Whoo-! I wrote awhile back about improving sex in a long-term relationship, and I have been wanting to write more ever since. I shy away from it though, since it’s not a part of my typical ‘mom blog’ fodder, but as I move further away from that and more into sharing about family/self/relationship health, it seems to fit better, and I can’t help but want to spread some sex-positivity and love around into this corner of the internet. Today I want to put a few habits I’ve noticed in Charlie and I, and in friend’s and friends’ relationships who are thriving sexually together. These are by no-means the be-all-end-all tips to having a healthy sex life, but they are a good place to start, good conversation starters amongst you and your partner, and can be a helpful list to use as a quick reminder of a few things that really matter but often don’t get covered as much in conversation.
Also, three disclaimers, First: This is about sex! And I am a writer who shares from my own experience. . . so, family, friends, and anyone uncomfortable with this topic and knowing a bit more about Charlie and I, click away. Or, proceed with caution!
Secondly: I am writing from the perspective of a monogamous, hetero, long term relationship.
Third: I am writing about sex in a healthy relationship that has balanced power dynamics, no abuse, and open communication. These tips aren’t going to be beneficial to an imbalanced, abusive, or controlling relationship. If you are in a relationship that falls into any of those lines – seek help, reach out, and know that my inbox is always open. Also, checking out DVSAS for help can be your lifeline. They are nonjudgmental, can help and talk to you over the phone, and employ some of the best people I know.
3 Habits of Sexually Healthy Couples
First, a focus on boundaries.
I touched on the importance of talking, communicating needs, and open dialogue in my last post. Communication and consent will likely come up in everything I write about sex mainly because success and satisfaction hinge on these two tenants of a relationship.
Conversations about boundaries are second nature in our marriage now. Talking about what works, what doesn’t, and what is changing is a habit we have well worn. Mainly because boundaries are ever evolving. Assuming something that was ok, that one time, is always ok isn’t a safe choice. In the same way that assuming something you didn’t want to do four years ago will hold true today? Wrong. And neither thing should come up during sex without conversation ahead of time.
Boundaries are a bit muddier than communication and consent. In a conversation about boundaries you need to cover more specifics. It’s important that you DO get specific. We all carry sexual histories (these histories don’t have to mean trauma, but will for many many people. These histories can have to do with how you were raised, your families or upbringings feelings on sex/sexuality, or what you saw/witnessed), even if they are just with our partner (Charlie and I have been together since we were 17!) and along with those histories come all the things that might be triggering, or what you may already know you don’t want/like. The conversation about your own specific boundaries also can carry the decision about what you are comfortable with in bed, what you are ok with your partner ‘just doing’ without asking you, and you can discuss how to receive consent before you are in the moment. Boundaries can (and often need to) be specific to positions/words/ect. But sometime they are more vague. Or have more to do with tone. For example; talking about the tone of sex. Are you comfortable with “angry sex” or “aggressive sex” or is that too much/too scary for you? Does funny/ silly sex work for you? Or make you uncomfortable? Do you want to be more dominant? Or are you wanting your partner to take over? And on that note: If both adults are safe, consenting, and communicating ahead of time. It’s TOTALLY ok to like something outside of the ‘norm’ or what you have seen represented. In fact, it can often be fun and exciting.
Tip: Before you are in bed (or whenever ;)) and actually having sex – an important conversation to have is to find out if you/your partner feel comfortable saying NO in the moment. Often it can seem like ‘oh, of course, I can always say no.’ But for many people, when they are actually having sex, they don’t feel comfortable saying no, realizing a boundary, or enforcing one. This is an important conversation to have BEFORE you are having sex. So discuss if you/your partner feels confident saying no in the moment. If not, be sure to talk before you have sex each time (it can be brief! Just saying “are you ok with trying _____ ?” BEFORE anyone is in anyone else!), so that you aren’t coercing your partner into something that they otherwise wouldn’t be into (or they’re not coercing you), but one of you don’t have the words/confidence/or experience to be able to say no to. This is another way to love your partner, know them, and care about consent and for them to do the same with you.
Secondly, womens’ pleasure.
Womens’ pleasure has its place in any sexual space that includes a woman. These tips are ones that are important even if you are single and looking to deepen your own knowledge of yourself, and what you enjoy. We now talk about my pleasure, what I want, what is changing, what I need, and how I am feeling… often. All the time. It’s a habit that initially felt clunky and awkward, but now is a normal part of communication.
This one seems like a no-brainer. But I’ll be totally upfront and say we spent a lot of years having sex before realizing that our sexual relationship didn’t have much to do with me. It wasn’t solely Charlie’s fault – I had no clue! Being born and raised in the church and conservative culture, there was no discussion about female pleasure, the sex talk was about how sexually driven ‘boys’ were, and to never have sex till marriage. The cultural conversation is about ‘pleasing your man’ and how rampant a man’s sexual desires are, and how low a woman’s sex drive is. However, the more I talk with friends/moms I hear both sides of this spectrum. Low sex drive (nursing, sleep depravation, on and on) but, also (and more often than you think!), I hear about mis-matched sex drives because their partner is tired and these Mamas are desperate! The healthiest couples I know have a deep, mutual care for each other’s pleasure.
This can mean a lot of things. It can mean introducing ‘toys’ into your sex life, it can mean asking for more of what you want, or having a frank talk about where your sex is falling short and what you want to try. Thanks to media, porn, lack of education, and a really prevalent idea (perpetuated by all that!) that most women can orgasm from penetration, your partner may not even know that what they are doing ISN’T focusing on pleasure, unless you tell them. Gently, and honestly. Basically, it means making women’s pleasure a BIG PART of sex. No longer just a possible side-effect. The more you make women’s pleasure a part of the conversation the easier it will be for women to start reframing into a space of noticing what turns them on, communicating it, and learning it. Don’t be surprised if the first times you talk about this it’s hard, emotional, and you leave feeling a bit like you don’t have a clue. Keep. Going.
Finally, safe exploration.
Creating an environment where you can begin to bring up ideas, curiosities or fantasy, is paramount to sexual health and growth. Sometimes the idea of exploration can get over blown and we shy away thinking “but I’m not kinky!”, or we immediately assume that anything that falls into the line of ‘exploration’ will be beyond our boundaries. Exploring can encompass a myriad of ideas, that run the gamut in kink, and and spending time to hear your partner out is important. Two things stand out to me in these conversations. First, what your partner is wanting and thinking of is often something they are feeling insecure about, and making sure that you both talk ahead of time about what reactions would make you feel rejected is important to creating a space that is safe. For example, laying down the ground rules that no ones laughs, or makes fun of a suggestion, especially outside of the conversation. All the while knowing that ANY suggestion can also be denied. If either party is uncomfortable, it shouldn’t be hapening. Another important piece to that is realizing that sometimes you won’t know you’re uncomfortable with something until you’re far down the path, and that saying no/never-mind/I don’t like this! at any point, by either party (even the person who suggested it) is always, always totally ok. And must be respected. We go into any and all of these conversations with these caveats stated and restated.
I want to end with one more caveat…
I know, so many caveats! Turns out sex is super varied, sharing about it is layered, and I want to be sure to cover some very important bases.
If you are a new parent, or a parent of older kids, or not a parent, or tired, or well rested but not feeling it, or just a person who isn’t feeling their sex drive happening at all:
That. Is. Normal. Too. (or, rather, “can be normal too”. However, if you are feeling like your sex drive is abnormally low for your body, history, and wants. Chat with your PCP or naturopath and know that there are options, ideas, and methods to employ.)
Sex drives ebb and flow, relationship seasons are ever changing, evolving, and moving. This advice may be important to you in a year, or a month. Or it might spark a great conversation tonight. But also, sex drive can be linked to more than just “libido”. Often, our desires to be intimate with our partner are linked to how we are feeling about our partner. So if there is long standing conflict, or unresolved tension, or any other thing that could be getting in the way (recently we were blown away by how a diet change resulted in Charlie smelling totally different…and we had to figure out what to do to change that before we could really get back to where we wanted to be). Sex is a part of a healthy relationship, but all these pieces are connected. Staying communicative about sex will help you be communicative about All The Rest too.
Let me know what else you would like to hear about in this genre! Was this too far, or too explicit? This is a very new venture for me, and I would appreciate feedback whole heartedly.