How to break the no-sex rut and why it matters
You're both tired. The kids are light sleepers. You're not happy with your weight. You're stressed out over deadline pressures at work. There's no time.
There are many reasons why people in long-term relationships find themselves reaching for the pillow or the remote control instead of their partner's body after the sun goes down. But a healthy sex life is a key part of an intimate relationship, experts say, and neglecting it can push the two of you further apart.
Problem No. 1: Same Old, Same Old
The Solution: Spice It Up
"When you're in a long-term relationship, you get into a routine," says Renee Horowitz, MD, an obstetrician-gynecologist and founder of the Center for Sexual Wellness in Farmington Hills, Mich. "There's biological evidence that novel experiences cause the release of dopamine in the brain." (Dopamine is a chemical messenger that's connected to the pleasure center in your brain.) "That's why it's so much easier to get excited in a new relationship -- everything is novel and your brain responds accordingly."
Obviously, you can't switch partners every time the excitement wanes. Instead, change up some of the other factors. "Try a different place, a different time, a different position," Horowitz suggests. Have a morning quickie. Try sex in the shower, or on the kitchen island. (Clean up afterward.)
Problem No. 2: Too Much to Do, Too Tired
The Solution: Take a Romantic Break
All couples are tired at the end of a long day with many demands. By the time you get everyone to bed and deal with unavoidable chores, you just don't have the energy for a romantic evening.
It's time to change that.
"You have to prioritize what's important," says sex educator Sadie Allison, a member of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists. Her best-selling books include Ride ‘Em Cowgirl! and Tickle Your Fancy. "Tired as you might be, it's OK to just make it a quickie sometimes. Sex is so important to the overall health of your relationship."
Instead of waiting until just before you put out the lights, take a break for a romantic encounter before the evening's chores. "Make space and time where you can escape and get creative," Allison says. Even if that time is in your house (or car, or backyard). "Look, it isn't going to happen spontaneously," Allison says. "You have to find the time and make a date."
Problem No. 3: 'Who Are You?
The Solution: Rediscover Each Other -- Without Pressure
If you haven't had sex for some time, a come-on from your partner can feel very artificial and forced. To sustain a healthy sexual relationship, it helps to reconnect in a non-sexual way, says Christina Steinorth, MFT, a psychotherapist in Santa Barbara, Calif.
"If you haven't had any kind of quality time together, you're not going to feel sexual," Steinorth says. "Schedule in time each week for date night. Not the old dinner and a movie thing, which seems like it's supposed to be a lead-in to sex, but a shared experience: biking, bowling, something silly. Plan a trip to the farmer's market and a stop for a cup of coffee every Sunday morning. Whatever it is, stick to it like you stick to the other obligations on your schedule. Let it become a habit, and you'll feel reconnected, and the desire will just grow from there."
Once you're reconnected in this way, a quick sexual encounter may regain its excitement. "When the relationship's alive like that, the 10-minute ‘let's sneak off and do it' quickie works great," Steinorth says. "It's like your little secret and helps further build the bond between you. But that bond has to be there in the first place."
Problem No. 4: You Don't Like Your Body
The Solution: Focus on What You Do Like
Let's face it: Many of us have things we'd like to change about our bodies. Maybe you never lost the baby weight, or you're not happy with how you've stopped going to the gym.
"Ultimately, low self-image comes down to not being in love with yourself, and if you don't love yourself, you're not going to share yourself with someone else," Allison says. "Short of therapy for poor self-esteem, you can try finding things about yourself that you do like, and focus on those sexually."
Or focus on your partner's body instead of your own. "What do you love about the person you're with? What about his or her body arouses you?" Allison asks. "Take the focus off your own insecurities about yourself."
Problem No. 5: Sex Hurts
The Solution: Don't Suffer in Silence
Sometimes it's not that you're not feeling in the mood, it's that your body isn't cooperating because sex is actually painful. This can be a big issue for women approaching menopause, and you might be too embarrassed to tell your partner.
"As we age, estrogen levels decrease and this affects a lot of organs, including the vagina," Horowitz says. "When tissues atrophy and thin out, losing some of their blood supply, intercourse becomes more painful. Some patients describe it as like sandpaper. But there are things you can do about that!"
For many patients, Horowitz prescribes a vaginal estrogen. Vaginal lubricants are also available. There's also the possibility that you may have a condition of the vagina or vulva that's causing a problem, which is a key reason to check with your doctor should intercourse become painful. (That's good advice for guys, too.)
Consult your doctor if sex is painful.
Problem No. 6: You're Still Not in the Mood
The Solution: Find the Trigger
A dwindling libido may not just be a sign of aging. It may be the sign of another health problem or behavioral issue. For example:
Depression, anxiety, and hormonal imbalances can all contribute to sexual dysfunction.
In men, the inability to get an erection can be an early warning sign of diabetes or heart disease.
Some medications, including antidepressants and blood pressure drugs, can lower your sex drive.
Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can put a damper on sexual response.
Too much time on the bike can lead to problems in bed. "Both men and women who are always on their spin bike can have problems with orgasm and arousal, because of the pressure put on the pudendal nerve and artery, decreasing the blood supply to that region," Horowitz says.
Also, make sure you're getting enough sleep. Feeling well-rested can help.
No matter what the reason for your diminished desire, getting back on track with your partner sexually is going to take some effort. "Sex takes work and you have to focus on it just like everything in your relationship," Horowitz says. "There isn't a magic pill."
If you try everything and your sexual problems persist, check with a doctor and/or a therapist.