There’s no time of year like the beginning of January to prompt a re-assessment of our habits and impassioned resolutions to “better ourselves” – and it’s a new decade, no less. While the majority of us are out signing up for that shiny new gym membership, many of us may also be evaluating our relationships and sex lives. If you want to start off your new year with a bang in the bedroom – and actually create sustainable intimacy that lasts throughout the year (unlike that January 1st Gym Membership that never seems to stick), follow these tips.
Author’s Note: I know we all like to find a magic solution, to read a list of tips and suddenly hope to find an epiphany that changes your relationship. In writing this, I urge you to remember that the most important part of actually creating sustainable, long-lasting, and deeply passionate intimacy in your relationship with your partner is about shifting your mindset about what is possible – to break through any limiting blocks of what you thought was possible before and change your mind about what intimacy can look like in your relationship – which will then result in a change in intention and effort towards your relationship.
Here are 4 of the most common mistakes that couples make around their intimacy. If you read these mistakes or mindsets and find that you identify with one or more of them, don’t interpret this as a source of shame or failure – rather, remember that these are very common mindsets that couples fall into, take them as learnings, and begin making a plan to intentionally shift your effort in your relationship.
Mistake #1: Believing that desire should be spontaneous for both partners.
In believing that desire should be spontaneous for both partners at the same time, couples are setting themselves up for failure. There is no “perfect” time for sex to happen, and, in fact, it is quite normal for partners to have differing levels of libido. You may find, in your relationship, that one partner may always have a more spontaneous, or active, arousal pattern, while the other partner may find themselves with a more “reactive” arousal pattern – that is, they require a little convincing from the active partner to get into the mood. Life situations can also flip this desire dynamic, and both partners may suddenly find themselves on opposite ends of the spectrum.
Desire naturally fluctuates, and when you factor in career, kids, family, health, and other issues, the chances of a “perfect” time for sex become slim to none.
Mistake #2: Believing that scheduling sex is not “sexy”.
Many of my couples resist the idea that scheduling sex can be sexy; the prevailing idea seems to be that sex should be spontaneous. Scheduling sex “takes the fun out of it”, and for overworked, over-touched mothers I’ve spoken with, scheduling sex can actually be a source of dread and pressure.
In fact, the opposite is true. Scheduling sex or intimacy is possible. Having an intimate appointment with your partner allows you to build anticipation and arousal. Get flirty. Talk about what you’ll do to each other. If you are feeling pressured to get in the mood in the moment, focus instead on getting present with each other. Focus on connecting using your 5 senses, using intimate touch and massage instead, without the goal necessarily being sexual. And if you are in a situation where penetrative sex seems too stressful, reframe and expand your definition of sexual intimacy.
Mistake #3: Forgetting that sex requires effort.
Mistakes #1 and #2 result most frequently from the core idea that sex should be effortless. One of the most common lamentations I hear from couples is that sex and intimacy were effortless at the beginning of their relationships, and that they wish they could simply go back to that time. I explain to those couples that the beginning of a relationship requires a significant amount of effort and work. The difference is, this effort doesn’t feel like work.
Think of all the time you spent at the beginning of your relationship: over-thinking every word you said to your significant other, the hours spent prepping, agonizing in the moments between your next interaction. You may call it the honeymoon period, but science has proven that our brains actually create a “love cocktail” of chemicals that lead to us feeling infatuated with our partners. That love cocktail makes it easier to forget just how much effort we are putting into creating this bond with our partners. Another reason new relationships feel especially exciting is the aspect of mystery. Couples begin to fall into patterns as their relationship ages; they become bored, and worry that there is nothing left to discover when they are merely repeating what is familiar. Thankfully, it is possible to break these patterns and re-create that excitement and newness of discovery in your intimate life.
Mistake #4: Isolating yourself instead of communicating when you are feeling insecure about the amount of intimacy in your relationship.
Sexual satisfaction and healthy couple communication have repeatedly been found as two of the most important predictors of relationship satisfaction. One of the worst mistakes a couple can make is to isolate themselves when it comes to intimacy issues. Ignoring the elephant in the corner of the bedroom doesn’t make it go away; neither does working on other issues in the relationship and expecting the bedroom issues to resolve themselves “naturally.”
Remember, you’re a team. It takes two to tango, both inside and outside of the bedroom. Isolating yourself with your worries about your relationship issues is only proven to let shame, resentment, and insecurities fester; instead, by talking with your partner and facing the issue head-on, you can create healthy and sustainable intimate habits. While this is a subject for another article, one piece of advice I can give to start this conversation is to frame your desires positively and focus on the goal of healthy intimacy, instead of framing your desires as a complaint. “I miss the intimacy we shared, and I want to work with you to get back to where we were. How can we work together?” helps start the conversation on a solutions-oriented note.
Whether you have historically found yourself making one or all of the above mistakes, the good news is, you can turn your intimacy around very easily; it all requires what I like to call “Intentional Intimacy.” Use the following three tips to begin breaking your usual intimate patterns and inject new intimate passion into your relationship.
Intentional Intimacy Tip #1: Start kissing your partner regularly.
You may just think of it as “First Base,” but making out is one of the most underrated, easiest, low-effort ways to rekindle playful passion in your relationship. In a 2016 study of over 38,000 individuals in long-term relationships, among couples who love having sex with their partners, 85% of them reported kissing passionately. Compare that to the 76% of those who reported being very dissatisfied with their sex life and said their normal never includes passionate kissing!
Intentional Intimacy Tip #2: Intentionally prioritize your intimacy – schedule it into your calendar, if you have to.
One of the biggest complaints I hear from clients is that “I don’t have time for intimacy.” This may be difficult to read, but time allocation is a choice. Even if you only have 5-to-10 minutes in the morning or evening right when you wake up or right before bed, it is possible to make time for intimacy. I highly recommend making time to connect intimately outside of the bedroom, as well — it’s been proven to build trust and build erotic energy. Set intentions and work on creating new habits. Schedule intimacy and sex appointments with your partner. Set time to put your phone down and interact with your partner. Set reminders to text your partner what you appreciate about them. Do one small thing for your partner every day. Actively listen to your partner when they speak. Kiss your partner at the door when they come home, as Dr. Medcalf recommends.
Intentionally prioritizing intimacy takes conscious effort, but it leads to the largest reward for your relationship. Studies show that couples often start to take each other for granted, which leads to a lack of spontaneous affection and affirmations. Begin building intimacy into your life as a habit, much like brushing your teeth. Put a reminder into your phone if you need a reminder; it takes 21 days to build a new habit.
Intentional Intimacy Tip #3: Play games to spark the erotic energy.
Getting playful is a fantastic way to fan the flames outside of the bedroom – and it makes intimacy easier to discuss. There’s nothing like the power of laughter to dispel tension, and the same works for the bedroom as well. Even something as easy as adding rules and rewards/ “funishments” to chores is a great way to add an erotic element to mundane housework. (If hubby doesn’t have the trash out by 5:01 on Friday afternoon, he has to spend 2 days as your pleasure slave. Agree on rewards and “funishments” beforehand, and have fun with it!) Sexting or even using coded words in conversation can help you build playful anticipation for some bedroom fun.
Even playful public displays of affection, such as a pinch of the butt, can help you maintain your flirtatious energy. Research suggests that nearly 50% of couples in relationships around the 10 year mark never display their affection publicly – but PDA even as small as a hug has been shown to help spark erotic energy between those partners.
My name is Candice Smith and I am a sex and intimacy expert and founder of Tango. As someone who was in a sexless relationship for years myself, I know how difficult it can be to start the conversation about intimacy with your partner. So I created Tango — the first sexual subscription box bringing playful passion into the bedroom with guided games for couples to explore and communicate about intimacy! You can think of it like a “HelloFresh” for the bedroom.
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Since couples who talk about sex have better sex, Tango helps you start the conversation with guided and approachable games. Since launch out of beta in February 2019, Tango has helped hundreds of couples deepen their intimacy and been featured in Forbes, mindbodygreen, Oprah Mag, and more. Since you’re reading this article, I’d love to help you spark the conversation with your partner — simply visit www.tango.love and enter your email address to receive a free Tango game to use tonight.
From reading this article, I hope you can see that it truly doesn’t take much effort to begin creating and sustaining a playfully passionate sex life – it simply takes a bit of intention. Here’s to a new year and a new you in the bedroom.
Frederick D.A., Lever, J, Gillespie BJ, & Garcia JR. (2017). What Keeps Passion Alive? Sexual Satisfaction Is Associated With Sexual Communication, Mood Setting, Sexual Variety, Oral Sex, Orgasm, and Sex Frequency in a National U.S. Study. Journal of Sex Research.
Khoury, C. B., & Findlay, B. M. (2014). What makes for good sex? The associations among attachment style, inhibited communication and sexual satisfaction. Journal of Relationships Research.
Montesi, J. L., Fauber, R. L., Gordon, E. A., & Heimberg, R. G. (2011). The specific importance of communicating about sex to couples’ sexual and overall relationship satisfaction. Journal of Social & Personal Relationships, 28(5), 591-609.
Northrup, Chrisanna. The Normal Bar. Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale. Yoo, H., Bartle-Haring, S., Day, R. D., & Gangamma, R. (2014). Couple communication, emotional and sexual intimacy, and relationship satisfaction. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 40(4), 275-293.