How to Keep a Marriage Sexy-ish

Some advice from a sex therapist who's helped couples for more than two decades.

In theory, the sex lives of modern couples should be a nonstop pleasure paradise. Attitudes about sex and sexuality have relaxed around the world and the Internet has made every kind of stimulation available and deliverable right to your screen or doorstep.

But the truth is, even in the 21st century, couples are still finding themselves in a sexual rut. And, while the classic married couple scenario has the perpetually horny husband begging for a quickie from a headache-besieged wife, these days, things are a bit different.

“I see many couples these days where she wants more sex than he does,” says Dr. Stephen Snyder, a New York-based sex therapist and the author of Love Worth Making: How to Have Ridiculously Great Sex in a Long-Lasting Relationship. “Or where she still has desire, but he’s gone missing in bed.”

Dr. Snyder has been practicing sex and relationship therapy for more than 25 years and has seen the shift take place. He notes that the stresses of modern living — inability to detach from work, financial troubles, overstimulation — are often the catalyst for a breakdown in a couple’s sex life.

“Usually it is that something has gone wrong emotionally in their relationship,” he says. “Often they’ve gotten into a vicious cycle where he’s withdrawn from her — because that’s what men mostly do under stress.” Criticism, per Synder, undoubtedly comes into play and that continues the pattern.

Another interesting fact that Snyder points out that the shift in gender roles in modern society, as well as a change in the expectations placed on both men and women have complicated matters.

“These days a wife will often earn more than her husband,” he says. “Women tend to be more direct these days about their sexual needs. And a lot of men aren’t sure what masculinity is supposed to look like — either in or out of the bed. I think we’re all still trying to figure these things out.”

Now, the spark going out in a marriage isn’t cause to hit the panic button. It’s normal, says Snyder, and it happens to everyone. “At first, you have lots of sex together — partly from desire, and partly because you need the reassurance that everything’s okay. But eventually other things begin to take priority, and you don’t really desire each other in the same way.”

For busy couples who’ve been in long relationships, sex often becomes a rote act with the orgasm as a goal to be achieved as quickly and directly as possible. Snyder says that thinking is a major misconception.

“Orgasm is just ‘dessert’ at the end of sex,” he says. “If you’re just trying to give each other dessert, you may end up chronically hungry. Instead, make sure to spend some time enjoying the appetizers and the entree.”

This type of sex is often coupled with external pressures and distractions that cause a couple to lose focus on what it actually means to be intimate. It’s not uncommon, per Snyder, for couples to not even notice if they’re aroused or not. “Most people just gauge how aroused they are, based on whether they’re hard or wet,” he says. “But to have really good sex, you have to be psychologically aroused as well.”

Additionally, the ever-present Internet can also create some problems in the bedroom.

“Many men these days seem to prefer porn to sex with their wife,” explains Synder. “But if a man is getting most of his orgasms in front of his computer, that trains him to associate erotic pleasure with the fact that his wife is out of the room. Not the greatest recipe for a good erotic connection.” Snyder’s rule of thumb for men: Try to get more orgasms in bed with your wives then in front of their computer.

For married couples who find things cooling down between the sheets, the first instinct is to hop online (the internet rears its head again) and order up a slew of novelty items to try and bring the heat back into the marriage. In fact, if you read a lot of modern sex guides or magazine articles, that’s often what they’ll prescribe.

“That’s terrible advice,” Snyder says. “Novelty, almost by definition, never lasts. And if your drawer is full of sex toys but you’re still in a sexual rut together, you can easily end up feeling more discouraged than when you started.”

That psychological arousal comes from seeking greater depth, and a sense of mindfulness in being together in the moment. This can be as simple as turning off the TV, silencing cell phones, or just taking the time to breathe together.

“Mindfulness isn’t something esoteric,” Snyder says. “You don’t have to sit cross-legged, or eat vegan. It just means taking time to experience the moment, before you get started with lovemaking. And keeping that sense of the moment, all the way through to dessert.”

The key to great sex, according to Snyder is, as he puts it, getting excited together on a regular basis, even if that excitement isn’t a prelude to sex right then. Simple touches, caresses or kisses can keep the sexual energy flowing and build anticipation for the time when that energy can finally be released. “You want to be like two high school students making out in the school hallway between classes,” Snyder says. “When the bell rings, you each go off to class feeling erotically buzzed.”