We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a licensed sex psychotherapist based in San Francisco, to help us out with the details. This week’s topic: How to deal when sex slows down in a relationship.
Q: My boyfriend and I have been together two years now. We used to have sex every time we hung out, now, since we just moved in together, it's slowed to maybe once or twice a week. I know it's normal for things to slow down, but isn't this a little soon? Should I be worried? Is there anything we can do to vary our sex life more? I'm worried we're going to become furniture to each other.
A: This is a question that anyone who has ever been in a romantic relationship has had at one time or another. The bunny rabbit-like pace of the early months of a sexual relationship hardly ever lasts. You find yourself saying “I’m too bloated” or “let’s just watch more Netflix” more and more frequently.
All relationships experience a sexual slow down, but just because you know it’s coming doesn’t make it any less stressful when it happens in your relationship.
Fortunately, there are some easy ways to get your sex life back on track and set your relationship up for a lifetime of healthy sexual communication.
WHAT MIGHT BE CAUSING THE DECLINE?
There are a lot of reasons why couples stop having as much sex. Some are harmless and inevitable, while others might benefit from a little bit of investigation and attention. Try to identify the variables that may be affecting your sexual relationship.
Here are some questions to consider:
Did your sex life taper off quickly or gradually? Sudden, dramatic changes may be a sign that something else is going on, while slower and steadier decreases are pretty common.
Was anything else happening in your relationship when the decrease started? Were you guys fighting? Were either of you particularly stressed or distracted in your lives outside of your relationship? Any health issues? Family drama? Financial worries? Our sex lives don’t exist in a vacuum, and are very sensitive to dynamics that occur outside of the bedroom.
What’s the state of your relationship right now? Are things generally happy and loving between the two of you, or is there a lot of tension and discord?
How severe is the change? Going from two or three times a week to one or two isn’t that bad of a drop-off, but seven times a week to once a week is obviously more noticeable.
WHAT DO YOU WANT?
One of the questions I hear from my clients most frequently is, “Am I normal?” We’re all worried about keeping up with the Kardashians when it comes to our sex lives, yet we get all kinds of mixed messages about what is normal and what is not.
Most of us are so anxious about being normal that we neglect to think about what we actually want.
Pretend right now that you didn’t have any conception of how often couples “should” or “shouldn’t” be having sex. Imagine that we live in a world where people have as much sex as they feel like having, and no one worries about it. If that was the case, would you be writing this email to me? Would you be feeling concerned about your relationship? In other words, are you missing having as much sex with your boyfriend, or is your question being driven by a fear that you guys aren’t “normal”?
Think of it this way too: what does a healthy sex life feel like to you? And in what ways is your current sex life not lining up with your ideal?
After you’ve answered those questions for yourself, see if you can create some actionable goals that you can bring up with your boyfriend. For example, maybe you would love it if your boyfriend bought you lingerie more often. Or perhaps you would really enjoy starting Sunday mornings with naked massage time.
TALK TO HIM
You knew this was coming, right? Once you’ve got a sense of some of the factors that may be contributing to your sexual slowdown, and have an idea of what you want from your sex life, it’s time to talk to your boyfriend.
This shouldn’t be something to dread though! The healthiest relationships are ones where couples can work together as a team to continually improve their sex life. Sex should be something the two of you talk about regularly, when things are going spectacularly and when it feels like you’re in a rut. The more frequently you talk about sex, the less intimidating it will feel. Plus, talking about sex keeps it in the forefront of your mind, which makes it more likely to happen!
Be gentle but direct, and tell him, “I’ve been feeling a little disconnected from you lately, so I’ve been trying to figure out what I’ve been missing. I have some ideas to share, and I also wanted to see if you’re feeling the same way.” Tell him some of your thoughts, listen to what he has to say, and work with him to brainstorm other possibilities.
After reading words like "actionable" and "brainstorming," you may be starting to feel a little overwhelmed. But you don’t need to come up with an itemized game plan for your sex life. Keep it simple.
The best thing you can do is create the space for intimacy. Set aside time to be alone together without distractions. For example, make it your ritual that you spend 20 minutes at the end of each day just talking to each other. Turn off the TV, hide your cell phones, and focus on being truly present with each other.
Think about the factors that usually get in the way of the two of you having alone time, and see if there’s anything you can do to minimize those effects. Maybe it’s time to start pushing back when your boss tries to give you a million different assignments. Or perhaps you can stop trying to cook elaborate meals every single night for dinner.
Keep asking yourself this question: “What can I do to make intimacy a priority in my life?” There are an endless number of possibilities. You may want to go to dance classes to feel more comfortable in your own skin. Or perhaps you want to invest in good bedding and lighting for your bedroom. All good options.
Having consistently great sex requires effort. It’s easy for sex to start to feel routine if you do it exactly the same way every single time. Talk to your boyfriend about variations you can make to your sex life. You don’t have to go crazy with the bondage gear or elaborate role-playing fantasies. Even something as simple as having sex at a different time of day, or being a little more vocal, can feel like a refreshing change.
Another factor to consider is that the barriers to having sex disappear when you move in together. Instead of having to squeeze in a session in the 10 minutes before your roommate gets home, you now have the freedom to have sex whenever you want. When sex becomes easier, it can sometimes feel less enticing. One fun tip I give my clients is to occasionally impose some limits on your sex life. For example, forbid yourselves from missionary position for two weeks, or have a session where you’re only allowed to do oral. These limits are artificial, of course, but that doesn’t make them any less fun!
Finally, I would encourage you to stop thinking about how often you guys have sex, and consider the quality of the sex you’re having. Do you feel connected and present with each other? Do you feel enlivened and excited? Having great sex a little less often is going to be far better for your relationship in the long term than forcing yourselves to have frequent, lackluster sex.