How To Cultivate More Sex in a Long-Term Relationship
Understanding The Death of Desire & Erotic Intelligence
Many agree the desire for sex in a relationship fades with time.
We often blame a sexless relationship on our busy lifestyles, too many kids and not enough energy. Some couples accept this and settle for a life sexually unfulfilled, while others seek sexual gratification through other means or people.
As someone who has been in a relationship for almost 20 years, I can appreciate the challenges of a long-term, one-partner sex life. My exploration into understanding this topic further led me to 'Mating in Captivity' by Esther Perel, and has radically shifted my beliefs about sex in relationships.
The sexless future of committed couples can be best understood by exploring the role of security in relationships and its impact on erotic desire.
Security and Desire Are Two Separate Fundamental Human Needs
Standard sex advice encourages the use of toys, porn and fancy lingerie to 'spice up your marriage'. While these things might offer simple (quick fix) solutions for some, Perel's emphasis on rekindling desire through creating an 'erotic space' provides a much deeper and meaningful solution, in my opinion.
We all share a fundamental human need for comfort and security, including finding a partner we hope will provide permanence and reliability. Yet, we also seek spontaneity, passion, excitement and risk — essential components to make us feel alive.
Comfort and risk rarely play in the same field.
When relationships bloom, we make commitments and establish a grounding presence in each other's lives, and unknowingly exchange the thrill of the unknown with the comfort of certainty. Throw in a wedding and a child or two, and the emphasis on stability, routine and permanence takes on a whole new level.
‘Family life flourishes in an atmosphere of comfort and consistency. Yet eroticism resides in unpredictability, spontaneity and risk.’
Creating Erotic Space in a Long-Term Relationship
To rekindle the desire for each other, you need to create distance to incite curiosity. There's nothing curious about someone you know inside and out.
Couples need to drop the 'we' and the 'need' for each other. Instead, allow ourselves to discover our passions, separate interests and stop living in each other's pockets.
The ‘grand illusion’ of committed love is that our partner is never really ours.
They are not our 'other half' but instead a separate entity — someone we have chosen to share a part of our life with. Even this awareness is enough to ignite mystery.
From my own relationship experience, separateness invokes strong feelings of independence and autonomy, which enhances the opportunity to find personal joy, passion and excitement — all the ingredients needed to cultivate an erotic space, which I can invite my husband into when I choose.
‘Eroticism thrives in the space between the self and the other.’
2. Intentional Sex
For long-term couples, it's easy to skip over the ritual of anticipation, which may have played out for days before the physical act at the start of the relationship.
Instead, we see a small window of opportunity, cut foreplay time in half and 'get it done' before the kids wake up. It's no wonder sex can feel like a chore to strike off our relationship To-Do list, or what my friend likes to call it … 'maintenance sex'.
In loving, committed relationships, sex needs to be intentional. The seducing that was once a necessity at the beginning of the relationship still needs to take place.
Perel gives an example of a soccer game — no one wants to play at the last minute, without a kit and on a littered field. So we need to maintain the upkeep of the erotic space — create ambience and intentional opportunity.
How that looks is up to the couple, but they should plan for the occasion and build anticipation.
For me, this means taking care of myself physically, feeling healthy and taking time to recharge from life's busyness, creating a home environment that we both love, free from clutter and where we can relax. We also prioritise time to focus on each other, for example, hiring a babysitter for child-free evenings, going for weekly walks when our son is at daycare, and changing our routine from time to time. All together, creating the erotic space for the desire to cultivate.
‘The challenge for modern couples lies in reconciling the need for what’s safe and predictable with the wish to pursue what’s exciting, mysterious, and awe-inspiring.’
Erotic Intelligence Is So Much More Than Sex Itself
Perel wants us to understand that eroticism is a much broader landscape than the physical act of sex. It involves our imagination, meaning, dreams, expectations and touches all aspects of our lives.
It's the energy that makes us feel alive — it's the source of creativity, joy and happiness.
Sex is a place you go, not something you do. Erotism is the energy that underpins it.
Erotism in relationships is about the quality of experience, not frequency and performance. Would you rather have emotionless, quick-fix sex every week or exciting, meaningful sex every month?
Returning to the soccer metaphor. A fun and exciting game where your team wins, leaves you with anticipation for your next match. The same goes for sex.
We often talk about cultivating 'life force' energy with reference to yoga and meditation, but it’s not discussed so freely when it comes to sex. Couples should take the time to understand what erotism means for them as individuals — what brings them joy and pleasure, what turns them on and makes them feel alive.
Having erotic intelligence is less about knowing different sex positions, and more about knowing who you are, what you desire, and owning it.
For me, this feels like a much more intimate way of honouring the role of sex in a relationship. It's not just having sex for the sake of it or because we ‘should’ be doing it to keep the connection alive.
I also like how Perel emphasises that desire and self-worth go hand in hand and brings the focus back to personal intimacy. How can we cultivate joy and excitement in our own life, separate from our partner?
How can we learn to love and desire ourselves first?
‘Today, our sexuality is an open-ended personal project; it is part of who we are, an identity, and no longer merely something we do.’