(CNN) — What’s on tap for you and your partner this Valentine’s Day? A romantic dinner, a box of chocolates, maybe a bouquet of roses?
While all those gestures are thoughtful, the results of a new survey led by sex and relationships researcher Kristen Mark and the experts at Good in Bed suggest that most couples have something a little more intimate in mind.
In fact, nearly 85 percent of men and women report that sex is an important part of Valentine’s Day, and 50 percent say that they’ll be disappointed if they don’t get lucky on the 14th.
“Valentine’s Day is second only to New Year’s Eve in the most celebrated holidays worldwide,” explains Mark. “Yet only a small amount of scientific literature has been dedicated to the attitudes, perceptions and participation in Valentine’s Day celebrations.”
To learn more about the way both couples and single people feel about the holiday, Mark and her colleagues polled more than 2,000 men and women between age 18 and 70, 66 percent of whom were in long-term committed relationships.
“The results,” says Mark, “give us insight into specific plans and expectations around this holiday.”
The overwhelming majority of men and women are expecting sex. Here’s how to make intimacy the centerpiece of your relationship this Valentine’s Day.
Start outside the bedroom. Our survey found that 65 percent of respondents plan on being affectionate on Feb. 14 — and affection doesn’t always have to be sexual.
Build anticipation before the big day (and night) by exchanging a few sexy texts or e-mails with your partner. Steal a kiss or two. You can also foster intimacy by giving him or her a really long hug: Research shows that hugging each other for at least 20 to 30 seconds can trigger the flow of oxytocin, the so-called feel-good “cuddle hormone”.
Make an effort. Great sex doesn’t always just happen. Sometimes, it takes a little planning, especially if — like many Americans — you’ve been in a bit of a sex rut.
Do some prep work by turning your bedroom into a love nest: Make the bed (with new, or at least clean, sheets), tidy up, light a candle or two, and queue up a sexy playlist on your iPod. If you do go out to dinner, don’t overindulge, and hit the sack early so you’re not too tired for intimacy.
Think outside the chocolate box. While flowers, chocolate and lingerie still top the list in gifts, 30 percent of people plan on a more specifically sex-oriented gift on Valentine’s Day, says Mark.
These days, sensual presents and sex toys are as close as your local drugstore and can often be found right next to the condoms. If you’re in the market for a higher-end present, consider a new vibrating toy that charges in your laptop’s USB port.
Or gift your partner an anthology of erotica, and read a few stories together.
Get creative. According to the survey, 55 percent of both men and women are open to trying something new sexually, just because it’s Valentine’s Day.
Take this opportunity to talk with your partner about stepping outside your comfort zones a bit. Maybe you want to experiment with role-playing, or watch an erotic movie together, or try a new position.
Feeling shy? Take a tip from psychoanalyst Suzanne Iasenza, who suggests couples create a “sexual menu” that features a variety of sensual activities — anything from watching the sunset together to giving each other erotic massages to acting out a fantasy. You can write up your menus independently and then share them on the big night.
Redefine intimacy. Valentine’s Day should be about celebrating love, but you don’t have to be in a romantic relationship to enjoy it.
Resist the urge to be impulsive, like 40 percent of survey participants who say they would hook up with someone sexually just because of the holiday.
“I advise some of my clients feeling anxious about the holiday to get together with people they love, like close friends or family members, with whom they have formed positive and supportive relationships,” advises psychotherapist Allison M. Lloyds. That could mean dinner with friends, visiting your parents, or, if you’re a single mom or dad, celebrating with your kids.
Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity to get closer to the one you love. Use it to jumpstart your relationship, but remember: You don’t need a reason to celebrate love and intimacy every day of the year.