When you’re scheduling ‘marriage maintenance sex’ with your other half and it’s feeling like another thing on the To Do list along with taxing the car, do you think back to those heady days when you first met?
Back then, sex was a thrilling journey of discovery. Then came along kids that needed feeding, dishwashers emptying – and yes, cars that needed taxing. In short, a relationship happened. It grew around that initial bubble of lust and sex ended up feeling like a chore.
Work at getting the passion back
It’s entirely natural. Sustaining sexual passion takes work. But should you be so inclined as to put that work in, how do you get back that initial thrill?
Firstly accept you can’t, not exactly. “People expect to be able to recreate it,” says Marian O’Connor, consultant psychosexual therapist and couple psychoanalytic psychotherapist at Tavistock Relationships.
“They say things like, ‘but you used to want to tear my clothes off when I walked into a room. Now, you’re more concerned with whether I’ve taken the bins out.’"
You have to accept those days are gone, but it doesn’t mean the desire is gone. You just have to reactivate it.
“If you get on well with your partner,” (crucial point, more of this later) “there’s no reason why the pleasure in your body and your orgasm can’t feel exactly the same – or better – than when you first met,” she says.
The million-dollar question is how?
Firstly, understand that desire is responsive to the situation. In other words, it’s only by changing the situation around your lovemaking that you might feel desire and indeed desirable.
We adopt myriad roles as adults: carers, parents, employees… we can forget we once saw our partners as sexual beings – that in fact, at the beginning of our relationships, that identity often prevailed – it just gets lost in the maelstrom of everyday life.
Let’s face it, it’s hard to feel in the mood when you’re arguing about how to load the dishwasher.
Feel desirable again
“So firstly, work on creating a situation where you see one another in the role of ‘object of desire’ again” says O’Connor.
“If I ask people to pinpoint when they fancy their partner, often it’s when watching them at a party, seeing them as a stranger does, as the charming person they were first attracted to.
"Next time you’re going out together, make a conscious effort to dress up sexily and watch your partner being their best, sparkling self. Knowing you get to go home with them can be really exciting.”
Make time for sex
Secondly, put aside time for your sex life like you do for exercise and work. At the beginning of a relationship, sex is naturally prioritised. In a marriage it slips further down the to do list, until if you’re not careful, it never happens. But making an actual date for sex can be a turn on in itself.
Try role play
If role play is your thing, why not recreate the days when you were just dating. Agree to meet at a new bar after work and pretend you don’t know one another. Ask each other questions you’ve never asked, as if on a first date, and refrain from touching until you leave the bar. It’s amazing how when something is off limits, you desire it more.
It’s encouraging to remember, too, that there’s a scientific reason why you feel like your sex life is lacking in a long-term relationship. Scientists have found that oxytocin, a bonding hormone that helps to turn you on, is mostly released during the early stages of sex.
Boost your hormones
“The good news is, there are ways to boost the release of oxytocin in order to rekindle your sex life,” says Pippa Murphy, sex and relationships expert at www.condoms.co.uk.
For example, “Spend more time touching,” she says. “Start with small steps – stroking, kissing, cuddling. If you’ve had a long sex drought this can feel hard at first, but stick with it because the more time you spend touching, the more oxytocin is released.”
Try slow sex
Also, slow down! The brain is wired to experience more pleasure when the anticipation of the reward goes on for a longer period of time, making foreplay key.
“If you feel like your partner rushes it – tell them you’re in charge for the time being, so you can take things at your own pace,” suggests Murphy. “Once they’re excited, simply stop. Their orgasm, when it happens, will be stronger.”
Of course, tips are well and good but if you’re harbouring resentments toward your other half, it doesn’t matter what you throw at it, you’re not going to feel that desire or willingness.
It’s hard to want to have sex with someone you’ve got the hump with! (Although not impossible: a friend of mine swears by what she charmingly calls a ‘hate shag’.)
Let go of grudges
So, “do the groundwork," says O’Connor. “Find ways you can reconnect before you move onto the actual sex. This might mean looking at each other’s relationship baggage and talking about it – but the key is, don’t hold onto too much of it.
"Often the person who is controlling around sex by either withholding or demanding it, does so because they feel out of control in other aspects of the relationship. So talk about these resentments. Otherwise they can turn your sex life into a battleground when it should be an avenue for play.”
Appreciate long-term sex
Lastly, if you’re losing heart in your mission to bring back that spark, remember there are huge plusses to sex with a long-term partner. In fact, research in the famous book Enduring Desire found that the best sex occurs in couples who have been together 15 years or longer.
First-date sex is thrilling in its newness but it also comes laced with anxieties about everything from body image to contraception. By the time you’re having married sex, many of these anxieties have been resolved. Not least, that old passion killer – performance anxiety.
“Often men don’t climax on a first date and women pretend due to the pressure to perform,” says O'Connor.
"This is alleviated with someone you trust and know inside and out. How lovely it is that when our bodies age and we’ve been through things with someone that they can still make you feel desired? Now, that’s the real thrill.”
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