If your once-sensational sex life with your mate has headed south, it could be a "mechanical" breakdown that's partly to blame — a physical change due to aging can dampen desire, or make it difficult to want or enjoy sex.

But often there's a huge element, too, of mind over matter when intercourse with your partner has gone from blessing to burden. The state of your emotional bond — not just the techniques you've perfected to turn each other on — can affect the quality of your sex together.

Has sex with your mate seen better days? We asked sex and marital therapist David Schnarch, Ph.D., author of Resurrecting Sex: Resolving Sexual Problems and Rejuvenating Your Relationship (HarperCollins, 2002), about this common complaint, and what couples can do to reignite the sexual spark.

Q:  You say in your book that sexual problems are "normal." What do you mean when you say that?

A:  More than half of all couples across the nation had sexual problems in the last year — not because they're "inadequate," but because they're normal. Many sexual problems result from the natural way love relationships work. Couples all over the world have difficulties with emotional intimacy, desire and sexual performance when they hit "emotional gridlock" — a natural and inevitable development in all relationships.

Another reason couples have difficulty is that most people are emotionally dependent on their partner for validation and acceptance. This is absolutely normal, too, because of the way humans grow up and mature, but it creates problems that can be misunderstood, i.e., an insurmountable inability to communicate, irreconcilable differences, falling out of love or sexual incompatibility. When couples get a better understanding of what's going on, they become more resilient and less embarrassed; they face their difficulties, and they are less likely to divorce. One thing that's important for people to understand is that getting highly sexually aroused involves more than better technique.

Human sexual desire is driven more by meaning than by hormones. Our capacity to bring meaning to sex makes our sexuality human and capable of spiritual dimensions. But our complex emotions and agendas make us more susceptible to dysfunctions and desire problems than any other species.

Q:  One of the book's chapters is titled "22 Ways to Resurrect Sex." Please give us a glimpse: what are two ways to return thrilling sex to a bankrupt bedroom?

A:  Try Heads on Pillows. In bed with your clothes on, with enough light so you can see your partner's face, lie on your side, facing your partner, with your head on your pillow. (Rest your heads far enough apart so your partner doesn't look like a Cyclops.) Keep your hands to yourself, or just hold hands. Relax your face and body, taking some deep breaths. Calm yourself down while you look into each other's eyes; you're really trying to let your partner see past your retinas through to your soul. Settle down and get used to being emotionally together while you're physically together. A few weeks of doing this for 10 minutes can do wonders.

And try Eyes-Open Orgasms. Most people fantasize or focus on the feelings in their body to be able to reach orgasm. What is supposed to be the most intimate moment of sex is pretty lonely for most couples. Try looking into each other's eyes when you can feel you're close to climax. If you can't orgasm that way, then open your eyes while you're getting close, and close them when you want your climax. Over time, you'll be able to keep your eyes open and stay with your partner longer and deeper through your sexual encounters. The first time you orgasm while looking into the eyes of someone you love is mind-blowing. Although few couples start out this way, we've never found a motivated couple who couldn't do this.

Go to www.passionatemarriage.com to learn more about Schnarch, his books (he's written three to date) and his three- and nine-day seminars for couples whose sex life needs a jump start.