‘How do we reinvigorate our sex life after 13 years together?’

Ask Roe: ‘We have brought up the idea of spicing things up... Any advice that doesn’t involve using whipped cream?’

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Dear Roe,

My husband and I are both in our 40s and have been together for 13 years. We’re very happy, life is good – but it’s been a few years since we’ve enjoyed the passion we had when we first got together. Our sex life feels stale. When we do have sex, it’s not bad, but we know exactly what works for each other so there’s a sense of quickly going through the motions. Once or twice over the past couple of years, we have brought up the idea of “spicing things up”, but we never seem to do anything. And to be honest, I wouldn’t know where to start. Anything to do with “seduction” seems a bit ridiculous given that we know each other so well, and a lot of the tips you get in magazines seem mortifying. Any advice that doesn’t involve using whipped cream?

Never use whipped cream. It’s sticky and very soon after applying it to skin or sheets, everyone involved starts to smell like sour milk. Not attractive.

I understand your reluctance to whip out a copy of “100 Tips To Spice Up Your Sex Life”, as much of that sort of advice is nonsense. But there is one good thing about these lists, even when the tips are absurd: they encourage you to approach sex in a different way. Ignore the particular details about ice cubes or blindfolds, and look at the mood they’re trying to create, or the form of communication they are encouraging. Then they can be helpful. Because what they’re doing is giving you permission to be silly, or seductive, or adventurous, or playful – and bringing those qualities into your sex life is always a good idea.

It is vulnerability that would allow you to approach the idea of seduction more comfortably, knowing that it is okay to want your partner to see you in a new and sexual way

But embracing a sense of adventure or playfulness or sensuality first requires you to embrace another quality: vulnerability. And it seems that vulnerability, not spice, is the important missing ingredient from your sexual life right now.

Because vulnerability is required to not just raise an issue with your partner and then drop it, but to keep talking and have a potentially awkward conversation with them about your sense of dissatisfaction and desire for more. It is vulnerability that would allow you to approach sex abandoning all of your ideas of “exactly what works” for each other, and to feel free to try new things that may not immediately result in orgasms all around – but would allow you to approach sex as a shared experience and exploration, not just a means to an (orgasmic) end.

It is vulnerability that would allow you to approach the idea of seduction more comfortably, knowing that it is okay to want your partner to see you in a new and sexual way – and it is okay to want to see yourself in a new and sexual way.

And it takes vulnerability to “know where to start”. Because you do know where to start. You start by thinking about your own desires, and expressing them out loud. The lack of vulnerability in your communication around sex means that you and your partner are caught in a stand-off, circling each other saying “Yes, we should spice up our sex life. Let’s talk about it. But you go first.” One of you needs to be vulnerable, and take the leap – and be met with vulnerability in return.

Seeing as you wrote in, I’m afraid I’m going to nominate you to be the one who leaps first. But what if, instead of leaping into a million crazy sex tips, you leapt into your own desire and self-image? Your aversion to the idea of being seductive is interesting, because a lot of that is rooted in your own confidence that you can appear sexy to your partner. But what if you thought about what makes you feel sexy – and showed that to him?

Laugh with each other, and embrace trying these small things. Not because they’re particularly spicy, but because they’re fun and nostalgic and silly – and the groundwork for more adventurous things

Or what if you didn’t try to grasp at something new and novel, but told him about times you have felt desire? Tell him about movies or songs or porn or erotica that you find sexy, and enjoy them together. Talk about it after, and see what the conversation reveals. Tell each other your sexiest memories – individually, and of each other. Try to recreate some of them. Often in long-term relationships, people forget the joys of foreplay – the neck kissing, the hot and heavy makeout sessions, the massages, the footsie under the table at a boring dinner party. Flirt with each other.

If it feels awkward or silly – let it. Laugh at it. Sex and seduction do not need to be sombre affairs. Laugh with each other, and embrace trying these small things. Not because they’re particularly spicy, but because they’re fun and nostalgic and silly – and the groundwork for more adventurous things.

You’ll never be able to share your bucket-list fantasies if you can’t share your sexiest memories. You’ll never be able to explore roleplay if you can’t flirt with each other as people, not characters. You’ll never be able to explore BDSM if you don’t communicate clearly and trust each other. And you’ll never be able to try the craziest Kama Sutra positions if you approach sex thinking you both have to orgasm quickly or else it’s a failure.

Start with vulnerability, and communication. Ease into conversations using the tools and experiences you already have. Then start exploring. Your communication and sense of trust and intimacy and fun will improve – and that will allow you to explore. The spicy stuff you end up trying will just be the cherry on top.

  • Roe McDermott is a writer and Fulbright scholar with an MA in sexuality studies from San Francisco State University. She is researching a PhD in gendered and sexual citizenship at the Open University and Oxford
     
  • If you have a problem or query you would like her to answer, you can submit it anonymously at irishtimes.com/dearroe
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