Ian Kerner is a licensed couples therapist, writer and contributor on the topic of sex for CNN.
Imagine an adult playground where you and your partner could live out your wildest sexual fantasies, whether that's a tryst at the doctor's office, a rendezvous in an underwater cave or an encounter in a fantastic cartoon anime world.
In Japan, couples can indulge in these and other desires at "love hotels." Since the advent of Osaka's Hotel Love in 1968, these short-stay hotels allow guests a discreet and affordable opportunity for sex.
Not all love hotels are fanciful, however. Many resemble typical hotel rooms and simply provide couples with much-needed privacy, explained Misty Keasler, who photographed scores of these hotels for her book "Love Hotels: The Hidden Fantasy Rooms of Japan."
"In Japan, many people live in small homes with more than one generation. It is still very unusual for anyone to live out of their parents' house until they get married," she explained. "In a place with limited privacy, it isn't hard to see the appeal of a private, rent-by-the-hour hotel for sex."
Here in the United States, we tend to associate hourly hotels and motels with prostitution or infidelity. But whether you and your significant other are visiting a cheap roadside inn, a five-star luxury hotel or something in between, there's no doubt that even one night away from home can give your sex life a boost.
"About once a month, one of my clients will tell me that they had 'the best sex' while at a hotel," sex therapist Amanda Pasciucco said. So what is it about hotel sex that makes it so hot?
One factor at play is the novelty aspect. "There's something liberating and decadent about staying in a hotel: a break from the monotony of our daily lives, new surroundings to explore, fine restaurants, high-quality linens, room service, maybe even a spa or hot tub," sex therapist Kimberly Resnick Anderson said. "Research shows that novelty activates the neurochemical dopamine, which stimulates the reward center in the brain and enhances libido."
Hotel sex can also bring out different sides of couples. "For some, it can certainly make them more adventurous," sex therapist Eric Marlowe Garrison said.
Hotels can also contribute to a sense of relaxation that most of us just can't get at home, putting us in "vacation mode" even if we're just spending one night at a hotel down the street. "Couples can escape to this new space and release their concerns over bills, meal planning and the report due next week at work," sexologist Laura McGuire explained. "This separation from daily life stresses can increase feelings of romance and even benefit sexual response as the body relaxes and becomes more present in the moment."
In Japan, love hotels have a reputation for extreme privacy. "Most often, you will never encounter another human being -- except for your companion -- from the time you enter the hotel until you leave," Keasler said. "Some hotels even have a pneumatic tube system so you can pay in cash anonymously before you leave your room."
Although few American hotels offer this level of anonymity, they do allow visitors to enjoy sex without the usual concerns: the kids interrupting you or your neighbors overhearing the sounds of your pleasure. "It sure can be helpful if you know that you can be as loud as you desire to express your sensations during a sexual encounter," sex therapist Sara Nasserzadeh said. "You are most likely not to bump into a familiar face, which also helps with lowering inhibitions."
Although Japanese love hotels are still thriving, their popularity has actually decreased in recent years, in part because more young adults in that country are moving away from home earlier, sex therapist Lawrence Siegel said. "With their own space, there is no need to go anywhere else for privacy. And as more types of sexual expression is accepted, many sexual and erotic practices are not as stigmatized as they once were."
Many of these love hotels are now repurposing themselves into boutique hotels or becoming part of mainstream networks such as Airbnb. Others are attempting to cater to the sexual tastes of tourists, who seek out love hotels for their novelty factor, rather than for privacy.
But love hotels have had a lasting impact even in the West. Next time you visit a hotel in the US, take a look around. You may notice some sexy new nods to your love life. From saucy "Do Not Disturb" signs to copies of the Kama Sutra to "sex kits" complete with condoms, lube and even vibrators, American hotels are finally recognizing their role in good sex, too.