In an ideal world, you and your partner would be getting busy just as often as you did in those blissful few months of the honeymoon phase. But these days, life just keeps getting in the way.
Your job gets stressful as you pursue that promotion. Conflicting schedules mean one of you is always ready to pass out when the other is feeling frisky. One person starts becoming tired of always initiating, while the other gets distracted by their work emails while in bed.
Whatever the reasoning for your lackluster sex life, rest assured that it’s totally normal to go through a dry spell. That said, you don’t have to settle for feeling frustrated or unfulfilled. Regularly making time for intimacy isn’t always so easy in a long-term relationship — and that’s where maintenance sex comes in.
If you’ve never heard of maintenance sex, experts say this strategy could be the key to getting out of that rut and reigniting the spark.
What Is Maintenance Sex?
As the name suggests, maintenance sex refers to making a conscious decision to be physically intimate with your partner with a degree of regularity and consistency. For some couples, this may mean literally penciling sex into their calendars once a week, or making a mental note to get it on at a particular time. The reality is that if you wait to have sex until you’re both magically in the mood at the same time, you may be waiting a very long time. Maintenance sex encourages you to prioritize intimacy as a couple by planning it in advance.
Intimacy behavioral therapist Rebecca Torosian prefers the term “sustaining sex.” In her opinion, an important component of this is sitting down with your partner on a regular basis to talk about your sex lives — what’s working for you, what’s not doing it for you, and what you want more of.
“Let’s bring forth motivation to discuss and explore our sexual needs and desires as an integral part of our daily/weekly interactions with our partners,” she says.
Maintaining an open line of communication is key here because it ensures that if one of you is feeling frustrated or unfulfilled, it doesn’t get swept under the rug and breed resentment. Plus, in exchanging this information with your partner, you can get a better sense of how to help each other get in the mood, which will make it easier to sustain a consistent sex life.
Let’s be clear on one thing, however. Maintenance sex is not an excuse to pressure, guilt, or coerce your partner into having sex with you. Sex always requires enthusiastic consent from both people, which means that it’s always OK to rain check if you have a romp scheduled and you’re just not feeling it for some reason.
How Can Maintenance Sex Help Your Relationship?
Sex-less relationships are surprisingly common — just check out the dismal Reddit community deadbedrooms for proof. And the truth is, all couples go through a rut now and then, especially if they’ve been together for years. That said, connecting on a physical level can obviously play an important role in your overall bond. While there’s no magic number for how often you should be boning your partner (because the ideal frequency can vary significantly from couple to couple depending on their ages, libidos, health, and other factors), one 2017 study pointed to an ideal frequency of once-weekly to keep both partners happy.
The problem for many couples often stems from desire. Once the clothes are off and you’re getting physical, your hormones take over. It’s getting in the mood that can be tricky, especially when each partner has different erotic cues, needs, and expectations for seduction, as well as sex drives.
This is why some couples find it helpful to block off designated time for sex.
“It’s important in any long-term relationship for couples to maintain a sexual routine,” says certified clinical sexologist Dawn Michael. “A routine is perfect because there is no asking or getting rejected and the couple knows when they will be intimate with each other. When there is no consistent time, one person usually will push for it and the other will reject it, leading to hurt feelings. This can set up an out of sync sexual pattern that over time may be hard to fix.”
Who Can Benefit From Maintenance Sex?
Checking in with your partner and asking how they feel about your sex life is the best way to figure out whether maintenance sex is in order. If either or both of you can admit that you wish you could be intimate more frequently, it might be worth making a conscious effort to schedule in sex.
According to Torosian, busy couples with hectic careers can especially benefit from maintenance sex. However, this strategy may prove advantageous to nearly any couple in the time of the coronavirus pandemic.
“As an intimacy behavioral therapist, I have experienced firsthand with my patients the isolating effects from prolonged quarantining and social distancing,” she explains. “Most are already struggling to inhabit their bodies comfortably due to an uptick in many psychological and emotional issues arising from increased anxiety and uncertainty about the future. Therefore, the balm of sustaining sexual activity during this time has the potential to be more soothing and intimate than ever before.”
How Can You Make Maintenance Sex Feel More Romantic?
The term maintenance sex, or even the very idea of it, may sound about as sexy as filing your taxes. That said, experts agree there are definitely ways to amp up the romance so it doesn’t just feel like another thing to check off your to-do list.
“The sex can continue to be fun, especially since you know when you are having it, so you can plan for it to be romantic, or a little more kinky and playful,” says Michael.
If you’re going to choose a designated hour to get busy, she suggests making sure it’s a time when you both can relax and look forward to connecting. For example, if you know that you both won’t have any looming deadlines distracting you on a Saturday morning, that might be a better bet that a Wednesday night after a long workday.
Incorporating novelty into your sex dates is the best way to ensure they always feel exciting. Michael suggests challenging yourselves to have sex in a new location of your home or at a different time of day every week. You could also try a new activity on date night before coming home to (hopefully) tear each other’s clothes off.
“Some couples take turns initiating or playing out a fantasy,” explains Michael. “The idea is to keep it fresh and exciting.”
Want another method? On separate slips of paper, write out all the new things you want to try in the bedroom. Stick them in a jar, and pull out a new one each week. Torosian also notes that partners can take turns surprising the other by occasionally introducing a new sex toy.
“Over time, making these extra efforts at on-going creative sexual play enhances our intimate bonds,” she adds.
All that said, you should never underestimate the importance of making sure you’re both comfortable and relaxed.
“Since an anxious response is often the flip side of arousal, I recommend being kind to one another and taking things slowly,” explains Torosian. “Focusing on affectionate touching, kissing, and cuddling creates desired connection with your partner and may lead to sex, but by relishing each moment, it reduces painful performance anxiety and increases enjoyment.”
While maintenance sex may not be the solution for every couple, you have nothing to lose by making intimacy more of a consistent priority. And maintenance sex doesn’t have to be the only sex you’re having — just think of it as an insurance policy for those weeks when you’re both too drained to seduce each other.
Writes Rebecca Strong