DEAR DR. JENN,
My boyfriend and I have been together for two years, living together for one. And I’ve watched our hot, steamy sex life become a lukewarm, more-Netflix-than-chill love life. We still care about each other deeply, and I find him totally attractive. What can I do to heat things back up? —Missing My Californication
This is one of the most common questions I get from couples in long-term relationships, regardless of sexual orientation. Everyone wants to keep it hot, but few people know how to. Fortunately, the keys are quite simple. Less simple? Breaking habit and actually following them:
1. ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT
This may sound obvious, but it is more difficult than both people like to admit. Whether it is a request to be touched more to the right or the left or asking for something the two of you have never done together, most people are a little nervous about requesting what they want because they fear being seen as weird, perverted, or offensive. Even the most sexually open among us sometimes hold back. A very successful business man I once saw in private practice secretly wanted to be spanked in the bedroom. It took him two years and a lot of therapy to finally ask his wife. When he did, it opened up their sex life in ways he had never even thought possible.
Asking for what you want is one of the keys to a sexually satisfying long-term relationship—a study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found a direct correlation between people’s ability to communicate during sex and the quality of their sex lives. That’s no coincidence! Women who are able to talk about their sexual needs are set up for greater marital satisfaction, more frequent sex, more orgasms, and higher chances of achieving multiple orgasms.
2. PLAY WITH POWER
In order to communicate what you want, you need to figure out what you want. And our sexual desires, preferences, and fantasies are not always politically correct. Yes, it is very important to be respectful to your partner in bed. But sometimes, great sex doesn’t look all that respectful. I’m talking ball gags, handcuffs, dog collars, and floggers. What matters is that it is consensual and both people are on board. Itching to try it out? Talk to your partner about it. It really doesn’t reflect how you see them as a person or loving partner; it reflects what gets you off. So often, I hear, “I can’t say that to my boyfriend!” or “I can’t do that with my wife!”—which prevents people from having truly passionate unbridled sex. The best person to explore those desires with is the person you love and feel safest with—again, so long as you are both game.
3. TALK DIRTY
Not ready to bring out the whip? Just talking about fantasies together can be a fun way to bring something new into the bedroom. You do not have to actually act out these ideas to benefit from the sexual creativity and excitement. Talking about the things that turn you and your partner on can be very exciting in and of itself. List the steamiest wishes you have, or pretend to be different people and give improv role playing a shot: the cheerleader and football player, the porn star and director, the boss and employee, or the delivery person and customer. If either one of you is not experienced in this area, or you do not know what your fantasies are, I recommend checking out books like Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden. Her books are collections of sexual fantasy-based stories. You may be surprised to find out what turns you both on.
4. CREATE NOVELTY
Couples in long-term relationships tend to learn what turns one another on and then stick to the same routines because they get the job done. Do not fall into this trap every time. Shake things up. Change the order, switch up the location, try a new position, pull out a new sex toy, get some new lingerie, try some role play. The main thing: Do something different!
Stepping out of your comfort zone might not work the first time you try it, which may tempt you to give up and return to your routine. But keeping things new and exciting, oddly, takes practice. Experimentation makes some long-term couples nervous: What if it ruins a good thing? What if it means you no longer have the ability to excite one another? Hint: It doesn’t. Others worry that while they are growing bored in bed, their partner is totally satisfied and will be offended to hear you’re not aligned. If that’s the case, try framing your exploration differently—not as dissatisfaction but as excitement about what else you can add to your repertoire that will bring you two even closer. Whatever the case, set out to discover new territory together and be patient as you figure out which additions you enjoy and which simply aren’t for you.
5. MAKE TIME AND SPACE FOR SEX
One of the greatest myths about sex, especially between two people who love each other, is that it should be effortless, easy, and instinctual. This is simply not true. To have mind-blowing sex requires time, effort, and attention. Create a life that includes sensual time together. Make sex a priority. Make it more important than watching your favorite show, shopping online, or social media. Yes, even if you’re tired, make it a priority.
A great way to carve out time is to put a recurring, unbreakable sexy “date” night on the calendar. That doesn’t mean that in order to have sex, you need to have a candle-lit dinner first; it doesn’t mean that every date night even needs to entail leaving the house (or the bed); and it doesn’t mean that you can only have sex on pre-scheduled date nights. But it does mean that even when there’s a looming deadline or a never-ending list of errands, you’ll have a reminder to pause and connect with your partner. Plus, it creates steamy suspense leading up to your time together—sort of like the excitement that led up to your first dates as a new couple. You may find that it encourages sexts throughout the day, titillating lingerie shopping, or arousing thoughts that make the main event that much more enjoyable.
Sex is an important bond between two people who love each other. It is the one thing that, in a monogamous relationship, you do only with each other. That makes it special and bonding. Do not allow yourselves to lose that important connection.