November 08, 2016
Let’s Talk About (Married) Sex: 9 Tips for Keeping the Spark Alive
Speaking from experience here: Long-term marriage does not a vibrant sex life make. Quite the opposite, in fact—I’m six years and two kids in, and I think the last time I saw my husband’s penis was way back when Gwyn and Chris were still coupled. Dating is amazing, a wild, beautiful blur of crisp dresses and fancy dinners; candlelit lovemaking; manicures; waxes; blowouts; everything impromptu and perfect and new. But not so much post–“I do.” Trade in the sleek and shiny for the dull and threadbare: You’ve walked down the aisle arm in arm, the joint tax return has been filed, and the mystery and magic of courtship has been replaced by the wholly mundane of everyday life.
Aside from adultery, there’s only one option: to figure out how to make it work. I asked around to see how married women are still getting their rocks off once the ring’s been on their finger for a while. Below, nine tips from those who’ve been there.
Prioritize Alone Time
“Plan one curfew-free night every six to eight weeks,” says psychotherapist Esther Perel. “Get a sitter or put the child to sleep at a friend’s or family member’s home (someone who won’t care how late you pick up your kid). Go out all night and don’t worry about when you have to be back home. This gives you excitement and a glimmer of your past life. Just because your children have a structured bedtime doesn’t mean you have to live like that as well. Every once in a while, go out and allow yourself to experience the open-endedness that reconnects you to the sense of possibility and freedom.”
Focus on Quality, Not Quantity
“We don’t put a lot of pressure on each other to do what we’ve heard people say is ‘normal,’” says writer Lesley Arfin, married less than a year. “For example, if a ‘normal’ sex life means having sex twice a week, then I guess our sex life is ‘not normal.’ We don’t count. I couldn’t tell you the quantity of our lovemaking, but I can tell you that when we do it, we love it. Well, I’ll speak for myself. I love it. And I certainly don’t compare it with the sex lives of other married people, but let’s assume everyone is a lot more alike than not. Who the fuck wants to have sex twice a week?”
Accept That It Might Suck for a While
“By the time we got married we were six months deep into trying to make a baby,” says brand strategist Lisa Lundy, married five years. “But it wasn’t happening. What started out as ‘Let’s make a little person together’ turned into this timed, mechanical task. Sex on demand every other day starting on the sixth day of my cycle. No romance. No fun. Nothing hot about it. All my friends were getting pregnant left and right, and I was going to the fertility clinic, getting acupuncture, eating this, not eating that. But no matter what I did, month after month, the pregnancy test was negative. And I kept thinking he should leave me for some young, nubile thing.” Eventually she became pregnant and gave birth to twin boys. Thankfully, their sex life got pretty steamy right after they were born.
Take the Pressure Off and Do It When You Want To
“We’ve gone long periods of time without sex, and it’s taken us a long time to find our way back to sexual intimacy,” says Juliet (not her real name), who works in advertising and has been married 12 years. “It would take a lot of pressure off couples during the early parenthood years if they could just accept that sex is not a huge priority—and that it doesn’t mean the marriage is fucked. Now that our daughter is much older, we make a point to always have sex in the bathroom at every big party we go to. It’s unexpected and hot. We go to more parties in summer, so we have sex more in the summer.”
“Whenever my husband goes out of town for work, he brings back multiple outfits from the sex stores,” says Alice (not her real name), a publicist, married 14 years. “I keep them in my closet in a box marked ‘Insurance.’ A few days a week, after the kids go to sleep, I do a striptease for him to rap music, and then we have sex. It removes a lot of tension from the relationship. The next day, there’s a sweetness between us.”
Infidelity happens. A lot, actually. So does an affair mean the relationship is officially over? Absolutely not, says Perel. “Betrayal runs deep. But it can be healed. They can [actually] jolt into new possibilities. The fact is, the majority of couples who have experienced affairs stay together—some actually turn a crisis into an opportunity.”
Don’t Talk About Everything
You don’t need to know your partner’s every thought, wish, secret, and fantasy. Quite the contrary, in fact. Intimacy and excitement thrive inside iron-clad boundaries. “It would help so many couples to accept that there are things about our partner that we don’t know,” says Perel. “In fact, not knowing your partner like the inside of your pocket is what will preserve the mystery, curiosity, and interest that truly keeps a bond alive.”
Make It Happen, No Matter What
At even the unsexiest of times, sex can be essential. When musician Alexa Wilding’s twin son was in the hospital receiving chemo for days at a time, she saw her husband, Ian—whom she’s been married to for six years—every other day, “after one of us had been in the hospital for 24 hours without sleeping,” she says. “And even though sex was the last thing on our minds, it was essential that we kept having it, being that we were clocking in so many nights apart. We joked that if anything, it kept us warm, feeling that heat between our legs after so many nights of sleeping alone in the dead of winter. For me, feeling even just the physical rush of an orgasm reminded me that I was a sexy, complex, and beautiful woman, not just supermom.”
Look (And Feel) Hot at Home
“We have an awesome sex life,” says photographer Kim Myers Robertson, married 12 years. “Probably because I’m never, ever frumpy at home. I always wear little slips and cute ballet slippers in the house. I do what I can to feel sexy—it keeps the spice in our marriage. I would never hang out at home in sweatpants. The sex never goes away for us. We have really good physical chemistry, even though there are some days that I want to kill him.”
Originally published on vogue.com August 8th, 2016