Rediscovering Sex in a Mixed-Desire Partnership

In last week’s post, I wrote about the common advice that partners experiencing a desire discrepancy “just do it,” and the way that can backfire. I argued that willingness (not desire) is the key ingredient for partners seeking to rediscover their sexual connection.

However, I also acknowledged that many couples feeling awkward and uncertain when they try to return to a sexual dynamic that has fallen out of practice. This week, I’m going to share a few strategies that couples can use to reduce their anxiety or generate sexual energy when “breaking the ice” around sex.

  • Explore other kinds of shared pleasurable touch. When partners don’t have sex for a long period of time, it’s common for other kinds of intimate, connecting touch to fall by the wayside–perhaps because one partner is anxious about touch “leading to” sex, or the other is anxious about pressuring their partner unintentionally. But engaging in pleasant, connecting touch can go a long way to reducing awkwardness and bringing you closer together. Try cuddling, kissing, lying close together, and holding hands, without making the endgame sex or orgasm. Instead, focus simply on enjoying each other’s closeness and presence.
  • Eliminate performative goals. Reducing anxiety about sex can be challenging, but one good strategy is for everyone to take responsibility for their own experience of pleasure. No intimate interaction should feel like a test for you, or your partner, and than can be a pitfall when sexual connection already feels vulnerable because its been awhile. Instead, think of it as an experiment you run together, with the goal of exploring multiple ways to add intimate physical touch back into your repertoire of ways of being together. Rather than focusing on giving  each other orgasms, achieving penetration, or any other end goal, why not agree to have fun with it? Laugh together, play a little, keep it light-hearted and low-stakes.
  • Don’t rush it. If you’re breaking the ice after a long time, it’s completely understandable to feel like everything has to go perfectly in order for the experience to be a success. But remember: success is just having a connecting, pleasurable experience with your partner. If either of you starts to feel scared or overwhelmed, slow down and be in the moment together. Loving, intimate touch (sex!) often includes holding one another, soothing uncomfortable emotions, kissing tears away, cozy foot rubs to start or finish, reassuring one another than all is well, and creating a safe space for both of you to be exactly where you are in the moment. After all, we’re discussing real life here, not Disney.
  • Reconnect with your body. Are you living in your head most of the time? Going through the motions of your life, rushing around, holding a big to-do list in your mind? Busy lives make it very easy to lose touch with the physical self. A good first step is to reconnect with everyday bodily sensations of pleasure. Notice how great your next shower feels. Shampoo your hair with attention to sensation. Rub lotion into your feet, hands, face, and body, and most importantly, open yourself up to the pleasure of the experience. Then, see if you can let your mind and body drift into a more sexual realm. What you can find within yourself, you can share with your partner.
  • Work with your own eroticism. If you have lost touch with your sexual desire, but you want to ignite that part of yourself and your relationship again, spend some time and energy attending to your own erotic self. Rather than waiting for your partner to turn you on, ask yourself “What do I do that turns me on?” Can you turn yourself on by noticing how sexy your partner looks in bare feet and jeans at the kitchen sink? Thinking about sex mid-day and texting your partner about it? Wearing or shopping for sexy underwear? Give this some thought. You may have many ways of turning yourself on, or you may not have thought much about it before. If that’s the case, you can have a lot of fun learning what is sexy to you. You might even decide to share your turned-on self or your newfound sexy vibe with your partner.

3 Ways to Connect With Your Sexual Self

Last week, I wrote about why I believe it’s essential to cultivate a good relationship with the erotic side of yourself. I talked about how it can improve not just your own health and happiness, but your relationships. I also shared a series of questions that you can ask yourself if you want to release some negative ideas or stereotypes that you may be carrying about self-pleasure. If you missed last week’s blog, you can find it here.

This week, I’m going to be building on last week’s installment by sharing some tips for ways to improve your relationship with your erotic self. Some of these are activities, and some are shifts in attitude. This isn’t a prescription, just a set of ideas–you can pick and choose from this list based on what sounds exciting, enjoyable, and useful to you. Happy browsing!

  • Connect with your senses. Many people don’t feel very connected to their bodies–and particularly their experiences of bodily pleasure. They’re tuned out from their senses. They may notice when something feels bad, but they don’t necessarily check in and notice when something feels good. So take some time to pay attention to the small moments of pleasure you experience throughout your day. It doesn’t have to be sexual–you can try paying more attention to the feeling of warm water hitting your back in the shower, or the delightful feeling of freshly-washed sheets, or the sweet smell of flowers in your garden.
  • Consider your “erotic theme.” Most people have certain fantasies that they return to again and again. As diverse as these fantasies appear on the surface, there’s often a core theme or themes running through them. For instance, a variety of different fantasies might be united by the idea of being so wanted by someone that they are willing to break a taboo or act totally out of character, just to be with you. Think about the fantasies that you return to, and ask yourself what unites them. Why do they continue to resonate with you? What’s the spice that makes them sexy? Understanding your erotic theme can help you identify fertile new ground to explore, as you can develop new fantasies that fit into, expand, or develop your core erotic themes. If you’re able to express what you discover to your partner, it can be a fun, sexy conversation, and also help them understand where you’re coming from and what sex means to you.
  • Release yourself from expectations and pressure. One of the most common reasons that people don’t explore new sexual activities, fantasies, or experiences is that they’re afraid that they won’t be aroused enough to get hard and stay hard, or to reach orgasm. They might also be worried that they won’t reach orgasm quickly enough. Any time you try something new, it is likely to take some time to figure out how it works. That’s just life. But there are so many benefits to switching things up sexually that it is more than worth the journey. Plus, the journey itself should be fun. Imagine just exploring pleasure without a lot of outcome goal or time pressure. You can do this either alone or with a partner, but for the moment I’m focusing on self-pleasure. Next time you try this, make sure you won’t be interrupted, and create an intention of deep self-loving, not just “getting off”. Take the time to allow arousal to ebb and flow. Remind yourself that there is no rush. Allow yourself to explore freely–you can always return to your usual style of touch or your favorite fantasy when you want to.

If you’re interested in learning more about the many benefits of switching up your sexual routine, you might want to check out these previous posts:

What Makes Good Sex Good?

Getting What You Really Want Out of Sex

Good Sex Over a Lifetime

Are Vibrators Habit-Forming?

Flexibility is the Key to a Satisfying Sex Life