If you've been with your partner for a while, you’re probably ready for some new things to try in bed. But if you feel as though you've done all the new things in bed that you can, a little refresher course might be in order. What sorts of things should all long-term couples try during sex? What are the best kinky things to try in a relationship? And is it weird to feel as though you've dried up on the idea front?
In a word, no. "People often tell me they run out of ideas when it's time to try something new in the bedroom," sex and relationship counselor Julie Jeske tells Bustle. Couples can struggle with how often to have sex, and what to do when they're in bed together. "They sometimes make love to express love, and sometimes they are just going through the motions, because they feel like they 'should' be having sex," she says.
Relationship Reality 312’s resident sex therapist, Karen Washington, LMFT, warns that dry spells and a lack of passion often come from getting too comfortable with a partner. “Unintentional laziness can really get in the way of erotic connection,” says Washington. “Think about when you are first dating someone new — you prioritize the relationship, the time, and the effort you make towards building things. Partners sometimes expect that their romantic and sexual life require no energy and effort once they are together for a while.”
Falling out of touch with your long-term partner isn’t the end of the world — how much sex you and your long-term partner have is likely to fluctuate over time, and dry spells can be broken with a bit of intentionality. The important thing to remember is that great, meaningful sex doesn’t always happen organically: Both Jeske and Washington agree that maintaining chemistry in a long-term relationship required curiosity and commitment.
“Novelty requires introduction of different things over time, which requires a certain level of curiosity and effort about self and partner,” says Washington. If you feel like you've run out of things to do in bed, it's time to get creative.
Here are 13 ways to how to keep your sex life hot in an LTR.
1. Play With Power
Who is usually in control in bed? If you don't want to change that up, who usually seduces, and who is usually seduced? Who chases, and who submits (with consent, of course)? It's worth exploring what this dynamic already looks like as you brainstorm new things to do in bed.
"Does one person typically 'drive' during your sexual encounter?" asks Jeske. "Take turns being in control or initiating." If that's enough for now, stop there — but you and your partner can also "play with power by exploring being a little more submissive or more dominant," she says. "There is a huge continuum for sex and power." If you've never experimented with submission or dominance, you could take this opportunity.
"Most couples like some level of dominance and submission in their sexual encounters, from using a blindfold or some silk scarves, to tying each other up, to spanking or playing with power in a more verbal or psychological way," says Jeske. Even if you don't think that dynamic is for you, thinking about the ways power is already used in your sex life can help you and your partner learn how to play with it.
But go slow: “If you have never tried kink before, I recommend doing some research,” says Washington. “There are a lot of moving parts to kink depending on what your flavor is. Open, clear communication is key. As is risk-aware, enthusiastic consent and agreements. I often use a yes/no/maybe list with my clients to start the thought process of what each individual might be interested in trying and building upon those.”
2. Seduce Your Partner
Speaking of seduction, if it’s become a thing of the past in your relationship, one new thing to do in bed is to bring it back.
"As people become more comfortable and sex becomes more routine, couples often just hop into bed and start going through their sexual motions," says Jeske. Don't forgo that lost art forever: "Seduce your partner," she says. There are plenty of ways to do so without making too much of a fuss, though fusses are good sometimes.
A few on Jeske's list? "Undress each other. Make out in the kitchen. Leave a trail of clothes from the front door to the living room. Text your partner throughout the day telling him or her what you are doing to do after work, then deliver on those promises." Properly seducing your partner is all about incorporating an element of surprise, she says. And as always, communicate. "If you aren't sure how your partner wants to be seduced, ask," she says.
3. Pay Attention To Your Senses
Do you ever find yourself worrying or thinking about something totally non–sex-related during sex? While making a mental grocery list or going over that awkward work conversation while you're getting intimate is beyond common, it can take you away from the moment — and diminish what's great about having sex in the first place.
"Tuning into your senses will help you connect to what feels good and also help you stay present during sex," says Jeske. "So often people are in their heads rather than their bodies." Instead of being in the moment, they're in some far-off place, which short-circuits connection and can mess with things like intimacy or orgasms. Oftentimes, people can zone out, "thinking about things they don't want to happen (losing erections, climaxing too quickly or not at all)," she says, or worrying "about things outside of sex (getting work done, messes in the house, stress)." Instead, incorporate the present moment. "Asking yourself what you see, hear, smell, taste and feel during sex will help you be there with your lover," she says. "It will help you focus on what feels good."
Your sense of smell is a good place to start, since "smell can be highly erotic," she says. "What is your partner's smell?" Notice it, and focus on it.
"You can even bring extra sensuality into the sexual experience by using things that smell, taste or feel good," she adds. Her shortlist? "Light candles, play music, notice your partner's breath or heartbeat. Have a sensual picnic where you explore different textures and tastes together. Or take a sensual bath as part of your foreplay."
If this sounds awfully like mindfulness meditation, well, you'd be right — mindfulness is just the practice of bringing your mind to the present. And just as mindfulness in meditation can reduce anxiety, one 2019 study of almost 200 people found that people who described themselves as mindful were "more satisfied with their sex lives" — and this held especially true for women. Mindfulness “requires vulnerability or the courage to say and show what is actually going on inside; it's choosing to take the risk to disclose something intimate about yourself,” says Irene Fehr, a sex and intimacy coach. “These are very important ways to create sexual connection — the same kind of connection that felt easy and effortless in the beginning of the relationship — and that can add passion and spice to a relationship in the long term.”
While it may sound simple, once you are in the habit of "noticing your senses, titillating your senses will heighten your sexual experience," Jeske says.
4. Seduction Bowl
This is exactly what it sounds like: Get a bowl, and write down all the things you want to try sexually, Jeske says. Have your partner do the same. "You can include specific things, like positions, or games, or kinds of sex," she says. "Or you can write down fantasies. Or you can include things like, 'The person who pulls this card initiates.' Or, 'The person who pulls this card gives the other person oral sex.'" This can make for an interesting night — and also allows for desires to come to light. Sometimes people "share that when their partner seductively whispers in their ear, 'What do you want me to do to you?' they have no idea what they want or how to ask for it," Jeske says. "Making a seduction bowl with your partner will help."
5. Be Selfish
Sex isn't all about you — just like it's not all about your partner — but it's fully acceptable to let it be all about you sometimes. "In order to get fully aroused and to climax, you need to focus on your pleasure a bit," says Jeske. "It's OK to know what you want, ask for what you want, and make sure you are taken care of. Not only OK, it's sexy." Ask for what you want, and ask your partner to just focus on you from time to time. Then you can return the favor.
If you're not sure what else you want during sex, that's where being mindful comes in. Notice what sensations or touches feel particularly good to you — then, ask your partner to dedicate 20 full minutes to recreating that sensation towards you. And if you find yourself thinking about something you did in bed that you liked a lot the next day, put it in the seduction bowl!
6. Be Kinky
"I work with so many lovely couples who adore each other, and respect each other, and are so polite with each other," Jeske says. "They feel close and content, and they also have a hard time finding the erotic in their sex." In other words, they feel uncomfortable with letting things veer too far from vanilla in bed — and then get bored.
"It's OK to be super loving and tender, and then also find a way to objectify each other a bit in the bedroom," she says. "Don't get me wrong: Tender, sweet love-making is divine." But it's worth exploring, she says: "Is there a way for you to have that, and also be erotic? Can you have raunchy sex too? Can you have dirty sex with the same person you parent with? Can you honor the dichotomies in your relationship and roles?" Having vanilla sex is totally valid, if that's what you're into — but it's important to be conscientious about why you're doing it.
7. Have Sex Regularly
"Sex is like exercise," Jeske says. "If you stop doing it, it's really hard to start again .I have clients who haven't have sex for months or years, because they are pretty sure it's not going to be great, and they have been waiting so long, they want it to be great."
“Sexual desire and passion will not just show up out of nowhere,” says Fehr. She recommends “setting aside time to be lovers with each other — without pressure to have sex” in order to prevent hose dry spells. “Being sexual has a lot of range,” she says, pointing to things like having oral sex, sharing what you love about your partner’s body, or even making out during a movie. “When there is regular sexual connection without the goal or pressure of having sex, sex can flow.
While it makes sense that people want to be having great sex, the truth is that setting up those pressures and expectations can make it harder to have good sex. If you're in a dry spell, now is the time to just rip the bandaid off, even if the first time in a while is mediocre. "The nice thing about having sex regularly is that if it's isn't great, then you know you will be having it again soon, and it's not ask big of a let down," she says. It really is like exercise, she adds: "Regularity also builds stamina."
8. Make A Sex Tool Box
In addition to having lube and condoms near your bed, amp things up by creating a tool box to use during sex, says Jeske. "Your tool box may include a vibrator or other toys, restraints, erotica, porn, costumes, different personas or roles you have played, fantasies, edible lotion and more." Adding to the contents of the box is something you can do with your partner (think, again, the seduction bowl). "These might not be things you are using every time you have sex, but you know they are there if you want to play," she says.
9. Let Sex Evolve
"If you are in a relationship for the long haul, then you are going to go through changes together," says Jeske. Remain flexible, and try to let go of expectations. "If you keep expecting your sex to look the same as it did when you were 25, you will be disappointed," she says. "And if you get frustrated when things don't work the same as they always did, you may shut down and stop having sex." Instead, accepting what is the case currently and being open about what is to come will help.
"Our bodies change as we age," Jeske says. "Women experience changes with pregnancy, birth and menopause. Men can experience changes in their erections. Illness and injury can also affect things." But just because things are changing, it doesn't mean your sex life is over. "There are so many ways you can adapt your sex as your body changes," she says. "You can try different positions, and create new pathways to pleasure. It can be a really fun process if you let yourself be curious."
10. Be Vulnerable
Though vulnerability might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of hot sex, think again, Jeske says. "Being vulnerable sometimes doesn't sound sexy, but that softness can take your sex to a new level." By taking things "deeper" this way, you let "yourself be seen," she says. "It can include eye contact, asking for what you truly want, being honest about what does or doesn't feel good, not hiding your body or your pleasure," says Jeske.
If you trust your partner, letting them see you at your most vulnerable is something worth trying. And vulnerability can come in unexpected ways. "Sometimes vulnerability includes tears with your orgasm (they are both a form of release)," says Jeske. "Using your voice and making sound may be vulnerable for some people. Vulnerability is not going through the motions — it is being present and authentic."
11. Don't Be An Expert
When you allow yourself to not know it all in bed, you give yourself permission to to experiment, says Jeske. As non-experts, "we will let ourselves make mistakes, and we will educate ourselves," she says. "When people feel like they have to do it right, they stop taking risks. They stop playing. They stop being curious."
This can lead to a rut for an LTR. "Long-term couples too often create a sexual routine that was based on something that once worked and then becomes boring or predictable," Jeske says. "Because it 'works,' and people often get off, they sometimes fear veering from that routine." Instead, she says, take risks.
12. Sleep Naked
"Removing your clothes removes one more barrier to sex," Jeske says. "Not only will you notice your partner's body if you snuggle up together during the night, you will be more comfortable with your own body too."
What's more, an informal survey of over 1,000 people conducted by the company Mattress Advisor found that 65% of millennials responded that they slept in the nude, and people who reported that they slept naked had sex twice as much as people who slept clothed — eight times a month versus four. Not too shabby for literally doing nothing.
If this inspires the two of you and leads to something more, great; if not, you're still super snuggly.
13. Touch Yourself
To keep things golden in bed, it's not just about sex with your partner. "Touching yourself for pleasure will keep you connected to what feels good for your body," says Jeske. "You will engage with your pleasure, get more comfortable with your body, and also connect to your arousal. All of those things will also benefit your partnered sex." And you can always talk about this with your partner to bring a new level of intimacy into play.
Hofmann, S. G., & Gómez, A. F. (2017). Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Anxiety and Depression. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 40(4), 739–749. doi: 10.1016/j.psc.2017.08.008
Leavitt, C. E., Lefkowitz, E. S., & Waterman, E. A. (2019). The role of sexual mindfulness in sexual wellbeing, Relational wellbeing, and self-esteem. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 45(6), 497–509. doi: 10.1080/0092623x.2019.1572680
Sex and relationship counselor Julie Jeske, MS, LPC
Sex therapist and licensed marriage and family therapist Karen Washington, LMFT
Irene Fehr, MA, CPCC, sex & intimacy coach
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