According to a recent study, “Healthy sexual function is a…life quality factor that creates a sense of shared pleasure in couples and increases their capability” to cope with stress and life problems. “Sexual interactions are indeed the prerequisite for strengthening mental and emotional dependence in couples, and are under the influence of many factors.”
So how can couples keep their sex life functioning healthily through long periods of time and major life changes?
Communication is necessary.
Due to social stigmas around sex and personal feelings of vulnerability when discussing it, our
sexual relationships can be tough to talk about. Studies suggest that we’re scared of receiving negative reactions to our thoughts about sex, so it’s tempting to dodge any potential embarrassment or rejection by not discussing it at all! Yet research shows that anxiety about sex-related communication leads to decreased sexual satisfaction, harming our relationships in the long run.
Communication seems to be worth the risk. A study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology observed the communication habits of 76 heterosexual couples and found significant connections between interpersonal communication and sexual satisfaction. Luckily, the more we know about the importance of communication, the more people are encouraged to bring sex into their partner-to-partner conversations. For LGBTQ youth in 2015, communication was one of the “most salient sexual and relationship concerns” that couples wanted to work on. This suggests that, as a society, we’re headed in a healthier, more open direction.
I can speak from personal experience. With my husband and I, the hormonal changes I went
through during and after pregnancy made it so that I was only interested in having sex during one week every month right after my period. Yes –– one week out of every four to five! At other times, I just didn’t think about sex, and was too tired most days to even consider it. I didn’t think it posed an issue until my husband finally spoke to me about feeling neglected and worried that I was no longer attracted to him, which was not the case. After our discussion, he understood my perspective better, and in turn, I made a conscious effort to make sure he knew my attraction was still there.
We’ve gotten to a point where we are very open with one another about changes in our sex life, and we make sure to always reach a common ground when discussing it. This has made both of us happy, and has definitely strengthened our relationship.
Unsure how to talk about sex? The American Sexual Health Association (AHSA) has a few starter topics that you can bring up with your partner, from health questions like STI status, to fun questions like what makes you feel good! It’s also helpful to use the same rules you would when having any mature, adult conversation—plan the points you want to be sure to express beforehand, and use “I” statements (I feel, I like, etc) instead of “you” statements during your discussion.
Scheduling time can be beneficial. Try adopting new habits that will allow you the maneuver the changes that are inevitable in relationships. Scheduling date nights is one of these habits, and it’s essential.
Whether you’re dealing with household responsibilities, a busy work schedule, or caregiving duties, your daily life can exhaust you. By the time you get to your partner, you might be ready to call it a night! This is especially true when your plans are “spontaneous”—if you haven’t planned some couple-time in advance, you may not get around to it.
Scheduling not only gives you a space in time to just be a couple, it also gives you a chance to get excited about this opportunity to relax and connect with your partner. The more time you invest in planning the date, the more likely it is to actually happen—and to be a success! Plus, you’ll get to look forward to this time off all through the week, which will take some of the stress out of your day to day life. Spontaneity can be great, but there are times when scheduling intimacy works wonders.
If you’re in the DC area, Date Night DC has great ideas for you and your partner to enjoy, like trips to the delicious restaurant Del Campo or exploring Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens. Not in the area? Check out this list from StyleCaster, which includes carnivals, camping trips, midnight movies, and more!
Research is your friend. You’re not the only one who’s dealt with the issue of maintaining intimacy in a long-term relationship, and you won’t be the last. I’ve found it super helpful to take advantage of the digital age in this respect, gaining wisdom from google.
For example, this article by Laura Newcomer lists a ton of ways to get out of relationships ruts, from sexless periods (create a fantasy jar! Increase non-sexual touch!) to periods of near-constant bickering (name what you like about one another! Work out together!). Other studies have researched the habits of sexually satisfied couples, and have shared them on the internet for people like you and I to benefit from. For example, I figured that sexually satisfied couples probably spent more time being physically intimate than other couples, but I had no idea that responsiveness—a type of intimacy that involves developing a deeper understanding of who your partner is as a person—was so essential. Thank you, internet!
You can also check out advice columns, like Dan Savage’s “Savage Love,” or podcasts like “Sex Out Loud.” I don’t know about you, but the more I hear others normalize sex, the more comfortable I feel discussing it.
What has helped you maintain intimacy in your relationship? We’d love your feedback. If you have any comments, tweet at us (@VivaCenterDC) or shoot us an email. We’ll share them with the rest of our community, so we can all achieve optimal sexual health.
Zaje’ Richardson is a certified Wellness and Life Coach specializing in Life Transformation. She enjoys writing, singing, spending time with her husband and three sons, as well as spreading knowledge about total wellness in the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual bodies. You can find her on her website, wellism.org, as well as on Instagram and Twitter, @lifecoachzaje.