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4 Ways Couples Unintentionally Sabotage Their Sex Life

A few adjustments can have a powerful positive impact.

Key points

  • Even couples motivated to keep things exciting find that passion can diminish despite their best efforts.
  • Tried and true relationship advice, like tell your partner what you want, is helpful but often not sufficient to keep sex interesting.
  • Here are four points to keep in mind if you feel your sex life needs a lift.

Let’s face it: Maintaining a satisfying sex life over time is one of the great challenges of intimate relationships. It’s a primary reason people avoid commitment, cheat, and over-use porn. Even couples motivated to keep sex hot can find themselves struggling over time. Relationship advice like, “try new things in the bedroom,” “tell your partner what you want,” “schedule sex dates,” and “make sex a priority” are all helpful, but they are sometimes not enough. In fact, any couples who show up in my therapy room are already utilizing these skills. Here are some unintentional mistakes you may be making in the bedroom that take their toll on passion.

You avoid the emotion with the greatest likelihood of ramping up passion

We like to minimize the importance of vulnerability to passion because from an evolutionary perspective, vulnerability is associated with only bad stuff. However, you cannot—I repeat cannot—have passion without it. This is why sex at the beginning of a relationship is usually the hottest. New partners automatically generate vulnerability. What they will say and do, whether they will stay long-term, how they will feel about your body and your sexual style—all this creates a sense of vulnerability, often resulting in super-hot sex. But this vulnerability has a life cycle, because with time your partner becomes known and predictable to you. Keeping sex hot over time means actively cultivating a sense of exposure. This can be challenging, but not impossible, with a partner you know well.

Solution: Step out of your comfort zone. This can mean anything from having sex with your eyes open, masturbating for your partner, bondage play, or even going to a swinger’s club. The trick is finding your sweet spot—not enough vulnerability makes for boring sex, but too much is unpleasant or even scary. Maintain good communication with your partner so that whatever you try remains exciting.

You rely too much on sex tech

Yes, you heard right. Our beloved sex tech, whether it be a vibrator or porn, can for some couples become a slippery slope. Sex tech offers intense sexual pleasure, oftentimes in a way that a human partner cannot duplicate. Sex tech can be a positive addition to your sexual relationships for sure. For example, when you use it to ramp up your desire, and then later bring that energy to your partner. Or when you use it with your partner to add intensity to your sex play. But sex tech can be destructive to your intimate connection if it ultimately limits vulnerability with your partner. In fact, one of the reasons sex tech is popular is that it doesn’t necessarily require us to feel vulnerable in order to enjoy it. As you learned above, vulnerability is a sensation we instinctively avoid, but it’s also a critical aspect of passion. If using sex tech means you show up less with your partner, it may be taking more of a toll on your relationship than you realize. Maybe your orgasm becomes an intimate moment with your vibrator rather than one with your partner. Or you watch so much porn on your own that you have less sexual energy to share with your partner.

Solution: Ask yourself this question—does sex tech make me feel closer to my partner, or less close? If less close is the answer, then the obvious fix is either to cut back on your use of sex tech for a while or engage your partner more fully in your use of it. Ultimately sex tech is there to enhance your sex life. It may just sometimes require some modification to achieve that goal.

You give your conscious mind too much power

Our conscious minds are the critical aspect of our functioning in most of our daily tasks. However, they cause more harm than good between the sheets. Most people agree that great sex happens when we disconnect from our mind’s incessant dialogue. Everything from, “I had too much for dinner,” to, “Do I really feel like doing this right now?” to, “I think I’m taking too long to orgasm,” takes you farther from sexual pleasure. Your brain is ready to offer an unhelpful dialogue because that’s what brains are designed to do: analyze, critique, and ponder. (This is one reason why marijuana is a popular sexual enhancement drug—it can help tune out the thinking brain in favor of sensation). This problem may be increasingly important as we spend more time with technology than ever before. More time with technology means less time in connection with our bodies. Decreased connection to our bodies means decreased or even total lack of awareness of libido and lust.

Solution: Make use of your conscious mind to decide if you want to have sex. If the answer is yes, then refocus yourself on your breath or the sensations in your body. A regular yoga or mediation practice can assist you with this. Don’t take the bait when your brain starts jabbering during sex. Just keep coming back to your breath and let sensation take over.

You avoid the kind of sex you are less good at

Couples know the kind of sex they are best at: loving, tender sex that is more emotionally intense, or a more raw, physically intense form. For sex to stay engaging over time, most couples need both. (Of course there are many ways to have sex, but most can be categorized as more heart-focused or more body-focused). Having only loving sex risks making sex too safe for passion, while only intense sex leads to emotional disconnection. Practicing both types often requires pushing your comfort zone (which makes you feel vulnerable). It is more about the energy you bring into the bedroom than what you do there.

Solution: Identify which energy your sexual relationship is lacking and agree with your partner to practice it. Before sex, either open your heart and feel your love, or watch some porn to stir up more raw desire. Use music, clothing, how you speak before and during sex, and eye contact to create experiences of tenderness or lust. Frankly, both versions will feel vulnerable if you really engage them.

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