What's A “Normal” Sex Life For Long Term Partners? Here’s A Sex Educator’s Take
In this week's Sex IDK column, Emma McGowan, certified sex educator and writer, answers your questions about how often people are *actually* having sex.
Q: What is a normal sex life for long-term partners in their early 30s? I am in a very dry spell and I am afraid we will never get out of it…
I want to start by saying: Everyone thinks their sex life is not “normal.” And that’s because it’s not! What works for one person probably won’t work for another person. Some couples do it five times a week; some do it once every two months; some never do it at all. Are any of those normal and better than the others? Objectively, no. Are there averages? Sure. But no human life or lived human experience is actually average.
So, reader, before we dive into the specifics of dry spells (and how to get out of them), I want to encourage you to stop comparing your sexual experiences or sex drive to those of other people. Instead, let’s ask this question: What kind of sex life do my long-term partner and I want in our early 30s?
See how that reframing takes you out of a self-judgmental zone and into a meeting-my-and-my-partner's-needs zone? The second one is a much more comfortable place to sit. But just because there’s no “normal,” doesn’t mean there’s no “this is a problem.” And because you're asking this question in terms of "getting out" of this dry spell, it sounds like it might be a problem for you, your partner, or both. So here are a few steps to take to figure out how to get back to a sex life that works for you and your partner.
1. Figure Out The Root Cause
A good place to start when you’re trying to work your way out of a dry spell is with the cause. So here’s a common trend: People tend to have less sex the longer they’ve been together, although the reasons vary. For some couples, familiarity takes the excitement out of sex. For others, you just get bored after five, 10, 40 years. And for still others, life just starts to get in the way! It’s a lot harder to have spontaneous midday sex, after all, when you’re juggling two full time careers and maybe a kid or two.
What do you think the cause of your dry spell is? This step can be emotionally difficult because it pushes you to really examine yourself and your relationship. Tell your partner this is a concern for you and ask them to sit down and have some serious talks. And if the task feels too daunting to tackle on your own, consider finding a sex positive therapist who can help guide you and your partner through it.
2. Embrace The Unknown
Did you know that the part of the brain associated with pleasure is also the part of the brain that responds to fearful or unexpected events? Arousal, it seems, is kind of all the same, whether we’re “aroused” by fear or “aroused” sexually.
When you’re first sleeping with someone — when you’re more likely to be doing it all the time — it’s also kind of scary. You don’t know the person very well yet. You don’t necessarily know when or how or even where you’re going to have sex — but you know it’s going to happen.
While you can’t recreate that exact scenario with a long-term partner, there are ways to simulate it. You could try out a new toy or act out a fantasy scenario that makes you feel nervous, but excited. You could go to a sexually charged environment, like a sex club, and only have sex with each other. You could even watch some new porn together! As long as both you and your partner are on board with the activity, adding a little thrill can be a great way to get things moving again.
Honestly, sometimes even doing something non-sexual but scary — like going to a horror movie or riding a roller coaster or, yeah, bungee jumping together — can help get those feelings flowing. The point is to stimulate that arousal center in your brain, and then put those aroused feelings into action.
3. Be Open To Change
One of the most frustrating things is to have a great sex life early on — you want it at the same times! you’re into the same things! you have at least one orgasm every time! — only to have it become crappy as you’ve been together longer. While, again, there are a lot of reasons why this happens, I think one important one that doesn’t get talked about a lot is the fact that people change.
Think about it: It’s very unlikely that you’re going to be into all of the things you were into at 20 by the time you’re 32. For example, I can tell you that I never worked out at 20, and now I need to four times a week or else I get too far into my head. That’s not a sexual example, obviously, but it illustrates the fact that our interests and tastes and needs change over a time.
So it’s important to accept change not only in yourself, but also in your partner. Maybe you’re not having sex anymore because you’re both into something new and are scared to talk about it! Or maybe you’re both just bored. Initiate a conversation by saying that you want to talk openly and honestly about your sexual interests — and that you’re open to change. You may be surprised by what comes up.
4. Sleep Apart
Now, I know this one seems counterintuitive, but it might be worth it to try sleeping apart for a while. One 2019 survey from a group in the UK even found that couples who sleep apart have more — and better! — sex.
That survey suggested that the improved sex came from better sleep due to separation from a snoring partner, which led to fewer arguments and better rested people all around. So if you think lack of sleep could be the culprit in your diminished sex life, consider sleeping apart for a bit.
5. Commit To Sex A Certain Number Of Times Per Week
If you and your partner aren’t coming together spontaneously anymore, then it’s time to work out a schedule. And while people tend to think of scheduled sex as somehow less sexy than spontaneous sex, it can be the most sexy if you want it to be.
Start by working out a time that both of you will be free and feeling relatively low-stress. Then, set an actual event in your calendar and block that time off. (If your calendar is accessible by other people, you don’t have to call it SEXY TIME. Try like, “date night” or something.) In the lead up to that time, focus on thinking about things that turn you on. Send your partner sexy texts. Plan a fun outfit to wear to bed, or an activity you want to try, and either tell your partner about it or keep it a delicious secret. Watch porn or read erotica.
The point here is to not only work out a time when you and your partner will have sex but also to get those sexy, anticipatory thoughts and feelings moving. Then, when it’s actually time, you’ll both be worked up and ready.
I know that’s a lot — and I know jumpstarting a stalled sex life can be daunting — but be gentle with yourself and with your partner throughout this process. A couples therapist can also help you get to the root of what's causing dissatisfaction in your sex life. And remember: Sex can be a really important part of romantic relationships. It’s absolutely fine to focus on it for a while.
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