What's Your Sexual Style?

How a couple can share desire, pleasure, and satisfaction.

Enhancing and Maintaining Sexual Attraction

How can you nurture and reinforce the desire in your relationship?

Magazines and blogs often promise that you can revitalize passion and regain irresistible sexual attraction in your relationship. In reality, these claims set you and your partner up for sexual failure. The romantic love/passionate sex/idealized couple phase of a relationship typically lasts between 6 months and 2 years. It is usually gone by the time you have cohabitated for a year or are married—and that’s perfectly natural.

 It is possible and worthwhile to enhance and reinforce sexual attraction and desire. However, you cannot return to the “magical sex” phase of your early relationship. Healthy couple sexuality in a married or serious relationship integrates intimacy, pleasuring, eroticism, and satisfaction. This is not the stuff of romantic movies, but attraction and sexuality can remain alive, vital, and satisfying for real-life couples.

The following exercise from Sexual Awareness: Your Guide to Healthy Couple Sexuality is a psychosexual skill exercise designed to enhance and reinforce attraction. Take turns saying what each partner finds attractive about the other, and then make 1-3 specific requests to enhance attraction. Take the initiative and tell your partner all the psychological, physical, emotional, relational, and interpersonal qualities about him that you genuinely find attractive. For example, you could express how much you love when he holds you, how sexy you find her legs, how lucky you feel to be married to such a loving father when he gives his full attention to each child, how much you admired how attentive she was to her aunt as she was in the process of passing away, etc. Your feedback must be genuine so it is received as a meaningful disclosure, not minimized or shrugged off.

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The second phase of the attraction exercise involves making 1 to 3 requests of your partner that would increase your attraction. Importantly, these need to be requests, not demands. Your partner has a right to accept, modify, or say no and should not be afraid of your reaction. A crucial concept for both men and women to embrace is that you have the power to say no to a sexual request. You cannot say yes to sex unless you are free to say no. This gives you the freedom to embrace healthy couple sexual desire.

Examples of psychological, relational, physical, or sexual requests include asking your partner to be sure to brush her teeth before prolonged kissing, asking him to join you on a walk at least 3 days a week, asking to plan to go to breakfast the morning after returning from a business trip to emotionally reconnect, or asking her to stroke your hair or scratch your back during oral sex so you both feel connected.

Remember, the focus of the attraction exercise is to enhance and reinforce sexual desire, not to prove anything to your partner or yourself. Later on, change roles so your partner gets the chance to tell you what is attractive about you psychologically, physically, emotionally, relationally, sexually, and interpersonally. Be sure to be receptive to their subsequent requests to enhance attraction. The key is to be genuine rather than have a “tit for tat” exchange. Accept each other as a real-life partner; do not compare him or her to a model or porn star. How can you as a couple nurture and reinforce the desire in your relationship? You owe it to yourself and your relationship to maintain a vital and satisfying level of attraction. This kind of realistic sexuality energizes your bond and reinforces feelings of desire and desirability.

Barry W. McCarthy, Ph.D., is a tenured professor of psychology at American University and a best-selling author.

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