When It Comes To Sex In Long-Term Relationships, Here's How To Balance Scheduling & Spontaneity

Photo: Jovo Jovanovic

Despite what mainstream culture would like us to believe, there are no formulas when it comes to relationships of all kinds—and nowhere is that more true than in our sex lives. When we hear and read statements like, "You must be having simultaneously orgasmic penetrative and spontaneous sex twice a week otherwise your relationship is doomed," it’s easy to fall into a pit of despair when your own sex life follows a different arc.

So the first step when discussing any aspect of sex is to remind yourself that just as nobody has your exact configuration of partnership because the two of you have never existed before, nobody has your bodies, your rhythms, your drive, or your sex life. Discovering habits and behaviors that work in service of our well-being is nearly impossible when externally imposed expectations and shame-provoking beliefs are in the way. So when it comes to having a healthy sex life in a long-term relationship, what's the key? If you ask me, it's finding a balance that works for you.

Don't be afraid to schedule it.

When a client asks me how to fit sex into a busy, overscheduled life—especially when kids enter the picture—I have no qualms about saying, "schedule it." We know that if we don’t schedule time for exercise, meditation, and cooking, they don’t happen. The same is true for sex—good habits often need to be blocked into our lives. In this sense, scheduling sex is an act of self-care for the relationship.

Some part of us naturally balks at this suggestion. Shouldn’t sex be spontaneous? Shouldn’t the impulse to have sex arise naturally from an organic place of passion that flows onto your partner? If you're the high-drive partner, then yes, you'll have no trouble envisioning and implementing spontaneous sex. But for the low-drive partner (and there’s one in almost every relationship), once you're past the initial infatuation stage when hormones tend to run high and you can easily squeeze a quickie in at the drop of a hat, not only does it make more practical sense to schedule sex, but it makes more emotional sense as well.

Believe me, I get how easy it is to allow life to take over and eclipse any organic desire for sex. I understand how work, house, finances, kids, and personal self-care can exhaust your resources and eat away at not only energy but time. Yet I also know, both personally and professionally, that when we make deposits into the sex bank, everyone wins, and quite often the only way this can happen is when we sex becomes part of our weekly or bi-weekly routine.

Consistent, loving, and respectful sexual contact is one of the actions that sets into motion a positive feedback cycle between partners. It lubricates in all senses of the word. As Charla Muller writes in her book, 365 Nights, "having sex today is always worth more than having sex tomorrow. We reap the benefits of having sex plus all the goodwill it generates in our marriage and in the eyes of our spouse. In turn, this accrues (like compound interest), and we now have a 'bank account' of intimacy that can be reflected in less stress between partners, less anxiety, a closer relationship, and so on."

Define sex in a way that works for you and your relationship.

Let's make sure here that we understand what I mean by "sex" so that you don't fall into a pit of relationship anxiety or despair by buying into the unrealistic expectations around it. Sex is any kind of intimate, physical contact that you wouldn't have with anyone else. This could be holding hands, kissing, flirting, massaging, or lying down naked together. It could be intimate touch, caressing, and exploring. When we remove the expectation that sex has to look one way, we open ourselves for the plethora of possibilities of what sex can be. We also allow ourselves to find the rhythm and ways of connection that are unique to our relationship instead of trying to squeeze ourselves into an external model imposed by our culture. So when I talk about scheduling sex, what I mean is scheduling a time to connect intimately in any way.

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When the spontaneous desire arises, grab it.

If the desire for sex arises mutually and spontaneously just when the kids fall asleep, act on it! One of the suggestions I offer to clients and course members who struggle with desire is to act on as many flickers of desire as they can. Sex begets sex, so when the motor is warm, it’s easier to start the engine. In this sense, spontaneous sex can lead to more spontaneous sex, which is only a good thing. But when that's not happening as naturally as it used to or you would like to, consider the wise and loving option of scheduling.

Want to know how much sex real couples are actually having? Here's your answer.

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