I’m in the happiest relationship of my life.
I’ve kissed a lot of frogs and chased the “wrong” people — but I feel like I’ve finally found someone with whom I feel completely comfortable and safe. We share the same dry sense of humor, taste in music, and fondness for the cheese aisle at the grocery store.
Before you start to hate me, there’s a catch: For some reason, I can’t get excited for sex lately. It’s not for a lack of chemistry — we’re attracted to each other and have enjoyed sex in the past — but recently, I never feel in the mood. At all. Ever. So, how “happy” is my relationship, actually, if we’re not frequently ever having hot, passionate sex?
I always think back on the scene from 2015 movie “Trainwreck” where Amy Schumer’s character says, “You want to stay with the best-[sex]-you’ve-ever-had guy.” Brie Larson’s character responds, “No, you don’t. That’s a creepy guy.” And the more I reminisce wistfully on the ghosts of my sexual past, the more I have to agree.
Feeling safe may as well mean feeling turned off.
According to sex and relationship pros, it’s normal for couples to experience dry spells, primarily because of the comfort factor once the honeymoon stage is over. (That “old married couple” trope exists for a reason.)
Are they ripping each other’s clothes off every night while my partner and I read next to each other in bed?
“This happens because safety and security, and passion, don’t go together,” says Vanessa Valentino, Psy.D., psychologist and sexologist. “With the person you have no attachment to, it’s the thrill of the unknown.”
Obviously, it tracks that couples will have the hottest sex at the beginning of their relationship, because they’re still getting to know each other. Psychologically, sex with a near-stranger will always feel more thrilling and dangerous than sex with someone who’s evolved into a glorified roommate.
“For many folks, that transition from initial infatuation and sexual fantasy to more routine dating can come with a sudden decrease in sexual frequency,” says Sari Cooper, AASECT, sex therapist and founder of the Center for Love and Sex. “It’s almost like you’ve asserted that you’ve chosen one another, so that psychological edge of uncertainty is gone.” You’re not falling out of lust, you’re just falling into a routine — one in which you’re no longer trying to impress each other.
Still, my first reaction to this information is to analyze other seemingly happy couples, wondering if they’re ripping each other’s clothes off every night while my partner and I read next to each other in bed.
“All relationships come with compromises,” says Valentino. This is true. And if the one thing that I have to complain about in my relationship is a lack of sexual passion, that’s something. The reality is other coupled-up individuals might feel like they’re compromising something far more problematic in their relationships.
“Like with anything else, you might have unrealistic expectations,” says Valentino. It’s like that “expectations vs. reality” meme — the expectation is orgasms every night, and the reality is being asleep by 11.
If there’s not a burning, can’t-wait-to-rip-your-clothes-off feeling between you and your long-term partner, you’re not necessarily doing something wrong. You’re just comfortable.
How important is sex to you?
Every relationship and couple’s dynamic is different, according to Valentino. To gain some perspective, she suggests independently listing out what each of you value most in a relationship — and keeping the list to five items or fewer. Then, compare where sex falls (if at all).
“Sex can be a critical bonding experience for some partners, but it’s not a priority for every relationship,” says Cooper. What’s most important to your relationship might not even crack the top five for the couple next door.
And it’s OK if sex doesn’t top — or even make — your list. As long as the needs of both you and your partner are being met, there’s nothing wrong with valuing things like dry jokes and cheese aisle trips over sex. “Seeing your true needs and other things you value provides insight into what’s truly going on, and whether those other needs are being satisfied,” says Valentino. “Yes, sex is wonderful, but there are so many ways to meet the same need.”
And if that doesn’t reassure you, Valentino suggests seeking the help of a therapist, either as a couple or alone. Bottom line: The most important thing is to talk about the issue at hand so it doesn’t lead to bigger relationship complications.
Find ways to fill the void.
Maybe it’s not even about getting a spark back — you just don’t physically enjoy the feeling of sex with your partner (or anyone), or you experience real anxiety or fear when it comes to physical intimacy. That’s fine, and certainly nothing to be ashamed of. But if you feel a void in your relationship where you or your partner think sex “should be,” it could be time to get creative.
Try getting your blood rushing in other settings together, whether that involves skydiving, taking ski lessons, or hosting scary-movie marathons. Train for a marathon side by side. Thrill-seeking is about as close as you can get to sex without actually having it — your adrenaline will be pumping, and you can bond over something new, exciting, and dangerous(ish).
Of course, when the physical intimacy isn’t at 100% in your relationship, it’s a good idea to do your darndest to make sure emotional intimacy is. Getting emotionally intimate together could be sex-related (Cooper mentions watching, listening to, or reading about erotic situations as a couple), or it could be as simple as learning your partner’s love language and making sure they’re satisfied in that area.
“If you can replace the need for sex in other areas, the act has less weight on it,” Valentino says.
Let us not forget, sex is not the be all and end all. If you and your partner both feel loved, appreciated, respected, valued, wanted, and needed, you’re in a great spot — and what many would consider a happy, healthy relationship. And I wouldn’t trade my current happiness for the hottest sex in the world.