Pop quiz: How long has it been since you and your long-term partner had sex?
a) A billion years; practically prehistoric – the era of the dinosaurs.
b) I try not to think about it – I prefer washing my hair/yoga/flossing to sex.
c) Does sex by myself count?
Let’s get real, sex droughts are common in long-term relationships - indeed they’re normal. And anyone who tells you differently is lying and/or selling something.
Growing up, we’re taught the romantic fantasy of how our sex lives are meant to look - say, non-stop hot sex ala steamy erotic drama, 9 ½ weeks. In reality, once the honeymoon phase is over, you might find sexual incompatibilities flare up, such as differing libidos, wants and desires, and life can just plain get in the way of hot sex.
You might be married with small children, who can easily be classified as the best passion killer known to man; or you might have suffered an illness; be afflicted with work stress; or you and your spouse have just lost that all-important spark and you’re not sure how to get it back.
The good news is you can stoke those fires of passion once more if you’re prepared to work at it. Like other areas of our lives, fantastic sex requires grit, determination and plenty of practice (yay). And studies inevitably show that couples who believe in the power of consciously working on their sex lives enjoy a stronger and more resilient lifelong bond.
Melbourne men’s relationship coach, psychotherapist and qigong teacher Jared Osborne is all for this approach. Jared, who runs Embodying Man, is passionate about educating men on how to harness their sexual vitality for health, potency and improved relationships.
“People can get really caught up in the stress and anxiety of a sexual drought, rather than just taking a step back and realising it happens to everybody,” he says. “That in itself can be a massive help and relief to people. A lot of couples I work with go: “Oh, it’s not just me - it’s not that we’re incompatible, or we’re doing something wrong’.”
So - exhale, pour a wine and pull up a chair - here’s Jared’s wise advice on how to tackle a sex drought.
Don’t take it so seriously
Learn to laugh about it and apply a sense of lightness to the issue. “If you see a sex drought as a problem, it will manifest into just that,” he says. “A far better approach is to see it as a challenge to be met - get excited about what’s on the other side. It’s an adventure - in the normal ebb and flow of relationships, you’ll go through periods of crisis or disconnection and on the other side of that is increased depth. Learn to put it into context. You might feel like you’re never going to have sex again - and I’ve been there - but a sex drought is not the end of the world and you will find your way out it.” Also, try sex toys, role playing and different routines to break up the everyday in order to rediscover your spark, Jared says. Good sex should be fun and funny as fuck (literally), after all.
Create a vision for your relationship
The vicissitudes of fortune see us tackle death, birth and illness - our sex lives are not immune to these extreme life events. “In life, we go through periods of being disconnected with ourselves, for God’s sake,” Jared says. “We can get bored with ourselves, our jobs and our purpose. Out sex lives are no different - what matters is whether we actually take action and do something about it. What is your vision for the relationship? I say to guys ‘if you just want sex, why are you in a relationship?’ Relationships are about much more than sex and they endure many ups and downs, especially if you throw pregnancy, breastfeeding and children into the mix. Sex might be off the table for six-to-nine-months. If you stay true to that really clear vision of a deeper connection and intimacy on the other side, your relationship will get even stronger.”
Be willing to do the hard work
Successful, long-term relationships are built on a willingness to see through the hard times together, such as a dreaded sex drought, Jared says. “Studies on what makes a successful relationship have shown that if you’re prepared to get creative in your partnership and work through those periods of disconnect and crisis - that’s what really makes a relationship great.” NB: Jared warns against jumping ship when faced with a sex drought, for fear of only facing the “same challenges, but of a different flavour,” with a new partner, later down the track. He also stresses the importance of men (and women) not blaming their partners and instead taking responsibility for how they’re contributing to a sexual hiatus. “If you keep coming on really strong to your partner, it can feel really overwhelming, like you’re only interested in sex - like you just want her body, rather than being interested in her as a person and what she’s going through.”
Channel the sexual frustration/energy
Sex droughts are a powerful opportunity for self-development, Jared enthuses. “Do some work on developing your own interests and attractiveness - learn to channel that sexual frustration and energy into other areas of your life, like sport, hobbies, exercise or even your work, if you enjoy it,” he says. In addition, Jared says it’s crucial we don’t see our desires as a problem. “A lot of guys see desire as something that has to be solved and sated really quickly. If you can actually get in touch with desire and own it - desiring someone is one of the most incredibly powerfully alive feelings - you can rewire yourself and learn to channel that energy and desire into something different, which will only benefit both yourself and your relationship.” What’s more, exercise and working up a sweat is just one great way to get a good dopamine hit when you’re sex-starved, Jared says. Sure, it’s not the same, but it may help to scratch that itch.
Good connection is everything
Guys, look at this recent horrific example of how not to communicate in a relationship when experiencing intimacy issues - the episode of TV ratings hit Married At First Sight, when evil Anthony labelled his new “wife” as being “frigid” on national TV. “Calling someone frigid is definitely not the right approach,” Jared says, laughing. “Good sex comes from great connection - connection doesn’t come from sex - and good communication is a vitally important part of this.” Jared also urges couples to get real and stop buying into unrealistic sexual ideals. So, guys that means letting go of your porn addictions, and girls, that means losing your Disney obsession, fast! “My advice to couples is to really focus on the connection, rather than just focusing on sex. If sex isn’t happening, look at what else is up - check that your partner is feeling truly desired and loved. If there’s a really good connection, then sex will happen. And messy, complex people are far sexier and more interesting than Hollywood ideals.”
Jared’s bonus lovemaking tip: do your homework, via sexy reading to get you in the boudoir. Check out The Five Love Languages and Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships.