As a Certified Sex Therapist, I work with individuals and couples in therapy. I have worked with people who have been dating a few months, to couples who have been married for 50 years. I have heard it all; people who have low libido to people who are aroused by taboo fantasies. As much as I empower my clients, I’ve also learned a lot from them about maintaining a healthy and active sex life.
Some couples come to see me after things have already fallen apart, and sex therapy is a last-ditch effort to save their relationship. Others recognize a kernel of an issue, and address it before it pops up into something bigger that they cannot overcome. From one end of the spectrum to the other, here are some tips I have learned as a sex therapist to maintaining a satisfying sex life:
1. Communicate. As a therapist, I think this comes as such an obvious factor in relationships, but I’ve come to realize (personally and professionally) it is easier said than done. It also makes a huge difference based on how you’re communicating. Yelling, screaming, fighting, ignoring, or criticizing your partner are all ways of communicating, but I wouldn’t encourage or recommend any of them. Good communication is about active listening, validating, and affirming. If you find that you are having trouble communicating with your partner, find time when you both are able to talk, and do it in a neutral setting, like the kitchen. You can even try an app, such as Expressing Needs, to work on improving communication skills. If you can’t figure it out on your own, see a therapist to help create that dialogue.
2. Have common interests. I frequently ask couples what they have in common and the first time a client said, “We have a house together and we have two kids,” I was shocked that he identified this as a common interest. I quickly learned that this is all many couples have in common, so this has become a staple question I ask in therapy. When couples reach a point where they have nothing in common, aside from finances and some shared DNA, some will try a new hobby together, but many find that they have grown so far apart that they have no interest in sharing common interests anymore. It is unlikely that discussing bills or your child’s homework is going to stir your desire or motivate you to have sex with your partner though.
3. Accept that your sex life will ebb and flow. When you first start dating someone, everything is new and exciting. You put effort into getting ready for a date, and you stay up late texting or talking on the phone. You can’t wait to see that person, and it’s exhilarating just to have their hand brush against yours. After awhile, the excitement fades. When couples decide to move in together, sex often changes and becomes less frequent. You now have to take turns doing dishes and paying bills, and things don’t revolve around just being together.
If you decide to have children, your sex life may increase while you are trying to make a baby. During pregnancy it may change again. After having a child, it is likely to change again, and presumably decrease, as a baby needs attention from you. Eventually that child grows up and moves out though, and it’s just you and your partner again. Throughout it all, the goal should never be to “get it back to how it was” but to keep moving forward, create new habits, and make a continuous effort to be intimate.
4. Make an effort. One of the greatest things about being in a long-term relationship is that you can wear your sweatpants, take your make-up off, and burp in front of one another. Feeling comfortable around your partner feels really reassuring. Burping isn’t sexy though. Neither is going to the bathroom with the door open. Just because you become comfortable with your partner, doesn’t mean you should stop trying. The effort may look different, but take pride in your underwear once in a while, spritz on the cologne, and take your partner on a romantic date.
5. Keep things exciting in the bedroom. Couples tend to find what works for them, which often means the quickest means to an end, but when they stick with that routine for years, it can become boring and monotonous. Talk dirty, try a new position, add toys to the mix, and spice things up once in a while.
6. Flirt. Instead of the obligatory peck on the lips as you rush out the door in the morning, prolong that kiss, stick your tongue in your partner’s mouth, slap their butt, and leave them wanting more. Tell your partner how sexy they look. Touch their lower back in public. Laugh together. If you can’t remember how to flirt, try downloading an app like Kahnoodle to help you show your appreciation for your partner.
7. Go to therapy. Even when things are good, couples can benefit from going to therapy. I often have couples come in for just a few sessions to get some new ideas, gain some perspective, and learn new ways to communicate. If things are not going well and you are becoming angry towards your partner because your sex life isn’t what you want it to be, go to therapy. The sooner, the better. It’s easier to fix an issue when it is addressed right away because otherwise resentment can build and suddenly we aren’t just angry we aren’t having enough sex. Resentment is not a recipe for increasing libido or a successful sex life.
8. Stay healthy. Drugs and alcohol can negatively affect your sex life. For men, drugs and alcohol can have adverse affects on erectile function, including difficulty obtaining or maintaining an erection, and delayed ejaculation. For women, it can actually lower libido, cause vaginal dryness, and make an orgasm more difficult to achieve. Being overweight can also affect your sex life. Since the heart has more blood to pump throughout the body, blood flow to the penis or clitoris may slow. This may lead to an inability to obtain or maintain an erection, or difficulty achieving an orgasm. Obesity can also cause physical barriers, making it difficult for partners to obtain certain sexual positions. High cholesterol and blood pressure can also affect erectile functioning. Physical activity increases endorphins and dopamine, hormones directly related to your sex drive. It’s also important to eat healthy, drink in moderation, avoid illegal drugs, and feel good about the body you have!
9. Spend time apart. There really is something to the old adage, “Distance makes the heart grow fonder.” Give yourself an opportunity to miss your partner. That is part of what makes dating so much fun because you can’t wait to see your special someone. So do yourself a favor and go have a night out with friends, move your home office to a coffee shop for the day, or run those errands on your own. Spending some time apart from your partner gives you an opportunity to miss and appreciate them. It also ensures the time you spend together is quality time. Appreciation is the best aphrodisiac.
10. Have sex. Yes, one of the things to maintaining a healthy sex life is to have sex. Ever heard the saying, “if you don’t use it, you lose it”? Apply it to sex. Having sex actually increases our desire to have sex. When we get “too busy” to have sex, we get out of practice, we get out of sync with our partner and our bodies, and our sex lives fall to the wayside. Sex then becomes a chore. There is nothing sexy about doing chores! Sex is kind of like working out sometimes, you aren’t in the mood to do it, but you feel better afterwards. Letting go of stress, being present in the moment, and feeling connected to your partner, are all wins.