If Your Sex Life Is Stale, It's Probably Missing This Key Ingredient

Wondering how to spice up your relationship sexually? Experts share how to get that spark back.

At the beginning of a relationship, the electricity between you and your new partner makes sex exciting and passionate. But when the honeymoon phase inevitably ends – typically anywhere from a few months to a couple of years in – things tend to cool off between the sheets. As journalist Michael Castleman aptly put it: “The fireworks fizzle. The Fourth of July becomes Thanksgiving.”

If your sex life has become a bit of a snooze, first, know that it’s normal for sex to get stale in a long-term relationship. But it’s possible to get that spark back with the addition of an important ingredient: novelty.

“Good sex, even great sex, with someone you care about deeply, can get boring,” Los Angeles sex therapist Nazanin Moali, host of the “Sexology” podcast, tells HuffPost. “Although novelty is not the solution to all sexual challenges that people may experience in their relationship, it is a key ingredient in bringing back the fire.”

Why we lose that sexy spark

Adding some novelty can take your sex life from fizzle to sizzle.
Jonathan Knowles via Getty Images
Adding some novelty can take your sex life from fizzle to sizzle.

One reason for this cooling off, according to clinical sexologist and sexuality educator Lawrence Siegel: Long-term relationships become more about safety and security. And that often leads to “perfectly comfortable, predictable sex,” he says.

He cites famed psychotherapist Esther Perel’s book Mating In Captivity, in which she writes about how the coziness and familiarity of long-term relationships can extinguish the erotic spark.

“Eroticism needs a bit of an edge, an unknown; even some degree of risk,” Siegel says. “Risk can also come just from trying something new and not knowing how it’s going to turn out. Our brains are wired to respond more to novelty, especially with regard to our reward system and experiences of pleasure – hence, the ‘Coolidge Effect.’”

The Coolidge Effect is a biological phenomenon (named after an amusing but perhaps apocryphal story involving US president Calvin Coolidge and his wife Grace) in which animals, specifically males, show a progressive decrease in sexual interest toward a previous mate, while the introduction of a new partner renews their desire for sex.

“Research has found that when a male rat is placed inside a cage with several female rats that are in heat, he will mate with all of them until he appears exhausted,” sex educator and researcher Justin Lehmiller wrote in a blog post on his website. “However, if a new female is then introduced to the cage, males often experience an immediately renewed interest in sex and begin mating with her.” It’s also been documented in humans.

“Good sex, even great sex, with someone you care about deeply, can get boring.”

- Nazanin Moali, sex therapist

This has important implications for our romantic relationships, Lehmiller says.

“In particular, it suggests that declining sexual interest in a long-term partner and being excited by variety is probably to be expected, rather than a sign that there’s something wrong with you or your relationship.”

Does that mean that the solution to stale sex is introducing consensual non-monogamy – things like having a threesome, swinging or opening your relationship? Those certainly might do the trick, but there are other options for those who don’t want to abandon monogamy altogether.

Changing things up takes work — but not as much as you might think

Want to turn up the heat? Start small. “You don’t have to go straight from vanilla sex to BDSM,” says sex therapist Emily Jamea.
Willie B. Thomas via Getty Images
Want to turn up the heat? Start small. “You don’t have to go straight from vanilla sex to BDSM,” says sex therapist Emily Jamea.

Sex therapist Emily Jamea, host of the Love and Libido podcast, says she believes couples overestimate what they have to do to keep things exciting between the sheets.

“You don’t have to go straight from vanilla sex to BDSM,” she says. ”If what you’re doing is too far above your skill set, you’ll feel anxious, which detracts from sexual pleasure. Switching the order of what you do, time of day or location can be enough to maintain excitement.”

Start by thinking back to what turned you on in the early days of your relationship – what made sex then so satisfying?

“Was there the excitement of almost getting caught or just making out on the beach?” Siegel says. “Were you doing sexual things just because you wanted to show them you were a good lover? Sometimes novelty can simply help us rediscover the fun in sex and how we used to enjoy each other.”

Even exploring new hobbies and activities outside of the bedroom can have a positive impact on what goes on behind closed doors.

According to the self-expansion model in psychology (which suggests that people are fundamentally motivated to expand their sense of self and do so by entering into close relationships with others), a couple’s love is enhanced by doing new and challenging activities together. A 2012 study of married people found that those who reported still being intensely in love were also the type to engage in shared novel activities as a couple.

That might mean taking a dance class together, joining a hiking group, doing trivia night at your local bar or taking a road trip to somewhere you haven’t visited before.

How to spice things up in the bedroom

Experts recommend adding physical and psychological novelty to the sexual menu.
Gravity Images via Getty Images
Experts recommend adding physical and psychological novelty to the sexual menu.

You can replicate that rush of adrenaline you get when you’re with a new partner by “find[ing] the places that are still unknown in your sexual universe with your current partner,” Moali says, and exploring both physiological and psychological novelty.

Physiological novelty involves engaging in an activity “to enhance a particular sensation or stimulate a new erogenous zone,” Moali noted.

She recommends nipple clamps if you or your partner enjoys nipple stimulation, hair pulling and, if done safely, choking or breath play.

“Talk about it in a non-sexual setting first, and perhaps even practice which areas on the throat feel best,” she says. “Less is always more, especially when you’re first experimenting, and make sure to set up a non-verbal safe word in advance.”

As for psychological novelty, try tapping into your sexual fantasies together.

“There is a lot of good material on fantasy and lots of ethical porn that can be explored online,” Siegel says, adding he would recommend using a VPN to protect your privacy. “Just allow yourself to see what might else be out there in the wide, often wonderful world of sex.”

Then share one of these turn-ons with your partner and have them watch you masturbate to it, Siegel suggested. “Even better, they masturbate with you,” he added.

Another way to explore psychological novelty? Role-play.

“Playing a character is generally easier than being oneself, for many, so it may be a safe way to explore and try something new,” Siegel says. “Many people find they can orgasm easier when pretending to be someone else than it is when they are being themselves.”

Moali also suggested creating a dating app profile together to do some “window shopping” for other potential partners.

“Don’t contact anyone, just browse the options and talk about your fantasies for threesomes and more,” she says.

Another idea might be to experiment with orgasm control while you’re having sex. Basically, one partner is in charge of “allowing” the other to have an orgasm.

“[You] get to choose how long the game lasts,” she says. “This will bring an element of teasing and tantalising back to the sexual play.”

No matter which direction you and your partner choose to go, it’s important to keep an open mind when it comes to anything new, Jamea says. Your partner might suggest something that seems unappealing to you at first. When that happens, take a minute to examine the “why” behind your reaction.

“See if you’re at least willing to try it once or twice before officially making up your mind,” Jamea says. “You might be pleasantly surprised. You’re more likely to return to a restaurant if there are a variety of things on the menu, and the same principle applies to sex.”

Of course, if there’s anything that’s strictly off the table for you – perhaps it brings up memories of a bad sexual encounter from your past – then it’s fine to skip it.

“But, for the most part, the worst thing that would happen if someone tried something new would be they didn’t like it and they won’t do it again,” Siegel says.

Before You Go