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What’s the Real Deal with Sex in a Long Term Relationship?

Zen and the art of sex maintenance


If there’s one stereotype I can’t stand about marriage, it’s that of the loveless relationship. You know the one. Boy meets girl (or girl meets girl, or boy meets boy), they fall in love and can barely keep their hands off of each other. Then they get married, and someone flips a switch, and next thing you know, they’re sleeping in separate beds. Which is why, after a few cocktails, you’ll often find me at parties insisting, “No, no, the sex actually gets better!” usually to some combination of exasperation and quiet relief from my partnered friends.

It’s no small feat nurturing a healthy sexual relationship over time, especially when you’re dealing with demanding jobs, mismatched work schedules, and all the normal stuff that comes with being two people in a long term committed relationship. But here’s our truth: We’ve each been having sex with the same person for twelve years. And it’s only gotten better over time. Our sexual relationship started out when were teenagers, so our energy was high and our standards were low, and our determination was such that I used to sneak home during my high school lunch break just to get some. But being teenagers also meant that we didn’t really know what we were doing. And it took a long time for both of us to learn each other’s quirks and preferences (or hell, our own quirks and preferences). Like, I’m talking years.

No, but really, it gets better

Here are the main two things the past twelve years have taught me:

1. Familiarity breeds surprises: I think one of the more commonly held beliefs about sex in marriage is that over time, things obviously must get… boring. And the only way to spice things up is to introduce something wildly out of the ordinary into your sex life (or so the movies would have me believe). But I’ve found the opposite to be true. The longer we’re together, the easier it is to surprise each other with micro-adjustments to our sex life. A different pressure here. A subtle shift of angle there. Doing it in the kitchen. Etc. In fact, the frequency with which I find myself saying, “Oh hey, that’s new,” is actually much greater than it was, say, five years ago.

2. Trust is a powerful aphrodisiac: The longer Michael and I are together, the deeper our trust relationship gets. And trust is a powerful aphrodisiac, because it removes the fear of rejection. For example, neither one of us is willing to endure something uncomfortable just for the sake of sparing the other’s feelings. And we know we’re not going to embarrass each other if one of us suggests something new or out of the ordinary. For me, this trust relationship means I’m able to get out of my head and into my body, making the experience a whole lot more enjoyable.

So yeah, we’re not teenagers anymore. But man, am I thankful for that. Because while our appetite was voracious, our skill was lacking. And the sex actually has gotten better.

But that doesn’t mean our sex life is perfect all the time. The first time it took a dip, it was because our dog was very sick and shit had hit the fan—literally. We both were too tired and stressed for sex most nights, and while we both knew it was a temporary situation,  I still freaked out and picked fights and generally obsessed about how much sex we weren’t having. Because every narrative about marriage had told me that once sex goes, it never comes back. And I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to fight that.

Spoiler alert: it came back as soon as we went back to sleeping more than four hours a night.

Can we change this narrative?

But I think it’s exactly this lack of balance in the stories we’re presented about married sex that’s ultimately the most harmful. It often feels like if I’m not hearing about bed death, then I’m only hearing about sex swings and key parties, and nothing in between. And I just want to talk about the in between stuff for once.

So today I thought I’d kick it to you guys with an anonymous open thread. Have you found that your relationship sex has aged like a fine wine? Did it start good and just get better? How have you dealt with periods of less awesome sex? And just for the hell of it, let’s throw out some statistical stuff too, like: How long have you and your partner been together? How old are you? Do you have kids? Are you dealing with any other strenuous life circumstances right now? If we can talk about wedding budgets online without the world falling apart, certainly we can talk about partnered sex too, right? And my hunch is that the effect will be the same: the more information and the more honesty around this topic, the less shame and the less I’ll have to insist at parties that time really is on our side.

Don’t forget, you can comment anonymously on this thread. Just make sure to log out of Discus if you don’t want your avatar to show. Now let’s talk about sex, baby.

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