, says Sarah Pressman, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Kansas, in Lawrence.

“There is always room for error, of course; if I get a parking ticket or stub my toe on the way to the study, I’m not going to be particularly happy,” says Pressman, who was not involved in the study but researches the impact of happiness on health. “But given that the study worked, it suggests that, on average, this day was fairly typical for the participants.”

Unlike the happiness measures, depression symptoms were not associated with mortality rates once the researchers adjusted for overall health. According to the study, this finding suggests that the absence of happiness may be a more important measure of health in older people than the presence of negative emotions.

Positive emotions could contribute to better physical health in a number of ways. Regions of the brain involved in happiness are also involved in blood-vessel function and inflammation, for instance, and studies have shown that levels of the stress hormone cortisol tend to rise and fall with emotion.

The study doesn’t prove that happiness (or unhappiness) directly affects lifespan, but the findings do imply that doctors and caregivers should pay close attention to the emotional well-being of older patients, the researchers say. “We would not advocate from this study that trying to be happier would have direct health benefits,” Steptoe says.

However, this study and others like it should help establish happiness as a legitimate area of concern for health professionals, Pressman says. “There are still some people who see happiness as something fluffy and less scientific — not something they should be worried about like, say, stress or depression,” she says.

Happiness, she adds, “may be something for doctors to ask their patients about.”

The study, which was published today in the Proceedings of the Academy of National Sciences, included participants from a larger, long-running British study on aging. The authors received funding from the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, and the (U.S.) National Institute on Aging.