Sexual desire can often get tied up in ideas about relationship health. Questions like, "How many times a week should we be having sex?" "Are we having enough sex?" “Are we having the right kinds of sex?” “How long should we be having sex for?” seem like they’re really about something deeper: "Is our relationship healthy?"
Like any other part of a strong relationship, a healthy sex life requires work and attention. Like a garden, it’ll flourish in some be seasons when it flourishes, and seasons when it lies fallow -- but it will always require deliberate attention. If you’ve stopped giving your sex life the care it deserves, you might not know what part of the garden to tackle first. You might even feel like you want to bulldoze the whole thing. Bringing back intimacy in a long-term relationship is possible. Here’s where to start.
How to Bring Back Intimacy in a Relationship
If your sex life has waned, be compassionate to your partner and yourself. You are not alone. Nearly everyone in any type of long-term sexual relationship experiences changes in their sex lives eventually, and many wonder how to bring back intimacy — or whether they even can.
Bringing back intimacy and rekindling sexual desire are absolutely possible, and Dr. Britney Blair co-founded Lover to help couples do just that. Here are 10 techniques that she uses with her patients.
1. Create Space
Sometimes a little distance can be just what you need to get your libidos firing again!
It may sound counterintuitive, but try to create some space or distance somewhere in your romantic relationship. Spend time with different hobbies, foster independent friendships, and take the occasional weekend or night apart, even if you’re just at opposite ends of the house. You'll be amazed by what happens to your sexual desire.
2. Protect Quality Time
Just as important as making space to spend quality time alone is making sure to spend quality time together. Quality time means leaving aside stress, distractions, and anxiety. It means focusing on being present and just connecting with each other, whether through shared activities, conversation, or physical touch.
Create intentional time cocoons to connect with each other. Schedule tough conversations about work, finances, kids, pets, or anything else going on for another time. Put down your devices. Try to bring the same sense of focus, curiosity, and mutual discovery that you felt in the first months of your relationship into the room with you now as you reconnect.
3. Sexualize Each Other
Good partnerships are based on connection, trust, mutual vulnerability, and mutual understanding. If you have or want kids, they can also be based on shared values around child rearing and family.
But no matter where you end up, at one point you began with wanting to rip each other’s clothes off.
If you have children, it can be particularly challenging to remember wanting to rip each other’s clothes off. Seeing your partner only as a parent, however, can effectively extinguish your sexual desire for them.
Referring to each other as “Mommy” or “Daddy,” for instance, can desexualize both of you (unless it’s part of your sexual play).
To increase the desire in your partnership, start treating your partner like your lover, not just like your co-parent.
Seduce them. Flirt with them. Tease them.
4. Watch Them At Their Best
Confidence and competence. These two words might sound boring, but in action, they’re downright sexy.
Whenever possible, take an opportunity to witness your partner doing something they’re good at. Tune into a public talk they’re giving. Watch them killing it in their favorite sport. If they’re in business, listen in as they chair a conference call (with their permission). If they’re a chef, eat at their restaurant. If they love to dance, attend a performance.
Try to watch your partner through the eyes of a stranger, with curiosity and not critique. This can remind you that you don’t know quite as much about them as you might think.
It can also reintroduce a sense of novelty and newness into your relationship, with sexual desire not far behind.
5. Hold It Lightly
Try to hold sex lightly and remember that all sexual desire ebbs and flows over time, and that the changes in yours might not always line up with those of your partner. Having less sex than you used to (at this point in time) doesn’t mean it’ll be that way forever. The key is to prioritize your sex life as much as you can, and to avoid catastrophizing when things take a dip.
Particularly if you have an infant or toddler, it can be incredibly difficult to keep a sexual connection alive. Sleep deprivation, constant childcare, and a lack of alone time can all be culprits. Even if you don’t have young children, it can be challenging to maintain a full-throttle sex life over the course of a long-term relationship.
This is also okay! Don’t punish yourself or your partner. Trust yourselves, and each other, to prioritize the sexual elements of your connection, and know that if you do so you’ll be able to give them more attention when the dust settles.
6. Reconnect Emotionally First
Some people think of sex as a relationship lubricant that can help to soothe other areas of conflict or pain. Others need to feel emotionally connected to a partner before engaging sexually.
If you and your partner have been in conflict and you’ve noticed that your sexual desire has decreased as a result, take some time to reconnect and see if you start to feel that spark again.
7. Focus On Foreplay
Don’t underestimate the value of foreplay and aftercare. Send your partner some sexy text messages during the day or spend some time making out. Bring in a sense of curiosity, play, and exploration, not just when you’re warming up for penetrative sex but throughout your sexual connection.
Sex is about so many more sensations than just orgasms. If you’re used to thinking about foreplay as something to check off the list on the way to penetration, try reframing it as coreplay: essential and ongoing.
For extra ideas on going deeper, check out activities like “Coreplay, Not Foreplay” from the Lover app.
Fantasy, or an erotic mental image or scenario, can help you get more adventurous in your sex life, even if it’s inside your head. When you fantasize, you can think about anything. You can think about people who aren’t your monogamous partner. You can think about doing things you wouldn’t want to do in real life.
There’s no such thing as a thought or fantasy crime. Release yourself from self-judgment, let your mind run free, and use your imagination to get your libido back on track.
9. Schedule Sex
Scheduling sex can be a great way to overcome any desire discrepancy in your relationship. Think that sounds unsexy? Think again.
Scheduling sex is part of any new sexual relationship. You figure out when you’re each available, set a date, and excitedly anticipate your time together. Scheduling sex isn’t routine, or unromantic, or boring. It’s just how you make room in your busy lives to have sex.
In longer-term relationships, that intentional time together for sex can fall to the wayside — especially if stress gets in the way. Scheduling sex together can reintroduce some of the excitement and anticipation of going on a date, from thinking about what you’ll wear to what you’ll do.
If you’re in a mixed-libido relationship, it can also reduce the pressure on the higher-desire partner to always initiate and risk rejection, and the pressure on the lower-desire partner to reject or to try to avoid all physical contact in case it leads to sex.
10. Prioritize Pleasure
It’s time to prioritize pleasure. Prioritize it in your life, prioritize it in your relationships, and prioritize it for your partner and yourself. Whether you want to bring back intimacy in a marriage or take your sex life to the next level, learn how to be better in bed.
If you think that you or your partner have low desire for sex, consider whether what you actually have is low desire for unpleasurable sex. If you’re not enjoying yourself or getting what you want in the bedroom, it's natural your desire will wane.
It takes two (or more) people to have sex. Show up and take responsibility for prioritizing your own pleasure, knowing and asking for what you want, listening to your partner, and making sure you’re enjoying yourselves. Getting better at being present, getting in touch with your body and your partner’s body, and communicating will help you make sure they are experiencing the pleasure which will keep them wanting more and more.
For personalized guidance on how to drive up desire, and hundreds of other ways you can improve your sex life, download the Lover app today.