Sex is important in a long-term relationship, at least for many people. Couples try all kinds of things to have more, enjoy it more, and help one another get turned on. Lots of these attempts either sputter or backfire.
What have you tried? How was that?
I’ve gathered stories from hundreds of couples about what they’ve tried to help them get more interested in sex, spice up a lackluster sexual connection, or make time in their busy lives for sex. Now, I’m not knocking any of these or saying that every single one of them can’t produce results, at least in the immediate sense. But each has either its drawbacks or some limitation to its effectiveness. Let’s see how this matches your experience….
Toys and accessories can help bring new variety. If you’ve gotten into a rut, that might be just the ticket. But for most couples who’re facing challenges, the gap in their desire levels is bigger than a new toy can close… And one partner’s idea of a fun new accessory may be, in the other partner’s eyes, an insult or a transgression.
A great date together can lead to feeling closer or feeling more excited about each other, and one or both of those might be what helps you get together. But if you GO on a date and it ISN’T a great one, that’s seldom helpful…. And even if it is great, fun together doesn’t always translate to heat together.
Clothes or Lingerie
The bottom line on lingerie or new clothes? They’re most useful for the person wearing them. If your knickers have gotten ratty, sprucing them up can remind you you’re a sensual creature. If you’ve been feeling schlumpy in your clothes, the just-right new pants or shirt or who-knows-what can help you show up in a revitalized way. So this tool often does work well in those situations. But if a couple are out of step and one partner thinks “this lingerie is going to change everything!” it often misfires. The other partner may wonder “what’s up?” and ask if the change relates to someone other than them. Perhaps worse, sometimes the partner doesn’t notice… or pay ENOUGH attention. Either way, new duds worn with a strong intent that they change the partner’s response usually carry enough pressure that the partner’s in a no-win situation. Wear it for YOU or don’t bother.
Alcohol or Substances
Alcohol or other substances are, by definition, intoxicating. But many are also depressants. Yes, they can reduce inhibitions and help us unwind if we’re too wound up to enjoy our partner. But they can also increase emotional volatility and reduce our bodies’ erotic responsiveness, leading to fights in the former case and disappointment and/or embarrassment in the latter. I’m not saying substances are hands-down counter-productive, but if you’re looking at using something that’s outside your own norm, temper your expectations.
Watching Something Sexy
Movies of any sort can help us step into another place and time and sometimes into other characters. The problem is, as evocative as moving images, paired with deliberately placed music and sometimes special effects can be… They evoke different feelings and impulses in all of us. It’s sometimes hard to predict what will turn either of you on in a movie or what will repulse or upset one of you. Whether it’s a powerful story or a truly “adult film,” you may not see it the same way. Some of the things that are hottest to one (or even both) of you might be triggering to the other. This is another tool that can be great if its use appears organically and there’s not a lot of pressure, but trying to stream something as a sure-fire path? Might well be a mis-fire.
Putting Sex on the Calendar
Scheduling sex is, for many couples I work with, an immediate groan-inducer if I bring it up, and in the long run, a crucial ingredient in their winning formula for getting together as often as they’d like. “What we measure happens” is an old axiom in business and it maps over here. If we’ve got a goal to enjoy one another erotically more often, we’re counting. And if we check back regularly and see how we’re doing on that score, our score tends to improve. It improves because we change our behavior . We plan better, we rearrange, we save energy… And it happens. Or almost happens… In which case, we’re discovering what gets in the way of it happening. And if we stick with that discovery process… It’s like peeling off the layers of an onion… We get to see what gets in the way, and what else, and what else and what else. But only if we don’t give up and say “Aww... Scheduling it? That doesn’t work.”
A weekend away or a just-us trip can definitely create more time and space to be together, and if you’re already friendly and into each other when you set out, it usually leads to a great time. But if conflict or erotic entropy have been among the obstacles to your coming together, so to speak, transporting those challenges to a snazzy new locale can pour salt on the wound. The other challenge, for many busy couples, is that as badly as they DO need the time away and the time together, sex itself has to stand in line behind more basic needs that have been in short supply: sleep, rest, relaxation… And even logistical conversations, personal catch-up, reading the news… Some couples come back and tell me “Oh, we had a great time and it was exactly what we needed… but not so much on the sex front.” They had to get away and rejuvenate as PEOPLE more than as erotic partners. So before you book the get-away, be sure the fundamentals are solid and that the fresh venue and dedicated time are what’s needed, but not needed too awful badly. Or book two weekends in a row!
Costumes or Role Play
Within this category, I include everything from jokingly flirting, “do you come here often?” when you first meet up at a restaurant… to BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism, and/or masochism) roles, toys, and scenarios. Some couples include elements of these, whether mainstream and “vanilla” or more intense and edgy, in many of their erotic interactions. For others, this kind of idea would represent a major foray beyond their comfort zone. That said, studies show that erotic connection IS heightened by novel experiences. Doing anything that’s new, especially if it’s just a little bit challenging or (within reason, by your own standards) frightening, heightens our senses and opens us up to both experiencing more pleasure and experiencing ourselves and our partners in a new way. And that’s the thing people tell me so often: “I just know there are no surprises here. Neither of us is going to do anything that will surprise me.” “How could you surprise yourself?” I ask. “What direction might you make a fresh move that might - just as experiment - have the potential to drop you into a new place you might like?”
To me, the entire erotic arena is not about gratification or getting off. It’s definitely not about conforming to the culturally-prescribed notions of beauty, power, desirability, or gender norms. It’s about, above all, getting to PLAY in a realm that’s just ours (whoever is involved) and that is co-created in the moment, inside and between us. It’s this private world, where the laws and the mores and the key metrics are all determined and carried out right there. It’s improvisational and the feedback is immediate and it tests our capacities: for self-definition, for generosity, for receptivity, for resilience. There are metaphors from other places like dance or sport or theater, but truly, there’s nothing else like it.
So “let’s play like…” (as so many sentences would begin when I was a child) is a magnificent tool, to my thinking. That said, rather than bringing more imagination, more artistry, more joy, and fewer rules, taboos, anxieties, or requirements to their sex, when many people think of adding costumes or roles, they’re thinking of slapping those things on like the cheesy polyester police uniform with the velcro-side pants that were worn by the stripper my sorority sisters sent me the year I was rush co-chair in college. Without the emotional substance and the freedom to explore, it’s just bow-chicka-wow-wow… Embarrassing, silly, and anything-but-erotic.
As so many things do, romance has the potential to be a fantastic ingredient in your sensual pantry. What do I mean by romance? Well, what do you mean by romance? And therein lies the rub: we all have different definitions, and some of them were sold to us by those with an economic stake in what we’d need to buy to “be romantic.” So when we think “We need more romance in order to get to sex more often,” one of us may have something in mind… Like being brought flowers. Delivering on that very desire might, for the other partner, be anti-erotic because their sense of flowers is that they’re something demanded in a quid pro quo that’s neither loving nor sexy. On the other hand, if we can talk about “what’s romantic to me” and find some things that feel good to both the giver and the receiver of that particular thing (often after a little adjustment in how we’re framing it, on one or both our part), “romance” CAN pave the way to more and better sex.
For us, for instance, when my husband installed a reminder in his phone to call me from work (where his head is full of 10,000 things every day and he had felt interrupted if I called (not romantic!) and couldn’t seem to remember on his own to call me, given those 10,000 closer-at-hand demands), he started calling DAILY. Now, I KNOW the reminder is what prompted it. But I still felt loved. And now, he doesn’t need the reminder. He’s in the habit. He DOES think of calling me. And hell, yes, that greases the skids later on!
But rose petals all over the bed? Well, they stick to your… everything… and the next morning, they’re all shriveled and they’re still EVERYWHERE… Not as romantic. For us. The moral is: get a mutual definition that the two of you created. Then, and only then, is romance a powerful tool.
Quid Pro Quo
“Yeah, I’ll feel like making out… Once the garbage is out!” To me, this one is a little tricky. For one thing, we don’t want to place our sexual attention in the role of a commodity that can be exchanged for household labor, cash, or goods and services… at least not in our intimate relationships. Well-paid sex work engaged in by consenting adults is another topic for another day. Second, even if it “works” -- that is, one of you can get more of what you want from your partner by “giving” them sex when they want it more than you do, it sets up a dynamic whereby you have to hide or bury your own desires lest you be asked to “pay,” yourself, next time you are the initiator. There’s an air of contempt and non-mutuality that can take over. And even if your relationship has been loving, if sex slides into the realm of “favor” or “concession,” the mutuality and respect of the love is hard to maintain on that slippery slope. So beyond occasionally joking (truly joking) about this or “indulging” your partner by rallying when you’re not 110% up for it, I heartily recommend avoiding this strategy.
Pleading. Whining. Cajoling.
Just, no. The disrespect of your partner’s “no” and the stepping over of the real reasons -- on both people’s part -- for the discrepancy in your desire are the biggest reasons this doesn’t fly. Both this category and the last one are usually used in situations where there’s a significant gap between the high desire partner’s desire and the low desire partner’s. But neither of these approaches gets at the heart of why one of you wants it more than the other. Sometimes that why is organic and immutable. Much of the time, however, it’s the product of both who you were at the outset and what’s happened between you. When you can resist the temptation to jerry-rig some consensus by trading or pleading or manipulating, you can reap not only a harvest of sensual delights, but also another of greater self-awareness and deeper friendship. You end up knowing yourself and your partner better when you look at “why do I lean in toward sex under x, y, and z circumstance?” or “Why do I shut down connection with my partner when a, b, or c happens?” and when you can both ask yourselves “Why does person 1 not respond in the way person 2 wishes when person 2 does ____?” and talk about that openly.
I list this option last in a tongue-in-cheek way, because it seems so many people hold the belief that seeking professional guidance is the Last Resort For The Truly Desperate. And, I mean, what a bummer! What if nobody went to the dentist till all their teeth fell out? What if taking a class on parenting or cooking or yoga or dance was something you held as shameful, as if “I’m supposed to know how to do this already” and “getting help with this means things are REALLLLY bad.”
Nobody taught us how to do love. Well… somebody did, for every one of us: we learned what it took to survive in our family of origin. However kind or self-aware those who raised us were (and many were not high on those scales), when we were learning how to ‘do family,’ let’s face it: we were kind of immature. That’s a joke, but I mean it. We were little kids: vulnerable, literally dependent on the grownups around us for survival. Not sovereign, and not ready for mature sexual interaction. Then, when we were in our teens or 20s and began venturing into the arena of sexuality and chosen intimate relationship, who were our teachers? Other inexperienced youths like us, with raging hormones and bottomless insecurities to match our own. No wonder we’re all baffled by the strange, uncooperative bodies and stress-addled minds of our partners as we approach and pass midlife! We’re like unlucky pilots who’ve never even been passengers on these craft we’re now supposed to cajole into soaring, and then land safely.
Our learning curve has to start again. We’ve got to find beginner’s mind, a sense of curiosity and adventure, forgiveness and humor. And if we find a professional who can help us cultivate those qualities, our relationships will benefit from the alliance. If, on the other hand, we wind up in the office of someone whose training or conditioning leaves them stranded in a model that insists on diagnosing an illness in one or both of you or in the marriage itself… Or if they're wedded to a patriarchal model incapable of meeting the true needs of either partner… Or allied to the falsely "fair" notion that “every relationship problem is 50/50 in its creation and its resolution”... you may compound your suffering while paying for the privilege.
I’m a relationship coach because I love to support people individually to take the actions and make the mindset shifts that transform their own experience, on the way to transforming their relationship. I love to be able to be transparent with my clients and to be able to be directive when what they really desire (and in their opinion and mine, need) is specific homework and guidance, not just warm listening. I love to translate and help partners really hear the loveable, innocent (even when pain has been inflicted) human being underneath the words that so piss them off or leave them feeling abandoned.
I create courses because like in every other field, there is information that, once you have it, changes your relationship with love and sex. Making your relationship better doesn’t always have to mean hashing it out, 1 on 1 with a professional for a totally customized approach. Sometimes all it takes is tuning up (or revolutionizing) the fundamentals. Courses work great for that! I love to package that information and the practices and skills that help the most, into easy-to-absorb lessons and teach the way to the love and sex you want with the partner you already have.
“Getting to Sex” is my newest course and it does just that.