It is incredibly common for couples to experience a decline in sexual desire at some point in their relationship. Do any of the following signs of lower sexual desire sound familiar?
- Sex feels more like work than fun
- You don’t look forward to sexual encounters with your partner
- Feeling detached or distant from your partner after sex
- Sexual experiences follow a predictable pattern that you no longer find enjoyable
- You commonly argue that one partner always initiates and the other always feels pressured
Common Causes for Change in Sexual Desire
Growth in the Relationship
One cause of decreased sexual desire is that your relationship has moved beyond the infatuation phase.The first part of a relationship is always exciting and passionate, but eventually, the intense passionate desire subsides.
You will need to learn to nurture purposeful desire with comfort, attraction, and trust instead. Your sex life is part of your relationship, so as your relationship changes, so will your pattern of intimacy.
High Conflict, Low Trust
A second cause for low sexual desire is a high-conflict, low-trust relationship. When a couple has been fighting a lot or there has been a breach of trust, it is difficult for one or both partners to feel intimate.
Occasionally, a couple will find themselves in a low-sex relationship due to a sexual secret. Examples of sexual secrets include:
- shame over past sexual abuse
- shame about a specific fetish or arousal pattern
- opposite sexual orientation than the current relationship
- an affair
- fear of pregnancy
- or pain during intercourse
In order to develop a healthy sexual relationship, secrets need to be disclosed and addressed. We recommend individual or couples therapy to better understand the issue and reach a resolution.
Tips for Revitalizing Sexual Desire
Thankfully, low sexual desire is not a permanent state. You can reignite your sexual desire with some intentional effort. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
1. Build Sexual Anticipation
This is the most important factor in revitalizing sexual desire. Allow yourself to look forward to sex like you would a sporting event or a movie you are excited to watch. Romance and spontaneity are great, but depending on them is limiting.
Intentional, planned sex actually has the potential to generate greater anticipation and desire. Take a moment to schedule a day for the next sexual encounter with your partner.
2. Identify What Ignites Your Sexual Desire
Everyone gets turned on in their own way. It is important for you to recognize this, and take time to identify your triggers.
Common examples include:
- R- or X-rated movies
- being sexual outside the bedroom
- a weekend away without the kids
- special celebrations or anniversaries
- erotic scenarios
- playfulness and affection
You are responsible for making sure your partner knows your turn-ons. Once you know what stimulates your sexual desire, tell your partner. Practice making requests for specific turn-ons that help ramp up your desire.
3. Focus on Being a Sexual Team
You and your partner need to function as a sexual team to nurture desire. Placing guilt, blame, and pressure on your partner undermines feelings of desire. This includes guarding against disappointment and discouragement.
To operate as a team, incorporate these behaviors into your sex life:
- focus on the good about your partner
- ask for what you want or need in a positive way
- practice emotional self-control
4. Own Your Sexuality
Find a balance where you both feel comfortable initiating touch and intercourse. Both of you MUST have the freedom to say “no” and be comfortable suggesting an alternative way to connect and share pleasure.
Incorporate a flexible style of sexuality that includes a variety of acceptable sexual activities. It does not always need to include intercourse.
Start by listing out sexual activities that qualify as high, medium, and low energy for each of you. Then discuss your list (and maybe try a couple things too!).
5. Use It or Lose it
Contrary to popular opinion, desire actually decreases if you are sexually inactive for weeks. Sexuality operates with a “use it or lose it” principle. A regular rhythm of sexual experiences will boost your desire much more than holding out for long periods of time.
Figure out what regular rhythm works for both partners to help maintain sexual desire.
McCarthy, B. (2015). Sex Made Simple: Clinical Strategies for Sexual Issues in Therapy.
Eau Claire, WI: PESI.
McCarthy, B. & McCarthy, E. (2014). Rekindling Desire. New York, NY: Routledge.