Recently I had the chance to see the movie Up in the Air starring George Clooney. Though there were allusions to highly pleasurable and even marginally acrobatic sex in the movie, the part that hinted at the best sex has to offer - and yes, also some of the biggest challenges to passionate sex - surprised even me. It was this line:
"Tonight, millions of people will come home to screaming children, barking dogs. Their spouses will hug them and ask them how their day was. The stars will wheel forth from their daytime hiding places; and one of those lights, slightly brighter than the rest, will be my wingtip passing over."
It was one of those moments where I felt entirely grateful for coming home.
Good sex isn't always complicated. When two people first get together, they may lay around in bed for hours at a time talking, laughing, having sex, kissing, talking, having more sex, day dreaming, making out and maybe even having more sex. Desire, arousal, and passion - well, they're seemingly effortless.
As people stay together longer, good sex tends to become more complicated, at least some of the time. The initial hormonal rush of "lust" does or does not evolve into love and/or friendship. You see more sides of each other, some of which you adore and others that may challenge, bore, anger or disappoint each of you. Tragedy may strike, feelings may get bruised and you may find it difficult to even speak to each other at times, let alone with love.
And yet, many people push on with their love and their sex. Are we monogamous by nature? I don't know. But I do think we like to have someone to come home to - a dog, a roommate, a boyfriend or girlfriend, a spouse, a child, a parent, someone who makes us feel that we are not alone. When it comes to having a romantic partner to come home to, it's worth asking if the person you come home to is someone you yearn to have sex with. If not, why not? Did you ever lust after him or her? Or did the passion get lost in the day to day familiarity with one another?
This familiarity, this loyalty, this being able to count on someone to come home to can drown excitement in its predictability. However, it can also help to make for more pleasurable sex if only you can recognize its value.
You may have fallen into a moment or a year or five of taking your partner for granted as in thinking that he or she would never leave you or cheat on you or fall for someone else. But you know what? People do these things - they leave, physically or emotionally, more often than many of us would like to believe about ourselves or our partners. As such, the fact that so many of us have someone to come home to is nothing short of a miracle.
If you can see that wonderful thing for what it is - that you have someone who loves you, who chooses you, who waits for you and wraps their arms around you and asks you to touch them or smile at them or sit next to them on the sofa, then you may have another chance at love, passion and pleasurable, meaningful sex. Yes, even if you thought your chance, or your chance at passion, was gone.
To stop and notice that you are living with and/or loving a wonderful being who chooses you - and to notice that every day you stay you are choosing them, too - can bring two people closer in love and in sex. In fact, an interesting finding from sex research is that although several aspects of sexual function (orgasm, erectile function, vaginal lubrication, desire) tend to decline with age, sexual satisfaction tends to not change as much. Often, it even improves with age, perhaps because women and men learn to cherish what familiarity brings them: namely, someone to come home to and to count on and who's invested in knowing their bodies and their minds better with each passing year.
So, to make for better love and sex, try to pay attention - and I mean really pay close attention. Try to smile more, to laugh, to take the time to be together whether in bed or on the sofa or sitting together over dinner. You may just find that once you can connect and appreciate each other more, the touching and kissing and more meaningful sex flow right from the heart.
Debby Herbenick, PhD, MPH is a Research Scientist at Indiana University, a sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, and the author of Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction. Her personal blog can be found at MySexProfessor.com. Follow her on Twitter @mysexprofessor