Since so many of us have faced this common dilemma for a long-term relationship that has cooled, “keeping the passion alive” is a topic researchers have studied and studied and studied again. In one of the most recent 2016 studies out of Chapman University — also one of the largest studies on the subject to date — psychologists examined heterosexual couples in long-term relationships to find out what was really going on. The results of the study showed that fanning the flame, i.e., keeping a sex life regular, was as simple as having more foreplay, mixing things up, setting the mood and showing regular expressions of love.
More than a few sexperts agree. Here’s what they have to say about reviving a long-term sex life that has petered out.
Thankfully, in the new millennium masturbation taboo is no longer a thing, and touching yourself regularly is something you need to be doing if you want to keep the sexual chemistry crackling. “When scheduling is difficult, and you're not having sex as frequently, you can actually lose the desire to have sex. To help combat this, you can help maintain your sexual energy by staying in touch with yourself through masturbation. You'll soon find that you have a heightened sense of desire for your partner — and it doesn't hurt if you think about him/her during masturbation too!” Alexandra Fine, the CEO of Dame Products, says.
That bedroom burnout you’re experiencing is not just your imagination — Kristin Routh, licensed marriage and family therapist, says the “burnout factor” can come from routine sex, “meaning, something that we do over and over in the same way turns into something that can cause us to go into autopilot mode immediately.” She continues, “The brain creates a habit or routine behavior that can lead us to not feel as present during sex, which can lead to lack of enjoyment.”
To her clients, Routh suggests, “Mix up locations and timing for sex. Long-term sex can lose the spontaneity that once was present. Rather than confining sex to the bedroom at night, straddle your partner on the couch while watching the news, hug and ‘feel up’ your partner from behind in the kitchen while your partner is cooking or washing dishes, jump in the shower with your partner in the morning for a spontaneous sex session. If you have kids or other people in the house, you can become even more creative (and excited) as you find secret spots to make out and make love without others knowing.”
As if you needed an excuse to call the babysitter or pet sitter and get the hell out of Dodge, dating may be one of the most important habits to maintain a fresh and successful long-term relationship, love and life coach Heather Allison says. “It's so easy to get comfortable, to get used to the routine and the regular schedule in a relationship; to let ourselves put down our 'high-gloss' efforts that we took so much care to cultivate and maintain while we were dating. And one of the most powerful things we can do to keep injecting the same amount of 'zing' into our long-term relationships is to keep polishing — keep bringing back the ‘high gloss’ by going out for fancy dinners or new adventures like we did when we were brand new.”
Routh adds, “Sometimes, mixing up other activities in the relationship can also create space for exciting sex. When sex becomes ‘boring,’ we can think our relationship or even our partner is boring, or even question our own ability to be interesting and exciting. Make some dates that are out-of-the box for both of you: go paintballing, take a road trip with no reservations or solid plans in place, finger-paint in your living room.... The wilder and more non-routine the better. Putting you both in new situations together can make you draw closer together and lead to unexpected and creative intimacy that feeds over into sex.”
This one may seem easy, but it really works to rev things up when engines have been idling for years. A 2012 study at Indiana University has linked exercise to female orgasm, even during exercise, while a 2015 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found exercise to improve erectile and sexual dysfunction in men. (Yippee!)
Nicole Bermack, part-time hot yoga teacher, always recommends that her clients experiencing sexual frustration bring their partner to their next yoga class. “Exercising is known to release hormones important in conception, so every session will lead to a boost in desire. Watching your partner's body become tighter and more fit will also make you crave for his or her touch,” she says.
Remember the foreplay factor that researchers mentioned as being so pivotal to a sexy long-term relationship? Now’s the time to come up with your passionate plan of attack. Relationship expert April Masini, author of Romantic Date Ideas for committed couples who have lost the spark, says, “For instance, hire a pair of masseuses to come to your home and give you both a couple’s massage, side by side. If the weather is beautiful and you have privacy outside, use your yard, lanai or patio. Otherwise, set the scene inside. Prepare fluffy white robes and towels and candlelit rooms. Chill some bubbly water and champagne or heat up a little sake. Have fresh sushi or fresh mango and pineapple slices ready for après massage snacks. The relaxation, spending time together and all the sexy details, like the chilled drinks, fluffy robes against bare skin and candlelit mood lighting, will definitely help spark your sex life if you’re having a drought.”
Bermack adds, “Chocolate and strawberries are a stereotype for a reason — they're both extreme aphrodisiacs and have the potential to make foreplay super-exciting! Use and eat them before and just when clothes are beginning to come off to maximize and heighten the fun.”
Another thing about a relationship that has a few miles on it is the tendency to suddenly stop speaking up in bed. Now is the perfect time to voice those secret sexual desires and special tricks that can push you over the edge — and ask your partner what they want too. Allison suggests trading favors in bed, saying, “One night, it's his turn to be spoiled, with all of your focus on giving him an experience of pleasure tailored just to him; building him up, teasing him, with your eye on his experience and his peaks of ecstasy. And the next night, it's all about you in the same way — he focuses all the attention, all the pleasure, all the 'service' on your ecstasy. By allowing ourselves to receive fully, unabashedly, unapologetically, it helps to fill us up more completely so that we're not maintaining a kind of ‘midline’ of pleasure in the relationship.”
And if you have no idea what to ask for in bed, you can seek outside inspiration to start plotting your next sexual tryst. Read some erotica, watch some (ethical) porn, engage in some dirty talk with your partner and begin jotting down a list of everything you’d like to do in bed before you die. “Make a bedroom bucket list together, over a bottle of wine, to be carried out over the next six or 12 months. Just brainstorming and discussing what you have always wanted to do and never brought up is sexy. You can make an oral list, a written list or put your wishes on note cards in a fish bowl, and once a week, or once a month, dip in and do what’s on the card you pull out,” Masini says.
As fun as it may be to fantasize about those early days when you tore each other’s clothes off, the reality is that you may not be able to re-harness the sexual frenzy you had when you just started dating, and that is OK. A relationship changes with time, and a deeper, spiritual connection develops that can strengthen a bond and support a healthy sex life.
“Arguably more important is this — after any amount of time, a relationship necessarily changes from a physical-based connection to a spiritual-based connection. In order to foster that deepening of connection and therefore keep the intimacy and attraction building, it's less important to define what ‘spirituality’ means for each of you, and more important that you find things within one another to fall more and more in love with,” Allison says. “Counterintuitive, perhaps, but this asks that we connect more deeply to the mind and the soul of the person we're with as a means of connecting with them more deeply (and more excitingly) in the physical.”
When all else fails, and you’re just not “into it” anymore, it may be time to give meditation and mindfulness a try. As Fine explains it, being present and mindful is one of the foundational keys to good sex, but that doesn’t mean it comes easy. All puns aside, meditation can help to bring you back to the present in your daily life, with results that spill over into the bedroom. Fine says, “With any routine, continuing to stay present (when you've done it a billion times before) becomes the biggest challenge. Buddhism teaches a concept called ‘shoshin,’ or ‘beginner's mind,’ which propounds maintaining a fresh attitude towards all subjects, much like a beginner would. This outlook can help keep sex new and exciting.”
Originally published Nov. 2008. Updated July 2016.
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