One of the best pieces of advice I received before I got married this past summer was that even the strongest relationships are full of highs and lows, so try not to catastrophize the moments when you feel less connected sexually; it will come back around. At the time I was like, ‘My husband and I have absolutely no issue keeping the fire alive, thank you very much.’” And then, well, life happened. A few months after our wedding, I took on a big new work contract (in addition to the two jobs I already have), we got another puppy and began some backyard renovations all at the same time. Naturally, these changes overwhelmed much of our lives, including our bedroom habits (sorry, honey).
Despite the aforementioned advice about not panicking during the dips in getting down, I couldn’t help but feel a little down about our sudden drop in intimacy. As we do, I immediately went to my girlfriends to ask if they’d ever experienced this issue with their relationships. Their response? A resounding, FUCK YES. It made me feel a lot better to know I wasn’t alone, but it made me curious about these sex ruts: Why do they happen? And how can we turn them around faster?
Dr. Sarah Murray, a Winnipeg-based couples’ therapist and human sexuality PhD, related the ups and downs between the sheets in terms I (a gym junkie and personal trainer) can connect with: fitness habits. “Just as our eating habits and exercise routines fluctuate throughout life, so do our sex lives,” she says. “It’s incredibly common for couples to experience a sex drought at some point—if not several points—throughout their relationship.” At any given time, nearly 15 per cent of married couples haven’t had sex for three months and almost 10 per cent admit that it’s been over a year. Murray says the most important thing when experiencing a “slump” is not to panic. “We don’t want to sound the alarm bells just because it’s been a little longer between sexual encounters or the last couple of times we had sex haven’t set off fireworks.”
The first order of business, according to Murray, is to distinguish the reason behind the sexy-time recession. For my hubz and me, it was very clearly an issue of extraneous circumstances. The minute those distractions settled down, the issue resolved itself. For others, the issue could stem from an emotional place. Murray explains: “I see a lot of couples where their sex life is suffering because of other dynamics in their relationship. It’s hard to have good or frequent sex when we are feeling emotionally disconnected, fighting constantly or feeling like a low priority to our partner.”
Once the cause is determined, the next step is often the most uncomfortable to initiate: Have a good old-fashioned conversation about it. “It’s easier to let things continue down the dry-spell road by avoiding the tough conversation,” says Murray. “But it’s difficult to change things without having a frank conversation with your partner about how your sex life could use a little more attention and effort.”
When things started slowing down in our marriage, I assumed my man was content with, or rather oblivious to, our dip in doing the deed. The minute we opened the conversation, I realized that we both felt dissatisfied and more importantly both wanted to fix it. Murray agrees that it’s these types of assumptions that can drag out the drought. But talking about it is not just about getting on the same page; it’s also important to re-discover what turns each other on. “It’s amazing how often we hold misperceptions or don’t keep up with our own, or our partner’s, changing desires and preferences.” Maybe you used to get in the mood at night but now would prefer morning quickies. Perhaps you used to love oral sex but aren’t as into it anymore. Did you used to laugh about dirty talk but now would appreciate a little verbal encouragement? Tell your partner! “Talk about the new things you like,” says Murray. “Positive reinforcement makes your partner feel more confident to please you, and conversations about what we like sexually can put us in the mood for a sexual romp!” That’s a win, win, if you ask me.
Then it comes down to setting ourselves up for sexual success, and that often means making some small lifestyle changes. “Essentially, we want to ask ourselves, ‘What would make me want to have more sex?’ And then start making the changes to make that happen,” explains Murray. So, if morning snogs are your jam now, start setting your alarm a bit earlier than usual. If dirty talk is what you’re into, start sending sexy messages throughout the day. If all the daily chores have you stressed out (which a whopping 62 per cent of women say is highly linked to their marital dissatisfaction), make a point of divvying up the housework between you. All of these small tweaks will lead to more opportunities for the big “O.”
And if that doesn’t work, Murray highlights another fun way to re-discover your desire: Go back to the scene of the crime, so to speak. “Perhaps the slump is because some of the context that used to surround good sex at earlier stages of the relationship, like flirting, longer foreplay and romance, aren’t happening as much now,” she says. To do that, retrace your steps back to the sexiest time in your relationship and recreate some of those scenarios, says Murray, even if it’s heading back to that favourite mood-lit restaurant or having a hot makeout on the couch, sans TV. (There’s really nothing like a good makeout, amirite?)
The moral of the story: It’s OK to ride out the lows, but with a conversation and a few small tweaks, you could be checking your sex rut outside the bedroom door.