A little while ago, I asked a bunch of men in my practice: “How do you romance a woman?” They answered very similarly with things like: “Tell her she’s beautiful or sexy; wine and dine her; buy her gifts; take her on a vacation; bring her flowers for no reason.” 

However, when I asked a bunch of women in my practice the question: “How should your man romance you?” They didn’t say those things. Instead, they answered with things like, “Clean up without me asking; take the kids so I can sleep in late but not make me feel bad about it or make me do the same for him the next day; listen better; put down his phone when we’re together; do something for me that I don’t have to plan at all; and tell me how much he appreciates me more often (with specifics).”

This was pretty interesting: Men didn’t seem to have a good idea about how to romance women.

So, then I asked these men, “How should your woman romance you?” The answers were mostly things like: “wear something sexy, flirt, sext, and initiate sex.” When I asked women, “How do you romance a man?” they answered: “Be sexy, flirt, let him know you want to have sex.” Although it seemed like good news that they had similar answers, when I then asked these women, “How often do you actually do these things?” I mainly got giggles and abashed grins as they told me, “Not very much.” 

Women seemed to have a good idea about how to romance men, they just weren’t doing it!

These simple questions can give you lots of answers into why your sex life has diminished over the last few years. When I say diminished, I don’t just mean with how often you have sex. I’m also talking about how hot the actual sex is. 

Men forget that women need to be romanced differently than they do so don’t do the right things to get their woman interested. Women seem to know what men want but don’t actually give it to them. What’s with this big disconnect? 

It tends to boil down to this simple fact: 

Men like to have sex to feel close, and women need to feel close to want sex.

Men, my message to you is this: every, single, positive thing you do in your relationship is foreplay. Making your own dentist appointment? Foreplay. Remembering little Johnny’s cleats and bringing him to practice without her reminding you? Foreplay. Coming home and hugging her, looking her in the eyes and saying, “I love you so much”? Foreplay. Turning down the volume on the game and giving her your full attention? Foreplay. 

Women, my message to you is this: Taking charge of your sexuality and make your sexual relationship one of your top priorities, not something at the end of your to-do list. 

Sex and physical intimacy are a big deal in relationships because it’s the one thing that we share with our partner that we don’t share with anyone else. Your sex life is a special zone that’s just between the two of you and it’s one of the key ingredients to being a couple, versus being roommates. (I’m not talking to open marriages and polyamorous couples since I’m assuming you already have plenty of sizzle, so you can stop listening to me and go back to having sex on the kitchen table). 

Before we dive into the research and what to do, let’s talk about how you got here. Why did your sex life get off track?

There are five main reasons I see when I talk to couples:

1. When you were first together you were putting your best-self first: Legs were always shaved, you cared if you smelled and you took time to put yourself together and be attractive. As time goes on, you get comfy and all those things go out the window. Hence, having that erotic steaminess goes out the window. If you aint got mystery, you aint got sizzle. 

2. You assume that it will! You assume that marriage is supposed to be a downward slide and it’ll just get worse and worse. This assumption leads to a permission and comfortability with sex going out the window that shouldn’t be there!

3. You’ve confused comforting with comfortable. Comforting in a marriage is awesome – being overly comfortable can be a problem. Comforting is knowing that the other person has your back no matter what. Comforting is snuggling up on a cold night and feeling warm and safe together. However, being too comfortable in a marriage is an issue. You leave the bathroom door open, think it’s funny to fart in front of your partner, ask your partner to look at that mole on your neck, wear ratty sweatpants from college, go all winter without waxing anything, hit the gym and decide not to shower and flop into bed because you’re tired. Where has the mystery gone? 

4. You think that all this comfortableness is the same as intimacy. Hey, we’ve been together a long time – that’s the best part – you get to relax! No. Your partner always deserves your thoughtfulness and attention. It’s not thoughtful or attentive to throw your hair in a pony tail and wear those same yoga pants every single day. It’s not thoughtful or attentive to not turn on the fan if you’ve taken a big dump or to pick your nose in front of your partner. Intimacy is about vulnerability and emotional closeness, not just relaxing around another person. I want you to be emotionally relaxed, of course, but that doesn’t need to translate to scratching your balls while you’re having a conversation. Would you have done that on the first date? Really?

5. Kids happened. There’s not much sexy about having children. Yes, you had to have sex to have them, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything sexy going on after that. When you find the person you want to marry, that person becomes your primary person. Your relationship with that person becomes the center from which you build your life. When you have a kid, however, they become the center which means your partner gets usurped.

What also happens with kids, especially babies, is a lot of physical closeness. Even if there’s no breastfeeding, there’s much kissing, holding, snuggling, hugging, squeezing and basically being all over this little person. This kind of physical closeness, especially for women in my experience, can take the place of the physical closeness you had with your partner. As a matter of fact, if you’ve had a kid hanging off your body all day, the last thing you want is another person trying to hang off your body at night. 

So, what’s a couple to do? 

In their book, The Normal Bar, researchers Chrisanna Northrup, Pepper Schwartz, and James Witte, completed a huge survey of over 70,000 people in 24 countries, in their quest to find out what couples with a great sex life were doing. What they found is that couples who are rocking it in the bedroom (and on the kitchen counter) are doing the following:

  • Have make out sessions and kiss each other passionately (another German study found that men who kiss their wives every day live five years longer than the men who didn’t)
  • Kiss and touch passionately, but non-erotically, every day (even in public)
  • Cuddle together non-sexually
  • Say “I love you” and mean it every day. 
  • Give surprise romantic gifts
  • Keep playing and having fun together
  • Make sex a priority, not the last item of a long to-do list
  • Talk comfortably about their sex life
  • Have dates and take romantic vacations
  • Overall, they’re mindful about turning toward one another and giving one another their attention

There have also been studies saying what “not to do” if you want to maintain a good sexual connection. 

The Sloan Center at UCLA studied couples where both worked and also had young children. What they found in couples without a good sex life were the following: 

  1. They spent very little time together overall
  2. The men tended to be job-centered while the women tended to be child-centered
  3. They talked a LOT about their enormous to-do lists
  4. Made everything else a priority instead of their relationship
  5. Basically had become roommates leading parallel lives 

When I look at the couples I work with who aren’t connected sexually, these five traits are always there in one form or another. And they’re there whether or not they have young children and even if only one person works. 

Now, people reporting a “good sex life” is different than people reporting a hot or erotic sex life and I want to make sure we cover both today. This is something relationship expert, Esther Perel, is known for. In her book, Mating in Captivity, she notes that becoming more comfortable and stable in your relationship, is the very thing that makes having an erotic sexual encounter with your partner more difficult. 

She argues (and I think correctly) that erotic energy feeds on newness and novelty. Once your relationship is past that early honeymoon phase, it often becomes predictable and expected which leads to boredom in the bedroom. She explains this as the battle between domesticity and eroticism.

To feel uninhibited desire, you need a little distance, secrets, mystery and even some anonymity. It’s not hard to see how all this intimacy and closeness in our relationship can get in the way of that. 

What’s the answer then to having an intimate and close relationship that also has sizzle?

You’ve got to do three things. 

  1. You want to find ways to create some healthy distance in your relationship. 
  2. You want to be conscious about bringing novelty or newness into your relationship. 
  3. You’ve got to make your sexual relationship a priority and not last on a to-do list at the end of a long day. 

With those things in mind, along with the other research out there and my own work with couples, here are some of my top tips for creating a hot and happy sex life:

Tip #1: Don’t be Overly Familiar

  1. Shut the door! All that goes on with sharing a home and life leads to a lot of overfamiliarity. This overfamiliarity makes it hard to keep physical intimacy fresh and fun. I want you to make sure to keep some things private. Need to pee? Close the damn bathroom door! Need to fart? Leave the room. Have some weird skin tag on your inner thigh? Show it to your best friend or your doctor, not your partner. 
  1. Another way not to be overly familiar is to stop undressing in front of one another. That’s right – make it special. If you do undress in front of your partner, make it a show. Think of good naked and bad naked. Good naked is sexy peaks, keeping it special and being aware of what you look like in front of your partner. Bad naked is overfamiliarity, not caring anymore and any position that looks like your pooping. Stay away from bad naked. 

Tip #2: Pay Attention

  1. When your partner walks in the house, stop whatever you’re doing and physically go greet them at the door. Give them a kiss or hug (or both) and welcome them home. Make eye contact and be intentional with having them feel the love and happiness you feel that they’re home. 
  1. Check your partner out and let them know it. If your partner walks into a room, stop what you’re doing and watch them. Notice his broad shoulders, notice how good she looks in that skirt. Notice your partner’s eyes. Consciously think of your partner in a more sexual way, more often. This is not about having a perfect body. This is about appreciating and noticing different aspects of your partner. 
  1. If your partner asks you a question or speaks to you, stop what you’re doing and give them your full attention. Put down your phone, turn down the volume on the TV, look up from your computer and stop typing. Full. Attention. It only takes a minute. 

Tip #3: Touch without Sex

Focus on touching your partner often. Maybe every time you touch your phone, make sure you also touch your partner. When they enter or leave the room, touch or kiss them. As they walk by, touch them. 

Do all this without it leading to sex. It doesn’t mean the kisses and touches shouldn’t be hot and passionate, it just means it can’t always be with the intention of getting to the bedroom. This is all about the foreplay and build up. Even think of giving a massage without it going anywhere else. Just be sexual in the moment, without actual sex. 

Tip #4: Get Some Distance

Keep up your outside relationships. Have a gal or guy’s weekend away from your partner, have separate hobbies, and don’t do everything together. This does not mean have parallel lives – there needs to be places you connect, but there should also be places that are private and where you disconnect for a bit and just be you.

Tip #5: Every Positive Thing You do in Your Relationship is Foreplay

Think back to where we started today. You’ve got to think about sex way before you get to the bedroom. 

For you men out there, remember that it’s what you do all day that primes your woman for trusting you and being hot later. It’s not about the grand gestures for her – it’s all those little connections and “romances” all day. 

For the women out there, get naked and bring a pizza. Just kidding (well, sort of). Take charge of your sexual relationship. Don’t wait on him. Plan a lunchtime rendezvous, climb in the back of the minivan together after soccer drop off, drop your pants near the dryer. Do not wait until the end of the day when you’re exhausted. Make sex with your man a priority and think of it often.