3 Daily Habits That Can Help Couples Increase Their Sexual Desire Over Time
Kelly Gonsalves is a sex educator, relationship coach, and journalist. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
Any couple that's been deep in the sexless desert knows just how hard it can be to find a way out. The longer the drought drags on, the more impossible it can feel to make a change. Every night when there's a smidgen of free time together, it feels like the pressure's on, and every such night that doesn't turn into a heated encounter in bed can spark guilt and disappointment.
But new research has identified what seems to be an effective way out of this avoidance cycle. Recently published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, the new study found that a couple's experience of sexual desire on a given day—even without any actual sex happening—tends to increase the odds of having sexual desire and sex the following day. In other words, getting a little turned on today can lead to a more intense fire tomorrow.
The perks of a slow burn.
Researchers asked each member of 87 long-term heterosexual couples (who'd all been together for an average of nine years) to report how much sexual desire and how much actual sex they had each day for 30 days. The results showed having sexual desire one day tended to fuel sexual desire the next day, particularly for men. This was true whether or not a couple had actual sex the first day; even just feeling kind of turned on but not acting on it was enough to trigger that next-day heat.
These findings suggest sexual desire can actually be built over time, with a little spark of excitement today leading to a slightly bigger one tomorrow. Think of it like a slow burn: The heat grows gradually—but notably. Before you know it, the whole thing's on fire.
"This would therefore be true in the other direction as well, such that low desire on one day would be expected to significantly lower desire on the next day," the researchers warn in the paper. "This finding emphasizes the importance of intervening to break the 'cycle' of low sexual desire as soon as possible."
Small ways to stoke the fire.
If you're not having sex these days but want to be, take it day by day. If sexual desire is indeed buildable like this study suggests, adding just a little bit of erotic charge to your relationship each day might be all you need to make a change.
Try engaging in small actions that create even the smallest bit of sexual energy, without feeling any pressure that that energy turns into sex immediately. Just having that energy today will mean you're helping yourself have more of it tomorrow. As the days go by with you just adding a little bit of kindling to the fire each day, you may soon find yourself naturally a lot more in the mood to actually go all the way.
So what are some small actions you can take today to create a little bit of erotic excitement?
1. Voice your intrigue.
People love to feel desired. The study found that when a person had sexual desire on one day, their partner was more likely to experience sexual desire the next day as well. In other words, couples tend to feed off each other's sexual energy. One person getting turned on can make the other person get turned on as well.
This effect was particularly pronounced for women, which actually aligns with previous research that's shown women's sexual satisfaction and functioning both increase when they know their partner is attracted to them. One recent study even pinpointed this "object-of-desire affirmation" as the No. 1 thing that turns women on.
"Perhaps women use their partner's sexual desire as a benchmark for their own sexual desire, and when they feel desired by their partner, this promotes the activation of their own desire," the researchers of the current study write. "Couples may benefit from communicating their attraction to and sexual desire for their partner."
Tell your partner you think they look hot today. It's as simple as that.
2. Sext to set the mood.
You can also make a point to send a steamy message to your partner when you're away from each other during the day. Sexting is a super-easy, low-effort way to create some erotic tension before you're even face-to-face with your partner.
"It can build anticipation for your next encounter," relationship and well-being coach Shula Melamed, M.A., MPH, recently told mbg. "It can keep the pot at simmer so that when you reconnect IRL you've already been flirting and turning each other on virtually. This speeds up the process because as humans and erotic creatures, our brains are one of our biggest sex organs! Stimulating one another with words, scenarios, desires, [and] images can help whet your appetite for what's to come. Some people are also more likely to share fantasies through writing, and it can ultimately help with communication face-to-face since you've been able lay a lot out ahead of time."
3. Try simmering.
An important take-away from this study is that you don't have to be literally having sex to be keeping the sexual energy between you and your partner vibrant. Pressure is the antithesis of desire. So instead of feeling like you need to have actual sex to keep your relationship healthy, sex and relationship therapist Dr. Stephen Snyder recommends embracing smaller daily moments of heat and sexual tension as a couple—a practice called "simmering."
"Simmering means taking a quick moment to feel excited with your partner, even under conditions where sex is not going to be practical. That generally means no orgasms, no rhythmic stroking, no heavy breathing," he writes in his book Love Worth Making: How to Have Ridiculously Great Sex in a Long-Lasting Relationship. "In sex therapy, we often counsel people to enjoy brief moments of arousal together for no reason at all, except that it feels good."
What exactly might that look like?
"Instead of kissing your partner goodbye in the morning, why not simmer them goodbye? Hold them close for a bit longer than usual. Inhale the scent of their hair. There's a moment here that won't come again," Dr. Snyder writes. "One or two minutes to simmer, on the way out the door in the morning. A pretty good recipe for keeping an erotic connection, for even the most harried modern couple. The payoff in good lovemaking later can be dramatic. Just heat and serve."
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