When you’re in a relationship for a long time, sexual desire can wane - sometimes it can disappear altogether. While it’s been widely suggested that women are more likely to experience a dip in sexual interest than men, a recent study of heterosexual relationships from the University of Kentucky argues it isn’t limited to one gender.
It’s really important to remember that if desire does dip, it’s perfectly natural and there’s nothing wrong with you. “It needs to be normalised,” says sex therapist Denise Knowles. “For many couples, when desire seems to wane there’s an immediate sense that something is seriously wrong with the relationship. But in actual fact, throughout a long-term relationship it’s very usual for sexual desire to ebb and flow because certain things are going on.”
It’s clear nobody is safe from libido woes, so what’s the key to maintaining a happy, healthy sex life? Two sex therapists working with Relate share their thoughts.
Keep that sense of intimacy and closeness. “Maintaining overall closeness to each other is vital,” says Martin Burrow, sex therapist, couples counsellor and senior practice consultant at Relate.
“What I mean by that is making sure you have time to talk and making sure you have time for just your relationship.”
He adds this should especially be the case with couples who have children, “as often when young children appear an intimate relationship is put on the back-burner”.
Do everyday activities together. Little things like making sure you go to bed at the same time and making sure you eat together can also help keep that feeling of desire.
Sex therapist Denise Knowles specifically recommends cooking together, planning meals together or something as simple as sitting down to watch a film together. “Have fun with it,” she adds. If you’re like ships passing in the night, it could be problematic for your sex life.
Get creative. While it might sound cliché, Burrows is a firm believer in the power of ‘date night’. “Instead of getting ready in the same room, why not get ready in different parts of the house to help bring back that feeling of excitement?” he suggests.
Experiment with non-sexual touching, says Knowles. She doesn’t mean going in for a full-on “snog at the train station” but recommends perhaps a hug rather than a quick peck on the cheek. “Sometimes it’s quite nice to say, ‘do you know what, let’s go to bed and have fun but not have sex’,” she adds. “Once your enjoyment systems are online and you’re doing something you enjoy, it’s more likely to increase eagerness in desire.”
Look after yourself. Burrow says having a balanced, healthy lifestyle can also keep your desire in check - so things like drinking alcohol in moderation, eating a healthy diet, exercising, getting plenty of sleep and not smoking. Studies have found exercise can help increase arousal in both men and women.
Take care of personal hygiene. “There’s nothing worse than someone who hasn’t cleaned their teeth, or showered or bathed for a few days,” Knowles adds. Amen to that.
Turn off your phone. Knowles is a firm believer in turning off the tech in order to ramp things up a notch in the bedroom - and with the average UK adult spending 1 hour 59 minutes a day on their smartphone, she might be right. Just think about all the things you could be doing in that time.
Communicate. If you do find that your relationship is lacking the sexual closeness it used to have, both sex therapists agree you talk about it. “Mention it, put it out there on the table, make it a subject that’s up for discussion but in a loving and caring way rather than a judging or critical way,” says Knowles.
“Once you’ve done that, it’s important to acknowledge what’s going on for both of you and address what you can do about it together. And that might mean that the person with more desire needs to reign in their desire somewhat because their partner is in a different place to them.” She adds that continuing to remind a partner about the lack of sex might lower their desire even further - so it’s worth avoiding that.
Burrow recommends reflecting on how your sex life used to be back when it was considered “healthy”, to determine what was happening and what wasn’t happening. “There might be conversations to be had about spontaneity and variety,” he adds. “Sex can become routined and dull, so a good place to start is to have a conversation about what made it so good in the first place. And then get back to doing that, whatever it was.”