Keeping eroticism alive in partnerships
Updated: Apr 26
Sexual attraction is one of the unique factors that defines most romantic relationships from other relationships. It can be so powerful, it inspires people to commit to each other and build lives together. Alas, the more things become enmeshed, sex and erotic play can tend to fall by the wayside as all the other seemingly more important things compete for your limited time and attention.
But really, are they more important? And if your erotic life has fallen by the wayside and you wish it hadn't, how can you reinvigorate it?
The first step would be to investigate what is getting in the way of more fulfilling erotic connection. Some common reasons are:
Mismatched libidos and/or interests
With some dedication, all these challenges can be overcome. The key is to be honest with yourself and your loved ones and to understand what you both want and need in your erotic lives. And whilst the above list is by no means exhaustive, let's start with a few strategies that may help.
If time is an issue, work with what you've got! A saucy text message, or a message of appreciation can go a long way to making your partner feel sexy and valued. These emotional states are fundamental to erotic openness and will enable more physical play when time is available.
If you've only got half an hour - use it! You could even set a timer taking turns asking for something to give or receive (Betty Martin's '3 Minute Game' is a great structure to try https://bettymartin.org/how-to-play-the-3-minute-game/) . Or dedicate that whole half an hour to the other's pleasure, knowing that your generosity may inspire reciprocity another time. (Do be sure to communicate your intentions around this give and take - have a look at Betty Martin's 'Wheel of Consent' too (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=auokDp_EA80&t=1s) - it totally reshapes how we can think we're giving our partner what they want when in fact we're giving them what we want for ourselves ; ).
Whatever you do, take the pressure off it having to achieve a certain result, such as 'sex' or 'orgasm' and you might find some sensual delight you hadn't anticipated and at the same time, cultivated more intimate connection.
The 'work' distraction ties into a lot of the other reasons that impede erotic connection such as stress and limited time. It can also demand your creativity and initiative which are useful resources for erotic engagement. But the question to ask yourself is: where are your priorities? Paradoxically, we give so much to work in the interests of supporting our important relationship/s (bigger house, nicer cars, fun holidays etc) but if the quality of the relationship is impacted, what's the point?
Work can also inspire a sense of place and meaning, of contributing to the world. Intimate relationships are a lot more internal and personal. The tension between where your energy is best invested can become a political or philosophical choice. I am of the firm belief, however, that when one is fulfilled and content in our inner worlds, we have more energy and inspiration to bring to the outer world.
But how can you make time for your inner world if your work life is not so negotiable? Of course, the bills do need to be paid! Again, it's the little things that can make all the difference. Create little rituals that enable you to leave work at the door and focus on your beloved. You might like to allow a dedicated 'debrief the day' time and after that, work isn't discussed (you might need to be vigilant to stay on track with this - I need to be!) You might like to take a moment to look into each other's eyes to connect and really 'see' each other. A welcoming hug - where both parties fully sink into it - can reduce cortisol (stress hormones) which is a great way to transition into presence with each other.
While these little things don't immediately equate to sexy times, they cultivate the emotional and sensual foundation that will enable eroticism to unfold more easily.
Stress is often cited as a passion killer. What if you used it as a reason for connecting? Nothing beats hugs, skin-to-skin contact, deep breathing and massage as stress interventions. The ideal scenario is for one partner to have the capacity and initiative to hold the other and guide them into their body. If all partners are stressed it can be harder to co-regulate but it is not impossible if there is agreement and willing to surrender to sensation. Simple invitations are a good starting point ("would you like me to lightly stroke your face/inner arms?" etc) and again, take the pressure off any specific outcome. Sometimes sensual connection is all that's needed to de-stress and rejuvenate through intimacy.
Ahhh... the kids! It can be very easy to divert all one's emotional and sensual energy into the kid/s. They are demanding and chaotic and captivating. But what signals are you sending to your kids? Kids need positive behaviours modelled to them. They will benefit from seeing adults that are fulfilled and intimate. They will learn how to be available and responsive whilst at the same time, learning the importance of advocating for personal needs. Let them know that you have needs too (if of an appropriate age to do so).
Hire a babysitter, engage family and friends in occasional childcare, instigate date time or establish regular rituals that prioritise intimate connection between caregivers. Your cup needs to be full enough to flow back to the kids (that were borne of your erotic exploration!). Acts of affection can also be fleeting moments - lots of small gestures can have a big impact.
Mismatched Libidos and/or Interests
This is very common but needn't be a deal breaker. Maybe one person wants to play more often or at different times of the day. Maybe the other is content with slow sex and the other yearns for something different. Partnerships work best when each person is prepared to compromise and make an effort for the other - but certainly not at the expense of overstepping a limit or boundary.
Find out where your venn diagrams overlap, in terms of energy and interests. You could even get all sex geeky about it and diagram it together. Make it a fun, shared project to better understand each other so you can find creative solutions together. Encourage the use of toys and masturbation. Invite the other to be part of those experiences. If porn is a useful tool, share it with each other and talk about it together. It can be a great way to learn new things and inspire each other.
If there's seemingly no overlap it doesn't mean the relationship can't work. Alternative relationship models such as non-monogamy can be a solution if approached consciously. Professional sex workers are fantastic humans with uncanny abilities to meet people's needs within a specific, contained experience. Both of these suggestions will require clear agreements so be prepared to work through them respectfully. If you are new to either of these approaches I do advise doing more research and seeking advice on how to proceed safely.
Acknowledge that unmet needs can breed resentment which can have a detrimental effect on any relationship. It's therefore vital to listen to each other. What's turning you on or what you think you want might not be what works for your partner and vice versa. Try freeing yourself of expectations and be open to trying new things with a fair representation of desires that also respect each other's boundaries.
Change is inevitable. Hormones, appearance, ageing, injury will all show up and how you deal with these changes will affect your relationship. Don't deny change. Be open to what is. Be kind to yourself and your lover/s.
Verbal affirmations of yourself and your partner can help with feelings of confidence and sexiness. Asking which body parts feel good to touch and which don't also takes the guess work out of generating pleasure and avoids falling into the pits of discomfort. Suggest different ways to accommodate changes or improve physical comfort and/or development.
Shutting down through lack of confidence, displeasure, confusion or frustration is a normal reaction. Try to notice it happening. Sit with the thoughts and emotions as they come up and allow them to be there. Try to name them. Naming difficult or uncomfortable thoughts enables objectivity and this makes it easier to put them aside and choose a different way of relating - whether it be with yourself or another. Humans are very adaptable and this skill will enable you to continue to access pleasure, in all its guises, for a long, long time.
Communication is at the core of every relationship. It is skill that can be learned and one that some people are better at than others. How it manifests in your relationship/s will directly impact your erotic life.
Asking for what you want is often cited as a catch-all solution to getting the sex you want. But it's not that easy. You may need to first uncover what it is you want. Then there's the culture of the relationship - do you feel safe enough, supported enough, invested enough to be vulnerable and ask or strong enough to assert? And how do we broach such intimate places without tripping over into past wounds or resentments or unmet needs?
Learning to communicate positively and productively is possibly the sexiest skill you can ever learn. Read books on non-violent communication. Sign up to newsletters and read blogs of relationship experts (have a look at the resources page of my website for some leads. https://www.eroticurean.com/resources
). Allow time and choose the right time to have the difficult conversations. Always remember to acknowledge the good things about your partner and relationship too - a culture of positive regard is vital for relationship health.
Approach eroticism consciously
Sexual interests and appetites are as different and amorphous as life itself. Expecting partners to be in natural sync forever is not realistic. Treat your shared erotic world with respect and wonder so that it can continue to evolve and grow with you. These strategies seem pretty straightforward but it's the implementation that can be more difficult. Maybe professional support or attending relevant workshops could be useful. Like all living things, a fulfilling erotic life needs attention and investment. Cherish your partner/s and make it known regularly through words and actions. Be patient, playful and open to the ever-unfolding process and it will reward you with life-long pleasures.
Charlotte is The Eroticurean - a sexologist specialising in embodied practices and tools to improve a diverse range of sexual interests. You can check out her website here: www.eroticurean.com