How do you keep sex going strong in a long-term relationship? Earlier this year, the Journal of Sex Research came out with a special issue. In it, researchers Kristen P. Mark and Julie A. Lasslo combed through 64 different studies on sexual desire conducted throughout the past three decades. The goal was to better understand how committed couples maintain a fulfilling sex life, even after years together.
The key to sexual satisfaction within the context of a long-term relationship is, it appears, multifarious, at least according to Mark and Lasslo. Manning our expectations is a good place to start, they assert. Maintaining a level of independence can also help keep the passion aflame. Embracing novelty appeared among the findings as well. In fact, multiple studies featured in the report demonstrate a correlation between entertaining new sexual dynamics and sexual satisfaction.
Dr. Chris Donaghue, a sex therapist, spokesperson for Tenga, and author of the upcoming book Rebel Love, is all about this approach. As such, we spoke to him about love, marriage, and the importance of keeping things fresh to arrive at some conclusions about how to keep sex going on as the years go by.
For starters, how common is it for sex to slow down within the context of a long-term relationship?
It’s really, really common. So much so, that it’s almost to be expected. But people shouldn’t panic. There are a lot of ways we can work around it. When it happens, it’s not necessarily a sign that something bad is going on within the relationship.
What are some things that might contribute to that inevitable lull?
Declines in sex can happen when we get too comfortable and we fall into habits. Sexual arousal is brought forth by newness, novelty, and diversity. In sex, especially in long-term relationships, we tend to just stick to the same path, the same pattern, the same thing. So the way around that is to always fold in something new and novel. You have to change up when you’re doing it and how you’re doing it. You have to keep it fresh.
What are some things that might complicate our ability to take that advice?
Circumstances change throughout our lives. Life events may shift how much of a priority sex is. But it’s still important make it important and keep it frequent. The longer you go without having sex, the harder it can be to get back to it. Keep it a priority. Keep it consistent, and always keep it diverse.
Do you have any advice for parents, in particular?
As a parent, you have a lot of responsibilities. You’re not going to have a lot of energy, and sexual arousal requires energy, time, and space. Again, it’s about making sex a priority. Yes, you’re a parent, but you’re also a partner to someone. You have to make time for all of the above.
At what point might this become a real problem?
I think it should become a cause for concern when one or both of the partners aren’t interested in putting in any work. That means nothing is going to change. People get a little too comfortable — aka lazy — and don’t always want to prioritize working on sex. So if one or both of you aren’t willing to do that, then you have reason to be concerned.
Trying something new sounds like a sensible enough idea. But there are a lot of ways couples can mix things up in the bedroom. How can couples determine what’s right for them?
I tell clients to eroticize their partner every day, that’s one of the “number one” tools I teach them. You have to remind yourself that your partner is a romantic, sexual interest. They aren’t supposed to just be your best friend. Do something romantic or sexual every day. That could be kissing them, putting your arm around them, leaving a note, texting them – just make sure it’s every day. That’s going to keep you tied together in that way. But check in with yourself and make sure you’re doing something fresh every week, or every month. It doesn’t have to be anything extreme or over the top. Also try checking in with your partner. It’s important to articulate what you want to be working on, and really make it a priority.
What are some suggestions for those on the more “tame” side of the spectrum?
My number one suggestion for couples who might be feeling a little shy is to go to a sex boutique. Just walking into that store can function as an intervention in and of itself. Walk around the store. See what grabs you. Again, this is your partner. This is the person you’re supposed to feel most comfortable and confident around. Try getting over your anxiety. Try something new.
Have you seen any instances where this kind of experimentation backfires?
Of course. That’s why sexual exploration should be done within committed relationships where you feel safe. It something goes wrong, know there’s no real harm done. You just take it off the table. You realize it didn’t go the way you think it went, and you go back to the things that feel good.