How couples in long-term relationships can rekindle their sexual desire for each other

Data indicates that frequent and satisfying sex is important for maintaining a healthy relationship. Why, then, do people put so little effort into seducing each other when they’re in long-term relationships? We talk to experts about how to end sexual laziness and they explain why, no matter how stable your relationship is, “you have to keep flirting with your partner every day”

Mickey Rourke and Kim Bassinger in a scene from the movie Nine and a Half Weeks (1986).
Mickey Rourke and Kim Bassinger in a scene from the movie Nine and a Half Weeks (1986).

Recently, we have seen some examples in pop culture and in the market that indicate that sex in stable, lasting relationships also needs lots of innovation. From Christian Grey’s whip to the idea of sharing a Satisfyer (a sex toy), we are beginning to realize that, like everything else in a relationship, sex requires work. However, certain romantic ideals linger, casting a shadow over stable couples, especially heterosexual ones. One such notion is that the “desire” to sleep together magically persists no matter how much time goes by. Another is that if those urges disappear, something is wrong.

As sexologist Ana Lombardía explains, this belief is not exactly true. We must consider that attraction and desire for our partner are almost constant when we are falling in love. In reality, however, this stage only lasts between 3 and 16 months. After that, sex, or our desire for sex, changes. Let’s say that our desire does not go away but becomes dormant and one must have the tools to know how to reawaken it. Not everyone is up to the task. “Men have a greater tendency to believe that sex should be spontaneous and are often more reluctant than women to ‘prepare’ for a date or sexual encounter,” explains Lombardía in her book Hablando con ellos. La sexualidad de los hombres hetero [Talking to Them: The Sexuality of Straight Men] (Oberon).

Moreover, as the sexologist reminds us, the assumed spontaneity of a new relationship is also an illusion. “In the beginning, we send messages to each other at all hours, we decide whether to meet at their house or ours, we let each other know if our parents or roommates are away, we shave, shave, shave...” In short, we’ve always been planning sexual encounters, what is/was spontaneous is the game of seduction. That’s exactly what we’ve lost over the years.”

Because data tells us how important sexual relations are for a healthy relationship, the million-dollar question is why we have become lazy when looking for ways to seduce our partners. “Many people lack the tools for seduction. In fact, they don’t flirt, they directly propose sex with [their] words or actions,” Lombardía says. And if we are off to a bad start, sexual satisfaction doesn’t lead the way. It’s hard to generalize about whether men or women initiate sexual encounters. We’re used to thinking that men usually take the initiative and have greater sexual desire, but in reality it’s an individual thing, not a question of gender,” she adds.

Seduction is not just about suggesting sex but also getting our partner to share our desire to have sex. “Seducing means getting your partner to feel like having sex when he/she isn’t in the mood at first. Doing so implies the process of relaxing, being attractive, proposing appealing erotic activities that do not have to do with the genitals...” says Lombardía.

Silvia Pérez, a couples therapist, agrees with this idea. “In therapy, couples often say to me: ‘do you have a camera in our bedroom?’ Because I can ‘guess’ exactly how their sexual relations are: at night, in bed; first there’s kissing, then touching, and finally penetration that ends when he ejaculates, and she sometimes (but only sometimes) reaches orgasm before he does.”

The problem with repeating this pattern is that we end up shying away from it if it’s not satisfying for us. We don’t just shy away from sex; we also avoid any sign that there might be sex. “A common situation is that one partner approaches the other to kiss and caress him/her with the intention of having sex, and if the other partner doesn’t feel like it, he or she rejects the kiss and caresses to prevent things from going any further.” This means that every time there’s a kiss or caress, even if it’s not to initiate sex, the partner ends up pulling back, creating a physical distance between the partners, which can be more worrisome than having less sex. Indeed, a study published in Social Psychology and Personality Science revealed that a “feeling of distance” from our significant other was one of the main reasons for couples breaking up.

Learn to seduce rather than suggest

“People mistakenly believe that you can stop seducing your partner once you’re in a stable relationship, but seduction always plays a role. I can’t have sex whenever I want, even if it is with my long-time partner, if we haven’t played a game of seduction first. Surprise is very important for keeping the flame alive. Nobody likes to watch the same movie over and over again,” says therapist Silvia Pérez.

But we don’t surprise each other much, even with seemingly simple things. For example, according to a 2021 survey conducted by the sex toy brand We Vibe in collaboration with Appinio, men in Spain masturbate an average of 140 times and women do so 53 times. Nevertheless, only 9 percent said that they masturbate with their partners. That could be a way to try something new and enliven the relationship. Why do something separately when we could be doing it together?

“We must remember that availability should not be taken for granted when we are in a relationship. That is, we shouldn’t assume that our partner will always be there, no matter what, and that he or she will continue to be attracted to us, regardless of what we do. Seduction must happen on a daily basis. You have to seduce your partner every day, or at least most days,” Lombardía says.

But how can we seduce a steady partner who already knows all our moves? “I would suggest changing the established dynamics and patterns in sexual encounters, so that a dirty kiss or a lewd gesture does not necessarily imply anything else,” the sexologist advises. “If we make a sexual encounter complete and satisfying simply by giving each other passionate kisses or fondling each other over our clothes, it’s much more likely that our desire will be more frequent and happen more easily,” she says.

For her part, Perez points to going beyond the sense of touch and offering ways to reconnect with our other senses. She advocates proposing them in the strictest sense of the word. Another major problem that stable couples experience is that partners assume the other person should know what we want and when we want it, just because. Unless we have a mind reader, this is not the case. “If I have to ask, I don’t want it anymore” is an untrue myth.

Thus, Pérez suggests playing a game in which we offer five sexual wishes to propose sex through all of our senses. For example, for sight, do a striptease; for hearing, read an erotic story aloud; for taste, prepare a sexy dinner; and for smell, do something as simple as surprising us with a new perfume.

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