When you first met your partner, there was electricity, there was passion, and there was sex—lots of it! Now, it’s a challenge to remember the last time you were naked together.
“Virtually all relationships go through some sort of tapering-off period, typically after 6 months to a year,” said San Francisco-based licensed marriage and family therapist Vanessa Marin.
In a National Institutes of Health study that followed couples over 30 years, a whopping 75 percent reported a decline in bedroom activity over time.
While there are dozens of reasons for lack of lust—from illness to stress to scheduling—the truth is that sex is healthy for body and mind and builds closeness, intimacy and a sense of partnership in your relationship. A 2013 study in the journal Sex and Marital Therapy found that women who are sexually satisfied report higher levels of overall wellbeing than women who aren’t getting the same satisfaction. We invite you to recognize the real-life obstacles to your healthiest, most fulfilling sex life, so you can find ways to overcome them.
You’re too busy playing Candy Crush
Smartphones keep us connected to everyone except the one person we’re sleeping with.
“We’re on our phones and computers when we spend time together, before we go to sleep and all too often first thing when we wake up,” said Amy Levine, sex coach and founder of IgniteYourPleasure.com.
In a 2015 study of nearly 150 married women, 70 percent said that technology interferes with their sex lives.
Sex Rx: Turn off to get turned on. You could agree to quiet notifications during QT with your partner, but if that’s unrealistic, try putting sex on the schedule.
“The idea of spontaneity is exciting, but if you want it and it's not happening, you have to plan for it,” Levine said.
There’s still plenty of room for spontaneity, she added, as all you're planning is the time slot—not how the deed will unfold.
You’re busy with stuff
When it comes to day-to-day priorities, sex often falls low on the totem pole.
“We prioritize the things that stress us out the most, even if it’s emptying the dishwasher,” said Dr. Anita Clayton, University of Virginia psychiatry professor and author of Satisfaction: Women, Sex, and the Quest for Intimacy. “When our partner approaches us, we think, ‘I have to get this done and you’re talking about that?’”
Sex Rx: Accept the fact that the dishes and laundry will still be there later, and a roll in the hay will likely not decimate your world order. Take 20 minutes out of the multitasking marathon of life for some private time with your partner, which is likely to be heaps more rewarding than an empty dishwasher or a neat pile of shirts.
You’re letting stress win
Stress is par for the course, especially for women. The American Psychological Association’s 2014 Stress In America survey confirms that women report higher stress levels than men, and are more likely to feel stressed in the first place. What's important is how we manage it.
“Some people can handle pressure and crises in their life and stay calm and loving,” said Stanley Ducharme, PhD, clinical psychologist and sex therapist at Boston Medical Center. “Other people sort of fall apart—they get frustrated and upset and need to blame someone.”
Sex Rx: Find healthy outlets for stress, whether it’s yoga, running, a painting class or…sex! Unless your partner is directly responsible for your stress (more on that later), connecting in a physical, soulful way will bring on the happy hormones and send stress packing.
You haven’t laced up your sneakers in weeks
Besides easing stress and boosting mood, exercise increases blood flow to your lady parts and stimulates feel-good hormones, allowing you to get turned on more quickly and easily and heightening sensation. In a study from the University of Texas at Austin, women who rode stationary bicycles for 20 minutes got more physically aroused by a racy film clip than women who had filled out paperwork beforehand. Other research suggests men benefit too, so if you’re not moving, you’re missing out on this biochemical foreplay.
“The brain is very plastic, so the more you reinforce those circuits, the better they work,” Clayton said. “And if you don’t use it, there’s this atrophy.”
Sex Rx: Move your body for at least 30 minutes a day—bonus if it’s just before sex. And if you can work out together with your partner, even better!
You’re obsessed with your weight
Worrying about a muffin top, saddlebags, a spare tire, cellulite, or other perceived body flaws can leave you hiding under the covers—especially if your body has changed after pregnancy or packing on some pounds.
“Whether you realize it or not, your body image has a huge effect on how you feel and act sexually,” says relationship expert Terri Orbuch, PhD, author of “5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great.”
Your self-consciousness can lead to avoiding sex, but it can plant seeds of doubt in your partner’s mind. He (or she) might think: Does she not love me? Is there someone else? Am I doing something wrong?
Sex Rx: Stay present during sex.
“So often we’re not in the moment—we’re above it or outside of it looking in and thinking, ‘Oh God, I look so unattractive,’” Clayton said. “It changes that emotional intimacy that’s part of experiencing pleasure with a partner.”
To help yourself stay in the moment, try replacing doubting thoughts with a narration of the action: “My partner is caressing me and it feels good.”
Everything you know about sex you learned from Hollywood
First they kiss; then their hands wander; and soon they’re intertwined, feverishly thrusting until the man orgasms. That may work for the big screen, but it may not work for you. Believing that sex happens only in a set way can be intimidating and dampen the impulse to try.
“Instead of being goal-oriented, women tend to be more pleasure-oriented, like a circle, with each sensation on the perimeter of the circle and an end unto itself, not necessarily culminating in a climax,” said Rutgers University sex researcher Beverly Whipple, PhD. “Women can feel good about whatever brings them pleasure—they don’t have to fit into a mold.”
Whipple’s study in the Journal of Sex Research confirms that women’s sexual responses don’t fall neatly into one pattern, but come from a variety of stimuli and can light up the same parts of the brain as men’s do when they reach orgasm.
Sex Rx: Give yourself permission to feel sensual and sexual pleasure in non-textbook ways. Pursue what truly feels good without pressure to perform.
The sex plays out like reruns on Hulu
The same-old, same-old can leave you tired and uninspired.
“Couples tend to fall into what's quick and easy rather than what's fulfilling and adventurous,” Levine said. “On one hand, it’s nice to feel known and understood by your partner sexually, but on the other hand, familiar routines easily get stale.”
Sex Rx: A 2014 study shows that if you’re motivated to satisfy your partner’s sexual needs (within reason), your partner will detect this responsiveness and in turn, feel more satisfied and committed to the relationship. To show your can-do spirit, Levine recommends that you and your partner list 20 new sexual experiences to do or try—think scented candles, a sexy playlist, dirty talk, or trying out toys. Rate the ideas on a scale of 1 to 5—1 being “don't like and don't want to try” and 5 being “love and/or want to try,” and plan a time to give your top picks a whirl.
You’re too comfortable
Security, predictability, and stability are part of the beauty of marriage—hello, sweatpants and Netflix! But they can also be its undoing in the bedroom. That’s because we also crave novelty, adventure, and discovery—and we’re in a position, paradoxically, to have to get both of these needs met by the same person.
Sex Rx: The key to desire is wanting, not having, according to couples therapist Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity ($13; amazon.com). Wanting each other is the electric current that first brought you together, and the thing you want to recapture to spark up your sex life. Go for the big tease: send a tantalizing text or suggestive selfie; create a calendar invite for a VIP meeting under the sheets; or give him a sneak peek of lace underthings while you're at a party or restaurant (or whisper that you're wearing no underthings at all). These bold moves are themselves a kind of foreplay—you’ll both come home with only one thing on your mind.
RELATED: 10 Ways to Deal With Painful Sex
You’re seriously just not interested
The majority of visits to sex therapists and sex medicine doctors are because of low libido, Ducharme said. Although “low libido” can have dozens of causes, in women, hypoactive sexual desire disorder often has to do with pain with sex, difficulty with lubrication, and difficulty reaching orgasm.
“If a woman has low libido, most often there are other difficulties that go along with that,” he said.
Sex Rx: In 2015, the FDA approved Addyi, or Flibanserin, the first medication to treat hypoactive sexual desire disorder in pre-menopausal women. Unlike Viagra, which brings blood flow to the genitals, the controversial drug works in the brain, boosting the release of the pleasure hormones dopamine and norepinephrine and tamping down serotonin, which can decrease sexual interest and pleasure if released in the wrong place at the wrong time. Talk to your doctor about whether you’re a candidate for Addyi, or whether there are other remedies that might help—such as vaginal estrogen, lubricants, or pelvic floor therapy.