Sex can be difficult to sustain in relationships. While there are some who are able to do it, there are generally factors that can counter sexual excitement in relationships. For example, part of what makes sex exciting is risk and unknown. Think of the difference between the first time you had sex with someone and the 50th. Repetition and familiarity with a long-term partner removes the element of risk and unknown, which can also remove some of the excitement of sex.
Also, shame becomes an issue in relationships, which can inhibit sex. The more partners become known to each other as people with vulnerabilities, flaws, etc., the more shame increases. The fear of rejection, judgment, and ego annihilation increases, and can therefore shut down uninhibited sex.
Also, the positives to a sexual relationship with a long term partner are generally different than the positives of sex with a short-term partner. Habitual sex with short-term partners is often objectified sex, which is an expression of fears of closeness, connection, and commitment (thus leading to many short-term partners, versus one long-term partner).
Sex sustained in a long-term relationship tends to be a product of safety, closeness, familiarity, comfort, openness, and trust. In this case, sex involves trust that each will be accepted for their desires, needs, vulnerabilities, flaws, and otherwise. The passion and excitement is the relationship rather than the sexual act itself. Sex becomes the vessel rather than the end goal (with short-term partners, sex is often the end goal).
So what’s good to realize is that objectified sex is going to have different components of satisfaction than emotionally-connected sex. Based on this idea, here are eight ways to sustain sex in a long-term relationship:
1) Communicate vulnerabilities to each other. Being vulnerable can be quite difficult. However, the ability to be vulnerable with the people closest to us enhances the quality and depth of our relationships. With intimate partners, the ability to reveal and accept emotional vulnerability opens connection. Let each other know what emotions and thoughts are difficult to express. Essentially, let each other in with unconditional acceptance. The more comfortable we can become with expressing our vulnerabilities to our partners, the more relationship opens, which will increase acts of intimacy, like sex.
2) Understand and accept your partner’s (and your own) shame. This is similar to the one above, however shame in particular plays a major role in sex. The moment one partner starts to feel a sense of shame in their desires, sex comes to a stop. The ability to have your partner accept and understand your deep shame (hopefully both partners are sharing these feelings with each other) disarms the power of the shame to impact your sex life.
3) Show genuine interest in what makes your partner tick, both in and out of the bedroom. Your partner has to know that they matter to you as a person. In narcissistically-based relationships, the assumption is that the partner is mainly there to serve their own needs. This quickly erodes relationships and leaves the partner feeling used. Learn about each other and show genuine interest in one another’s likes and dislikes, values, hobbies, etc. Participate with them, and take care of each other. Your relationship will benefit. And in bed, ask about their desires and learn what they want from you.
4) Make sex new and unpredictable, even when planned. Sex tends to become stale when it’s routine and predictable. Encourage your partner to try new things, and communicate openness to their ideas and desires. The less predictable and the more varied your sexual encounters with your partner are, the more curiosity, stimulation, and excitement there will be for the next one together. Also, contrary to some belief, planned sex can be just as engaging, if not more engaging, than spontaneous sex. For many, sex may not happen at all if a date isn’t planned.
5) Develop a cue system. This is a way of subtly communicating interest to your partner so they know you’re interested in sex that day, thus encouraging them to make a move (and leaving some spontaneity). Cues can be anything agreed to in advance with your partner. It could be a coded text message, a particular meal for dinner, a word on the fridge, leaving a pen standing up on the table, etc. Anything that drops an agreed-to hint to your partner counts as a cue. (Some partners like to also create an out-cue together in case one partner isn’t up for sex that day. This prevents the partner from feeling required to perform simply because their partner puts out a sex cue. Also, some add a cue that specifies who will make the move). If you’re both looking to increase your sexual relationship, I’d suggest only using an out-cue when really necessary.
6) Engage your fantasies together, and be unconditionally accepting of your partner’s fantasies. Part of what makes sex difficult to sustain long-term is a fear of rejection of our most primitive states. These states are often visible through fantasies (and fetishes). If you want to increase your sexual relationship, it’s helpful to encourage your partner to fantasize and to be willing to be a part of the fantasy. If judgment or rejection is a part of this, shame will increase and sex will shut down. Being excited for the variation will increase the satisfaction for both. If your partner’s fantasies make you uncomfortable, then communicating this in a way that is caring and non-shaming is very important to your relationship. Offer alternatives. The more open, accepting, and adventurous you can be, the more likely it is to open your sex lives to various possibilities together.
7) Accept your own deeper desires. People often feel shame around their own fantasies. If you are able to accept and be comfortable and confident with your own fantasies and desires, the less shame will be present, and therefore the less inhibited you will be with your partner. Removing shame opens doors (especially if both partners can overcome their shame together).
8) Genuinely enjoy each other, and communicate frustrations when unable to enjoy each other. One of the best ways to increase sex is to have a love affair as a couple. Do things together, laugh together, text each other just for fun, cook together, and enjoy the presence of each other. Be open with each other about deeper thoughts and feelings. If you have children, make the most of family time (increasing family connection as a whole will help increase couple intimacy when your kids are asleep or away). If you’re having a difficult time enjoying your partner, communicate what’s getting in the way. If your partner isn’t receptive to this discussion, then couples therapy is a good way to help open the blocked communication that can both inhibit sex, and your relationship as a whole. The more you can genuinely enjoy each other as people, the more you will experience deeper connection and intimacy together. (This doesn’t mean you should spend all of your time together — it is necessary for a healthy relationship to be able to securely be apart at times, too).
In the end, while one can find superficial “tricks” to occasionally boost sex in a relationship, long-term, the depth of the relationship will likely play the largest role in determining the quality of your sexual relationship. Focusing on the relationship as a whole, rather than simply on the object of sex, will tend to pay off — in more ways than one.