Some years ago, Australian sex therapist and online dating coach, Bettina Arndt wrote, quite controversially, that women who felt low sexual desire in their relationships should “just do it.” What she meant was this: even if women felt low libido, having sex anyway might encourage feelings of desire and sexual responsiveness.
Despite the controversy, her idea has been supported by a new scientific study, which basically found the same thing to be true. The recent study, published in Social Psychology and Personality Science, has shown that when the partner (male or female) who feels low sexual desire indulges their partner’s sexual needs regardless, they strengthen the relationship. Sex doesn’t always have to be desired to have the desired effect of building intimacy.
There are many myths we hold about “healthy relationships,” especially when it comes to sex. But there are many things to realise about sex in long-term relationships, some of which are surprising, and many of which no one talks about. So let’s start the conversation.
Here are 8 truths about sex drive in long-term relationships.
1. Men experience low libido, despite cultural stereotypes that might suggest otherwise.
Men, just like women, experience low sex drive too. Stress, physical exhaustion and mental health issues may all contribute to consistently low sexual desire in both sexes. While the stereotype is often that women are the only ones who stop wanting sex in long-term relationships, men can just as easily feel less inclined toward sex.
2. Sex may surprise you, and be better than anticipated.
Those who engage in sex with their partner even if they are not in the mood often end up enjoying themselves. Sometimes, it takes a little foreplay to get in the mood, and being open to that fact can do wonders for your relationship. And even if one partner’s sex drive remains low, he/she still can enjoy other benefits from sex such as feeling closer and intimate with their partner.
In a way, sex can be viewed comparably to many other negotiations that we make within our relationships. If one partner feels low sexual desire on one occasion or consistently, this doesn’t mean that partner won’t ever enjoy sex. So keep an open mind and an open heart, and you may surprise yourself.
3. Compromise is healthy, and easier when there’s a baseline of respect.
The topic is tricky, as with the topic of sex come issues of consent, which must obviously never be disrespected or ignored. The studies on sex drive that I’m referring to were conducted with couples who had otherwise respectful and healthy relationships. When there is underlying respect within the relationship, partners often find it easier to accommodate their loved ones’ needs. Compromise doesn’t have to involve “sucking it up” or “just doing it” with a pejorative connotation.
4. Low sexual desire can sometimes point to deeper problems in the relationship.
Often, in relationships that have deeper and more intense issues, waning sexual desire is simply another manner of indicating that there are innate problems within the relationship. For those couples, often seeking counseling will help. Looking at relationship dynamics as a reflection of the state of the relationship at large is an essential form of reflection and learning.
5. Sex doesn’t have to be spontaneous to be sexy.
Healthy couples that are willing to prioritize the sexual well-being of their relationship tend to feel closer in many ways. When partners are willing to engage sexually even when they may not be up for it, couples may cultivate a deepened sense of intimacy, particularly an increased sense of communal strength within the relationship.
Making a plan, or a decision to have sex won’t remove the excitement; it simply indicates partners who are respectful of their beloved’s needs and desires.
6. Sex is sexier when power negotiations are removed.
Unfortunately, those in relationships who have a higher sex drive than their partner can become too focused on a sense of rejection. As a result, they may start associating their current relationship dynamic with past experiences of sexual rejection, even if their current partner’s low sex drive has nothing to do with them.
This can create an unhealthy dynamic where partners are keeping score. Using your sex life as a way to demean or accuse your partner will certainly not cultivate a sense of generosity within the relationship.
7. Low desire in long-term relationships isn’t inevitable.
Longer term relationships don’t have to experience a decline in sexual desire. Yes, sex may be more low-key, and less frenetically passionate, but many long-term relationships still experience extremely passionate sex. Our society’s perception that sexual desire fades over time can often amplify the sense that the belief holds true. So reassessing assumptions can be a productive way to understand — rather than make assumptions about — your or your partner’s lack of sex drive.
8. Monogamous sex doesn’t have to be boring.
Many long term partnerships, particularly among mature people, experience a vastly pleasurable and exciting sexual life. Getting older often means that there is more exploration and experimentation within sexual relationships.
Unlike other relationship needs, such as friendship or advice, which can be fulfilled in alternative relationships, sex is usually exclusive within the partnership.
Cultivating a sense of respect for the sexual exclusivity of our romantic relationships, and attempting to understand each partner’s requirements for sex could create a deeper and more cherished relationship overall.