Few activities are as exciting as sex. There is a lot of biology that makes sex so interesting. The survival of the species depends on it. And yet, some people lose interest in having sex with their partner. How can something so exciting get so boring?
Let’s first put aside some circumstances that can influence someone’s sex drive overall, not just for their partner. Anxiety, depression, stress, various medical conditions, many medications, and aging (to some extent) can reduce one’s desire for sex. If one of these applies to you or your partner, then it deserves a look and possibly a discussion with your physician and/or a therapist.
However, there are plenty of people who are still interested in sex in general, but much less interested in being sexual with their partner. They still have sexual thoughts and fantasies, they still respond to sexual stimuli (like a racy scene in a movie), and perhaps even still masturbate regularly, but they feel bored or avoid sex with their partner. There had been a time, perhaps a long time, where they couldn’t keep their hands off of each other, but now they are more likely to grab the remote.
It’s easy to say that that burning passion naturally and inevitably fades in long-term relationships. While that is generally true, there are plenty of couples who continue to have great sex on a regular basis, even if it isn’t quite as often as it once was. So blaming longevity for your nonexistent sex life doesn’t cut it.
What Are You Holding Back On?
If you’re feeling sexually bored, then you need to look deeper. Usually the first reason long-term couples give for fading desire is familiarity—excitement requires some amount of novelty and uncertainty, both of which fall to the unstoppable march of familiarity. Yes, but no. If you feel that you know your partner too well, then perhaps you have fallen into a rut of just doing all that same old stuff. More of the same can indeed lose its spark. Perhaps your partner has some new desires or fantasies that they haven’t shared yet—or some really old ones that they have never shared.
What can you do to make them more comfortable to share? You may want to ask them in a moment of passion (such as it is), if there is anything else that turns them on or that they would like to try. You may also want to have a discussion when fully dressed, explaining that you are happy overall with this relationship (if true) but that you would like to have a more fiery sex life, then ask what would make things more exciting for your partner. This probably won’t be a one and done conversation. And it will probably be at least a little awkward, but hang in there.
And since relationships tend to do best when they’re fair, what are you holding back on revealing? What is rolling around inside your head when you’re turned on or masturbating? And what’s stopping you from sharing some of that with your partner and spicing things up? Most likely there is some form of fear of judgment at work here. This may be based in your own self-judgment about what you would like to try if you haven’t fully accepted that it is OK to be turned on by it. By their nature, sexual turn-ons tend to go against what we’re supposed to want—there are many spoken and unspoken sanctions that regulate who we can have sex with and under what circumstances. However, as Justin Lehmiller, PhD explains so insightfully in his fascinating new book, Tell Me What You Want, most of us have lots of turn-ons that would definitely not earn the Good Housekeeping seal of approval.
This doesn’t mean that we need to act on our every fantasy, sexual or otherwise, but it may be worth trying out a few of them. Or perhaps just playing with them as fantasies with your partner.
People continue to evolve over the years and decades (hopefully), so your relationship should probably also evolve, too, including sexually. There’s nothing wrong with what you used to do together, but perhaps you would like to mix it up a bit. One of the advantages that long-term couples have over the newbies is that they are often more secure in themselves and also in each other. It can feel safer to make a vulnerable disclosure, so established couples can actually be much kinkier, if they would like to be.
Unresolved Conflicts Kill Desire
Sometimes the culprit has nothing to do with sex but shows up there nonetheless. Anger and resentment from unresolved or even unstated conflicts can suck all the passion out of the couple’s sex life. It’s easy to side-step those difficult conversations by simply saying, “Not tonight, honey.” If you’re avoiding getting into it, you may want to ask yourself whether you would be better off taking a couple deep breaths and diving in. What price are you paying by leaving this unresolved? What can you do to try to make it into a more productive conversation? What could you ask your partner to do to make it into a more productive conversation?
Without selling out your integrity, I would also encourage you to sometimes put unresolved disagreements aside temporarily and make a point of connecting with your partner, sexually and otherwise. Some disagreements can take a while to resolve, so you don’t want to put your relationship and sex life on hold until everything is great. In fact, some positive connection can boost good will towards each other and make it easier to do the hard work of problem resolution. By ignoring the restorative effects of occasional positive connection, you starve yourself of the crucial emotional fuel that enables you to hash out the really difficult matters.
The Canary in the Coal Mine
The quality of a couple’s sex life can tell us something about the state of their overall relationship and also their personal development. The couples who are able to keep things hot and stay engaged sexually over the long haul are doing a lot of things well, including being honest with themselves about their sexuality, being accepting of their partner’s sexuality, and addressing the myriad other issues that can affect their sex life. You can have a happy relationship without sex, but doing what it takes to keep your sex life hot will make your relationship great.