Ask Emily: How Do We End a Dry Spell?

Dear Emily,

I feel so stuck in my sex life with my partner. We’re going through a major dry spell, where it seems like neither one of us is all that excited about sex. This wouldn’t be a problem if sex wasn’t important to us – but, it is! We want to want sex, if that makes sense. We’ve just been together for so long that it doesn’t seem thrilling anymore, and when it does happen, we roll over, do it, and go to sleep. Can you help?

-Stuck in a Dry Spell

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Dear Stuck in a Dry Spell,

I hear you! You are definitely not alone in this, Stuck in a Dry Spell. A ton of the questions I get here are along this exact same theme: long-term couples who’ve lost their sexual spark. It happens! 

Part of the reason for sexual drop-off is that we (the collective we) were never really taught skills for sustaining pleasure, once the high of new relationship energy – aka, the honeymoon phase – wears off. The chemical cocktail of sexual novelty carries us forward for a long time, typically between several months and two years. But once it fades, we feel the loss: our playfulness withers, we go through the motions, and over time, resentment builds. It’s easy to feel hopeless.

But I love how you say you “want to want sex,” and I’m going to use that phrasing to give you some tips. Here are five tactics you and your partner can use to evolve your sexual dynamic, but please note: it won’t happen overnight! Bored couples can and do revive their sex life; it just requires patience, intentional intervention, and a growth mindset. Let’s start with these:

Study your sex scripts.

Like most couples in this conundrum, you guys are on a routine. You’re in bed, you roll over, you “do it”, you go to sleep. No surprises. No adventure. 

Listen to my interview with Ian Kerner, author of the iconic book She Comes First and So Tell Me About The Last Time You Had Sex. In it, he talks about “sex scripts,” the set of behaviors we play out during our sexual encounters, and how easy it is to fall into ruts. By taking a look at the behaviors you two enact, you can view them in a modular fashion: what do you want to subtract? What do you want to add? Can we rearrange their order? By looking at sex this way, we start to stimulate your brain – and I think that’s what’s really needed here, a quick way to start waking your brain up, so you can create what Ian calls an “arousal runway.”

Have a conversation. 

After you’ve personally taken the time to examine your sex scripts, how about you share what you learned with your partner? And then, ask them what they’d like to get out of sex? You can pose things like…

  • What did you love most about our sex life, when we first got together? 
  • What about sex intrigues you, in general?  
  • I’d love to re-invest in our sex life, and make it fun again. Would you like to try that together?

Know that most of us go into fight or flight mode when we’re approached about sex – sex talks still haven’t been normalized for the majority of us, so partners can get defensive. But I’ve got a guide to help you navigate these conversations, called the Three T’s of Communication: find it right here

Explore the sexual menu.

Like we’ve established, there are a handful of behaviors you guys are doing over and over again, so much that they’re literally putting you to sleep. But at the end of the day, sex is play – and part of the way we play is exploring sensations and activities together, figuring out what arouses us, and blossoming into a more erotic frame of mind.

My friend Pamela Madsen has a great line: “low libido usually means high boredom.” So beat boredom together, and dive into my Yes / No / Maybe List (which you can snag right here.) You may be surprised to discover things that excite you (hair pulling, anyone?), and tickled to discover things that excite them. I’ve had more than one couple write me in delight, realizing they both checked the “threesome” box. 

Make sex sensual.

Another playful, low-stakes way to introduce novelty back into your sex life is to focus on the sensory aspect of it all. What would it be like if you licked chocolate off each other? What would it be like to receive oral sex – while they’ve got ice in their mouth? Does music make you feel sexy? How about candles? What I’m getting at here is neural arousal: you’re giving your brain more signals to field, more data to work with, but more importantly, you’re imbuing sex with a far more expansive mindset. 

Rather than viewing sex as a means to orgasm, you’re reframing it as exploratory play. And that’s a big theme here: sex-as-play, rather than sex-as-precursor-to-climax. You and your partner are relearning a form of play, and that requires creativity, learning, and a little adventure. All the ingredients of a growth mindset.

Don’t rule out therapy. 

I’m a huge advocate of “doing the work,” i.e. going to therapy. For some people, therapy still carries a stigma – like something has to be majorly wrong to warrant counseling. But the truth is, seeing a therapist is like seeing a personal trainer, only you’re working on your mental and emotional health, rather than your physical health. 

I’m putting this one on the table because underlying your current sexual dynamic, there could be some unconscious assumptions worth unpacking. For example, did the two of you receive sexual education focused on pleasure? (Most of us didn’t!) Did you discuss sex in the home, growing up? What was your earliest messaging about sex? A lot of us have internalized tired stereotypes about sex and relationship, such as: “once you’re married, say goodbye to your sex life! Ha ha!” Words like that are pretty defeatist, if you think about it.

Therapy is an incredible tool to evolve resentment into intention, to turn silence into dialogue. So if you can find a couples counselor or sex therapist, maybe give it a shot. It could be exactly the intervention that’s needed here.

I’ll leave you with this: dry spells don’t have to last forever! Simply by reaching out, you’re taking a step towards change. By trying some of these tips, I think you’re going to see that revitalizing your sex life isn’t an impossible feat after all. 

xx, Emily