The start of a relationship is usually when sex is at its peak; things are fresh and exciting and neither of you seem to be able to keep your hands off each other. But when does all that begin to simmer down? According to a survey conducted by online doctor service DrEd, Sexual Shifts: A Look at Sex Frequency Changes and Relationship Satisfaction, “more than half of couples who have been together for longer than six months experienced a decrease in sex frequency.” While that six-month mark was when most couples noticed a change in their bedroom habits, the survey found that a full year into a relationship is when intimacy really begins to dwindle.
Among the 1,000 Americans and Europeans who participated, only 17 percent of those who’ve been together for six months or less reported a decrease in the amount of sex they were having. On the other hand, 57 percent of couples who have lasted for six months or longer noticed a decline. But the end of a honeymoon phase is nothing to freak out over. In fact, it’s very much normal for a relationship to reach a new level of comfort the more mature it gets.
However, keep in mind that sexual satisfaction and relationship satisfaction do affect one another. According to the survey, couples who reported a decrease in sex frequency were found to be more dissatisfied with their sex life and relationship overall. While respondents who were having more sex saw a positive impact in their relationship. They communicated better, were more affectionate, and felt happier with their partners. Results also showed the most common reasons why couples weren’t having as much sex any more.
- Top 5 Reasons Couples Stop Having Sex
- What No Sex In A Relationship Really Means For You And Your Partner
- 1. You’re Both Stressed
- 2. You Have Different Sexual Appetites
- 3. You’ve Failed To Prioritize Sex
- 4. You’ve Figured Out What Works For You
- 5. There Really Is An Underlying Problem
- Try not to become complacent.
- Slow down and start over.
- Put on your life preserver first.
- Think about what turns you on.
- Create a magic circle in your bedroom.
- Don’t bank on spontaneity.
- Consider therapy.
- How Often Should Couples Have Sex?
- Why Couples Fight More When They’re Having Less Sex
- The Fix
- Does Desire Really Decrease With Length of Relationship?
Top 5 Reasons Couples Stop Having Sex
- Being too tired (71.5 percent)
- Work (50.4 percent)
- Being too busy (50.3 percent)
- Kids (31.1 percent)
- Pain (12.8 percent)
Sex is bound to slow down in a long-term relationship, but that doesn’t mean all effort should go out the window. Remember to continue wooing your partner and to be open-minded about ways you can keep things fresh. Sex is about more than physical pleasure; it’s about intimacy and feeling connected with your SO. The rest of your relationship can benefit from maintaining this one area, so get busy!
Image Source: Unsplash / John Schnobrich
What No Sex In A Relationship Really Means For You And Your Partner
Sex in a new relationship is always pretty fantastic: It happens constantly, it’s exciting to discover each other’s bodies, and the two of you usually can’t get enough of each other.
If you’re really lucky, the sex can last that way well into a long-term committed relationship, and you’ll live happily sexually ever after.
That said, sometimes sex between exclusive partners can start to dwindle over time. That’s totally normal, and doesn’t always indicate an issue in your relationship. It might just mean that you’ve grown comfortable together and aren’t as hungry for constant, adventurous sexual exploration. But no sex in a relationship at all might be something you want to address if physical connection is important to you. Even though most couples know that the speed of their sex life might slow down as they get more comfortable, that doesn’t mean they don’t start worrying if it actually happens. It’s common to feel worried about sex in your relationship, and just as common to want to work on it.
If you and your partner are having sex less often than you used to, it could mean something or nothing at all. The truth is that couples have sex less often for a multitude of different reasons, and it’s a pretty personal thing to each couple. Dr. Martha Tara Lee, a clinical sexologist (DHS, MA, BA) and founder of Eros Coaching, says that a dwindling sex life can happen for a variety of reasons, and sometimes, it’s hard to assess what’s actually going on. That said, Dr. Lee says there is a checklist of questions you can ask yourself to better assess the situation:
What is really going on? A lot of times, deep down, we do have some inkling of the roots of any problem. Is it my lifestyle? Are you eating healthily, exercising moderately, and getting sufficient rest? Is it my attitude? Check if your attitudes and beliefs about sex and sexuality are supporting or hurting your sex life. What would make you want to have sex more? Which areas — sex quality, duration of foreplay, or simply frequency — would you like to work on? Are you secretly angry with your partner? You may both need to learn new communication skills and techniques. Are you always comparing yourself with the Joneses? Your sexual desire is an exquisitely unique expression of individuality, and comparisons serve no one. You can tell your partner that!
You can also ask yourself about the speed at which your sex life dwindled: Did it happen really quickly, or was it over time? If it happened seemingly overnight, there might be a bigger problem. Asking yourself this checklist of questions might help you narrow down what’s happening enough to talk to your partner about it and see how to work through it.
If you’ve asked yourself some of these questions and you still aren’t sure what’s up, you could be facing one of the more common reasons why couples start having less sex in relationships.
1. You’re Both Stressed
Although we’re all pretty busy, sometimes it feels like we’re going from responsibility to responsibility with no rest in between. If the two of you are very stressed out or very busy, it could have a negative effect on your sex life.
If this is the problem, the best thing you can do is communicate and ask each other for help, both with the responsibilities in your life and with sex. Dr. Lee says, “Any relationship requires negotiation and compromise, and that includes sex. It is important to communicate your sexual needs and wants, and be open to talking about it.”
Dr. Lee reiterates that people and couples go through phases, so this could just be a stressed period in your life that you’ll work through. The best thing to do is give it time. However, if things stay the same for six months, she says, then you should reassess.
2. You Have Different Sexual Appetites
Most of the time in a couple, one person is going to have a higher sexual drive. And contrary to what many women have been led to believe, it’s not always the man. If one of the partners wants sex more often, it can put stress on both people in the relationship and then the sex may wane. It can make the person who wants to have more sex feel like they’re being demanding, and it can make the person who wants less sex feel like they’re constantly being chased.
The answer here is, again, to communicate. “If you are not happy with the state of things, do not sweep it under the carpet and wait until there is so much resentment and anger that it is too late to salvage the relationship,” says Dr. Lee. You also may want to get checked out physically if you think your libido is so low that something deeper may be wrong.
3. You’ve Failed To Prioritize Sex
After being in a relationship for a long time, it’s easy to let other things take precedence over sex, even if they are good things for your relationship. Maybe you really like Netflixing together, but the “chill” part of it just isn’t there at the moment. Or perhaps you both like to spend time with your families, which is great, but not for your sex life.
If you’re having less sex because you’re just not prioritizing it, then here’s an easy fix: Prioritize! This includes, if you have to, scheduling sex. Dr. Lee says, “Pencil sex into your schedule and prepare yourself for it as you would a date. Make it extra special for you.”
It sounds weird, but scheduling sex can actually help get you in the mood — it gives you something to look forward to.
4. You’ve Figured Out What Works For You
Maybe your sex life slowing down isn’t because there’s something wrong. It could just be that you’ve fallen into the best possible pattern of what works for you.
At the beginning of a relationship, it’s common to have sex like jack rabbits. But not everyone’s sexual appetite is that sustainable.
If you went from having sex three times a day to once a day or a few times a week, it may perfectly normal and healthy. If you and your partner are both OK with the fact that your sex life has slowed down, then it could just be that you’ve managed to find a healthy sexual relationship that works for you as a couple.
Lesbian couple kissing in the morning
5. There Really Is An Underlying Problem
If nothing else sounds right and you still aren’t sure why the two of you aren’t having sex, there may be something underlying in your relationship that just isn’t coming to the surface enough for you to discuss it. If so, it may be time to get help. The best thing you can do is “recruit a task force” that will help get your relationship back on track. “You might like to consider seeing a marriage counselor, psychologist, or even a sexologist for help,” Dr. Lee says.
If there is an underlying problem that’s causing your lack of intimacy, you won’t be able to fix your sex life without first working on that problem. Luckily, there are several sex therapists that could be covered by insurance who specialize in issues like these, specifically. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
No two couples are the same, so the reasons why you and your partner are having sex less often might not be the same as for other people. That said, the best thing you can do is communicate with each other, find out why it’s happening, and start moving forward to get your sex life where you want it to be.
Image CreditSarah Maxwell
First things first: This is not another article that simply tells you to “go on a date night.”
Nothing against date nights. The best ones can remind you why you fell in love with your spouse or partner in the first place.
Or they can involve staring at each other in a sleep-deprived haze over an expensive meal while intermittently glancing at your phone for updates from the babysitter.
If date nights aren’t working for you, or if you’ve been struggling to maintain intimacy for months — or even years — after having children, here are some different ways to stay close to your spouse or partner, despite the stresses and frustrations of parenthood.
Try not to become complacent.
Just as there was never a perfect time to have children, there will rarely be a perfect time to rekindle a connection with your partner.
It’s easy to push your romantic relationship to the side: “Let’s get through sleep training first.” Or: “As soon as I get back into shape.” Or: “Maybe when I’m less tired.”
Then winter arrives. “Everyone’s sick again? Let’s wait until we get better.”
But if you keep waiting, experts say, regaining intimacy can become increasingly difficult.
“It seems to have been the norm for so many couples to say to themselves, ‘Now that the kids are here, we’ll focus on the kids. Our day will come,’” said Michele Weiner-Davis, a marriage and family therapist whose TEDx talk about sex-starved marriages has been viewed more than 5 million times. “But here’s the bad news from someone who’s been on the front lines with couples for decades. Unless you treat your relationship, your marriage, like it’s a living thing — which requires nurturing on a regular basis — you won’t have a marriage after the kids leave home.”
Couples may start to lead parallel but separate lives — and discover they have nothing in common.
“They’re looking at a stranger, and they ask themselves, ‘Is this the way I want to spend the last few years of my life?’” Ms. Weiner-Davis said. “And for too many couples the answer is no.”
But all of that is preventable, she added.
“It’s absolutely essential not to be complacent about what I call a ho-hum sex life. Touching is a very primal way of connecting and bonding,” Ms. Weiner-Davis said. “If those needs to connect physically are ignored over a period of time, or are downgraded so that it’s not satisfying, I can assure people there will be problems in the relationship moving forward.”
Slow down and start over.
If you had a vaginal birth, you and your partner may expect to begin having sex as early as six weeks after the baby is born, if you have been physically cleared to do so.
For some couples, that signals “the clock is now ticking,” said Emily Nagoski, author of “Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life.”
But a lot of women simply won’t be ready that early. And that’s O.K.
“After the postpartum checkup, I didn’t feel like myself, I didn’t feel physically ready to have sex,” said Emily Stroia, 33, who lives in Los Angeles. “In terms of libido, I didn’t really have one.”
Ms. Stroia, the mother of a 10-month-old, eventually starting having sex with her partner once a month — but before she became pregnant, they had sex nearly every week, she said.
“I still kind of forget that I’m in a relationship,” said Ms. Stroia, who is struggling with sleep deprivation. “I have to remind myself that I have a partner.”
After any potential medical problems are ruled out, Dr. Nagoski advises couples to “start over” with one another by establishing a sexual connection in much in the same way they might have done when they were first getting to know each other: making out, holding each other and gradually moving in the direction of bare skin.
That’s especially important if there’s a birth parent involved, she added.
“That person’s body is brand-new,” Dr. Nagoski said. “The whole meaning of their body has transformed.”
It also helps to remember that “intimacy isn’t just hot sex,” said Rick Miller, a psychotherapist in Massachusetts.
“It’s steadfast loyalty, a commitment to getting through stressful times together and, most importantly, enjoying the warm, cozy moments of home together,” Mr. Miller said.
Put on your life preserver first.
Taking the time to nurture your individual physical and emotional needs will give you the bandwidth to nurture your relationship, too, so that it doesn’t feel like another task on the to-do list.
“When you experience your partner’s desire for intimacy as an intrusion, ask yourself, ‘How deprived am I in my own self-care? What do I need to do to take care of myself in order to feel connected to my own sexuality?’” said Dr. Alexandra Sacks, a reproductive psychiatrist and host of the “Motherhood Sessions” podcast.
That might mean going to the gym or talking to your partner about decreasing the invisible mental load that is often carried by one parent.
Enlisting the support of your family (or your chosen family) to take some time for yourself or discuss some of the struggles that accompany parenting can help you recharge.
“Relying on others is an indirect way of working on intimacy,” Mr. Miller said.
This is especially important for gay couples, he added, who may not typically share vulnerabilities “because the world hasn’t been a safe place.”
Practicing self-care as a couple is equally important.
Dr. Sacks recommends making a list of everything you used to do together as a couple that helped you feel close, and thinking about how those rituals have changed.
Is your toddler sleeping in your bed, spread out like a sea star between you and your partner? Have you stopped doing the things together you used to really enjoy like working out or going to the movies? Dr. Sacks recommends thinking about how you’re going to make an adjustment in order to create physical and emotional intimacy with your partner.
For example, if you always used to talk about your day together and now that time is completely absorbed by caregiving, the absence of that connection will be profound.
“You can’t just eliminate it and expect to feel as close,” she said.
Think about what turns you on.
According to Dr. Nagoski, one way to nurture intimacy is to remind yourselves of the context in which you had a great sexual connection together.
What characteristics did your partner have? What characteristics did your relationship have?
Then, she said, think about the setting.
“Were we at home with the door locked? Were we on vacation? Was it over text? Was it at a party in a closet at a stranger’s house against a wall of other people’s coats? What context really works for us?” Dr. Nagoski said.
When doing this exercise, and when thinking about your current libido (or lack thereof) it’s also helpful to remember that not everyone experiences spontaneous desire — the kind of sexual desire that pops out of nowhere. For example, you’re walking down the street and suddenly can’t stop thinking about sex.
Millions of other people experience something different called responsive desire, which stems from erotic stimulation. In other words, arousal comes first and then desire.
Both types of desire are normal.
Create a magic circle in your bedroom.
Dr. Nagoski suggested cordoning off an imaginative protected space in your mind where you can “bring forward the aspects of your identity that are relevant to your erotic connection and you close the door on the parts of yourself that are not important for an erotic connection.”
With enough focus, this strategy can work even if the physical space you’re using contains reminders of your role as a caregiver.
It can also help to think of your bedroom as a sanctuary, advised Ms. Weiner-Davis.
For couples who have spent years co-sleeping with their children, that can be somewhat difficult.
“I do believe there comes a point where it’s important to have those boundaries again,” Ms. Weiner-Davis said.
Don’t bank on spontaneity.
It’s easy to forget how much time and effort we put into our relationships in the early days: planning for dates, caring for our bodies and (gasp) having long conversations with one another.
“People feel sort of sad when they get that news that yes, it does require effort to build a connection across a lifetime,” Dr. Nagoski said. “You don’t just dive in — you don’t just put your body in the bed and put your genitals against each other and expect for it to be ecstatic.”
Karen Jeffries (a pen name she uses as a writer and performer to protect her privacy) said her sex life with her husband is better than ever after having had two children. They’ve always had a strong physical connection, she said. But they also plan ahead and prioritize.
“There are times where I’ll text him and I’ll be like, ‘We’re having sex tonight,’ and he’ll be like ‘O.K.’ or vice versa,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll send him a picture of a taco and he’ll send me a picture of an eggplant.”
Ms. Jeffries, 37, a fourth-grade dual-language teacher in Westchester County, N.Y., is the author of “Hilariously Infertile,” an account of the fertility treatments she endured to conceive her two daughters. Her children, now aged 6 and 4, are on a strict sleep schedule with a 7:30 p.m. bedtime, allowing for couple time in the evening.
Think of building good sexual habits just like you would develop good eating or exercising habits, she advised.
“Sex begets more sex. Kind of like when you go to the gym,” she said. “It takes you a while to build that habit.”
Then, she added, “You’ll notice little by little that it becomes more and more as opposed to less and less.”
A small 2018 study found that attending group therapy helped couples with low sexual desire as well as those who had discrepancies in their levels of sexual desire.
Individual or couples therapy can also be a good place to start.
For many parents, however, and especially those with young children, finding the time and money to go to a therapist can be challenging.
Esther Perel, a psychotherapist whose TED talks on sexuality and relationships have been viewed by millions, offers an online course, currently $199, that includes a section called “Sex After Kids.”
Ms. Perel also hosts the popular “Where Should We Begin?” podcast, in which couples share the intimate details of their troubles during recorded therapy sessions.
A number of other podcasts also offer advice to couples, including “Marriage Therapy Radio” and “Relationship Advice.”
Regardless of what steps you take to rebuild a connection with your spouse, experts say it’s important to take action as soon as possible.
“The child is not going to take up less space over time,” Dr. Sacks said. “So the question is: How do you carve out space for your relationships around the child, as the child continues to develop with different but continually demanding needs.”
Christina Caron is a parenting reporter at The New York Times.
How Often Should Couples Have Sex?
“How often do you and your partner have sex?”
It’s a question that comes up often, albeit tentatively, exposing some of our deepest insecurities about our intimate relationships.
Few of us haven’t wondered at some point: How much sex should we be having? What if we’re having less sex than our friends? Is our relationship doomed if we aren’t having enough sex? And what is enough sex anyway?
These questions are inherently flawed, because how often we are having sex doesn’t address whether or not that sex is good, bad, or dissatisfying. Nevertheless, the frequency with which we are sexually intimate can play a role in both our sexual and relationship satisfaction. So how often are most couples having sex? And what does that mean for our relationship quality and satisfaction?
The Most Common Response
Before addressing the different frequencies of sexual activity, and what that means for our relationship and sexual satisfaction, it’s worth noting the most common frequency of sexual activity that average couples report having in bedrooms across the nation.
In a study of over 26,000 Americans, which was published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, participants reported having sex 54 times a year, which averages out to approximately once a week.1 This reported frequency was found to be about nine sexual interactions a year lower since a similar study was conducted in 1990. The sample included those who were single, dating, married, and cohabitating. When the authors looked at married couples specifically, the average sexual frequency was slightly lower, at 51 sexual encounters a year, or just less than once a week on average.
The Happiest Response
How happy are couples that have sex at the national average of about once a week? While most of us might be inclined to believe that more sex is related to more happiness, research suggests there is a point of diminishing returns. In a study of over 30,000 Americans, published in the journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science, researchers examined the relationship between how often couples reported having sex and whether that related to their reported level of happiness.2 The researchers concluded that couples who were having sex once a week were the happiest, while couples who reported having sex two, three, or more times a week were no happier than those having sex once a week. They still reported being quite happy, but the research suggests they were just as happy as couples who had sex at the national average.
So couples having sex at the average of once a week are happy. And couples who have sex more often than that are just as happy. But what about those of us having sex less than once a week?
The Potentially Problematic Response
The study described above, which focused on sexual frequency and happiness, did conclude that those who were having sex less than once a week reported lower levels of happiness than those having sex once a week (or more).2 But according to other studies and experts on the topic, there is a considerable range of lower than average sexual frequencies. In one of the few studies on the topic of “sexless marriages,” 16 percent of the 6,029 participants reported not having sex over the last month.3 The lead author of this study, Dr. Donnolly, has similarly estimated that 15 percent of couples have not had sex in the last six months. Using a slightly different unit of measurement, the author of the book Sex Starved Marriage, Michele Weiner Davis, defines a “sexless marriage” as one in which couples have sex 10 times a year or less.
The Reason You’re Not Having Sex Matters More
The frequency with which we have sex receives a lot of attention, because it’s the easiest way to measure and compare our sex lives to our peers. But having lots of bad sex isn’t going to make anyone happy, nor is it going to leave you feeling satisfied. It’s important to recognize that the reasons we aren’t having sex matter more than how often we are having it. That is, if we are fighting or falling out of love with our partner, not having sex could be a symptom of a much larger problem. However, if we are simply busy, sick, navigating parenthood, or identify as asexual (and the list goes on), then it may be more circumstantial and nothing to panic over.
It’s important to remember that good, satisfying sex, even if it’s once a month or less, may be preferable to having sex once a week when it’s not eliciting sexual pleasure or feelings of intimacy and closeness.
Facebook image: Phovoir/
Why Couples Fight More When They’re Having Less Sex
It’s probably happened to you: You’re in a relationship, the sex is great, and then—for one reason or another—it dries up. You’re probably understanding at first; maybe your partner’s been stressed at work. But then you start getting a little upset. Resentful. Even angry. Soon, you’re primed for a fight—the kind that starts with, “I just think it’s funny that…” and ends with someone tossing and turning on the living room couch you’ve been meaning to replace for the very reason that it’s impossible to sleep on. There you are, grinding your teeth, wondering where everything went wrong.
That reaction? It’s fairly common. And the anger? It’s valid. But why does it happen? Some have posited that being angry when you don’t have sex comes down to the lack of “feel-good” chemicals—dopamine, oxytocin, all those endorphins—being released in your brain. That’s part of it, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Not to be crude here, but we both know that an angry bout of self-love in the shower won’t make up for the fact that the person you love isn’t down to get physical, no math how much dopamine the act floods your head with.
“For many couples—if not the majority—sex represents a significant means of intimate connection, in physical terms of course, but also in an emotional capacity,” says Amanda Gesselman, a social psychologist and research scientist at The Kinsey Institute. “While it’s by no means a perfect correlation, satisfaction with our sex lives tends to be linked with how happy we feel in our relationship generally. It’s not surprising that when our partner’s desire for sex begins to decline—maybe because they’re stressed, depressed, or tired, or because the frequency of sex tends to decrease as relationships progress—we interpret that decline as a sign that something is wrong.”
Because your mind is capable of amazing feats, many of which include turning valid concerns into insurmountable mountains of anxiety, the lack of sex can quickly be interpreted incorrectly. “A person may interpret this decline as a signal that their partner no longer finds them attractive, no longer enjoys sex with them, or no longer wants to be with them, even if none of these are true,” Gesselman says.
As we all know, however, something doesn’t have to be true to keep us up at night. And because asking for sex puts us in a vulnerable position—yes, even if you’ve been together for years—being rejected can activate the insecurities you’ve been carrying with you from one relationship to another. And that triggers all that anger and annoyance. There’s no reason to beat yourself up over this, though, because that activation is often outside of your conscious control. In fact, it can go back all the way to childhood, when you first learned how to attach to others by bonding with your parents.
“There are well-documented individual differences in attachment style, which is how people approach bonding with partners,” Gesselman says. “Some people have more anxious attachments to partners, which means they tend to need a bit more validation and try to evoke this from their partners. Some research has shown that people with more anxious attachment styles—people who worry a bit more that their partner will leave them, and need more validation—are more likely to view sex as a kind of meter of relationship stability.”
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“For those people, a partner not wanting sex could feel very distressing because they may place more weight on sex as a marker of security,” she adds. Vanessa Marin, a Los Angeles-based therapist, agrees. She sees this problem often in her practice and while she stresses that it’s common, she also says that the intensity of the feelings that come up when sex is off the table often come as a huge surprise.
“A lot of couples seem to think that sex is just about sex,” Marin says, “but it’s about so much more than that. Your partner’s not initiating just because they want to have an orgasm. Sure, that’s the really fun part of sex, but it’s really about prioritizing each other and your relationship over a million different things fighting for our attention. If your partner turns down sex because they’re working on emails or they’re just vegging out in front of the TV, it has a way of sending this message that these things are more important than spending time with you.”
Here’s the bigger problem: When you get angry but don’t talk about it, your partner notices. And that simmering tension? Marin says it does turn your partner off, creating a negative cycle that she’s seen too many times. But talking about those feelings isn’t easy, either. “We’re just not equipped to talk about these feelings of rejection and deal with those feelings of rejection,” she says, “so we let them simmer inside of ourselves and it stirs up all of these other old feelings of rejection. It takes you back to when you were in elementary school and getting picked last for the dodgeball team.”
So what can you do if you’re not having sex and beginning to feel angry? It all goes back to communication, no matter how awkward or uncomfortable that can be. In her practice, Marin says, she works on helping couples understand that they’re not working towards never being rejected for sex, but being able to understand and process the feelings that comes with that rejection. That, in turn, allows both partners to speak to each other more clearly about their desires. And that means less arguing and more time together. And a lot less resentment.
Redefining what sex means for you as a couple is also a helpful way to stave off feelings of rejection and resentment. “A lot of couples tend to default to intercourse,” Marin says. “You have to create a bigger menu. There’s a lot of different ways to have sex, but we lose our creativity and think that we’ve got to do the same old, same old.” So if your partner’s turning down sex because they’re bored with the whole thing—sometimes it just take too long, you know?—then perhaps it’s time to consider actual intercourse just one part of an experience meant to bring you closer together.
“What if it’s just one person giving oral sex to another person?” Marin asks. “What if it’s one person talking dirty to the partner while they masturbate? What if it’s watching porn together? There are so many other things you can do, and once you realize there’s a wider array of things to choose from and the kind of effort it will require, it makes it a lot easier to say, ‘Yeah, okay, I’m really not in the mood to do anything for myself right now, but I’m happy to talk dirty to you, or get naked for you while you masturbate, or give you a quick handjob, or just lay by your side.'”
One more thing that can help? Seeing your sex life as something that requires time and effort rather than just something that should snap into place if you’re with the right person. According to new research from the University of Toronto, those people who believe that their sex life is a growing and developing process tend to feel better about working on these issues within the relationship. So the next time your partner turns you down, allow yourself to feel your feelings, but don’t stew in them. Try something new instead—and yes, that includes talking about it.
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(Picture: Ella Byworth)
When you think of sexless relationships, you usually imagine people who’ve been married for years, who’ve become so consumed by their work or their children that they just don’t have time for anything intimate.
But sexless relationships are affecting people who are much younger.
Stats suggest that millennials are killing sex; losing their virginities much later in life than previous generations and having less sex over the course of a year.
It’s not just that young people are staying single and ditching dating entirely – many twenty-somethings are in sexless relationships.
Aidan says all of his relationships have been sexless. He’s been in five relationships and had around 70 one-night-stands.
Aiden tells Metro.co.uk that he experiences no feelings from sex, and has never orgasmed during intercourse. He gets no feeling from masturbation.
And so for him, sex has never been a huge deal.
Having sex for the first time at 20, Aiden has been in multiple relationships in which his partners haven’t been bothered by the lack of sex.
He tells Metro.co.uk: ‘All other relationships ended up with oral to her and me grinding on her.
‘I can last obviously a long time as there’s no feeling or orgasm.’
Not all sexless relationships come from choice. 25-year-old Anna says she was in a long-term relationship for six years, and two years in the sex stopped pretty much all together.
(Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)
There had been strain on the relationship due to physical and mental illness, but the lack of physical intimacy only made things worse.
‘It got to the point where we were having sex around twice a year’, says Anna.
‘This wouldn’t even be on special occasions. My partner lost his sex drive and it got to the point where I was having to ask and remind him to have sex with me, which was very demoralising.
‘I stopped enjoying sex. I stopped being able to orgasm because it felt like there was so much pressure. Instead of focusing on being intimate, I was worrying whether this would be the last time we’d have sex for a while.
‘Sex ended up becoming a task – something that we had to do because we were in a relationship. It was as if as long as we were at least having a little bit of sex, we didn’t have to confront the fact that the relationship was dead.’
Anna says her partner never initiated sex with her, and having to remind someone to show her intimacy lowered her self-esteem and confidence. She started gaining weight and stopped making an effort because she felt unappreciated and insecure.
‘Sex wasn’t a big deal to my partner but it really was to me’, she said.
‘I tried to talk to him about it but he’d say he’d just become lazy, and that it wasn’t me. But he never changed, which continued to make me feel like I was the problem.
‘I needed that level of affection and intimacy, because I needed to feel loved and wanted. Something that I didn’t feel for a long time.’
In the end, Anna and her partner split. Anna says her self-esteem has plummeted since.
(Picture: Erin Aniker for Metro.co.uk)
‘I’ve got so used to being rejected or having to ask or remind someone for sex that it’s left me feeling unattractive and not good enough’, she said.
‘I worry now that I’ll feel this way in future relationships. I’m worried I won’t know how to initiate sex and I’ll always be ready for rejection because I got used to it for such a long time.’
Marcus, who was married for seven years, says his sex life quickly diminished in his twenties after the initial honeymoon period.
He said: ‘We were together 10 years, married for seven. She was 10 years older, and in the beginning there was sex, but not as much as you would imagine in a new relationship.
‘Then my wife began to put on weight, and became very self conscious and not wanting to have sex.
‘I loved her no matter how she was, but her reluctance then made me feel unloved and unwanted, and this reduced my desire too.’
Marcus says that although he and his wife conceived a baby boy, they had sex less than 10 times in the final four years of their marriage, and it ended with him having a breakdown in November of last year, and both of them agreeing to separate.
He said: ‘At times the relationship had felt just like getting by, instead of living in happiness.’
(Picture: Erin Aniker for Metro.co.uk)
Hilda Burke, a psychotherapist, couples therapist and author of the Phone Addiction Workbook, says people in their twenties are no different to couples in their thirties, forties or fifties.
Hilda tells us: ‘What’s going on outside the bedroom can impact what goes on within it.
‘Overwork, stress, anxiety, uncertainty over the future, even poor diet and lack of exercise can all play a part in suppressing libido.’
She adds that digital devices are also playing a massive part on the decrease in millennial sex lives.
She explained: ‘There’s nothing new in that. But digital devices are now playing a massive part. Most of the couples I work with – who range in age from 20-50 keep their phones in the bedroom and usually close to or in the bed.
‘It’s the biggest distraction there is from intimacy nowadays.’
Having a bad sex life with your partner can cause tension, insecurity, arguments and an unhappy relationship. It’s important that to get to the bottom of things, you talk about how you’re feeling and how it’s affecting you, otherwise things will never get any better.
You may find that both you and your partner are having similar feelings, or you may discover that your partner is struggling with something you weren’t aware of.
You must be honest with one another if you’re going to improve your sex life. You should be open to working things out, by listening to one another and being open about your feelings.
Don’t shrug sex off like it’s nothing. If it’s a big deal to you, make sure your partner is aware of that. Try couples counselling, or experimenting in the bedroom.
Be open to listening to one another and working through reasons your sex life may have diminished.
Of course, this isn’t to say things will work out. It may end up with the pair of you separating. And although this may hurt at the time, it’s important to remember that a healthy sex life is a huge part of a relationship. You don’t need to sacrifice sexual pleasure for the sake of a relationship.
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Does Desire Really Decrease With Length of Relationship?
In the opening paragraph of Esther Perel’s book, Mating in Captivity, she writes:
“The story of sex in committed modern couples often tells of a dwindling desire and includes a long list of sexual alibis, which claim to explain the inescapable death of eros.”
It is this idea, that sexual desire dwindles when in a committed relationship, that Perel successfully tackles in her book. Popular perception suggests that committed relationships mark the end of sex. Yet research shows that when asked, many people indicate sexual desire as a key feature of romantic love.
The work of myself and others in the field suggests to me that sexual desire ebbs and flows throughout life and relationships.
Sexual desire in long-term relationships
Research by Murray and Milhausen (2012) recently tackled the length of relationship and desire connection, and found that length of relationship (in couples who were together for an average of 2 years) impacted sexual desire for women, but not men.
In research by Klusmann (2002), men’s sexual desire tended to remain high while women’s sexual desire is found to decrease as early as one year into the relationship.
In research I’ve conducted, I found that length of relationship (in couples who were together for an average of 4 years) didn’t impact sexual desire for women or men, and women and men were equally likely to be the member of the couple with lower sexual desire relative to their partner. And in interviews with women in a relationship for a minimum of 5 years, myself and colleagues have found that there are a number of factors that impact the ebb and flow of sexual desire.
Perhaps another reason the idea exists around sexual desire diminishing with length of relationship is the strong sexual desire in passionate love that is replaced by increased intimacy in companionate love (said to occur around two and a half years).
All of this also makes me wonder, is it the relationship length that is decreasing the desire? Or simply the other milestones (kids, moving in, career moves) that happen to correspond to relationship length? And how do we keep the desire in our relationships over the long haul?
Bringing it back to Mating in Captivity, where open and loving relationships are accompanied with dull sex lives, when we love someone, we feel responsible and secure. Responsibility and security clash with desire. So as the length of our relationship increases, we become closer to the individual, we have a greater sense of security, and we lose that animalistic sense of “throw down” that was such a large part of early sexual scripts in the relationship. As Perel puts it, “fire needs air, and many couples don’t leave enough air.”
Creating that space, or “air”, is perhaps one of the things that can be done in relationships when the desire is at a low ebb. But also just realizing that the ebbs of desire will be accompanied by upward flows is one way to ensure expectations for sex don’t get in the way of pleasure from sex, especially in the context of long-term relationships.