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First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes… bad sex?
That’s not how the rhyme goes, but that’s what all the hoopla around postmarital sex would have you believe.
Good news: It’s exactly that. Hoopla! Fuss! Fallacy!
“Thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of married couples have happy, healthy, and fulfilling sex lives,” says Jess O’Reilly, PhD, host of the @SexWithDrJess Podcast. Phew.
Pick your jaw up off the ground! It makes sense if you think about it.
“As you get to know and trust your partner, you tend to become more comfortable opening up about how you feel, what you like, and what you fantasize about,” says O’Reilly. “This can lead to more exciting and fulfilling sex.”
Still unconvinced? “The data that’s out there suggests that married folks are having sex more frequently than single folks,” she adds.
Don’t underestimate the convenience of having a maybe/occasionally willing/interested partner located right beside you!
The first step in having more? Understanding why you might be having less!
To have sex, you have to prioritize it
If having sex is important to you and you’re busy, guess what? “You have to prioritize it,” says O’Reilly. “This can become more of a challenge after you have kids, but it’s possible if you put in the effort.”
Her tip for prioritizing it? Put it in your schedule just as you would any other priority — whether that’s a business meeting, book club, or picking the kids up from soccer practice.
The calendar block doesn’t have to read “Bang My Boo” (though it totally can, if that’s your thing). And banging doesn’t even have to be the point!
Just set aside time to connect with each other and see what types of touch happen, says O’Reilly.
There’s a natural ebb and flow in libido over time
That’s true for folks of all genders and sexualities.
“Libido is affected by things like childbirth, illness, chronic pain, medication, stress, and substance use,” says Holly Richmond, PhD, a certified sex therapist and somatic psychologist at K-Y.
A dip in sexual desire isn’t a universal indication that something’s awry in the relationship.
You let your solo sex life fall to the wayside
Did you know libido is affected by lack of sex, too?
It might sound counterintuitive, but Richmond says, “the more you have sex, the more you want it. The less you have it, the less you want it.”
The W-H-Y comes down to hormones.
“When you have sex, there’s a release of endorphins and oxytocin that put us in the mood for sex,” she says. “Having more sex also grooves a neural pathway that teaches you to anticipate pleasure.”
That sex can be a two-person activity or a one-person activity, she says.
In addition to helping get you in the mood for partnered sex, masturbating can build your confidence.
It can also help you figure out how you like to be touched so you can better instruct your partner on how to touch you when you do have sex.
Plus, rubbing one out may also help lower your stress levels, which might help you get in the mood. #Winning.
If you can’t get in the mood, think about what’s going on outside the bedroom
The reason is simple: What you do out of the bedroom can affect what’s going on (or not) in the bedroom.
“If you’re carrying around resentment because you grudgingly do a disproportionate share of the housework, you’re not going to check this resentment at the bedroom door,” explains O’Reilly.
“Just as if you’re angry because your partner said something to undermine you in front of the kids, that anger isn’t going to immediately dissipate when you get into bed.”
Those negative feelings are also very unlikely to translate into the affection or desire needed to get it on.
The solution is two-part.
First, the partner marinating in negative feelings needs to confront their partner about what they’re feeling and why.
Then, the other partner has to respond in kind.
If you and your partner have a hard time having these kinds of conversations, you might consider a relationship therapist.
Whether you think you and your partner are on the same page about the type of sex you want to be having and how often you want to be having it — or you know you’re on different pages — you gotta talk about it!
“A conversation about what each partner’s expectations are around sex is critical,” says Richmond.
“You should talk about how many times a day, week, or month one of you wants to have sex,” she says.
If there’s a discrepancy in sex frequency — and most couples will at some point in the relationship — you should:
- Continue talking about sex.
- Prioritize other forms of sexual touch and intimacy.
- Explore other forms of intimacy.
- Consider seeing a sex therapist.
Beyond how often, “you should also determine what kind of sex and what feelings you want to create when you have it,” says Richmond.
For example, is it all about pleasure and an orgasm or is it more about connection?
Understanding where you both stand can help you move toward a place of empathy rather than defensiveness, which enables you to create solutions where you both feel empowered and fulfilled, she says.
Fun fact: There are two different types of arousal.
There’s the kind that hits you whamm-o-bamm-o all of a sudden (called spontaneous desire), and the kind that emerges once you and your partner start kissing or touching (called responsive desire).
While spontaneous desire might have been a thing right when you and your Number One started dating, “for most married couples, and people who have been in relationships for a long period of time, you have to do things to rev you up and get you in the mood,” says O’Reilly.
“If you wait to want sex to have it, you could be waiting a long time,” she says.
Exactly how you (and your partner) lean into responsive desire is going to come down to what turns you both on.
It might look like scooting closer to each other on the couch, asking for or giving a foot rub, sucking face, cuddling, or showering together.
You might even build desire all day long
Another way to get in the mood? Spend all day getting in the mood. As O’Reilly says, “Building desire starts long before clothes come off.”
What does that mean in practice, exactly?
Sexting, racy midday phone calls, or saucy notes left where your partner will find them.
Letting your partner pick out your underclothes for the day, showering together (but not touching!) in the morning, or simply telling your partner before you leave the house, “I can’t wait to hear you moan tonight.”
You can also use wearable sex tech to your advantage. The We Vibe Moxie, for example, is a panty vibrator that can be controlled by an app on your partner’s phone.
Put it on, tell your partner, then go grocery shopping. Fun!
“These may be two very different things — so it comes down to knowing your own languages, and then having open, honest conversations about them,” says Richmond.
The concept of love languages, developed by Dr. Gary Chapman, says that the way we all give or receive love could be broken down into five main categories:
- quality time
- acts of service
- words of affirmation
- physical touch
You and your partner can learn each other’s love languages by taking this online 5-minute quiz.
This will teach you how to make your partner feel loved and appreciated, says Richmond. If your partner feels loved and appreciated, they’ll be more likely to be in the mood to fool around.
You also want to know your partner’s “desire language,” which Richmond defines as, “the way your partner likes to be shown that they’re desired.”
Do they like to be teased? Sext them before date night.
Does romance do it for them? Plan a date complete with candles, flowers, a bath, and several hours set aside just for you (sans responsibility to anyone else).
Do they like to be surprised? Leave a pair of panties in their briefcase with a note.
Do they like to be complimented? Compliment them!
You know what they say: Comparison is the thief of joy. That also applies in the bedroom!
“You and your partner need to determine how much and what kind of sex you want to have based on what works best for you, not based on what you think you should be doing,” says Richmond.
“There can be a natural loss of interest in sex over time when the novelty and excitement dissipate,” says O’Reilly.
Don’t worry, it’s possible to bring back the heat.
Make a Yes, No, Maybe list
If you’ve been with your partner for a long time, you might think you know everything about their sexual preferences. But you’d probably be surprised by at least one or two things they want to try!
That may look like you each of you filling out your own list, then coming together to discuss things you’d both like to try together.
Or, that may mean making a date night out of filling one out together.
Go to a sex party/club or swinger resort
“Couples make a huge proportion of sex party attendants,” says Melissa Vitale, communication director of NSFW, a club hosting sex-positive events and workshops.
“Exploring sensuality and sexuality in a sex party setting can help a duo build intimacy, trust, and romance — whether they actually bring in a second, third, or fourth person, or just have sex with themselves in that space,” she says.
Maybe you’ll see something take place that you’re both mutually turned on by and interested in trying when you get home, she adds.
Shop for a sex toy (or toys) together
Ideally, you’ll want to do this in a store, where there are sex educators on the floor who can answer any Qs that come up.
You might try splitting up for 15 minutes, then coming back together to see what pleasure products you each added to the cart.
Or, you might bop through the store together, taking turns adding sexcessories to the cart.
Richmond recommends leaving with a toy you want to use together, as well as a toy you can each try on your own time.
“I encourage my clients to find a vibrator that works for them solo. And then to bring it into the bedroom with their partner — this is most often a huge turn on for the partner.”
Turn on porn
Despite what you might have heard, porn can actually be beneficial to a relationship.
“It’s one way couples can step into a fantasy world together,” says Richmond. “By asking each other what they want to watch, you get clues about what some of their specifics turn-ons may be — perhaps things they are too embarrassed to ask for.”
“With porn, you need to remember that this is purely for entertainment, not for education,” she says.
“Rather than using porn to set expectations about what we or our partners should look like or how we should perform, it’s about creating fantasy and a fun space to sink more deeply into pleasure.”
Go on vacation!
You know what they say: Vacation sex is the best sex.
While experts warn against putting too much pressure on you and your boo to romp like rabbits every time you get away, Richmond says, “vacation sex really is a great way to reset a sex life or re-invigorate it.”
It isn’t the hotel sheets or room service that make vacation sex so good, though.
“It’s about the fact that you’re in an environment that allows you to leave your day-to-day, minute-to-minute responsibilities behind,” says Richmond. “[This] opens up space for you and your partner to cultivate eroticism, and step squarely into fantasy and pleasure.”
To be very clear: This means not checking Slack, email, or other notifications, if at all possible.
Some travel-friendly pleasure products to pack:
Don’t let the boring trope that putting a ring on it will ruin your sex life — you and your partner get to decide what married sex looks like for you.
There are plenty of reasons — intimacy, trust, love, and familiarity, to name a few! — that married sex can actually be more fulfilling than single sex, and plenty of ways to reinvigorate your sex life if it starts to feel a little lackluster.
Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist who is committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Healthline, her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.