Illustration by Tamara Valencia
by Gigi Engle
As a sex educator, it feels like my inbox is totally flooded with questions from readers about keeping sex hot in their relationships. Among people who are pro-sexual liberation and exploration, queries have changed over the years from “My partner doesn’t want sex” to “How do I get my partner to try new things in the bedroom?” and “How do I keep it hot because I’m scared I’ll get bored?” People seem to be finally starting to see sex as a priority in their relationships, which has exciting potential.
The attempt to keep the sparks and lust alive in relationships is a feat we’ve all tried to master for a long time. We want to keep the feelings of "I just have to have you" going forever, if possible, in order to maintain a happy, sustained partnership. With sexual pleasure finally starting to shift to the egalitarian, the possibilities for keeping things sexy are endless.
With all of this newfound sexual liberty, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that it's a big fear among millennials that we'll wind up in sexually unhappy marriages or partnerships. We want more from our sex lives than p-in-the-v pounding for three minutes followed by Late Night with Seth Meyers. Hard pass.
With so many dating apps and technology at our fingertips, it feels a little scary to settle down in a relationship. So what is the secret sauce to keeping sex interesting?
Maintain touch in your relationship
In the first few years of a relationship you have “New Relationship Energy.” Your brain is flooded with love hormones like oxytocin and dopamine. You can’t get enough of your partner and just want to sit on their face constantly. This doesn’t last forever. Keeping lust on the forefront of your life isn’t always entirely about sex, it’s also about intimacy. Lust, intimacy, passion, and emotional connection are all connected and integral parts of romantic partnerships.
Sunny Rodgers, a clinical sexologist and coach, tells us that touch is often the first thing we lose in our intimate relationships. Keeping physical touch on the menu is vital for keeping lust alive. “Try caressing their cheek when you give them a kiss, touching their arm when you speak to them, and holding their hand,” she says.
When we touch, cuddle, and massage our partners, our brains release that delicious oxytocin, the peptide hormone responsible for pair bonding. What it comes down to: Intimacy takes work, and it sure involves a lot more than penetration.
You need to do the work
Don’t get me wrong, some people simply get lucky with their ~forever lusty~ feelings in a relationship. That’s great for them, but it’s pretty frickin’ rare. Don’t be a person who depends on luck to keep the sparks alive in a relationship. You’ll wind up disappointed.
To keep lust alive, you have to keep your imagination alive.
The people who have thriving, hot sex lives are the ones who put in the work to keep it that way. Chemistry is cool and stuff, but have you ever had a partner who was committed to keeping you interested? That’s hot. “If we were to use the analogy of fire, you need to keep tending to it to keep it glowing,” says Lucy Rowett, a certified dating coach and clinical sexologist. “This comes down to epic relationship and communication skills, such as building your partner up, showing them that you love and care for them, and investing your time and energy into the relationship.”
Rodgers says we should think of sex the way we think of exercise: We neeed exercise to maintain a healthy body over time and we need sex to maintain a happy relationship over time. You may not want to do either thing at different points in your life, but that doesn’t mean you should let them fall off the radar.
Truly happy, sexually active and satisfied couples are the ones who see sex a necessary component of a happy relationship and put in the effort to keep it hot. In the immortal words of Britney Spears: You better work, bitch.
Keep the spontaneity alive
In long-term relationships we find ourselves experiencing what psychologist Justin Lehmiller calls "The Coolidge Effect,” wherein we get bored with the monotony of our sexual routines over time.
The key to avoiding this? Trying new sex stuff! Have you been curious about sex toys, bondage, role play etc? Well, now is the time. Psychotherapist and sexuality expert Steven Ing tells us that sexual novelty and emotional security within a relationship is really that special sauce we’ve been looking for. To keep a relationship fiery you need: “A healthy dose of spontaneous titillation (the arousal to physical stimuli) like ‘OMG, those eyes...I can't stop staring at them,’” but also “the intellectual and emotional capacity to be truly intimate” and the ability to “share our lives with each other safely.”
Meaning: We need to have safe emotional bonds with our partners, but also a hot, ever-changing, wild sex life. Ing says this is a big idea that can be hard to understand, but understanding it means it’s an ongoing process that never ends. To keep lust alive, you have to keep your imagination alive.
Maintain your own identity
Lastly, you need to intentionally maintain your own sense of self. The happiest couples are not only the ones who have carved out a special place to exist as a couple, as an “us,” but have also created space for each person to thrive as an “I.”
Rowett agrees: “I believe [that] is one of the secrets of enduring love and lust. I would also emphasize how important it is to tend to the fires of your own sexuality and eroticism. Self pleasure, celebrate your body, practice cultivating your erotic energy. This will feed your sexual connection with your partner,” she says. Fire needs air to survive, after all.
This means carving out a separate space for yourself. Get comfortable with your body, practice mindfulness when masturbating, and explore your eroticism on an ongoing basis. Don’t be afraid to cultivate your relationship with your own pleasure. It will open you up to bountiful avenues for shared exploration with your partner.
Remember, sex should be fun. Sometimes it’s annoying and sometimes it’s work, but that’s part of the process. Keep going and keep thriving, babes.Gigi Engle is a certified sex coach, sexologist, educator, and author of All the F*cking Mistakes. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @GigiEngle.