Five years in, and your relationship is thriving. You’ve carefully cultivated a delicate ecosystem of Sunday strolls, weeknights curled up watching Love Island and anniversary date nights to shitty immersive art exhibitions. You’ve finally mastered the art of taking out the bins. You’ve signed up for, cancelled and rejoined every recipe delivery box on the market, before accepting you’ll probably just cook the same three meals on rotation forever. Essentially, you’ve made it.
But somewhere underneath the layers of in-jokes, sickeningly sweet nicknames and complex relationship lore, you’ve lost something. What was it again? Oh yes, the warm and loving embrace of another person’s body against yours, on purpose, and not as a byproduct of reaching over to reclaim your half of the duvet. Quite simply, you’ve forgotten how to fuck.It happens to the best of us. Once new relationship energy has melted away, we often find ourselves putting sex on the backburner and can go for months without having it at all. Perhaps you understandably prefer the soft pulsations of your vibrator to your partner's poorly aimed fingering. Maybe you’re still shagging, but it pales in comparison to the first time you went home together and had the best sex of your life on your flatmate’s vintage armchair (not speaking from experience). It’s a common problem that certified sex coach Rachel Sian sees all the time. “We get into little routines with masturbation and sex,” she says. “After five years, couples might say, ‘Oh we always do it in the same way. He feels my boobs and then I undo his trousers…’ You get into a rut and it’s not exciting anymore.” We all deserve to have great sex and feel connected to our partners. But how do you revive a dying sex drive, increase pleasure and become a better lover to your partner, spouse, or friend with rapidly declining benefits? I spoke to some experts who weighed in with some very useful information that I, regrettably, probably could’ve done with back in 2021.
It might seem basic, but communication is the key to a fulfilling sex life, as it is to all aspects of a healthy and respectful relationship. While it sounds like an easy task, voicing our sexual wants and desires can feel more daunting the further away we get from our last satisfying orgasm, to the point where even watching a badly-lit sex scene on TV elicits an atmosphere more awkward than the time you admitted to fancying your mate.One of the best ways to communicate about sex is, obviously, to do it in the bedroom. Sian explains that although verbalising what you want during sex is often portrayed in the media as being unsexy, it’s extremely helpful in allowing you to take control of your own pleasure and convey to your partner what sensations and movements you enjoy, making sex better for the both of you. (It’s also vital when engaging in any specific kink or BDSM scene to communicate what will happen way in advance and keep checking in with your partner, to ensure that they are consenting at all times.)Sian suggests asking your partner questions like: “How does this feel? Would anything make it better? Would you like me to go slower, faster, softer, harder?” She also advises thinking about these things in advance so that you’re more confident expressing them in the moment. “While it doesn't sound like a very ‘natural’ thing that a person would say to another, once you get used to saying it, it can sound really horny,” she explains. “You think, ‘Oh my god, I'm being asked? That's really sexy.’”
Licensed couples therapist Kendra Capalbo, who runs wellness retreats for couples looking to have better sex, stresses the importance of “becoming super comfortable talking about sex,” both in and outside of the bedroom. “Not even talking about it from a problem perspective, but just getting comfortable having sex as part of a regular conversation, which so many couples aren't,” she says. “Just because you're talking about a fantasy doesn't mean that you are saying you want to act it out – but you could talk about what that would be like, or ask, ‘Have you ever thought about that?’” Capalbo also suggests talking about or watching ethical porn together to reduce any shame or anxiety around your sexuality and individual kinks and desires.
While squeezing in a quick shag between Zoom meetings might feel naughty at times, seeing sex as nothing more than a sweaty race to orgasm can slowly chip away at its appeal and take away from any intense, pleasurable sensations we should be fully savouring. All of the experts I spoke to advised that slowing down and rewiring our conceptions of how sex should unfold is crucial to become a better lover and enjoy a more satisfying sex life. “We’re always pushed for time in this busy world that we live in, and being turned on can also in itself create a feeling of urgency,” Sian explains. “It's been packaged and sold to us that it’s a form of passion to run through the front door, rip each other’s clothes off and go at it on the kitchen counter. But if we only have that sort of fast, urgent sex, we’re massively missing out on a whole world of prolonging pleasure.”
2. Slow down
Changing the narrative of our sexual experiences can involve ratching up foreplay, normalising turn-taking instead of trying to chase the mythical mutual orgasm, and even just engaging in the (highly underrated, IMO) act of kissing.“I have so many couples where I'm like, “When's the last time you just like made out? And it's literally not since they were first dating and they hadn't had sex yet,” Capalbo says. “I think just disconnecting and realising that there's so much enjoyment to be had, that doesn't have to lead to this goal of intercourse [is important].” Taking the focus away from intercourse also helps to normalise other forms of sex, like oral sex, as equally important to heteronormative PIV sex. Slowing down can also involve paying attention to the present moment. We’ve all been there, mid-fuck, when our brain decides to remind us we need to clean the oven or do our taxes. Licensed professional counsellor and certified sex therapist Lyndsey Murray recommends an activity called sensate focus – a form of mindfulness – to improve our concentration. “Sensate focus is an intimate exercise where partners put time aside and touch each other with no clothes on or underwear,” she explains.
“You’re identifying what your mental distractions are, and you're bringing the focus back to pressure, texture and temperature. You’re not trying to create arousal, but you're not trying to stop it either. You're just gathering evidence: How many distractions did I have? Was I able to bring the focus back to my body and this sensation?” Sian recommends doing similar activities alone, too. “We can do little micro-moments of mindfulness, like being aware of our clothes brushing against our skin,” she says. “Instead of checking your phone, just stand still for a moment and drop into your body.”
Although it may seem counterproductive at first, increasing both the quantity and quality of your intimate alone time can help you explore your favourite turn-ons and sensations, which you can then relay into partnered sex. “People may have learned to masturbate without much privacy when they were children, sharing a bedroom or with a parent banging on the door saying get out of the shower,” Sian says. This is, alas, a sad reality for those of us still living in cramped and overpriced flatshares. But that can lead to an overreliance on certain movements or methods to achieve orgasm, like needing to lie in a certain position, or for men, the dreaded death grip. As an antidote, Sian recommends experimenting with different sex toys and discovering new ways to orgasm so that climaxing becomes less monotonous and more varied. “You could try breathing deeply on approach to orgasm, instead of holding your breath, or you could try masturbating in the mirror, which some people might find quite confronting,” she suggests.
3. Spend some time alone
Understanding how to give yourself a mindblowing orgasm is also an integral step towards unlearning the assumption that our partner is solely responsible for our sexual pleasure. “We should come at this from a self-interest view,” Murray declares. “Not that we don't care about our partner, of course… but we have to both put our pleasure as a priority.” She feels that this unhelpful narrative is prevalent in the media, and can affect our confidence and force us to people-please. “For men, to be good at sex means that you made the woman come. That's not really fair,” she says. “You’re responsible for your own orgasm. Your partner can help you, but if you’re anxious, you could be creating a block where you're not able to orgasm and that can have nothing to do with them.”
Perhaps most importantly, Capalbo believes, we should approach shagging with a sense of humour. “I think sometimes we take it too seriously and we're too goal-oriented,” she says. “Instead of just enjoying it, we're trying to create these movie images of what sex is supposed to look like. I think couples who can just laugh at themselves have the best sex lives.” As an exercise, Capalbo tells her couples to deliberately have bad, awkward sex, which allows them to realise that it just isn’t that deep, TBH.So next time the condom ends up lodged somewhere between your cervix and Narnia or you cry profusely in the bathroom after you fail to have a decent sexual encounter with your long-term partner, remember you don’t have to put up with it. There’s plenty of things you can both do to become better lovers to each other – maybe you can even start by sending them this article.