This article is part of SELF’s Keep It Hot package, a collection of content that celebrates love and lust. Throughout February, we’ll be dishing out advice and inspiration for feeling hot, getting horny, and nurturing romantic relationships.
In any long-term relationship, there are going to be times when sex isn’t as frequent as it once was—it happens! And it happens for all kinds of reasons. Maybe you or your partner are experiencing a lower sex drive due to stress, illness, medication, or aging. Maybe you’re raising kids and don’t have the privacy or time for regular sex sessions, or anything beyond the very basics. Maybe you’re worried about work—or the state of the world—and your brain just doesn’t have the bandwidth for desire. No matter what’s going on: It’s okay! If you and your partner find yourselves in a sex rut, that doesn’t mean your relationship is over—or that you’ll never blow each other’s minds again.
It’s normal for desire to ebb and flow over time, and there’s no “right” amount of sex you’re “supposed” to be having. But if you and your partner aren’t satisfied with the current state of your sex life—or if your sexual slump is making you feel emotionally distant from one another—then it’s time to make some changes. Here, experts share how you can keep things hot, even and especially if they’ve felt a little drab lately.
Share new experiences with your partner outside of the bedroom.
When was the last time you or your partner planned a date that didn’t involve ordering delivery and watching a movie? A 2020 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that couples feel more excitement and security in their relationships when they pursue novel activities together. According to Aliyah Moore, PhD, certified sex therapist and resident sex expert at sex toy company SexualAlpha, getting out of your comfort zone is the best way to strengthen your emotional bond. “You can go on a trip, try scuba diving, go hiking, or enroll in a Pilates class,” Dr. Moore tells SELF.
Deepening your emotional intimacy by pursuing new experiences might kickstart your desire for one another. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that higher levels of emotional intimacy are associated with higher sexual desire in long-term relationships, so trying new things with your partner is one way to build that feeling of togetherness—and set the stage for some fooling around afterwards.
Maintain nonsexual touch.
Even if you’re not ripping each other’s clothes off every day, maintaining some kind of physical connection with your partner can help you stay close and connected—and it’s especially important if the decline in your sex life is due to mismatched libidos. “Hugs, cuddling, caresses as you pass in the hallway—these can go a long way towards meeting the sensory and connective needs of the higher-libido partner without putting pressure on the lower-libido person,” Stefani Goerlich, PhD, LCSW, an AASECT-certified sex therapist, tells SELF.
Getting into the habit of regular physical touch that doesn’t lead to sex can help the lower-libido partner feel more relaxed, which can benefit your physical relationship. “When you feel comfortable touching and being touched, without the expectation of more, that lowers the fight-flight-freeze-fawn reaction that lower-libido people can experience [in sexual situations], and can ultimately help them feel more receptive to sex in general,” Dr. Goerlich says.
Take it slow—like, really slow—in bed.
Dr. Goerlich recommends exploring each other’s bodies to identify your undiscovered turn-ons. “Take the idea of penetrative sex off the table for a while and experiment with other forms of sensation instead,” she says. “When was the last time you brushed your partner’s hair, for example? How would it feel to spend time just touching and stroking their body, without expecting anything beyond that? How would it feel to let them touch and stroke you without expectation of more?”
Even if non-sexual touch doesn’t bring your sex life back online, physical contact with a partner can still improve your overall well-being. A 2022 study published in PLOS One found that women who embraced their romantic partner prior to a stressful event experienced a lower spike in cortisol—the “stress hormone”—than those who hadn’t embraced their partner before the stressful event occurred.
Introduce something surprising to your sex life.
Falling into a sexual pattern is easy, especially in long-term relationships—you learn what your partner likes and your partner learns what you like, so you keep coming back to the same sex acts and positions that “work.” But too much repetition and not enough variety can make sex lose its luster. “Couples may develop a low sexual interest if they become used to the same pattern over time,” Dr. Moore says. If that’s the case for you and your partner, then it’s probably time to mix it up.
“Mixing it up” doesn’t mean you have to sprint to your local adult store and buy a full-body latex suit (but if that’s your thing, go for it!). Small, low-effort adjustments can do a lot to revitalize your sex life. Try a new sex position, have sex outside of your bedroom (hello, kitchen counter!), or use a vibrator together. A recent literature review published in Sexual Medicine Reviews found that across multiple studies, vulva-owners who use vibrators report better sexual functioning and more frequent orgasms.
If you really want to shake things up between the sheets, you can try on a new persona. “Role play in the bedroom or elsewhere may be a fantastic outlet for sharing your hottest fantasies, trying new things, and exploring your kinks,” Dr. Moore says. You can play out a sexy professor/student or boss/employee scenario, or you can just be yourselves in different circumstances. Meet your partner at a bar and pretend you’re on your first date—then invite them home and see where the night goes.
No matter what you decide to whip out of your bag of sexual tricks, it’s important that you and your partner are both on board with experimentation. “If either partner feels pressured or coerced into sex, something needs to change,” Dr. Goerlich says.
Asking a partner to try something new in the bedroom can be nerve-wracking for everyone involved, so before you share your latest fantasy, make sure it’s a good time for a sex chat. “Choose a moment when both you and your partner are comfortable and ready to offer your whole attention to the conversation,” Dr. Moore says.
Initiate the conversation outside of a sexual context—when you and your partner both have your clothes on—so there’s no pressure to attempt an unfamiliar maneuver right away.