7 Ways To Spice Up Your Sex Life in a Monogamous Relationship—Because, Yes, Familiarity Can Breed Boredom

Photo: Getty Images/Hiraman
For years, studies have shown that Americans are having less sex, whether they’re teens or in midlife. While researchers posit several different reasons for that—the lasting social effects of a pandemic that encouraged isolation, and more reliance on our devices over human connection, to name just two—I’d wager to say that for plenty of people in monogamous relationships, the idea of sex may just feel unexciting or uninspiring. As a modern love therapist, one of the most common requests I get from people in long-term monogamous relationships is for support in learning how to spice up their relationship, and specifically, their sex lives within it.

Experts In This Article
  • Esther Perel, psychotherapist, relationship expert, and New York Times bestselling author

While people who are interested in exploring non-monogamy may be able to rev up their sex lives through the novelty of additional partners, those in a monogamous relationship (who aren’t interested in opening it up) may find that the extreme familiarity they have with their partner can become a breeding ground for boring sex. And boring sex likely isn’t pleasurable or satisfying sex, either—which can just make the people involved less likely to seek it out in the first place.

According to relationship expert Esther Perel, it’s common for couples to experience dissonance as they negotiate between their values and their desires; on the one hand, they might value closeness and intimacy, but on the other hand, they might desire wildness, mystery, and intrigue.

Desire dies at the hands of routine and familiarity because, by nature, it thrives off the unknown.

Desire dies at the hands of routine and familiarity because, by nature, it thrives off the unknown. In order to feel desire, defined as hunger and craving, you have to want something you don’t currently have. And yet, to build an intimate and sustainable relationship, you need to have a person in your life (and in your bed) about whom you know a great deal.

Still, it’s certainly possible to infuse a long-term monogamous relationship with some excitement if you avoid falling into the trap of monotony. Below, find seven easy tactics for how to spice up your relationship and crank the volume on your sex life, even if it’s the same partner every time.

How to spice up your relationship and take the monotony out of monogamy

1. Approach everyday interactions with your partner more mindfully

Research shows that we listen to those we love the least closely because we believe we can predict what they are going to say. When we get used to something or someone, we tend to tune out, rather than tune in. Take, for example, brushing your teeth; do you really pay attention while you’re doing it?

In much the same way, you might realize that you tend to ask your partner how their day was without really listening to the answer, or automatically assume the same sex position or choose to have sex after dinner or with the lights out every time you have it. While there is nothing wrong with any of these practices, in theory, they all present opportunities to numb out rather than really feel—which is necessary to experiencing pleasure.

Choosing to tune into these interactions with a partner rather than allowing them to become passive programming can help you to feel more present and thus more satisfied in your relationship (and in bed).

2. Consider how your sexual desires have evolved since you started dating your partner

In all relationships, we develop patterns of interactions or ways of being together that become familiar. We often forget that when we commit to a person, we aren’t committing to being the same with that person forever. As our circumstances change—we age, have new experiences, grow, experience loss—our needs change, too.

The fact that we transform is not the problem; it’s that many times, we don’t reorient ourselves to our new needs, and therefore don’t alert our partner of these changing needs, either. What you liked when you first met your partner may be very different now, and yet you might still be relying on old patterns of interaction that no longer fit.

Human sexuality expert and sex educator Emily Nagoski, PhD, recommends asking yourself: “What is it that I want when I want sex?” and “What is it that I like when I like sex?” I recommend adding in questions like: “What prevents me from feeling good in my body?” and “What enables me to feel good in my body?” Then, ask your partner the same questions.

It’s important to normalize that desires shift over time, just like our appetites for food.

Don’t be afraid to get detailed in your investigation. It’s important to normalize that desires shift over time, just like our appetites for food, and that consistent inquiry into what you and your partner like will be necessary throughout your relationship to keep sex, well, sexy.

3. Get to know your non-sexual pleasures

If you find that you struggle to answer the questions about sexual desire above, it may be because pleasure isn’t something you feel comfortable owning or experiencing—and probably for very good reason. Your body might not have always felt safe in scenarios where pleasure was involved, or you may have been taught to prioritize what others want from you versus what you want. After all, we live in a world where many bodies are under attack and in a culture that has long privileged men’s pleasure over women’s (hello, orgasm gap).

All of the above could mean you need some personal space to heal your relationship to pleasure. From an emotional perspective, when we are unable to feel pleasure, it’s not because we can’t access it; it’s because our bodies are protecting us from feeling anything at all so as to shield us from pain.

Before approaching more pleasurable sex, it might be helpful to explore what feels good, what you like, and what you want outside of sex, and report back to your partner. Sensual Self: Prompts and Practices for Getting in Touch with Your Body, by Ev'Yan Whitney, provides accessible journal prompts to get you started on your pleasure journey.

4. Create a transitional pre-sex practice for when the day's obligations are done

One of the common complaints I hear is that people aren’t “in the mood” or are “too exhausted” at the end of the day for sex and deep connection. I do not doubt the truth of these statements; there are so many demands on our time and energy at this cultural moment.

But what may also be contributing to these feelings is the fact that, when we’re overwhelmed, the part of our brain that can connect is not readily available to us. If we attempt to go from a busy workday, an evening workout, or preparing dinner to pressing “go” on sexual connection, we are setting unrealistic expectations for ourselves.

Instead, create a transitional practice that enables your body to enter a window where connection feels possible. If you typically run anxious, ask yourself, “What sounds, sights, tastes, textures, and/or scents soothe me?” and see how you can incorporate one or more of these sensory items into a pre-sex ritual. Or, if you tend to feel low on energy or fatigued when the time for sex rolls around, do the same thing for the sensations or sensory items that typically energize you.

Integrating, for example, a few songs, movements, or fragrances that bring you back home to your body might give you just what you need to be able to shift into a connection space with your partner and make sex feel more exciting.

5. Get curious about your sex life

When we experience dissatisfaction in our sex life, we typically create a problem-focused narrative. It might sound something like, “My partner is lazy,” or “We aren’t compatible anymore.” The issue with this type of story is that it prevents further investigation. And it’s often just a strategy for avoiding feeling hurt, jealousy, or anger while steering clear of what’s really happening below the surface.

Instead, get curious about what’s happening or what’s changed in the dynamic with your partner. For example, instead of saying, “My partner doesn’t have energy for sex,” ask yourself, “What might be taking up all his energy?” Or, instead of saying, “I just don’t find sex pleasurable with my partner anymore,” ask yourself, “What has shifted for me when it comes to sex, and what may have shifted for her?” These open-ended questions offer up new pathways for connection, rather than shutting them down.

6. Discuss the sensitive or tough stuff

Sometimes, a boring or unsexy sex life is actually covering up disconnection in a relationship, which never feels good. Because our brains like to focus on what is familiar and predictable, many of us avoid asking questions about things that we fear, or to which the answers could vary widely. But when we aren’t talking about what’s really coming up for us, silence or physical disengagement accrues around these tough topics and creates thick layers of distance between us. And sex tends to fall away (or become less satisfying) in the resulting chasm.

When we aren’t talking about what’s really coming up for us, silence or physical disengagement accrues around these tough topics and creates thick layers of distance between us.

Ask yourself: What are you wondering about your partner, but are afraid to know the answer to? Some ideas are: “What sexual fantasies do you have that exist outside of us, and how would you want to share them with me?”, “What do you wish were different about our relationship?”, “What do you feel insecure about in our relationship?”, “What makes it hard for you to connect with me?”, and “What ideas do you have about bringing more fire into our connection?” Anything that invites newness into a relationship has the potential to enliven it.

7. Spend time doing fun things outside of your relationship

This sounds counterintuitive, but in actuality, finding joy outside of a relationship can help you thrive within the relationship. Sometimes, we depend too heavily on our partners to meet our every need, and this puts too much weight on the relationship for it to thrive. The route to closeness might actually be differentiation and spending more time on your own.

How are you nurturing your own garden? What is your sexual relationship with yourself like? Do you still do things that bring you playfulness and joy that have nothing to do with your partner? Accessing the sensual, sexual, and curious parts of you that you may have left behind when you coupled up won’t just leave you feeling more fulfilled; it could also help you do your part in reigniting a spark between you and your partner.

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