A Valentine to the Lovelorn

Romance experts offer tips to make sure next year's holiday is sweeter, sexier

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HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Feb. 12, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Left out of the gifts and flowers of another Valentine's Day, millions of lonely-hearted Americans wonder: What can I do to turn this situation around?

Whether it's a new romance you're looking for, rekindling a relationship that's gone stale, or just putting the zip back into your sex life, experts are here to help.

First up, singles, ask yourself this: Are you really ready for Cupid?

"You can tell when someone is open to meeting people or not," said Dr. Catherine Birndorf, a women's health specialist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City.

"If you're just saying to yourself, 'Oh, I guess that I should be dating, chances are you're not going to look all that interested," said Birndorf, who's also the mental health editor at Self magazine. She suggests that singles not pressure themselves too much to jump back into the dating game, especially if a break-up or other trauma is still fresh.

"Sometimes, it's good to get an objective view -- run it by your friends, for example, and ask them, 'Do you get the sense that I'm ready?' " she said.

If the answer to that question is yes, then it may be time for one of life's most nerve-wracking moments: the first date.

First dates can be scary, Birndorf said, especially for people who haven't been on their own for years. "But I think one thing that you have to remember is that it's the first date for the other person, too," she said. "You are not the underdog here, you're both in a similar position."

Being frank about dating jitters can help. "I'm a big believer in disclosure and saying things upfront," Birndorf said. "Saying, 'Hey, I don't know about you, but I get really nervous on first dates,' that can help break the ice, it takes everything down a notch."

Valentine's Day can also be less-than-thrilling for couples who have been together for years but have somehow lost the "magic."

The trick is to remember that romantic relationships require ongoing, "active effort," Birndorf said. "It's not like you get married and say, 'There's, that's done.' "

Instead, remember to set time aside for your partner -- ideally each day. Busy people may even want to pencil it into their schedules. "For example, say, 'Every night after the kids are asleep, we're going to try and talk from 9 to 10,' " Birndorf said. "You can even make dates to have sex."

She said too many people with kids, especially, forget how special their bond as a couple is. "Instead, I think many people get used to being just 'the family,' or they only go out with certain friends," she said. Simple tips to rekindle the glow include dinner or movie dates out together; spontaneous gift-giving; and thinking hard about doing something your partner loves -- even if it's not your favorite sport or pastime.

Sometimes, though, health barriers can get in the way of sex and romance. Dr. Patricia Rockwell is an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School. She said there are nine big health issues that can dampen passion in the boudoir:

  • Prescription drugs. Heart drugs such as diuretics and ACE inhibitors, and SSRI antidepressants such as Celexa, Paxil, Prozac and Zoloft, can all interfere with erectile function, Rockwell said. If this proves to be the case, men should ask their doctor if a lowered dose or alternate therapy might be effective.
  • Heart health. Myths aside, sex is not going to cause heart attack, even in people with diagnosed heart disease, Rockwell said. However, she advises that people consult with their doctor about the safety of all physical activity immediately after any major cardiovascular procedure.
  • Depression. Left untreated, depressed people "can experience lack of pleasure, lack of desire and lack of ability to perform," Rockwell said in a statement.
  • Alcohol. While a few drinks might make you a bit bolder, overdoing it can raise the risk of unsafe sex. Drinking also "decreases sexual pleasure because alcohol lowers your sensations," Rockwell said.
  • Sexually Transmitted Disease. With the correct precautions (especially condoms), contracting an STD -- such as HIV, hepatitis or the human papillomavirus (HPV) -- need not spell the end to romance, she said.
  • Stress. Too many work and family commitments, and too little time, means sex often gets left by the wayside. Stress can also cause libido to decline and lead to unsatisfying sex lives, Rockwell said.
  • Pregnancy. Another big myth. "There is no barrier to sex during pregnancy," she said.
  • Menopause. While hormone levels do drop after menopause, the use of topical estrogen creams and lubricants means older women can have sex lives as active as women half their age, Rockwell said.
  • Poor body image. A dip in self-esteem can impair sexual desire and satisfaction, Rockwell said. But studies also show that healthy weight loss -- as little as 5 pounds -- can help turn that around.

Sex and romance is a two-way street, however. So, Birndorf reminds people to do those "little somethings" for the one they love -- not just on Valentine's Day, but on the other 364 days of the year.

"It's so simple, but often hard to remember," said Birndorf. "Even myself -- I might be at work, having a nice thought about my husband. Then, I'll say to myself, 'Hey, just call him!' So, I'll speed-dial him and say, 'Hey, I'm thinking of you, I'm so fond of you.' And who wouldn't love that?"

More information

There's more on a healthy sex life at the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

SOURCES: Catherine Birndorf, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry, women's mental health psychiatrist, Paine Whitney Clinic, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, New York City, and mental health editor, Self magazine; University of Michigan Health System, news release, Feb. 5, 2007

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