3 Things You Can Do to Keep Sex Great in a Long-Term Relationship by Betty Butch
I have been with my partner for over 13 years. Over the course of our decade-plus together, our sex life has gone through at least half a dozen resurgences, phoenix-like in its ability to burst free from periods of… let’s call it “sameness”. Sameness is natural (and perhaps inevitable) when you’re having sex with another person consistently for so many years. Family obligations, demanding jobs, busy schedules, tumultuous physical and mental health – sex is just part of the vast framework of our entwined lives, and sometimes? It’s been put on the backburner and left to simmer as is for awhile.
Back in April, I wrote about ways to reintroduce sex into your relationship. Earlier in July, I wrote about sparking and maintaining sexual chemistry. Today, I wanted to share 3 methods my partner and I have utilized in keeping our long-term sex life interesting, engaging, and mutually satisfactory!
1. Normalize Checking in with Your Partner
When I was younger, I thought that talking about sex with my partner would get easier as time passed. Instead, I often find myself feeling strangely shy about it! Asking for feedback, checking in on their satisfaction level, wondering if they’re “bored”… I feel like because we’ve been together for so long, I should already know how they feel.
But that’s not how relationships – or people – work! Our interests and experiences change with time, and while we might become more familiar with reading our partner, we don’t become mind-readers. Even if we did, the value of conversation outweighs the convenience of telepathy: having a dialogue allows you to contextualize concepts and feelings, which can lead to changed perspectives and compromise.
Last year, Taryn of Ace In the Hole wrote about having a weekly check-in with her now-husband. While the list isn’t sex focused (there’s only one question about one’s sex life), the concept inspired me to start asking my partner about sex explicitly and regularly. Turning frank conversations into a routine has helped smooth away the awkwardness.
So what kind of sex life check-in questions should you be asking your partner(s)? It depends on your individual needs and goals, but here are a few suggestions based on my own:
What was the most recent thing to turn you on? I love sharing sexy thoughts with my partner. We’re constantly texting each other things that have caught our fancy: a preview clip from a sex worker on Twitter, a snippet of a smutty fanfiction, a new toy release that inspired some dirty ideas, a sexy daydream at work… It helps keep us in the loop of each others’ constantly roving kinks, and provides lots of inspiration.
Is there anything new you’re curious about? While frank, direct communication can save a lot of time, sometimes a softer approach yields better results. Asking your partner about idle interests instead of concrete wants can make them feel more comfortable dishing, because it feels like they’re less likely to be judged. Framing it as a pondering also means you can then research and explore the topic together.
What’s something you’d like me to do more often? Admittedly, this question can be a great ego boost. Who doesn’t want to hear what they’re doing well? But the answer can also clue you in on changes in your partner(s)’ preferences. For years, my partner was ‘meh’ about breast stimulation, but then they started to ask for more nipple play – leading us both to realize how much their breast sensitivity had increased recently. Our bodies are ever-changing!
2. Indulge in Some Nostalgic Sex
It’s pretty commonplace for people to renew their vows or take vacations where they honeymooned as a way to romantically reconnect. When songs from our first few summers together get called classics on the radio, my partner and I reminisce about the hijinks we got up to when those afternoons ran long.
Nostalgia can be a pretty potent aphrodisiac, presenting the cherry-picked naughtiness of earlier, more uncertain times. Back when you were still learning your partner(s) and they were learning you. Back when risk and vulnerability were just part of the whirlwind of sex. Back when it was all just sexier… at least through to the rose-tinted lens of your memories.
A 2012 University of Southampton study on nostalgia and body temperature found “that nostalgia serves a homeostatic function, allowing the mental simulation of previously enjoyed states, including states of bodily comfort.” Recalling fond memories while cold actually made people feel warmer! The study didn’t touch on sexual responses to fond memories, but when I first read about it, that’s where my mind wandered. If nostalgia can warm you up, what can sexy nostalgia do for you?
Pondering fuckings of yesteryear is a double-edged sword for me. On the one hand, it’s arousing to recall the dirty things we’ve done to each other over the years. On the other, it’s easy to think that “new” sex was better sex, and feel like something’s missing from our modern day romps. But being the optimistic sexplorer that I am, I try to use the warm stuff and remind myself that the grass was not greener in the spring.
So, how do you harness nostalgia to spice – and not sour – the present?
Establish what makes the memory a fond one. You might be reminiscing about that one time in the boathouse because your partner was wearing those lace panties, but he might look back on it with a boner because he just enjoys banging in unusual places. When old trysts come up in conversation, make sure you ask why they’ve lingered. Knowing what made them significant to your partner(s) will help you decide how best to revisit it.
Don’t fret if you can’t capture the magic exactly. Whether you’re straight up roleplaying a fling from the past or just trying to borrow a few elements, it’s important to remember that nostalgia is the sprinkles, not the icecream. I’m a roleplaying fiend and can sometimes get tangled up in the details when recreating scenes, which means I’m overlooking the best part: fucking my partner here and now. The nostalgic flavoring is just for pizazz!
Celebrate that you’re different people now. Do you remember the days of buying sex toys made of unsafe materials, not bothering to use lube, or being too shy to try rimming? You’ve come a long way! Be grateful for the time that’s past – your partner(s) probably are! And hey, even if you realize your aging knees and elbows can’t handle a tussle on the floor like they used to, giving it an aborted try will still make for some giggly foreplay and a renewed appreciation for sticking to softer surfaces (like your “boring” bed) these days.
3. Ditch the Routine Sometimes
I know, I know, “spicing things up” is such a cliché. But cultivating a mutually satisfying sex life is not a linear path! It’s a constant adventure that branches out in a dozen directions, sometimes circling back and sometimes plunging off into unknown lands. You can master a technique… but techniques will need to change as your dynamic and bodies do. You can find the perfect toy… but in three years, there will be new toys that utilize all-new technology that might suit you even better. You can People change, sex should change.
My partner and I were incredibly sexually adventurous the first few years we were together. We explored role playing, BDSM, handmade sex toys (I don’t recommend it!), threesomes, exhibitionism… We made mistakes, ran into things we didn’t like, and kept moving. We went out of our way to learn, because the newness of sex (and the lack of queer sex ed) gave us permission to experiment and find what worked for us.
But we lost that adventurous spirit after awhile, and for a long time, our sex life stagnated on the path most-traveled. We fell into a routine. (Our routine lingered for years, but for some, discontentment sets in within a few weeks.) Routines aren’t the worst thing that can happen to one’s sex life, of course. They’re usually built around the participants’ comfort zones and easiest or preferred pleasure-receiving methods. But as interests shift and bodies change, routines stop serving their purpose: consistent sexual satisfaction. And satisfaction is about more than efficiently achieved orgasms.
When we realized our stalled-out sex life was boring us both, we committed to changing things up and encouraging that sense of adventure again. Here are a few suggestions based on our resolutions:
Freshen up your sex toy collection. No, seriously! The tools we use during sex are often the easiest thing to change when shaking up a routine, and their varied uses naturally guide us into new positions and techniques. Have you tried air suction toys? What about mini fucking machines? How about bondage restraints? What’s just been added to Peepshow Toys’ New Releases? I had no idea what I was missing before I branched out. And I’m so glad I did.
Be ready to look foolish again. Remember the early days with your partner(s)? All those now-funny anecdotes of foreplay fails and accidental headboard headbutts? Every cringe-worthy line of dirty talk you spouted before you found your groove? Exploring new things means you’re going to be forfeiting the shield of your routine. You’ll be experiencing new kinds of vulnerability, making new mistakes, and discovering things you don’t like while looking for things that you do. Trying out an over-the-door sex sling? It might be the best decision you’ve made in eight years! But you also might slip, or fart, or get self-conscious about how your belly bunches up. And that’s okay!
Communicate regularly, and be honest. When you’ve worked yourself into a routine, it can be hard to shirk that comfort for the sake of new sparks. The regular check-ins I mentioned earlier in this piece are important – but so is having a chat after sex about what worked, what didn’t, and what you’re comfortable compromising on. The point of “spicing things up” is to gain even higher satisfaction from your sex life – and you can’t do that if you don’t communicate.
Betty Butch is a queer, sex-positive blogger who reviews pleasure products and writes about identity and kink at bettybutch.com. You can find her on Twitter via @betty_butch.
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