So we’re not having sex as much as we were a decade ago. But experts say this might not be a huge problem. And even if it is, there’s plenty you can do to keep the lust alive in your relationship.
Do we need to worry if we’re having sex less frequently than we once did?
Much has been made of the recent study suggesting Australians are having sex less frequently than they were a decade ago – down from 1.8 to 1.4 times a week. Researchers have suggested we might be too busy, tired, stressed or distracted by electronic devices to make sex a priority.
Nonetheless, the vast majority of the 20,000 people interviewed for the Australian Study of Health and Relationships reported they were physically and emotionally satisfied by their sex lives. And sex therapist and relationship counsellor Desiree Spierings says as long as both partners are happy, frequency of sex shouldn’t be an issue.
“Low sexual desire is not a problem if you both have the same level of low libido… you can reach a hundred years without sex,” Spierings says.
“Most commonly you see people really struggling when it’s a mismatch of libidos,” she explains.
When you’re in a new relationship, you tend not to see any flaws in your new partner; you want to spend all your time with them and spend much of that time having sex.
“But with familiarity, and the more time you spend with one another, hormones tend to decrease and you start to see them for who they really are.”
Libido usually “settles down” for both partners in a long-term relationship, but sometimes the degree of settling isn’t always perfectly matched, and this can create problems.
And when things aren’t great in the bedroom, it’s easy to think it’s the relationship and not your approach to your sex life that’s to blame.
This can lead to needless breakups – and the family upheavals that go with them, says Dr Margaret Redelman, NSW president of the Society of Australian Sexologists.
If you want better sex, and in turn a better relationship, Redelman and Spierings suggest putting some effort into your sex life and trying to keep the following in mind:
Good sex takes work
“You can’t expect to have fantastic sex in a long term relationship if you don’t work at it. I don’t mean slogging and sweating. By working at it I mean you have to give it some thought and know what conditions make good sex for yourself and your partner,” says Redelman.
“You need to create variety because boredom and monotony kill sex drive. And you need to look after yourself because if you don’t brush your teeth, and you put on 40 kilos and your bedroom looks like a pig sty, it’s not going to work very well.”
Not everyone loves intercourse equally
Research suggests at least 70 per cent of women do not get enough stimulation to reach orgasm during intercourse. While learning new ways to provide extra stimulation might change this, too much focus on intercourse can be damaging, Redelman says. Instead, she says women who find intercourse is merely “a warm cup of tea experience”, can learn to savour the enjoyment of “knowing [your partner] is getting a lot of pleasure doing it with you. Make intercourse just one aspect of your love making. Include aspects that are just for him, just for her and that are enjoyed together. You don’t have to each enjoy each aspect to the same degree.”
Focus on why you want to have sex
Spierings agrees everyone has different reasons to have sex. So even if you don’t feel strong desire for your partner, that doesn’t mean you can’t get motivated. Other reasons for having sex that she’s come across include wanting to fall pregnant, feeling alive and happy after the experience, feeling closer to your partner afterwards, and even enjoying the health benefits of a healthy sex life.
It’s not all about genitals
It is ‘well proven’ that your brain can learn to interpret touch to parts of your body – other than the genitals – in a sexual way, Redelman says. These body parts could include the small of your back, the back of your neck, your ears, and your nose. “It’s potentially possible to have your elbow stimulated and have an orgasm. It would be hard work, but I think you could do it.”
Expect the unexpected
Investing in educating yourself about sex is vital, Redelman believes. She says books and websites can be very helpful for those who can’t afford personalised help from a therapist. “Most people are very poorly sexually educated. We expect that sex will be like when we were 20 and we first met our partner. We are not prepared for life changes: what happens as we get older, get constipated, arthritis, cancer, lose a breast, promoted, demoted, and have kids.”
A healthy approach to sex needs to start young
Redelman says learning a healthier attitude to sex in adulthood can be difficult because beliefs may be too entrenched to change. “Sex education needs to start in preschool,” she argues. “We need to start talking early about what happens and what you need to happen for it to be good. I ask people ‘what would you rather your parents taught you? How to eat nicely with cutlery or how to have a good orgasm?'”
Sex can be intimate or erotic, but don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself. If it is neither of these, remember it can always be playful, Spierings says.
And think about what worked during your honeymoon phase that you haven’t done for a while. But there is always room for something new: a new position, location, outfit or a striptease. Be creative!