CAVEAT: This post comes from the perspective of a monogamous long term relationship with even power dynamics. Both Charlie and I are actively pursuing health, growth, and a deeper emotional lexicon when it comes to communication and pursing ways to know each other better. This piece only speaks to the experience we have. Also! This post is about sex, proceed with whatever caution feels important to you here.
Dry spells are normal, common, and in my experience relatively cyclical. Not always tied to the moon, my cycle, or seasons, but often common with stress, transition, body changes, moments where aging feels really real, and big life decisions (esp parenting decisions we don’t agree on) where we don’t always shake out on the same side.
In ten years of marriage and 15 of partnership we have had some significant ‘high’s and lows’ in our sex life. And every time the advice I get from EVERY avenue (religious or not, married or not, online or book, fricken EVERYWHERE) is to “Spice is UP!” and “Don’t lose that fire!” and it always leaves me floundering. During a season where I feel my LEAST sexy, least desirable, and usually most ‘meh’ I”m suppose to introduce something new to ‘save us’? NOPE.
So the past couple of times we’ve hit a bump we’ve done something TOTALLY different. And? It TOTALLY helped.
To understand why “spice that up” doesn’t often work, I want to lay out the base behind what I believe is a healthy sex life. Constant and cooperative communication, radical honesty, and shame-free reactions. I’ve written about improving your sex life, habits of sexually healthy couples, and I have started to touch on sex and body image struggles (I have a LOT more to say on that, coming soon to the podcast!), but today I want to share about a simple piece of advice that has been working wonders for a lot of duos I know. Especially in the fall out after “spice it up!”
Instead, slow it down, talk it out, and come back to basics.
When we got the “spice it up!” advice it left me reeling. What am I comfortable with? Should we really buy that? Do I even like that? Right now I feel like I don’t like. . . anything. At a time when I already felt disconnected, exhausted, and in over my head emotionally, the idea of introducing something brand new into our sex life felt like one more thing. Specially, one more thing I wasn’t excited about.
Instead, we did the opposite.
We sat down together and talked about what hadn’t been working. What was happening emotionally that was making it feel impossible to have/want to have sex. Sometimes this can be a tough conversation, especially if this isn’t your norm. So, a few ideas: Type up and email or text some questions and work through the beginning phases of this chat via typing. Write down your questions and be able to read them when you’re talking. If this leaves you feeling stumped, here are some places to start:
Have you been feeling anxious lately?
Is anything stressful going on in your family/friend group?
How’s work been feeling?
Have you been having any reoccurring thoughts/thought loops when we have sex?
Have you been sleeping?
These are all pretty obvious and baseline, but they can open up a larger conversation that can often times shed some solid light on the why behind the dry spell. And once you have a better handle on that, it’s SO much easier to find a new way to move forward. Even if whatever that stress is cannot be resolved, more often than not having it out in the open between you and someone you trust and love, can take some of the pressure out of the situation.
From here, take it back to basics.
It’s easy, especially in long term relationships, to forget to kiss. To stop making out. To just ‘jump right in’ as a means of making sure everything gets done and time doesn’t get ‘wasted’. Instead, try letting time be wasted! If “all” you get to is kissing, that’s ok!
Start slow, steady, and with what are the baselines of pleasure for you and for your partner. Without big end goals in mind.
The more we stripped away the need for “fire” and “spice” we were able to find a really great groove in getting to know each other other again, find the best ways to experience sex, love, and pleasure, and then, once that healthy normal (for us, because that is going to look different for everyone) was established feeling again, ‘spicing it up’ comes naturally and with fun instead of expectation that is ‘saves our sex life’.
The old adages to “spice it up” or “fake it till you make it” and the pervasive themes in our culture that “men need it” seemed to be working counter to any real relational depth you could experience in or out of the bedroom in a long term relationship. So leaping out of your comfort zone with the pressure to make your sex life suddenly salvageable, pretending you enjoy something that you do not in hopes that one day you will, and believing in the concept that women don’t need, want, or enjoy sex will not be the means to ending a dry spell. They might actually make things worse because of all the expectations both partners will place on this “working” without figuring out what it is that isn’t working to begin with. So we found that going back to things that naturally fill us with the desire to be more intimate with each other (conversation, affection without expectation, complementing each other, working to make each others’ lives easier, being thankful for each other, etc) and taking the pressure off ourselves to “make it work” brought us back to a place where we were ready to engage each other in the midst of whatever else was going on.
We’ve found that talking to each other honestly about Why it’s happening, not necessarily looking for solutions, and then slowing down to enjoy each other without the expectation of sex, has been a big saver for our egos, hearts, emotional maturity, and our sex life.