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Why long-term relationships experience less intimacy

What is sex supposed to look like in a long-term relationship?

Chances are if you’re asking the question, your long-term relationship sex life is probably encountering some issues.

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Sexual dynamics in long-term relationships often raise questions and concerns. If you find yourself pondering the state of your long-term relationship’s sex life, you’re not alone. Whether it’s dwindling frequency, monotony, or a sense of obligation overshadowing the excitement, there are essential truths about sex in these relationships that shed light on these experiences.

1. Sex generally improves relationships, but how important it is depends on the individual couple.
Many research studies have demonstrated a strong link between a good sex life and a happy overall relationship. Sexual satisfaction contributes to relationship satisfaction, one study found.

Another study found good sex can even offset the negative effects of communication problems in relationships. Furthermore, having less sex than you wish you were having can make your relationship less stable and increase the likelihood of a breakup, according to a study published in the 4Archives of Sexual Behavior.

All that being said, how important sex is in any given relationship—and what frequency of sex is considered satisfactory—really depends on the individuals involved. Some people aren’t that interested in sex, and they don’t particularly need it to have a happy relationship.

2. Sex tends to decrease in long-term relationships because it starts in hyperdrive
The start of a relationship tends to involve a lot of sexual energy because it’s new, and you’re exploring physical intimacy with someone for the first time. The novelty and the surge of feel-good bonding chemicals we experience when falling in love explain why there’s often a lot of sex early in the relationship.

3. It’s normal for people to not feel like having sex sometimes
People’s interest in sex comes and goes in phases depending on a variety of factors. These might include: stress levels, lack of sleep, hormonal fluctuations, medication side effects, mental health challenges, body image, relationship issues, and life changes (a new job, a new baby, etc.)

4. Lower sexual desire can sometimes be related to larger relationship issues.
Good sex usually means a happier relationship, but the reverse is also true.

If one or both partners hasn’t been interested in sex, it’s possible that there are underlying relationship problems that are being brushed under the rug and that need to be addressed. To figure out what’s going on, you’ll need to open up the conversation and check in with each other about how you’re both feeling about the state of your relationship.

Focus on having a good relationship, and many times good sex will naturally follow.

5. Men deal with lower libido, too
Despite what cultural stereotypes might suggest, not all men want sex all the time, and many men experience decreases in their sex drive. People of all genders deal with this, so don’t assume it’s always women who stop wanting sex in long-term relationships.

6. People tend to enjoy sex once they start having it, even if they weren’t initially in the mood
People experience desire differently. Many people experience a concept known as spontaneous desire, where they randomly find themselves in the mood to have sex before any physical arousal or stimulation has even taken place. But for other people, sexual desire only comes along after physical arousal has kicked in. This is known as responsive desire. People with responsive desire feel like having sex only once they’re physically aroused.

7. Lower-libido partners don’t need to “just do it”
No one needs to have sex with anyone when they don’t want to, even in long-term relationships. Having sex when you don’t want to can make you feel disconnected or even resentful toward your partner, and you’re less likely to enjoy the sex. (Bad orgasms are a thing.)

Some research has found that having sex just to avoid feeling guilty for disappointing your partner actually leads to lower sexual and relationship satisfaction. In other words, when you care a lot about your partner’s sexual pleasure, you tend to experience more desire to have sex with them.

8. Sex doesn’t have to be spontaneous
Scheduled sex can be just as sexy because there’s a sense of buildup and anticipation. Of course, don’t just put sex on the calendar and show up naked when the time comes.

Have some fun building up the sexual desire leading up to the date. Sexting and simmering are great ways to increase sexual energy in a long-term relationship.

9. Sex is sexier when it’s a shared exploration, not a negotiation
Scorekeeping has no place in a healthy sex life. Couples with desire discrepancy sometimes fall into a dynamic where sex is about who’s giving in and how often, and it can create a very negative you-versus-me energy around sex. That’s no fun.

Sex should be about exploring together and helping each other feel good. If you feel like your relationship is caught in a negative cycle around sex, bring it up to your partner and work together for mutually pleasant solutions.

10. Sex in long-term relationships can be hot, passionate, and plentiful
Ditch the assumptions you have about what couples’ sex lives look like over time. Don’t fall into the trap of believing sexual desire will automatically fade as your relationship goes on.