Most people who have been in a long-term monogamous relationship know that at some point, bed death hits. Maybe it lasts just a couple of months or maybe it stretches on for years, but eventually the amount of sex you’re having with your partner will dwindle and, for some, even disappear. It’s the cause of millions of breakups and divorces and just sad people worldwide — but why does it happen? What’s causing us to stop wanting to do it with the people we love? The short answer is: boredom. Now get ready for the long answer about what, exactly, is killing your sex life in a monogamous relationship.
Human beings are programmed to respond to new things. Like, actually programmed: when we come across something totally new, our brains respond by releasing more of the hormone dopamine, which is often called the “pleasure hormone.” Dopamine floods our brains in response to food, sex, and certain drugs. It’s also what motivates us to go out and seek new things — including new people.
Now, you may be thinking, “Wait a minute! I’m supposed to fall in love with one person and be happy forever and ever and never even think about another person sexually again!” Well, I’m here to tell you that you’ve been sold a false bill of goods, my friend. This is a fairytale that women in particular are told, by everyone from Darwin (who started the whole nonsense that women are just seeking a man to raise up their babies) to our peers. The reality is that our dopamine-seeking brains are constantly searching for new stimulation and that one person — no matter how sexy or smart or caring — will never suffice for everything over the long term.
So What Can You Do About It?
Well, if you’re committed to the idea of monogamy, there are plenty of way to re-introduce novelty to your relationship. (I mean, it’s the subject of approximately a million magazine articles over the years, right?) You could try instituting a “no sex in the bedroom” rule for a month. You could dress up as strangers and “meet” in a bar. You could try a new sex toy or experiment with BDSM or try having sex in new places or take a vacation apart — nothing is hotter than “haven’t seen you in a while” sex. It takes work, sure, but it’s totally possible to trigger that new experience dopamine response, even if you’ve been together for years.
On the other hand, opening up a relationship sexually is also a great way to bring novelty back. This one can be a little bit harder for people to wrap their heads around, as we live in a monogamous society. However, many couples report that their attraction to their primary partner actually increases after opening up a relationship. Whether it’s because they’re simply hornier because they’re getting it more or because of scientific reasons like sperm competition, it seems that there’s something sexy about doing it with more than one person.
Sex advice guru Dan Savage has another explanation on top of the ones mentioned above. He thinks that opening up a relationship means that you stop seeing your partner as the end to all sexual adventure and instead you start to think of them as your partner-in-crime. The mental shift from “this is the only person I will ever see naked again” to “being with this person means I get to have so many awesome sexual adventures” can be enough to trigger that dopamine response again.
And it’s important to remember that opening up a relationship doesn’t have to mean you both have free reign to do whatever you want, with everyone. While monogamy is largely one-size-fits-all, each open relationship’s level of openness is determined by the people in the relationship. So while some couples might be happy just going to sex parties and having sex only with each other, others might be down for their primary partners having other romantic partners too.
Sexual boredom is real, y’all. But it doesn’t mean you have to end an otherwise awesome partnership. All it takes is thinking about how to get that dopamine-triggering “new” feeling again, whether it’s within the confines of monogamy or not.
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