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Sex therapist offers tips to keep things merry this holiday season

Sex therapist offers tips to keep things merry this holiday season

Is it the season of cheer - or a season to fear?

A casual 2010 survey of Facebook users found the two weeks before Christmas to be the second most common time for ending a relationship, behind Spring Break.

For help getting couples past holiday stress, we turned to Dr. Marisol Garcia Westberg, an Assistant Professor of Counseling Psychology at Lewis and Clark College, a licensed sex therapist and author of "Pleasure, the Secret Ingredient in Happiness." She shared several ideas and tips to help keep this a happy time of year.

No. 1: The Problem With Pills

Tip number one to side-step problems in the bedroom is avoid taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors like Prozac, Paxil or Celexa to handle stress - these anti-depressants are known to dull your sex drive.

"Why we do that is kind of to avoid ourselves, to avoid our feelings," explains Dr. Westberg. “So when we avoid ourselves, we're avoiding our bodies and our sensuality."

No. 2: Honesty is the Best Policy

Number two: see the holidays for what they are – time consuming and money tight, with built-in conflicts, usually involving extended families or seldom seen friends.

"First, accept that it's going to be a stressful time, to validate the feelings we normally have - the fear and the guilt that come along with the holidays," says Westberg.

No 3: Be Naughty and Nice This Season

Number three: be proactive instead of reactive.

"Start strategizing what you really want from the next two months. Create that theme of (what) you want – pleasure. Ask what does pleasing yourself, your loved-ones, your partner really mean?"

Don't be afraid to get lost in the moment. More than twice as many condoms are sold in the week before Christmas than in the week after Christmas. According to one study, the rise in sexual activity during late December "has been interpreted largely in the context of merrymaking. The period from Christmas to the New Year is associated with increased opportunities for socializing and a generally more hedonistic approach to life."

And if you sense that conflict coming on, don't clam up – open up.

"If you're feeling that fear or guilt or anger, be open to actually thinking about what you're feeling. Why am I disappointed and what does it mean to me?"

A great stress reliever during the holidays says Westberg, is to stop for a moment and imagine a private scenario of intimacy with your partner.

No. 4: Gift Giving - Make Yourself Happy

Shopping presents its own challenges this time of year. Besides the common tug of war over setting a budget for gift buying, purchasing the wrong item can set your relationship back significantly.

Wall Street Journal relationships columnist Elizabeth Bernstein penned this column with six great gift-giving tips (including 'When in doubt, go down a size'), but Westberg says another common pitfall is to overthink the item. The perfect gift is the one that "makes you feel happy when you give it to your partner," something that you are really excited about sharing.
No. 5: Tis the Season – to Make Babies

For couples with kids, Westberg says the hustle and bustle of the holidays makes it all too easy to forget the fact that before they were parents, they were lovers. So don't forget to put love under the tree.

"When they're with their children, can they be a couple as well? I think it is an enormous opportunity to teach your children what it's like to be a couple and show that loving and sensual side of yourself," says Westberg. "That's how children learn to reproduce it when they get older."

Some of us do manage to handle holiday stress - conception rates reach their annual peak in December, with 9 percent of all U.S. conceptions occurring during next month.

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