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Sexpert Q/A: Spicing up sex life in long term relationships

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Reader question:

Hi Desiree,

My wife and I have been married for nearly 20 years. We’re realists, we don’t expect sex to still be like it was the first times we were together, but what can we do to keep it exciting that won’t damage our relationship?

Dan, VIC

Sexpert response:

Sexpert, Desiree Spierings BA (Psych) MHSc (Sexual Health); Sex Therapist; Relationship Counsellor; Director of Sexual Health Australia and Editorial Advisory Board Member of Virtual Medical Centre and Parenthub responds:

Hi Dan,

Desiree SpieringsProvided there are no deep underlying relationship issues and difficulties, there are definitely a few reasonably simple things we can do to spice things up in the relationship and to keep things exciting.

When we first fall in love there are these hormones in the back of the brain that make us see our partner more positively than they actually are. This is also why we want to kiss, cuddle, and have sex with them all the time. This time is often referred to as the honeymoon period, and officially called limerence phase. Unfortunately this phase does not last and with familiarity these hormones decrease and we start to see our partner for who they really are, with their faults and flaws included. Consequently this is also the time when we get our normal (often lower) levels of desire back and our sex drive decreases a bit. We get busy with other things such as work, hobbies, and life again.

The limerence phase can never last, because you will always get familiar with each other when you spend more time together. But wouldn’t it be great to keep some level of excitement and attraction alive and especially to keep a spark in the bedroom?

Well in 1974 a famous Canadian study, the Capilano Bridge study, was conducted by two well‐known psychologists, Arthur Aron and Donald Dutton. They set out to explore the mysterious nature of sexual attraction, using two bridges in Canada. They had a group of men walk over a swaying bridge, the Capilano bridge. And another group of men walked over a steady bridge. The men were stopped on the middle of the bridge by a psychology student, who asked if they could participate in a brief survey. When each of the men completed the survey, the young woman would hand him her phone number and tell him that he was free to call her later that evening for the results. Not only were the men on the shaky bridge much more likely to call the woman later, they were also far more likely to ask her on a date!

In technical terms this concept is called misattribution of fear, also known as excitation transfer theory. What happens here is that the fear of walking on the shaky bridge spikes the brain’s natural amphetamines, dopamine and norepinephrine, these hormones also play a big role in sexual arousal/attraction. And consequently by doing something a bit scary with our partner, we feel more attracted to them again.

Since the Canadian study there have been more follow up studies and it is now known that it is not just about doing something scary that will spark things up; it is about doing something new/novel and exciting that is what really does the trick and keeps things interesting and alive. We are creatures of habits so we tend to go to the same restaurant, the same cinema, go for walks in the same area etc. It is about having new experiences with your partner that will keep things fun and exciting. And consequently spark sexual desire!

So try to plan some new and novel things together, such as go to a different restaurant, go for a stroll on a unfamiliar beach, do things you enjoy which you haven’t done before and see if this can consequently lead to more excitement in the relationship and hence more sex.

In terms of spicing things up in the bedroom, here are 5 additional tips:

  1. Plan a sex date – Sex doesn’t have to be spontaneous to be amazing. There is nothing wrong with planning it. On top of that, the exciting thing is that you can actually prepare for it. So set a time and place just for sex (nothing else).
  2. Create intimate opportunities – often in long term relationships we start to lead parallel lives, going to bed at different times, waking up at different times, going out with our friends, sitting on different ends of the couch when watching tv. So it is about creating more intimate moments, such as snuggle on the sofa, go to bed at same time, go for a walk together.
  3. Implement Bridges – it might feel weird to just go from work-mode or parent-mode, into sex mode. So make sure to implement a bridge that connects the two. You could have a bath/shower together, get out your work clothes, have a wine together, or give each other a massage.
  4. Foreplay away all bloody day: It is not just about the 5 minutes before a sexual encounter, but to flirt flirt flirt outside the bedroom! Flirt while doing the dishes, or by sending a sexy text or email, or whisper something nice to him/her while out with friends.
  5. Love yourself – if you do not love yourself how can you enjoy someone else loving your body. Be in touch with your sexuality and feel good and sexy about yourself.

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Posted On: 20 June, 2014
Modified On: 16 January, 2018

Created by: myVMC