One of the joys of children growing up and leaving home is more between-the-sheets time – no sleepless nights worrying our teens will make it home safely from that party, or in the early years, listening for little footsteps outside the bedroom door.
So why, instead of lighting candles and getting in the mood, are we talking about putting the bins out? Why, when we have more time to devote to our relationship than we have for years, are we wondering why our libido has gone AWOL?
“I spend a lot of my time reassuring clients that these feelings are completely normal,” says couples counsellor and psychosexual therapist Denise Knowles.
“In a long-term relationship, it’s no surprise that we slip into routines – not just around domesticity but also our sex lives.”
But, according to the experts, this is a time of opportunity – not just to reclaim our relationship but also take it to new levels of sexual satisfaction.
1. Find your love language
People show love in five main ways, says self-confidence expert and relationship coach Ben Edwards – with gifts, words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of devotion and quality time.
“Think about what makes you feel loved and communicate it to your partner.” And remember that he may need to be shown love from you in a different way too –consider what he likes, not what would make you feel good.
2. Start small
“When our intimate relationship has gone off the boil, we may withdraw completely from physical contact because we fear it creates an expectation of sex,” says Denise. She suggests introducing a sense of connectedness without pressure to take it further.
Hold hands, kiss on the lips instead of pecking each other on the cheek, cuddle on the sofa.
3. Let’s talk about sex
Amidst the hubbub of work and home life, it’s entirely probable that the two of you have got this far without ever really talking about sex. It’s time to be brave and talk the talk. The point is not to lay blame but to begin a discussion.
And if that’s difficult, you may want to consider seeing a therapist who can help you navigate the conversation. Listen to what’s really being said.
“We can often jump ahead and think we know what our partner is saying, or misinterpret their message, then resentment and misunderstandings can fester,” explains Ben.
4. Get connected
Feeling connected is key – and different people find it in different ways.
“If a woman feels undervalued by her partner, she may resent his advances, thinking, ‘Why does he want sex if we’re not even talking?’ However, many men feel more connected after they’ve been intimate,” explains Emily Power Smith, a clinical sexologist who provides sex-positive education, coaching and therapy.
She suggests asking yourself what you need to feel connected – it may be sharing interests outside of the bedroom to deepen your relationship.
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5. Put date night in the diary
Committing to time together shows you’re not ready to let your relationship drift and can reawaken a sense of excitement about the person you’ve seen first thing in the morning and last thing at night for donkey’s years!
“A date night can also be a great way to get some of your sexual mojo back,” says Ben. “When you’ve both taken care to dress up for your date, it sends a signal to your partner that you want to attract them – a great way to reboot your love life.”
6. The power of self-love
Research shows that women who masturbate regularly have a higher libido than those who don’t.
“It keeps you closer to the simmer,” explains Emily Power Smith. Knowing how to pleasure yourself can make you more responsive to your partner, or proactive about initiating sex.
7. Accept that sex changes
“Our tastes in food, wine and holiday destinations change as we get older, so it’s no surprise that we may want to try different ways of enjoying intimacy, too,” says Emily.
Rather than surprising our partner with a sudden interest in bondage, she suggests reminiscing about sexual moments you’ve enjoyed and whether they’d work for you now. And if not, what you might try instead.
8. Go back to move forward
“The passion doesn’t have to fade in long-term relationships but it can become buried,” says Ben. He advises looking back to the early days – what attracted you to each other and what activities did you enjoy together?
“In the first flush of romance, we dress up for our partner, and treat them with love and respect.”
Try putting some of that energy back into your relationship. Getting off the sofa to kiss your partner hello when they walk in the door shows you’re glad to see them.
9. Do the ‘double glide’
Hormonal changes can cause vaginal dryness, particularly after menopause. And the lack of lubrication can make penetrative sex more painful.
A lubricant can really help but choose a chemical-and sugar-free product. Emily advises the “double glide” technique, which combines water-based and oil-based products for the best experience.
Start by applying an oil-based lube to your partner. Then generously cover the entrance and inside of your vagina with a water-based lube. The water-based product slides over the waterproof oil-based lube, increasing the degree and duration of the ‘slide’.