During this great pandemic slowdown, recent statistics show that our sex lives are also slowing down – from both a ban on new sex partners, and the ways that surging anxiety and depression impacts our libido and ability to connect. And yet, for all kinds of health reasons there might be no better time to focus on our ability to both give and receive pleasure from our partner than right now.

I have long grappled with the dismal statistic that the average amount of foreplay that couples engage in is between one and four minutes. Not surprisingly in a TODAY Show/Men's Health survey of 5,000 men and women, 39 percent of women say the biggest mistake a man makes is not spending enough time on foreplay. And ironically, 34 percent of men say foreplay is sexual ability they’re most proud of.

I myself have heard of this disconnect from both men and women when they have registered complaints that our lubricant products didn’t somehow magically make the sex more successful and less painless. Please don’t shoot the messenger. As I have said thousands of times, the magic is not in the lube (even the best lube). The magic is in the foreplay.

This is evidenced by another statistic in that same study. Sixty-four percent of women say that when they’ve given their partner feedback on his bedroom skills, their sex lives improved. Among men who gave suggestions to women, 58 percent say it worked.

The question then is: Why don’t we slow down our intimate times and talk more about what we want? In part, many of us don’t know the words we would say. We have little practice in describing what we want, or what we don’t. It is just a question of how to get out of our heads because this unspoken discomfort and angst of not knowing how to express our desires also lives in our bodies, brushing up to the edges of our mysterious and powerful erotic selves.

In truth, there is no more deeply vulnerable act of connecting and sharing yourself than letting go sexually with someone you love. Foreplay is the opening dance to that vulnerable space and is a mirror for what and how we share ourselves in our daily interactions. To the extent that you don’t feel safe to express yourself or that you are hiding things in your day-to-day relationship, these communication gaps and emotional dilemmas shape the access and meaning of sexual foreplay too.

It Kick Starts Arousal in the Brain

One way to extend the time you spend in foreplay is to encourage your thinking to become focused through your sense of smell which is the most primary of our sensory capacities when it comes to awakening libido. We often confuse the sensation in the genitalia as the leader when it comes to our sex drive, but it is actually the limbic brain which sets arousal in motion, the same brain area that is responsible for processing scent and emotion.

Extending our foreplay through sensate focus is standard care in sex therapy. But the addition of scent to the sensory physical experience of noticing pressure, heat, and texture greatly enhances the tried-and-true Masters and Johnson’s advice.

It Reduces Performance Anxiety and Boosts Confidence

Being intentional about growing your comfort in foreplay activities, and expanding the kinds of play and touch that you are willing to experiment with will not only make for a more curious and passionate sexuality, but will also translate into a surprising opening in the communication and emotional resilience in your relationship.

Expanding your focus on foreplay simultaneously reduces the performance anxiety often associated with the act of sexual intercourse which often unconsciously becomes a race to an orgasmic finish which can leave someone behind. Our orgasmic potential builds with patience and intensifies the more time we give it.

When we stop chasing the orgasm, it can and will surprisingly envelop you, even in foreplay.

It Can Help with Mismatched Libidos

Most couples face the inevitable sex initiation question and the universal dilemma of mismatched libido. By refocusing sex on foreplay activities and learning to talk about the intimate contact you long for, a new space is open to reinvent the question of who wants whom, and take a closer look at the painful ways we miss each other in our daily encounters.

If you are really interested in changing the nature of your relationship, start by adding time and loving attention in your foreplay.

It Leads to Stronger Relationships

Discovering pleasure together is like pouring cement into a foundation. Creating a vocabulary of physical touch that leads to ecstatic release not only releases hormones and endorphins that promote health and longevity, but also serve as the basis of biological bonding.

Knowing that you have the ability to reach someone in this most intimate of ways is one of the most significant sources of self-esteem that relationships afford.

While sharing intimate contact is not enough to keep a relationship alive, the inability to move towards it, is enough to kill it. There is no other single work in life that will repay you so profoundly each and every time you share it.