How To Maintain Sexual Desire In A Long-Term Relationship
Sexual desire is often described as “elusive,” “misunderstood,” or “complex.” But after decades of studying the topic, researchers know more than ever about what helps couples maintain sexual desire in long-term relationships.
In a special issue of the Journal of Sex Research, published online in March 2018, Kristen Mark and Julie Lasslo present a systematic review of 64 studies on sexual desire in relationships spanning three decades. They note 19 factors that either help or hinder our experience of sexual desire and categorize them in three broad areas — individual factors, interpersonal factors, and societal factors.
Here are five prominent themes determined to help couples maintain sexual passion.
The complete list of factors can be found here (link is external).
Our interest in sex naturally ebbs and flows over the course of a long-term relationship as we age and face various life changes — the arrival of babies, stress from work, money worries, or the death of a loved one, to name just a few. Researchers have reliably found that individuals who accept these fluctuations as normal and natural are more sexually satisfied when they hit a bump. They are able to view the changes as understandable rather than problematic, which seems to help them weather the potential storm. In contrast, individuals who do not hold this perspective report greater worry and stress when they hit a sexual bump or slump, consequently resulting in a negative impact on their sexual satisfaction.
Expectations about sexual desire were also found to extend into the research on desire discrepancies (when one person has more sexual desire than their partner). That is, when couples acknowledge that it’s normal — even expected — for individuals to want different frequencies of sexual activity and/or want sex at different times, they are more equipped to navigate those differences when they arise without it negatively impacting their desire.
Want to know more about how you can keep your long-term relationship exciting? Read 6 Smart Hacks How to Keep Long-Term Relationships Exciting And Fresh
While feeling close and connected to a partner is crucial for relationship satisfaction, there is a downside to being so close that we lose sight of ourselves and start to feel like “just” a couple.
A number of studies have documented the importance of having some autonomy in our relationships in order to increase sexual desire and passion. This space is theorized to give us the breathing room to “see” our partner and appreciate them from a distance.
Autonomy also gives us the space to experience our thoughts and feelings separately from our partner, allowing us to self-soothe our own difficult emotions and to be more emotionally supportive to our partner when they are in need. This dynamic has been found to increase relationship satisfaction and, indirectly, sexual desire.
3. Responsiveness to Partner
In relationships, we tend to be aware of our partner’s needs and wants. For example, maybe we know they prefer sex in the morning, or that their favorite dinner is eggplant parmesan. The difference-maker, according to research, is what we decide to do with that information.
When we are particularly motivated to please a partner or make our partner happy, sexual satisfaction and sexual desire tends to follow. That includes being motivated to have sex when our partner wants it (even if we’re not so much in the mood), or trying something new that our partner is interested in, because we know it would make them happy.
The key is that our motivation is a relationship-enhancing one. Our desire and satisfaction do not increase if we are having sex with our partner to avoid a negative consequence, such as them being angry or upset.
Do you feel the sexual desire in your relationship waning? Read Low Sexual Desire In Couples: 3 Ways To Deal With The Dilemma Of Intimacy