This Is What We Do When Our Sex Life Sucks

Fifteen years in, we’ve learned a few things

Woman in mint green panties and black and white striped shirt lying on white sheet next to Judy Blume book Are You There God? It's Me Margaret

A few weeks ago, we published a fantastic (if I do say so) piece on improving your sex life when you’re in a long-term relationship. It was backed by lots of research from really smart people whose job it is to think about sex professionally (sexperts, if you will). I worked on that piece and thought it provided some great really great nuggets of advice. But between you and me? I also thought that maybe, in the midst of all of those nuggets of wisdom, some very simple tips and tricks were missing. Because here’s the deal: I’ve been married to my partner for nearly ten years, and we’ve been together for almost sixteen (yup, since high school). And over the years I’ve learned some really basic things about keeping your sex life healthy and what sex in a long-term relationship can look like. Including (bum bum bum) what happens when things are… not so hot.

Because spoiler alert: there will be dry spells. (And that’s okay.)

I recognize that I’m something of an anomaly when it comes to sex. I grew up without the understanding that sex is something to be ashamed about. (Don’t ask me how. My parents weren’t nudists or anything. But I credit a healthy dose of Judy Blume Books and early access to HBO.) I told one of my first boyfriends that I wouldn’t give him a blowjob until he gave me an orgasm. I bought a vibrator more or less the day I got my license. And in high school, I carried an entire box of condoms in my purse at all times. Because you just never know who might need one and when. (Ask me about the various times that got awkward in front of my family.) In short, I refused to sit in the passenger seat of my own pleasure. And I ended up marrying someone who celebrates that.

In that respect, I think teenage Maddie had something figured out that I didn’t even realize would be so important until now: marrying a sex positive person helps a lot when things are less than perfect. And by sex positive, I just mean someone who doesn’t think of sex as something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. Because when your sex life takes a dip, it’s really helpful to tackle the problem from the standpoint that it’s just another normal part of any relationship, like money or chores or family dynamics.

But that’s easier said than done. (If sex positivity is your particular struggle right now, and you’re trying to figure out how to broach the topic with your partner, this thread is a good place to start.) I see this often in the comments when we talk about sex here. Is the sex not great right now? Can you even talk about it without someone’s ego getting bruised? Is it possible that you just aren’t sexually compatible? Maybe you don’t even like sex that much! Of course, there are no simple one-size-fits-all answers to those questions, but here are a few of the things I’ve learned.

1. The long haul will not be a straight line

Sexual relationships have an ebb and flow, and they are personal and reflective of the stage of life you’re in right now. The first time our sex life dipped (when our dog was really sick and my commute sucked), I freaked out. Was our marriage on the rocks? (No.) Did we even like each other anymore? (Yes.) Life just sucked at that point. Now, as we progress further into our marriage, I freak out less when things dip a little, because I have faith (and historical evidence) that things will pick back up again in the future. Case in point: we had a baby five months ago. Sex was a no-go for several months leading up to birth, and we’re working our way back into it now. It’s pretty infrequent, but the quality of sex is way better when we have it, and that’s cool for now.

2. You define what is good for you

A while back, we posed this question to our community: Does sex really matter that much in a relationship? There was quite a bit of disagreement in the comments about the importance of sex. And I think maybe that’s because the question isn’t quite right. The better question is this: Does sex really matter that much in your relationship? If the answer is yes, then whatever comes next in your thought process is valid. Maybe it’s, “Yes, but it’s not great right now.” Or, “No, and we’re just trying to survive this period of our lives so that’ll do for now.” Or maybe it’s, “We’re not super sexual, but our levels are compatible with each other and we’re satisfied.” It’s important that you and your partner are aligned, and if you’re not, I think that’s when you consider if this is part of your natural ebb and flow, or if there is something bigger going on. (Are we talking a short-term incompatibility here? Or is it the kind of misalignment that would benefit from some conversation and maybe even professional help? The first step is figuring out how to talk about it.) But what you don’t have to be is aligned with where you were three years ago, or where Cosmo says you should be.

3. Sometimes the simplest answer is the best answer

When we’re in a rut, it’s easy to over-analyze and make sex mean everything. But that often adds more pressure, which in turn makes it harder to get out of the rut. So now my go-to is to simply initiate sex and see what happens. And I’m not talking the kind of creative, full-body latex and melted chocolate kind of initiating from the magazines of my youth. In our house, sex can be initiated by such activities as 1) doing the other person’s chores; 2) wearing yoga pants that show off your butt; 3) watching too much Grey’s Anatomy; and 4) saying the words, “We should probably have sex today.” (Or next Thursday. Because scheduling sex can still be sexy.) Or if we’re already having sex and want to spice things up, trying something new (never underestimate the power of couch/kitchen floor/back of the car sex).

I hate the stereotype that marriage always ends in bed death. I think it just makes things worse when you’re wondering if this slow period in your sex life is going to last for-e-ver. For me, I’ve found that married sex just gets… different, over time. In a lot of ways, it’s better. So much better. And thank God for that. Because at least in my case, my husband and I met as horny teenagers. And it really doesn’t get much worse than that.

how do you and your partner cope with dry spells in your sex life? how has your sex life changed since you’ve been together? As always, feel free to post anonymously! (just make sure to log out of disqus when you do.)

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